Pike River families confront John Key in Greymouth

By Claire Trevett, Isaac Davison

Prime Minister John Key faces off with Bernie Monk in Greymouth. Photo / Greymouth Star
Prime Minister John Key faces off with Bernie Monk in Greymouth. Photo / Greymouth Star

Prime Minister John Key stopped to talk to the Pike River families at a silent protest today.

The families were not on Mr Key's agenda, but several staged a silent protest outside Development West Coast where he was due to make an announcement.

When he arrived he went to talk to spokesman Bernie Monk and answered questions from Anna Osborne, whose husband died in the mine.

Jo Hall, the mother of the man who Cameron Slater called "feral" after his death in a car accident, stood in the background.

She has questioned Key over comments Slater reported he had said about her which were revealed in the Dirty Politics book after Slater made the comments about her son Judd Hall.

Speaking to media afterwards, Mr Key denied he had told Mr Slater that she had screamed at him in meetings with the families.

"It is not true I made any disparaging comments. The only comment I made was that I recognised her."

He said he did not recall her shouting at him in meetings. Speaking afterwards, Ms Hall said she hoped Mr Key's denial was true.

Mr Monk pleaded for help in getting answers from Solid Energy over the latest delay to plans to re-enter the drift.


John Key, left, with Jo Hall and Bernie Monk. Photo / Claire Trevett

Mr Key said it was up to Solid Energy to make the decisions about safety.

He said he did not know what safety issues Solid Energy was still concerned about, but they had a new chief executive and board chair who were still working their way through it.

She said she was frustrated by Solid Energy's repeated delays on work to re-enter the drift, for which it has cited safety concerns and wanted Mr Key to ask more question of Solid Energy.

She said she appreciated the Government offering financial support to reenter the mine, but Solid Energy was an SOE.

"He needs to go back and ask them why? Why has this been pushed out again?"

Ms Osborne said afterward she was worried the miners' families were being forgotten by New Zealand.

"I want to plead to the nation that they don't forget about us, they don't forget about the Pike River families because sometimes I feel like we have vanished, because people move on. We can't move on. We're still stuck in this rut and we can't move on until we get what we want, and that is our men home."

As Mr Key left, she called out "don't forget about us John."

He replied: "I won't."


Family members of the Pike River miners protest in Greymouth. Photo / Claire Trevett

Cunliffe: Key owes an apology

Labour leader David Cunliffe said Mr Key should be apologising to Greymouth residents for his links to Slater.

Mr Cunliffe, who is campaigning in Rotorua today, said he would not be surprised if Mr Key, who is on the campaign trail on the West Coast, was met with a frosty reception there because of Slater's description of a local student as "feral" after his death in a car accident.

"[Slater] is reported to have made comments which were derogatory. It's not clear whether the language quoted was accurate, but he certainly has some explaining to do," Mr Cunliffe told reporters.

Mr Cunliffe also questioned the Prime Minister's decision not to meet families of the men who were killed in the Pike River disaster in 2010.

"I recall the Prime Minister saying that he would anything that he could to help the Pike River families and it's disappointing that he's changed his mind.

"It is very sad that he was so categorical at the start and when the cameras moved on his enthusiasm waned."

Mr Key's visit comes days after families were told the plan to recover the 29 bodies would be delayed.

The Government committed a year ago to re-entering the mine and exploring the first 2km of the tunnel.

Mr Cunliffe said he would be "very pleased" to meet the families during his visit next week.

"It is our view that everything that can be done to recover the bodies should be done. Solid Energy is currently saying they don't think its feasible. I remain to be convinced. We're very keen to seek second-tier advice to establish whether anything can be done."

Mr Cunliffe is campaigning with Rotorua candidate Tamati Coffey.

He said Mr Coffey, a former television personality, was "reaching everyone from the old to the young" and could "very possibly win" the seat from National's Todd McClay.

- NZ Herald

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