Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Eventually someone will be held culpable

107 comments
Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Someone has to say it. The collective media swooning for Pike River boss Peter Whittall is just wrong.

Of course Whittall is devastated about the miners' deaths. But he is also the guy in charge of protecting his workers and his company may have failed in that duty.

Instead we have sainthood surreally foisted on Whittall by the media and politicians alike, anointing him as the public face of national mourning for his dead employees and subcontractors.

Yet under his watch, 29 men were killed and still lie entombed. Family members and friends of the dead have been robbed of a loved one. Many other workers, as a result of the explosion, will lose their livelihoods.

Unbelievably, the chief executive of this company becomes a media darling.

If you have followed the media coverage you'd think the whole tragedy was just an unavoidable accident.

Of course it's too early to know the details of what happened, other than it's obvious to anyone with half a brain what happened.

It seems apparent to me that there was too much methane gas in the mine that then exploded, killing everyone.

Some dimwit church leader at Thursday's memorial referred to the explosion as an Act of God. In my humble opinion, it was nothing of the sort. It might even have been negligence.

There was either a slow build-up of the deadly gas and safety standards were not adhered to or they were inadequate. Alternatively there was a sudden major gas leak that no one was prepared for. I can't see any other scenario.

If the first option is true then serious charges could be laid against the company. And I think the second option also means someone made a decision that such a risk was acceptable and therefore charges could again be laid. Any way we look at it, someone should be held accountable.

All this will come out in the Royal Commission inquiry, I hope, but I note the findings will conveniently be delayed until after next year's election.

I can't help thinking the genuine outpouring of grief by New Zealanders is inadvertently being manipulated. The mining company is being outrageously painted as an innocent victim alongside the 29 men. It also gives John Key and his government a public platform.

Too cynical? How else do you explain various cabinet ministers elbowing their way into television shots when there isn't even a need for them to be at the mine?

And what about the memorial? It seemed the whole Cabinet was on stage with other "dignitaries".

The mining company executives were given pride of place next to the Prime Minister. The victims' families and the miners' union representatives were told to sit in the audience.

When Whittall spoke he made no company apology to the families. I wonder if that was on advice from their lawyers?

Even the make-up of the Royal Commission appears politically crafted. Was there thought given to having the commission membership include a representative of the workers and their families?

After all, who speaks for the dead? They paid their subs to their union to represent them. The Pike River miners' union leader lies alongside his dead mates.

If Key truly cared about the victims he'd ask their union, the EPMU, to nominate a candidate endorsed by the victims' families to join the commission so they can ask the hard questions about safety standards and legislation those in power won't want to hear.

But we know whose interests this Government supports. Last week while the country's attention was on the tragedy, they shoved anti-worker legislation through Parliament under urgency.

Ironically one of the new laws passed is to make it harder for unions to enter a workplace to observe safety measures.

Despite not getting to sit at the top table on Thursday the unionists did something better.

After the speechifying was over, the singing of the union movement's anthem, Solidarity Forever, spontaneously erupted from the crowd. That was the only unscripted event of the day.

Miners would have liked that. But they'd also like someone to take responsibility for killing them too.

- Herald on Sunday

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a2 at 23 Sep 2014 00:58:12 Processing Time: 995ms