Pike River: Coal boss takes 'great offence' at lawyer's query

By Jarrod Booker

Don Elder. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Don Elder. Photo / Mark Mitchell

A mining boss has been accused of trying to drive down the value of Pike River mine by criticising its operation at a royal commission of inquiry.

Solid Energy chief executive Don Elder said he took "great offence" at the implication he was trying to influence the mine's value in the expectation that his company would successfully bid to buy the mine now in receivership. Dr Elder earlier claimed at the inquiry into the tragedy that Pike River Coal had over-estimated its financial return at the mine and "prolonged production and financial under-performance" could have potentially impacted on safety.

The lawyer for Pike River directors, officers and managers, Stacey Shortall, put it to Dr Elder that he had a vested interest in the value of Pike River mine because Solid Energy had an interest in buying the mine assets. He agreed.

But asked if that was the purpose of evidence he voluntarily gave to the inquiry, Dr Elder said: "I reject that and I take great offence at the question.

"Twenty-nine people are dead. There are 29 people who didn't come back from the mine. That's 29 very good reasons to present my evidence, so that it can assist the commission to find the right answer. I take great offence at the implication that the reason I am here is to talk down the value of the Pike River assets - that's already been done by the company. That's been successfully achieved."

Dr Elder would not confirm that Solid Energy had made a bid for the mine assets for commercial reasons.

He disagreed with Ms Shortall that by raising safety issues "unique" to Pike River he was attempting to avoid the commission placing "onerous" regulations on the wider mining industry. He said he had not raised his views on the Pike River development with a mines inspector or Pike River Coal chairman John Dow - whom he saw regularly - because he did not believe it was his role to do so.

Dr Elder conceded that Solid Energy had once described its own health and safety as "unacceptable" because of the number of incidents occurring at its Stockton open cast mine.

The inquiry has begun hearing from geologist Jane Newman on the geology of the West Coast area where Pike River mine is situated.

ROYAL COMMISSION

* The royal commission of inquiry into the Pike River mine tragedy will seek to establish what happened at the mine - where 29 workers died in a series of explosions last November - and how to avoid a repeat of the tragedy.
* Phase one of the hearings providing context for the inquiry began on Monday and runs until July 22. Three further hearing phases will follow, before the commission reports to the Governor-General by March 31 next year.
* The commissioners hearing the inquiry are High Court judge Justice Graham Panckhurst, former commissioner of the Electoral Commission David Henry, and commissioner for Mine Safety and Health in Queensland Stewart Bell.
* Geologist Jane Newman will continue giving evidence at the inquiry today.

- NZ Herald

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