The chairman of Solid Energy said any suggestion the board should be given an exemption from health and safety law to allow re-entry to Pike River Mine was "perverse" and he would resign if that happened.

Andy Coupe was speaking at an emotionally charged select committee hearing on a petition by author Dame Fiona Kidman in support of Pike River Families.

Coupe also said that if money were not object, there would be a way to re-enter the mine, but he talked about it costing more than $100 million to produce a second exit.

Solid Energy chairman Andy Coupe and deputy chair Keiran Horne. Photo / Audrey Young
Solid Energy chairman Andy Coupe and deputy chair Keiran Horne. Photo / Audrey Young

Asked by New Zealand First leader Winston Peters if he accepted that a change to health and safety laws "in one-hour flat" could remove Solid Energy directors from responsibility for re-entry, Coupe said he agreed Parliament could do anything it wished.

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"I would call it a perverse response to the initiative that led to the legislation in the first place.

"Notwithstanding the fact that I would have no liability, I would resign as a director. I would not want to be director of a company that put people at risk."

Peters challenged Coupe as to why he would resign if he wasn't responsible.

Deputy chairwoman Keiran Horne responded: "The legal side doesn't deal with the moral responsibility of us being responsible for putting lives at risk."

Peters: "Don't come here and talk about morality to me with the greatest of respect."

Dame Fiona's petition asked that Solid Energy be stopped from sealing the Pike River Mine, which contains the remains of 29 men working in it when the mine exploded in 2010.

Prime Minister Bill English gave an undertaking to Pike River families last night that he would ask the state-owned company to stop work on a permanent seal to the mine while other options are explored.

The families have agreed to leave the picket line they set up on a road to the mine.
Coupe told the MPs that the request by the Government to stop the mine seal would have to be discussed with Work Safe, which had asked it to seal the mine.

Earlier Coupe had told the committee in response to Labour leader Andrew Little that while cost was not a part of the board's decision not to re-enter the mine, there would probably be a way if cost were not an issue.

"Would I say to you that cost would never be an issue in terms of a re-entry, it would be foolish to say that cost would not be factor.

"If re-entry was to be pursued at all cost, there would probably be a way it could be done.

"Ultimately, reducing safety to a significant degree or sufficient degree does come down to money," he said. "If that does mean drilling a second egress, we are talking $100 million plus," he said.

Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens support a move to exempt the Solid Energy Board from liability under tough new health and safety laws, which were passed in the wake of the Pike Rive disaster.

But the Government vetoed such a bill being introduced when Parliament resumed this year.

Carol Rose, left and Dame Fion Kidman after the select committee. Photo / Audrey Young
Carol Rose, left and Dame Fion Kidman after the select committee. Photo / Audrey Young

Dame Fiona told MPs the issue had gone on for too long and the families needed their help.

"They deserve it. They have been patient and they have been courteous."

She was flanked by families spokesman Bernie Monk and former NZ Chief Inspector of Mines Tony Forster.

Forster said he was confident a safe re-entry could conducted in a staged way and that he would be prepared to re-enter it himself.

He had three grandchildren and a wife who loved him and would never get others to do what he would not do himself.

Coupe said the latest "plan for a plan" to re-renter the drift did not reduce the risks that Solid Energy had previously identified and he believed the risks were heightened.

Carol Rose, whose son Stuart Mudge died at Pike River, approached coupe and chief executive Tony King after they had finished giving evidence and said they should be ashamed of themselves and she asked how they slept at night.

Peters clashed with commerce committee chairwoman Melissa Lee about the lack of time he was given to ask questions. He said she chaired the meeting like a "fascist."