Frustrated MPs offer messages of hope

By John Armstrong

United Future's Peter Dunne talked of the country being in 'suspended animation'. Photo / NZ Herald
United Future's Peter Dunne talked of the country being in 'suspended animation'. Photo / NZ Herald

Rarely have Parliament's 122 MPs felt so frustrated, powerless and effectively useless as they did yesterday.

John Key may have been stating the obvious when he declared he was a politician, not a mining expert.

But like everyone else, the Prime Minister has been obliged to defer to that expertise. Like everyone else, he is stuck in the limbo that has prevailed since Friday's explosion at the Pike River coal mine which will only end once the experts deem it safe for rescue teams to look for the 29 missing men.

In the interim, all Parliament could really offer the families of the trapped miners yesterday was sympathy, solidarity, prayers and - most important of all - hope.

Speaking to a prime ministerial motion marking the catastrophe, United Future's Peter Dunne talked of the country being in "suspended animation" with people talking about only one thing.

The Maori Party's Rahui Katene came closest to finding the right words.

She described the miners' families as verging on despair while clinging to hope. She could have applied the same phrase to the nation's angst.

With wooden plaques listing overseas battles in which New Zealanders died filling the chamber's walls behind her, Mrs Katene prayed Pike River would not join that other infamous catalogue of death - the West Coast's "collective memory" of mining disasters including Brunner in 1896, Dobson in 1926 and Strongman in 1967.

Hope and tributes to the resilience of West Coasters flowed through most of the speeches.

"We must believe that they are alive and that they will come home," said Kevin Hague, Green list MP and former chief executive of the West Coast District Health Board. "Please bring them home," he implored some higher power.

It was left to the Prime Minister to balance hope with the grimmer-looking reality. Speaking to his motion, Mr Key used the words "tragedy" and "possible loss of life" in what amounted to an attempt to harden the families, West Coasters and the country to what looks increasingly likely to be the worst outcome.

As long as things remain in limbo, there is a consensus that politics should not intrude.

Mr Hague spoke of the boundaries between the parties quickly dissolving in such circumstances. However, it is also the case that anyone playing politics with all this will earn the nation's everlasting scorn.

Even so, Phil Goff and Jim Anderton served notice that, as representatives of blue-collar workers, they would seek a high-level inquiry to find out what had happened in the mine and ensure it never happened again.

"However, now is not the time ... there is other work to do," Mr Anderton said.

Mr Goff went as far as saying that with 21st century technology and safety standards "a disaster like this should not happen".

But he too stressed yesterday was not the day for investigation and recrimination.

- NZ Herald

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