John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: A right royal bollocking over Pike River

Kate Wilkinson. File photo / Bay of Plenty Times
Kate Wilkinson. File photo / Bay of Plenty Times

It is not just a bollocking, The (now former) Department of Labour has copped a right royal bollocking from the Royal Commission on the Pike River tragedy.

The department therefore has to take its share of the responsibility for the disaster. And thus by implication so does the Minister.

The report's criticism is so severe that Kate Wilkinson could not have stayed in the portfolio. The question is whether she should be gone from the Cabinet altogether - real punishment, rather than merely losing a portfolio.

Amazingly, Wilkinson barely gets a mention in the Commission's report.

When the report does mention her, it is to commend her for setting up a dedicated high-hazard inspectorate for the mining and petroleum industries post-tragedy.

Fair enough. But the establishment of the inspectorate was very much to the backdrop of stable doors slamming shut, long after horses had bolted.

Wilkinson is also praised for announcing $37 million in extra funding for health and safety administration, including an increase in the number of health and safety inspectors.

Yet the Commission does not hold back in slamming the lack of "focus, capacity or strategies" shown by the Department of Labour in meeting its legal responsibilities.

In its most damning criticism, the Commission says Wilkinson's department should have prohibited Pike from operating the mine until its health and safety systems were adequate.

Given the mine opened in November 2008 - just a month before Wilkinson became Minister of Labour - there would have been demands for her resignation as her department's woeful performance happened on her watch.

She has forestalled what would have been another unwanted distraction for the Government by resigning the portfolio quickly.

It is a wise move, even if some will not think she or the Prime Minister have gone far enough.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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