John Roughan: Let miners rest in peace

Save

By John Roughan

Every time Bernie Monk and his Pike River people come pressing politicians for the mine to be re-entered I wonder why. Why would they want to disturb that grave?

Their sons and brothers lie where they died, if anything remains of them. If one of them was my son or brother, I think I'd want the mine sealed.

I wouldn't want to find out whether anything remains. I wouldn't like the idea of people walking into his tomb to see what might be there. I'd sooner visit that beautiful, remote place sometimes and know he is there in the mountain with his companions, honoured in the grand silence of the rain forest.

Give me a grave like that to visit rather than the one I do. My brother is in a tidy cemetery in Christchurch. It was 45 years ago last week that he was biking home from work on a Friday evening and turned in front of a car.

At least, we think that is how it happened. It didn't matter whose fault it was. It wouldn't bring him back. He was a building apprentice aged 17. Forever 17.

The driver of the car came to call on Dad and Mum who felt for him. However it had happened, it would stay with that man for life too.

People have different reactions to death. Some don't want to talk about it, especially to news reporters if they call, others find it immensely helpful. I would gladly have told the world about Paul if his death had been newsworthy.

Not all the Pike River families want the mine re-entered, we've been told. We ought to hear more about their wishes when those demanding re-entry are on television.

They appear to be using their grief for vengeance that will not help them. Most people have lost someone close to them and have experienced the stages of grief. Admittedly most have a body to bury, but not all. The Pike River families are in much the same position as relatives of someone killed in an air crash or lost at sea.

The Pike River people want "closure", which they think they will never get if the mine is closed. I'm not sure what "closure" is. Six years have passed since the mine exploded. In my case, it got a little easier after three years but I wouldn't claim "closure" even now, and wouldn't want it.

Continued below.

Related Content

The other reason the Pike River families give for not wanting the mine sealed is that they want to see somebody pay for the poor safety standards of the mine and its operation, and they think there may be evidence in there. It is hard to imagine what that might be. The royal commission was able to make a fairly damning indictment of the mine's design and management from the testimony of those who had worked in it.

Pike River Coal was convicted of health and safety breaches and ordered to pay the families $3.41 million, which amounted to $110,000 each. The company was broke and said it couldn't pay more then $5000 to each. The families also received standard ACC payouts totalling $5m plus $217,000 each from a public sympathy fund that had raised $6.2m.

In addition, they have shared $3.4m from the former mine manager, Peter Whittall, under a deal he did with WorkSafe NZ to have 12 charges dropped. Two of the families went to the High Court for a judicial review of that settlement and lost. They went to the Court of Appeal which handed down its verdict this week.

It found WorkSafe's decision to drop the charges was lawful but said that had it found otherwise it would not have set aside the settlement because payment had already been made. The Council of Trade Unions damned the outcome, calling it "chequebook justice" that had allowed an unrepentant defendant to get his insurer to pay.

Unrepentant? Whittall is living with the deaths of 29 men who relied on his decisions.

Much of the evidence in court was unsigned hearsay and he probably could have defended it but didn't want the trial. That is why they settled. If the unsatisfied families do not want "chequebook justice", what do they want?

They have seen workplace health and safety legislation rewritten in a way that now deters the mine's new owner, state-owned Solid Energy, from accepting the families' re-entry plan. That and the cost.

The families saw the prime minister this week and he announced he would not allow Solid Energy to seal the mine for the time being. So the issue remains alive for the election.

My sympathies are with the silent families who want their sons, fathers or brothers inside the mountain to be left to rest in peace.

Share this article

More Opinion