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Posts Tagged ‘Pike River Coal Mine’

Letter to the Editor: What is the price of justice? (In dollar terms)

28 February 2014 2 comments

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FROM: 	"f.macskasy" 
SUBJECT: Letter to the ed
DATE: 	 Fri, 28 Feb 2014 11:52:01 +1300
TO: 	"Dominion Post" <letters@dompost.co.nz>
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The Editor  
Dominion Post

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Revelations that Peter Whittal's solicitor, Stuart Grieve,
made a $3.41 million payment to Crown Law in return for
dropping all charges in the Pike River Mine court case are
an incredible, jaw-dropping, new development for our
judicial system.

According to Mr Grieve's remarks on Radio NZ (27 Feb), it
would appear that the Solicitor General was involved in this
backroom deal making.

So for John Key to suggest, 

"My understanding is no, it was an unsolicited letter. They
looked at lots of different factors but in the end they
could have spent millions and millions and millions with the
lawyers and actually got nowhere - or practically make a
payment to the families, which made more sense."

- is a cynical attempt to trivialise a clearly dangerous
precedent that  undermines our justice system.

If justice can now be purchased in New Zealand, when will
John Key's government issue an Order in Council publishing a
tariff chart for payments to drop Court cases, calculated
according to the severity of charges? 

And will there be a bulk discount for multiple charges?

-Frank Macskasy
(address & phone number supplied)

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References

Radio NZ:  Pike families convinced deal was done

Previous related blogposts

Purchasing “justice” on the New Zealand open market – did National sell Pike River victims out?

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Health and safety jobcuts? Haven’t we been down this road before?!

28 February 2013 16 comments

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Ministry cutting 135 health and safety jobs

Source

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Three things here…

(1) Sacking trained, experienced health and safety inspectors?! Haven’t we been down this road before?

Why yes – indeed we have.

In the early 1990s the Mining Inspectorate was amalgamated with the Labour Dept, and mines inspectors went from 7 to two  positions. And only one of those positions was filled to service the entire country.

The result was a shoddy and lax culture of safety in  mines – and on 19 November 2010, 29 men died as as result. (see:  Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy)

Mines Minister Kate Wilkinson took “responsibility” and resigned immediatly after the Commission report was released.

It was a faux resignation, of course. She ‘jumped’ before the Commission’s report forced Key’s hand. It was a cold, calculating strategy to minimise and close down media and public scrutiny of National’s past performance in de-regulation and reliance on “market” forces.

National does not seem to have learnt a single damn thing.

(2) The irony of sacking 135 people from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has also not escaped me.

Doublethink at it’s best?

I think so.

(3) The 135 sacked employees are expected ” to reapply for their positions through a rigorous process including psychometric testing “.

“Psychometric testing”?!

National is allowing government departments to use a technique that is controversial at best, and  voodoo ‘science‘ at worst,  to interview potential employees?! When  did this bit of hocus-pocus chicanery become State sector policy?

All in all, this is further indication of the mess that National is creating, and will leave an incoming government to clean up.

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Previous related blogposts

Heather Roy – head down the mine shaft?

W.o.F “reforms” – coming to a crash in your suburb

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This will end in tears…

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Union upset at new meat inspection rules

Newstalk ZB May 19, 2012, 10:17 am

The union for public servants is unhappy at new rules allowing meat companies to inspect their own produce.

The Ministry for Primary Industries is going ahead with the scheme, after consulting our main trading partners.

Until now, meat inspections have been done by government officials employed by AsureQuality.

The PSA’s Richard Wagstaff says inspectors are telling him there’s already pressure on them to speed the process up.

“They think that if they didn’t have an independent warrant and didn’t work for a separate company, the pressure that would come to bear on them would be impossible to resist.”

The union is also worried about the inspectors’ jobs.

Source

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Self-inspection?!

Where have we heard this before…?

As it happened: Pike River Mine Inquiry day four

Published: 8:35AM Thursday July 14, 2011 Source: ONE News

12.47pm: A letter written to the Ministry of Energy by [Harry Bell – Former Chief Inspector of coal mines ] Bell in 1997 is bought up as evidence. He confirms that he still holds the views expressed in the letter. He wanted the Mining Inspection Group (MIG) to stay within the Ministry Of Commerce. Marine and aviation industries had been left out of the new Occupational Safety and Health regulations, and he believe that mining also should be left out. “Mining is an entirely different industry to shops and factories.” That letter came at the end of the transition process, but Bell says it was a view that had been expressed from the beginning. “All the inspectors did, but nobody listened, they had already made their minds ups.”

12.45pm: Bell says that mines cannot be audited ‘on paper’ – mines need to be physcally inspected. He says that a lack of regular inspections was a “Recipe for disaster”.

12.42pm: Bell says he has had concerns about the closure of dedicated mine training through polytechs with regular standards set by the Board of Examiners, made up by experienced miners. He has concerns that students are not orally examined, with students not checked that they understand any work that they have completed.

12.39 pm: He says that under the new regime there was only one inspection in one year at a mine he managed. “A reactive response is not appropriate for the underground coal mine industry.”

12.34 pm: Bell says, “The Pike River plans should never have been approved, and in my opinion would not have been approved in the prior regulatory environment.” He says he believes the Pike River disaster can be attributed in some part to human error, lack of inspector experience, and lack of inspections.

12.32 pm: He says that since 1993 calibre of the OSH (Department of Labour) inspectors has slipped dramatically, and that management and the miners are left to self regulate. Today the inspectors are not experienced with gassy mines or the management of roles. He says a factor in this was that salaries were cut – experienced miners would no longer take the role.

See: TVNZ – As it happened: Pike River Mine Inquiry day four

In 2010, New Zealand’s meat industry earned $5.7 billion in exports.

Our entire reputation as a reliable, dependable, and safe source of food has been based not just on our relatively clean and mostly unpolluted environment – but also on our strict inspection regime.  Up until now, meat inspectors have been independent and impartial, giving fear nor favour to no one.

History has shown that where an industry is left to self-regulate, that problems will occur.

Self-regulation is not a bright idea. In fact, it stinks like meat offal left out in the noon-day sun.

Next, the multi-billion dollar leaking-homes scandal,

”  I think that is important that we accept that we have a Government—not just this Government—and a whole lot of people who have the mantra of deregulation and self-regulation. We are being told, everywhere we turn, that self-regulation and deregulation will work. We do not need all this onerous regulation. This leaky home disaster is an abject lesson in what happens in the huge cost of deregulation.

What did this 1991 Act do?

The aim of it was to encourage competition in the market, to boost the building industry, to reduce building costs, and to save money. Everyone whipped themselves into a fervour about the wonderful things that would happen with the passage of the Building Act and deregulation. They wiped out all the previous regulations and controls, they loosened councils’ inspection procedures, and they allowed the introduction of private council inspectors, so that there would be competition with council inspectors. 

See: Green Party –  Leaky Homes caused by deregulation

It does interest me that the building sector has, indeed, self regulated since 1821 (when New Zealand’s first house was built — Kemp House — nearly 200 years ago).

Self regulation is where an industry has Codes of Practice — eg, training standards, self monitoring and/or voluntary accreditation systems — like the Registered Master Builders Federation which imposes entry standards and criteria upon membership.

Yet, it is only now that the Government has deemed it necessary to regulate the building occupation, and then, only the residential sector due primarily to the leaky homes saga

Mind you, we don’t start being “regulated” until March 1, 2012, so we are, indeed, still self-regulating.

See: Building Today – What is the actual Licensed Building Practitioner scheme?

Self-regulation in a commercial environment is not a good idea. There are simply too many pressures brought to bear on Inspectors, and eventually a culture of short-cuts and turning a blind eye develops.

As usual, this daft proposal emanates from  National – a party in power that penny-pinches and cost-cuts, and exposes New Zealand’s economy to dire risks.

Unfortunately, as with the ministerial architects of the 1991 Building Act “reforms”, those who legislate; de-regulate; and self-regulate are not the ones who will be held to account when something goes horribly wrong.

As usual, the politicians responsible will not shoulder responsibility – and it will be the taxpayer who foots the bill to fix whatever mess eventuates.

Self-regulation in the meat industry. Not a good idea. In fact, it’s a dumb idea.

This will end in tears. Again.

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Related blogposts

Bugs and balls-ups!

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A lethal lesson in de-regulation…

18 August 2011 2 comments

More here.

De-regulation and an open, unfettered economy was the big fashion in the late 1980s (“Rogernomics”) and 1990s (“Ruthenasia”). It was argued by neo-liberals; the wealthy; and by segments of wannabee-rich middle class, that de-regulation was the new paradigm that would create an efficient; highly productive; wealthy society.

We would become the “Ireland” of the South Pacific – and Ireland at the time was doing extremely well, economically.

So the National government of the day, led by Prime Minister Jim Bolger, and with Ruth Richardson as his Minister ofFinance, continued what a Labour cabal consisting of Roger Douglas, Richard Prebble, Peter Dunne, Michael Bassett, et al, had started: de-regulating the economy.

The new mantra was “De-regulation, good. Government regulation, bad”.

It was a childishly simplistic notion, and one that would cost us dearly in terms of vast sums of money; destroyed dreams; and lives lost.

The years passed. The 20th Century turned into the new 21st Century. The public became tired of National, and elected a new, Labour government, led by Helen Clark. Labour had a hard task of paying off a decade of accumulated debt and resolving deep social problems that were afflicting the country; growing poverty; high unemployment; increasing cases of poverty-related disease; lack of support for the country’s mentally ill;  a loss of state housing (National had sold off 13,000 state houses during it’s tenure); and other pressing matters.

There were also two silent time-bombs waiting in the shadows.

In the early 1990s, changes were made to the Building Act 1991/Building Regulations 1992  with several  subsequent amendments.

Effectively, these amendments de-regulated much of the industry, permitting untreated timber to be used where, previously, only treated varieties could be using for house construction. New materials could also be used that had not previously been common in residential building, including a newly fashionable “Meditteranean style”.

Similar de-regulatory events were to take place in Health & Safety, in 1992,  with regards to mining. In 1998 seven dedicated OSH mines inspectors were absorbed into OSH.  The disbanding of the mines inspectorate group, and moving its functions to the Department of Labour, had saved about $1 million. Health and safety (mines)  inspector, Michael Firmin,  was the sole inspector of mines left.

The bombs were set, and the fuses lit.

On 26 May 26 2001, the first “bomb” went off, with a NZ Herald article  revealing that a growing number of new or near-new houses were rotting because of lack of water-tightness.

On 19 November 2010, the second “bomb” went of at Pike River mine, as a methane explosion killed 29 mine-workers.

Investigation into both the “Leaky Homes Syndrome” and the Pike River disaster have one, inescapable common factor: regulations that were once in place, had been removed; altered; or watered-down. In both cases, de-regulation had meant a lack of direct responsibility for ensuring that whatever regulations did remain, were not observed.

Hopefully, New Zealand has learnt a harsh, expensive, and deadly lesson about de-regulation. Regulations are there for a reason. Like the road speed limit. We may not always like the nuisance that rules and regulations provide – but they exist for our safety and our financial security. (When the Huntly West mine blew up in 1992 there were no fatalites. (Former) Chief coal mine inspector Harry Bell had closed it down 36 hours before.)

If we give away regulation for expediency, or because it fits some trendy political free-market ideology – then be prepared  for the consequences. Because as sure as day follows night; there will be consequences.

One thing I have noticed about my generation, the “Baby Boomers”; we seem to be child-like in so many respects. We are  impatient – we want it now. Until the Cullen Fund – we didn’t want to save for our retirement (the Fund had to bribe us with a $1,000 kick-start from the government – ie, us, the taxpayer). We accepted tax-payer funded free education from our parents – only to abandon it and force User-Pays on our own children, through Student Fees. Charming.

We ignore complicated social issues – in favour of displaced penguins and “Wellywood” signs. We lose interest in matters that demand our long-term attention – a fact that politicians are aware of, and exploit to their benefit.

By god, we need to grow up. Because, collectively, we are still making incredibly bad or stupid decisions based on self-interest and short-term gain.

Our lack of collective wisdom; our inability to see things long-term; our willingness to accept short-term gain – and never mind the consequences – should give us cause for concern.

Unfortunately, I am pessimistic that we will “grow up” any time soon. In fact, I await the next silent “bomb” that is ticking away, somewhere, in the shadows. How much will it cost us? And will we pay dearly, in lives?

Postscript: following the global banking crisis, Ireland is now bankrupt and a fiscal basket-case needing bail-outs from the EU to survive.

A hole they all dug?

22 July 2011 1 comment

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‘Obvious’ lack of safety measures

Friday Jul 22, 2011. While Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall doesn’t think his company had been in tarnished by the Royal Commission of Inquiry, the spokesman for the victims’ families said it was obvious there was a lack of safety measures for even small emergencies in the mine.

Bernie Monk said the first phase of the inquiry – which has wrapped up today after two weeks – had got a lot more information out into the public arena than the families had expected. “I think we are going to get to the truth. There’s no two ways about that,” he said outside court.

Tears had often been shed by family members attending the inquiry. “We’ve been dragged through this for going on nine months now and it opens up wounds every time we come to do something like this. “But we will be tough, we are supporting each other and we’ll get there.”

Responding to inquiry evidence about possible escape routes from the mine, Mr Monk said it was obvious there was a lack of safety measures for even small emergencies in the mine.

Continued.
To be fair, it’s difficult to comment as the Commission is yet to hear all witnesses and consider all evidence. Going purely by an incomplete perception alone, I offer these observations;

  • The changes to legislation in the early 1990s by a reform-obsessed National Government  seems to have created the proverbial ticking time bomb. As with the leaky/rotting homes syndrome, the de-regulation of mining and safety has resulted in inevitable disaster.
  • The Pike River Mine company seems to have operated using short cuts, taking advantage of the de-regulation of the 1990s. And like other hostile environments such as the sea and outer space, mining is an unforgiving activity where  eventually good luck will run out.
  • Whilst National may have facilitated the environment where all the elements came together for an eventual catastrophe – it shouldn’t be forgotten that Labour had nine years to address this problem and re-instate mines inspectors. They obviously did not.
  • And lastly, where was the miners’ union? Why did the remaining safety inspector(s) not blow the whistle? (I’m not even going to ask about the media, which seems to have fallen asleep-at-the-wheel, only to awaken when there are suitable crime stories to report, or stranded penguins that go off the Cuteness Scale…)  And Bernie Monk stated that the mine was “obviously unsafe”.

Yet, no one spoke up.

I have this nagging feeling that society (via a Facebook village mob, again?) and a headline-hungry media will look toward a scapegoat.  The truth, though, is that complicity may spread far and wide on this matter.

 

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