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NZ POLITICS DAILY: Pike River - Labour has blood on its hands

Labour has blood on its hands, suggests Chris Trotter is his column today about the Pike River disaster.

He says that the traditions of the Labour Party are to make life safer for workers, yet ‘if there’s “blood on the coal” at Pike River – Labour helped to put it there’ during its time in office in the 1980s and then under the Helen Clark Government – see: Labour shares Pike River guilt.

Trotter tries to explain why the last Labour Government – and especially those ministers in the Labour portfolio; ‘Margaret Wilson (1999-2004); Ruth Dyson (2005-07); and Trevor Mallard (2007-08)’ – ‘for nine long years did nothing to prevent the tragedy which, in such a criminally deregulated environment, was only ever a matter of time’. Apparently, there ‘was no appetite in the Clark-led Labour Government for a return to the so-called “heavy-handed” regulations of the past’ and he says that the current Labour Party is still enthralled with neoliberalism and deregulation. 

What about the union movement? According to leftwing blogger Steven Cowan, the union movement – or at least the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) – also has blood on its hands. In a stridently critical and well-researched blogpost entitled How ‘modern unionism’ failed the Pike River miners, Cowan quotes Labour MPs Damien O’Connor and Andrew Little defending the Pike River Company. O’Connor is quoted from 2010 saying that the disaster was ‘just one of these things that the West Coast unfortunately has had to get used to over the years’ and suggesting that the company wasn’t necessarily to blame. According to Cowan, the then the head of the EPMU, Andrew Little, went into bat for the company saying there was 'nothing unusual about Pike River or this mine that we’ve been particularly concerned about'.
 
But for the moment the heat continues to be on the National Government and Kate Wilkinson, who continues to refuse to resign from Cabinet. The political rule to never ask a question publically that you don’t already know the answer to may well apply to Wilkinson’s ‘What have I done wrong?’ Her apparently genuine bewilderment at being asked to make a real sacrifice shows, more than any other statement, that her resignation as Minister of Labour was purely a symbolic and political gesture. After all – why resign at all if no wrong has been done?  It seems the public servants under Wilkinson may be clearly told what they did wrong as John Key ‘refused to rule out further heads rolling within the public service as a result of the tragedy’ – see Andrea Vance, Tracy Watkins and Danya Levy’s 'What have I done wrong?'
 
While there may be no smoking gun linking Wilkinson directly to the Pike River tragedy, her overall performance in protecting New Zealand workers from harm may provide some answers to her question. After the mine disaster Shell Todd Service general manager Rob Jager was asked to lead a task force to improve workplace safety and he described New Zealand's record in workplace health and safety as ‘extremely poor’. This week he said that ‘Our fatality rate is more than six times as bad as UK and nearly twice as bad as Australia’ – see Audrey Young’s NZ's safety record slammed
 
There have been numerous editorials and opinion pieces urging the government to get on with implementing the Royal Commission’s recommendations. Nearly all, like Brian Rudman, say leaving businesses to look after workplace safety was a mistake that must be rectified – see: Bring back Nanny State – she'll help keep us safe. There are parallels with other costly mistakes thinks Rosemary McLeod: ‘In the fever of deregulation that we imagined meant good things would happen, we also changed building regulations, resulting in a housing catastrophe that we seem unwilling to confront and which will roll on for years to come, ruining people who bought homes in good faith’ – see: Pike River a show of profits before safety
 
Despite the Prime Minister’s defense of Wilkinson in Parliament, he seems to indicate that business self-interest is still considered the primary protector of safety at work: ‘saying that a company is prepared to risk the deaths of its employees and the reputation of the company for the sole purpose of making money, and even from the most hardened socialist I find that something difficult to believe’. No Right Turn despairs: ‘But as the report makes clear, this is exactly what happened at Pike River. A failing company ignored health and safety and risked the lives of its workers in a desperate effort to stay afloat. There are now 29 corpses rotting in a mine as evidence that the Prime Minister's rosy-eyed view is Utterly, horribly wrong’.
 
Finally, to get a visual sense of how the original disaster and the Royal Commission’s report has been received, see my blogpost, The Politics of the Pike River tragedy – in images and cartoons
 
Other recent important or interesting political items include:
 
* The must-read opinion piece on the Electoral Commission’s recommendations to improve MMP is Mark Blackham’s MMP reform in NZ. This points out that the Commission’s proposals would ‘make Parliament less representative’. He puts forward the argument in favour of abolishing the MMP threshold. But if newspaper editorials are anything to go by, there seems to be significant approval of the Electoral Commission’s recommendations to improve MMP – see The Herald’s National can afford faith in small parties, the ODT’s Voters looking for lead on MMP, the Waikato Times’ MPs' views don't count, and the Dominion Post’s Electoral changes in the public interest. Blogger Pete George suggests that such views are simply biased in favour of the interest of the bigger political parties – see: Dominion Post editorial biased towards larger parties on MMP. Also, well worth reading is John Armstrong’s Parties playing politics with MMP proposals.
 
* Unemployment has hit a 13-year high, and the politicians are scrambling to find the reasons. For the Prime Minister, the blame is Auckland, which is skewing the national survey – see: Key dismisses unemployment concerns. For Tariana Turia, however, the problem is discrimination – see RadioLive’s Maori discrimination raises unemployment – Turia.  Forget gay shirts, asset sales, David Beckham and Kim Dotcom, the real threat to National’s re-election chances is the economy according to Duncan Garner, who thinks the jobless figures may be much more than a ‘blip’ – see: Is our economy collapsing? Garner, in an earlier post, argues Bill English will have to officially give up on their surplus target very soon - see: Surplus target up in smoke
 
* This week Jane Clifton evaluates the Government’s housing affordability proposals, and explains why they’re in a difficult situation without many real options – see: National’s affordable housing package
 
* Is there a bias in the media against right-wing experts? Karl du Fresne thinks so, and explains why journalists should put less store in academic commentators especially – see: We should bow to experts - unless they happen to be right-wing
 
* The Listener profile on David Cunliffe probably hasn’t done his political career any favours. It is now available online – see: Guyon Espiner’s Reinventing David Cunliffe
 
* Yet another vote of ‘no confidence’ is expressed in the Greens’ lobbying regulation private members bill – this time by the executive director of the association of NGOs – see Dave Henderson’s Lobbying bill a sledgehammer
 
* New Zealand is said to be the least corrupt nation in the world. But Transparency International wants to get a more in-depth and sophisticated picture of the integrity of our system and next week is launching the New Zealand National Integrity System Assessment.
 
* While the debate over the consequences of ‘light handed regulation’ in health and safety continues, it is interesting to see that problems caused by a similar philosophy in building regulations is still a very long way off resolution. Home-owners who had their leaky homes signed off by private certifiers are missing out on compensation - see: Anne Gibson’s Leaky payout plan works – Govt
 
* The continuation of the human species is apparently like choosing heated leather seats and in-built GPS navigation for your car according to Paul Clark, who owns the New Zealand Ammunition Company – see:  Ben Heather’s Having family 'like buying a luxury car'
 
* Not so long ago National agreed to the Maori Party’s wish to have the Tino Rangitiratanga flag officially flown on Waitangi Day, but the days of supporting such symbolic acts of co-operation seem over – see:  Isaac Davison’s National's opposition to Treaty oath 'disturbing' - Maori Party. National’s Tau Henare didn’t hide his support for the bill and says he considered crossing the floor: ‘But that did not create stable government, he said. Voting down the bill meant we were the same as the ''other colonial nations”’ – see Kate Chapman’s Henare followed party line, Key says.
 
* Brian Edwards takes the time to explain to a fallen MP why hypocrisy, rather than making a mistake many years ago, was his undoing - see: David Garrett writes to me and I respond
 
* Backdowns are politically embarrassing, so Hekia Parata’s strategy to avoid them seems to be to deny that there was anything to back down from in the first place – see: Charley Mann’s Parata rejects high school mergers
 
* Ever wondered why and how Cameron Slater has come to be so big in the beltway of New Zealand politics? Brian Edwards explains that, like Winston Peters, the Whaleoil blogger (and now newspaper editor) is 'the joker in this pack of dullards', and Edwards says that 'politics in this country has never been duller' - see: I meet Cameron Slater and get to thinking about boring politicians
 
Bryce Edwards
 
Today's content:
 
Pike River
Andrea Vance, Tracy Watkins and Danya Levy (Stuff): 'What have I done wrong?'
Audrey Young (Herald): NZ's safety record slammed
Chris Trotter (Stuff): Labour shares Pike River guilt
Rosemary McLeod (Dom Post): Pike River a show of profits before safety
Waikato Times: Self-regulation a failure
Warwick Rasmussen (Manawatu Standard): Editorial: Catalogue of failings simply staggering
No Right Turn: Utterly, horribly wrong
Kevin Hague (Frogblog): Wilkinson resignation only symbolic
Kate Chapman (Stuff): Workers need a safety voice - CTU
Steven Cowan (Against the current): How ‘modern unionism’ failed the Pike River miners
 
MMP
Tim Selwyn (Tumeke): MMP review
Katie Bradford-Crozier (Newstalk ZB): National may be sticking point over voting changes
The Standard: Random thoughts on MMP
Mark Blackham (Political business): MMP reform in NZ
Katie Bradford-Crozier (Newstalk ZB): Labour wants to increase number of MPs - Collins
Ele Ludemann (Homepaddock): No consensus, no change
 
Economy
James Weir and Kate Chapman (Stuff): Shock rise in unemployment to 7.3pc
Danyl Mclauchlan (Dim Post): Turns out scorn is not a growth multiplier
 
Parliament
Kate Chapman (Stuff): Henare followed party line, Key says
Kate Chapman (Stuff): Henare hits out at National
Audrey Young (Herald): Henare laments failure of oath bill
Dave Henderson (Stuff): Lobbying bill a sledgehammer
 
Canterbury
Rachel Young (Stuff): Axing ECan election 'undemocratic'
Charley Mann (Stuff): Parata rejects high school mergers
 
Education
Adam Bennett (Herald): Charter schools to ignore zoning
Dom Post: Editorial: Our teachers deserve to be paid
 
PM on Gay red tops and David Beckham
Bryan Gould (Herald): Gaffes harming Key's credibility
Kevin Hague (Frogblog): Gay red top
Adam Bennett (Herald): Key's 'gay' lapse upsets teachers
Danya Levy (Stuff): Greens' red tops keep heat on PM
Danya Levy (Stuff): Key denies bats**t Beckham call
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Ironic
 
Dotcom
Karl du Fresne: The wolf pack has moved on
Cath Odgers (Listener): Kim Dot-who?
 
NZ reaction to US election result
John Armstrong (Herald): US continuity will please the Beehive
Audrey Young (Herald): PM happy to work with known team
Matthew Theunissen (Herald): Romney win 'more problematic' for NZ
 
Gang Patch bill
 
Environment
Isaac Davison (Herald): Govt's diluted ETS branded 'ecocide'
 
Housing
Matthew Backhouse (Herald): MP to use court as protest forum
Sean Bignell (Dom Post): Focus on getting the housing mix right
Danya Levy (Stuff): Rough day for ACT's John Banks
Danyl Mclauchlan (Dim Post): The longer term?
Anne Gibson (Herald):Rent, don't buy, says economist
Anne Gibson (Herald): Landlord says to rent - as he does
Anne Gibson (Herald): Leaky payout plan works - Govt
Anne Gibson (Herald): Leaky homes fiasco continues
 
Paid Parental Leave
 
Marriage equality
Isaac Davison (Herald): Gay marriage rejectors 'in denial'
Laura McQuillan (Newswire): Homosexual 'hang ups' behind opponents
Ben Heather (Stuff): Gay marriage a human right: MP
 
Other
Guyon Espiner (Listener): Reinventing David Cunliffe
Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Govt blamed for any 4G delay
Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Maori seek urgent spectrum hearing
Fran O’Sullivan (Herald): Groser in with chance to lead WTO
Bill Rosenberg (Herald): Overseas land figures disputed
Shane Cowlishaw (Stuff): Bringing Family Court out of the shadows
Bronwyn Torrie (Dom Post): Dental woes putting kids in hospital
Tim Selwyn (Tumeke): No, the other Richard Long
John Drinnan (Herald): TV3 wins election battle
Andrea Vance (Stuff): Key to make first visit to Myanmar
Chris Trotter (Bowalley Road): Norman Kirk - In His Own Words
Matthew Backhouse (APNZ): New political party takes aim at foreign 

More by Bryce Edwards

Comments and questions

RE: ANDREW LITTLE - At Pike River, Miners union (EPMU and forerunner) failed in representing workers industrial health and safety interests - with pay and benefits the most basic of workers welfare interests - (which of course includes monitoring performance by Dept. Labour of mining safety responsibilities). Basically this is the fault of trade union membership who have permitted a takeover of their union (and trade unions generally) by people from the urban educated liberal elite who see themselves more as part of the "labour movement" than as trade union activists. This description appears to fit Andrew Little, miners union/EPMU Little General Secretary for 11 years until recently - 2011 election Labour candidate for New Plymouth (and perhaps also predecessor Rex Jones) during which 11 years the rot set into mining safety - following the destruction of regulation by previous National Governments (left unremedied). Both Jones and Little found time to be President of the NZ Labour Party at the same time as being EPMU General Secretary. Mr Little apparently wasn't likely to robustly challenge the industrial safety policy failures of Labour Government Ministers of Labour and dereliction of public duty by Dept.of Labour chiefs.

Sheesh what a load of propaganda worthy of Pravda. The same orgy of deregulation that bought us leaky homes gave us unsafe gassy mines. Douglas and Richardson are to blame but all subsequent ministers are implicated by doing nothing.

Yes – Labour and their union masters have blood on their hands alright – due to negligence, incompetence and featherbedding greed.

For decades the unions have received many millions from the likes of ACC and other government departments for “Health & Safety Training” so what was achieved and delivered? By whom? When? How? Who checks up on any so-called deliverables on this by the unions for the millions they have been granted?

It would be very interesting to see if the amounts received by the various unions from all manner of tax payer largesse increased under a Labour government? Especially, when looking across the pond at all the union corruption and scandals unfolding there with the less than honest unions. Could it happen here?

There’s a proven ponzi scheme / very cosy “related party” financial skulduggery going on between Labour, the unions and then the tax-payer funded purse strings that Labour controlled when in government. The unions received tens of millions – if not hundreds of millions of “grants” for H&S training – so what has ever been delivered?

Would the unions just accept the grants and then just not deliver anything? Don’t know? Where do we find this information? Or dies it need a Royal Enquiry to assist the Registrar with helping the unions file their yearly accounts?

Whiffy, whiffy, whiffy…

One of the problems with NZ is that, with any disaster, (Erebus, Pike River, RENA, CTV building, et cetera) the emphasis is "who can we blame" rather than "what went wrong, and how can we minimise the likelihood of it happening again". Result, legal efforts to shield persons, at the expense of finding out what happened.

This tradgedy would most likely never have occured had it not been for the ego of one Helen Clark, who come hell or highwater was going to take over as Prime mInister in 1999. She bedded into a coalition with the enviromentally deluded Greens. This 'coalition of convenience', allowed the Greens to influence DOC, who withdrew the consent for a further two vent shafts. Thus setting in place the 'accident waiting to happen'.

Very true - the eco green conservation freaks must share the blame. Beggars belief that just across the ditch a mine without another entrance would not have been allowed. I believe it was also banned in the UK after a terrible tragedy in the mid 1800's yet Helen Clark & all associated have "blood on their hands".

Is everyone reading this insanely offensively rightwing? Can we at least have a rational debate without the need to absolve National of its share of the blame? Try talking your offensive nonsense in Runanga and you will be rightfully tarred and feathered.

The mine should never have been underground, open casting eliminates the risks from methane laden bituminous coal. So who was responsible? A strange collusion of greedy corporates, desperate workers, lazy government and greenies who value the environment above people. Empower the labour department and have a real inspection division with teeth.

The mine was driven underground as a condition of the Resource Mangement Consent. The corporate wanted it to be Open cast.
Once again the ideologically deluded held sway.

Sh*t happens. Get over it.

Helen Clark's Labour Govt left an enduring legacy for us all -- Leaky Homes scandal, slack regulation of the agencies overseeing the likes of Bridgecorp etc, every police commissioner was found wanting, an inept head of the Armed Services, Pike River Disaster. The list just goes on and on.

Bit ironic but these days very few Miners are actually part of the Union. And of course Little and Co were never heard of in these parts till there was a TV camera around and they could get their face on it

In general they realised how well paid they are(if in a dangerous occupation) and I imagine a fair few would be National Voters.

Whatever the government does re OSH it will not stop accidents(just like the Financial Reporting Act or FMA will not stop people getting ripped off or tighter building controls will not stop dud houses being built) It happens and it is a fact of life(tragic though it may be for those affected by the Pike Disaster)

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