Judith Collins praises ‘follow through’ of Pike River promise

The AM Show 16/11/2018

National MP Judith Collins has applauded the coalition Government for following through on its promise to re-enter the Pike River mine.

Ms Collins offered the Government rare praise as an Opposition MP, telling The AM Show on Friday that Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens "followed through on their promise" after being elected to power in 2017.

However, Ms Collins said it was disappointing that the 2010 Pike River explosion became a political issue used in campaigns by the coalition parties while in Opposition. NZ First leader Winston Peters promised Pike River families in December 2016 that he would be the first person to re-enter the mine.

Ms Collins also defended the previous Government's position of not re-entering the mine. "I think that safety should always be first here," she said. "We've always said if it was safe then we could do it, and we haven't had that assurance in the past."

"Having been in Cabinet for quite a lot of that time, we were very focused on doing the best thing we could in terms of those families, and also don't forget there are families who have come out saying they want the mine left as it is."

National said the mine was too unsafe to re-enter and was prepared to seal it off. But Pike River Minister Andrew Little said this week none of the reports he received about re-entry said it couldn't be achieved, and that all it required was managing the hazards and safety requirements.

The Minister announced on Wednesday the Government's plan to re-enter the Pike River mine. The former National Government is now facing criticism for not coming up with a re-entry plan sooner when it was possible all along.

"That's certainly not the advice we had at the time," said Ms Collins, when pressed on the issue by Duncan Garner. "You'd need to take it up with who was in charge at the time. John Key was the Prime Minister."

Ms Collins pointed to former Pike River Coal Ltd boss Peter Whittall as the one who should take the blame for the disaster which claimed the lives of 29 people. Ms Collins said he gave the victims' families mixed messages about re-entering the mine, which she said was "a completely dreadful thing to do".

A 2012 Royal Commission Report on the Pike River coal mine tragedy said the company's directors and executive managers paid insufficient attention to health and safety "and exposed the company's workers to unacceptable risk" in their drive to produce coal.

"I think Peter Whittall was the person who has the most responsibility in this, and if there's any evidence that comes out of this mine showing that there should be a prosecution, and then I think we should get on with it," Ms Collins said.

When pressed on why she didn't say that while she was Police Minister at the time, Ms Collins said her position did not allow her to speak out. "You can't say that when you're the minister," she said, referring to Criminal Nuisance charges brought against Peter Whittall after the disaster.

"You can't say that police are looking at prosecution or that the Department of Labour were looking at prosecutions. You can't be seen to be influencing prosecutions."

She said it was "not acceptable" that Mr Whittall escaped charges under the Health and Safety Act when the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) allowed him to instead pay $3.41 million to the two survivors and families of men who died.

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick said re-entering the mine is about "accountability and closure" for the families. She said it's a "matter of taking the health and safety of all Kiwis going to work every day seriously ". 

Watch the full panel with Judith Collins and Chloe Swarbrick above.

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