The Government is considering a formal apology to the families of the 29 men who died in the Pike River Mine.

Today is the eight anniversary of the tragedy, and it follows the announcement last week of a plan to re-enter the mine's drift in February next year and see what can be recovered.

Pike River Re-entry Minister Andrew Little, who is in Greymouth today to mark the anniversary, said that the families of those who died were "horribly" let down.

"There's no question that on the government side of things, the families have been let down horribly badly, and that ought to be appropriately acknowledged and the best way to do that is through an appropriate apology," he told RNZ's Morning Report.


But he did not shunt all of the blame on the previous Government.

"I'm not attributing it to any one party leading government at any particular point in time. The reality is the degrading of our health and safety laws," Little said.

"It's not about party political differences on this. It happened because we allowed a political culture to develop where these things were degraded and devalued, and now we've got to find a way to make sure that this never happens again."

Pike River Re-entry Minister Andrew Little says the families of the victims were let down and an appropriate Government apology will be considered. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Pike River Re-entry Minister Andrew Little says the families of the victims were let down and an appropriate Government apology will be considered. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, fresh from returning from Apec, agreed with Little - but said now was not the time to apologise.

"I do think it has more meaning if we ensure this process around re-entry into the drift is undertaken as a first step. That's what the families have prioritised. That's what we're committed to do.

"But I do think there comes a point where an apology will be the right thing to do."

The Government's independent adviser on the mine recovery operation, Rob Fyfe, has also called for an apology, but National Party leader Simon Bridges disagreed.

"I don't think so," Bridges told Morning Report.


"One thing that honours the legacy of these 29 men and their families best is what happened with the Royal Commission with an independent health and safety taskforce, and then the most comprehensive health and safety changes in the history of New Zealand, particularly in mining.

"I think that's what honours the legacy of these men."

The previous National-led Government had wanted to re-enter the mine, but the advice was that it was not safe enough to do so.

The Government's plan is to re-enter the mine's drift via the existing entry. One of the risks identified is that there will only be one way in and out.

Some of the families of the men who died are still hopeful that Pike River mine boss Peter Whittall could still face manslaughter charges, and police have not ruled that out.

WorkSafe New Zealand initially laid 12 health and safety charges against Whittall, but they were dropped after $3.41 million was paid to the victims' families.


The Supreme Court ruled that it was unlawful for WorkSafe to withdraw its prosecution in exchange for payments to the victims' families.

Last week senior National MP Judith Collins said Whittall was the "villain" and, if possible, should face prosecution.

"I think there is a villain here ... Peter Whittall was the person who has the most responsibility in this, and if there's any evidence that comes out of this mine showing that there should be a prosecution, and then I think we should get on with it," Ms Collins told the AM Show.