Tomorrow marks eight years of injustice.
Eight years of Pike River Mine families fighting for something they were promised. Eight years of tears, trips to Wellington, protests outside the mine. Eight years of begging, pleading and demanding that own government do the right thing.
If there's a story of desperation that's stuck with me, it's the one about the time the mine was almost concreted. It was November 2016. A company had been asked to put 20 metres of concrete in. It could've shut away the mine's secrets forever. The families pleaded. The company finally pulled out of the job. Imagine the desperation in those families.
The families should never have had to battle this long. Or at all.
John Key promised he'd do everything he could to get the men out. He was Prime Minister at the time. You'd think a promise from a man in his position, to families as heartbroken, about a disaster this gut-wrenching, would be a promise kept. But it wasn't.
And if you look back at the way Key said the words he said in public, it reads like a promise he knew he wouldn't or couldn't keep.
But it's a promise that could have been kept. Because it's being kept now, by someone else.
The way Key's government handled the Pike River Mine re-entry should forever be a blight on the years they spent in office. Whatever the National Government did right, this was the thing they did most wrong. These are the people most neglected by National. It happened on National's watch. It should've been fixed by National.
But, National ducked and dived. They wrote health and safety legislation after the disaster, and then used that legislation as a reason not to go back in. Under their watch, the mine was almost concreted up. Under their watch, WorkSafe dropped charges against Peter Whittall in exchange for payments to the families. The Supreme Court described the charge-dropping as unlawful.
Justice Minister Andrew Little deserves praise for ordering the re-entry. There is, of course, a political motive for doing this. It paints Labour as kind and empathetic, while the Nats look callous and uncaring by contrast. So Little probably knows this plays well politically.
But it is still a risky decision. What if things go wrong? And it's expensive. Already the $36 million price is copping criticism. What if the price goes up? And there's always a chance the re-entry comes up empty-handed. Does that make Little look like he used a pointless re-entry to score political points?
Regardless, it's the right call to make.
It's a more worthy spend than the $26m Key blew on the failed flag referendum.
If anything comes out of this re-entry, I hope it's the following two things.
First, that every employer and manager in this country knows they will be scrutinised if lives are lost on the clock. New Zealand should be country that doesn't look the other way if people die during work hours.
Second, that no Government ever treats its citizens' deaths with as much disregard as this again. The handling of the Pike River Mine disaster should go down as a guide for future governments on how to not treat their citizens.
The teams that go into the mine might find nothing. They may come out with no answers at all. It's possible no one will ever be held accountable. But at least we will know our nation did the right thing for those families, by keeping a promise.