Editorial: Post-mortems and inquiries grisly sequel to disasters

The collapsed CTV building which resulted in the deaths of 115 people had sparked an inquiry into the faulty design of the building. Photo / The Star Christchurch
The collapsed CTV building which resulted in the deaths of 115 people had sparked an inquiry into the faulty design of the building. Photo / The Star Christchurch

Some years are remembered for big events, some years are the aftermath. This has been one of the latter. Much of our attention in 2012 has been given to post-mortems and inquiries into events that were earth-shattering in 2010 and 2011. The long Canterbury earthquake sequence delivered its final frightener (fingers crossed) at Christmas last year. The Pike River Mine explosion of late 2010 has yet to let the bodies be recovered.

Post-mortems and inquiries are a necessary sequel to disaster but they do not heal. The deficiencies of buildings that should not have collapsed in Christchurch are not really a surprise. Nor are the shoddy standards of mine regulation and safety practised at Pike River. The reports of these inquiries were disturbing in the detail and extent of mistakes that became obvious in the event.

The findings felt so predictable that perhaps they have not had as much attention as they deserved, and might receive next year. The Pike River report was particularly damning, all the more so for its understated tone.

The facts calmly presented in the report add up to a story of almost cavalier disregard for the proven difficulties of mining that area, for elementary ventilation and awareness of dangerous gas levels.

Behind it all was a brave or foolhardy business venture, thinly capitalised, over-stretched, under-regulated and going for broke. The Pike River report was probably the most important document of the year. Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson resigned from the portfolio over her department's performance and the Government seems genuinely determined to improve mine safety standards and inspections.

Were it not for these verdicts on previous years, 2012 would have brought news of only passing interest. An extraordinary amount of it was generated by two names few of us had heard this time last year.

Kim Dotcom and Bronwyn Pullar were each at the centre of a cascade of embarrassment for the Government and its agencies.

Mr Dotcom's arrest rebounded on the police, Crown lawyers, the external intelligence bureau and its minister, John Key, not to mention the collateral damage it did to John Banks for disguising a campaign contribution. Ms Pullar's accidental receipt of some ACC data resulted in an inquiry out of all proportion to the privacy breach and caused heads to fall at the corporation, but not before it forced a Cabinet resignation of the previous minister, Nick Smith, for a letter supporting her claim.

All of this, while the economy struggled through a fourth year of an international slump and the Government struggled for traction on its own initiatives.

Its first share float, of Mighty River Power, was delayed by Waitangi claims and a cloud over aluminium smelting at Tiwai Pt, the country's largest electricity consumer.

A deal with SkyCity casino to build the country's biggest convention centre at no cost to the taxpayer became a problem-gambling issue over SkyCity's request for more pokie machines. Deep-sea mineral prospecting lost some of its promise.

It must have been a frustrating year for Mr Key, though it has hardly dented his popularity.

Polls still give his Government around 45 per cent support. But with unemployment above 7 per cent at the last reading, he has much to do. He comes to a fifth year in office with the world economy still in the doldrums and his aim to put the national economy on a higher plane all but forgotten.

After a year of frustrations, distractions and reviewing major disasters, he and we need a determined New Year resolution to look ahead.

- NZ Herald

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