Does he stand by all his statements regarding the safety of mining in New Zealand; and does he consider his Government has met all its responsibilities arising out of the Pike River mine disaster?
When was he first shown, or told about, the image recorded in the Pike River mine on 24 November, before the second explosion, showing an opened box likely to have been one containing self-rescuers?
Is the Prime Minister seriously suggesting that the police and mine management did not take him into their confidence over what the image from the mine had shown?
I do not have a memory of the image that the member is talking about. If he wants to show it to me afterwards, I am more than happy to look at it. Between the time of the first explosion and the second explosion I did not see any footage other than the video footage that was immediately released, once I saw it, into the public domain—and that was the image of the first explosion taking place.
How does he reconcile his statements to the miners’ families that no expense would be spared to recover the miners’ remains with evidence given to the royal commission by Doug White, the mine manager at Pike River, that he was told not to use the word “recovery” because it was politically unacceptable, and that insufficient money was allocated for the recovery operation?
I have no knowledge of what Doug White has been told, but he certainly has not been told anything by the Government or by our office. The member knows, I think, full well what the situation is at Pike River, which is that there is a plan to get in. It is a ventilated plan—going up the main shaft. The families have met both Steve Ellis, as the mine’s statutory manager, and the liquidators about this issue. The Government is working alongside them as best we can. I have always said that when there is a credible plan and a safe plan, we will go into the mine. It is not a decision for politicians to make; it is a decision for those who have expertise in this area. With all due respect, 29 people lost their lives. If that member thinks that I will have political interference and send another 10 blokes down there to get killed, he is dreaming.
Does he stand by his statement on 22 November 2010 that “I have no reason to believe that New Zealand’s safety standards are any less than Australia’s, and in fact our safety record for the most part has been very good.”?
If the emergency exit from a mine can meet minimum standards yet be impossible to use, does it not suggest to the Prime Minister, as it does to every other New Zealander, that those standards are in urgent need of reform?
That is ultimately a matter for the royal commission. The Government has given the royal commission very wide terms of reference. It is allowing the royal commission to come up with a set of recommendations, which I have no doubt it will do, at which point the Government of the day, whoever that Government is, will clearly go and consider that. The second thing I can say is that the Government has acted in other areas where it can, while it waits for the findings of the royal commission. They include an immediate safety audit of all operating underground mines in New Zealand, and the establishment of the High Hazards Unit. As the member will be aware, the Minister of Labour has been working on those issues. She has been more than happy to keep the member up to date with those issues. I understand that the member met with the Minister this morning and will continue to be updated if he so desires.
Given that the establishment of the High Hazards Unit has demonstrated that it is possible, in fact, to take steps to increase safety prior to the royal commission reporting, how can it be morally acceptable to allow men to go underground every day until such time as the royal commission reports, when we know that the regulations governing their activity underground are inadequate for the task?
Following the Pike River mine disaster there was an immediate safety audit of all operating underground mines in New Zealand. That audit, as I understand it, did not come back with any significant recommendations, which is why we continue to have people working underground. That does not mean that no recommendations will come out of the royal commission. I think the second thing that it is important to note—and it has been one of the challenges of Pike River—is that every single mine is bespoke and unique. What took place in terms of design of Pike River can be completely different from the design that took place at Spring Creek Mine, or at any other underground mine in New Zealand. One should not necessarily draw the dots between one mine and another.
Has the Prime Minister spoken to the receiver personally; if so, did he place a time line on the sale of the Pike River assets, including the mine licence?
I have spoken to John Fisk personally. I did that the day that I met with the families, as I promised them that I would. I also wrote to the families’ representative, Bernie Monk, with a list of all of the commitments and my understanding of what took place at that meeting. I did not discuss the sale at any great length with John Fisk. What I was ringing him about was the frustration and concerns that the families expressed to me about Steve Ellis, the statutory mine manager. I wanted to make sure that the receiver was well and truly aware of that. What did happen was that John Fisk gave me an absolute commitment that they would continue to work on the credible plan; he detailed the plan at some length to me. As I said to Mr Hague, my understanding is that they have met with the families, including Harry Bell, and my understanding is that that was deemed to be a constructive meeting with the families.
Did the Prime Minister give an assurance to families that the sale of Pike River assets would not be delayed by an Overseas Investment Office process, such as that which continues on the sale of the Crafar farms, and which would further prolong the delays and anguish for the families of the 29 men whose remains lie within the mine?
I would need to go and check the file note, but I do not have any recollection of that. What I did say to the families was the same thing that I said publicly, which is that the expectation of the Acting Minister of Energy and Resources is that in the case of a sale, what is required is a transfer of the mining licence, and in order for that transfer of the mining licence to take place, the purchasers would have to demonstrate that they had a credible plan to undertake body recovery. We would expect that to happen as soon as they practically could, but, as we all know, this is very, very complex.