O'Connor feels 'somewhat guilty' over Pike River
West Coast MP Damien O’Connor says if re-elected the Labour Party would make “major’ changes to the current mining legislation.
Speaking this weekend on ‘The Nation’, Mr O’Connor said he is currently looking at a new members’ bill to ensure corporate responsibility and liability.
“Where you have directors of a company who knowingly ignore health and safety issues, then they should be liable, they should be responsible and that we need to implement the Queensland and New South Wales mining regulations immediately. Now I'm guessing the government should be working on that now. I'm looking at private member's bill to do that. Yes as incoming Labour government I'm sure that we will do everything to make major change to that 92 Act and to give better protection to miners be they need it.”
Mr O’Connor said he too could have done more to ensure tragedies like the Pike River Mine explosion did not happen.
“Well can I say that yeah I too feel somewhat guilty, maybe I should have marched in the street or done something to get across the point in a little more stronger fashion. I think that the reality is in hindsight many of us believe we should have done more to highlight the dangers, that only a few experienced miners truly knew. I'm not a coalminer I couldn’t make judgement on what was safe or what wasn't, we relied on experts and unfortunately as this report identifies the experts or so called experts in the Department of Labour didn’t have the skills to make the judgement, and that’s something that we have to change and move, and that’s what the families are looking for, is major change to prevent such a terrible tragedy happening in the future.”
However, he said the culture of deregulation by the then National Government is to blame.
“I think there's been a major culture change in the mining industry, and why I've pointed the finger at Solid Energy, they were part of the process of deregulation in 1992, we had a National government determined to deregulate anything they could get their hands on, they deregulated electricity, they deregulated housing, and mine safety. What happened was that the companies were happy to accept that, they got rid of the experienced miners, they got younger guys in who were enthusiastic, they didn’t know the dangers and the lessons of history and in fact the company was happy to carry on with that lowering their costs, not having the oversight of mine safety that was necessary.”
“The culture in the Department of Labour said that people sitting on their backsides in Wellington knew better than the people at the coalface. There had been a consistent under resourcing of people at the coalface, the Mines Inspectors, the Inspectorate that ran right through, and that the advice to ministers, both in the previous National government and our own, in my view was deficient, and they were determined to say that you could run a safety regime from Wellington, when in fact what we needed were people on the ground. No eventually that message got through and we took action. It did unfortunately you know take a couple of deaths to spark that, and yes we could have done better, but the fact is that the current minister, or the one that’s just resigned had warnings, direct warnings from that internal review.”