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Trust in Pike River 'misplaced' – PM

Prime minister John Key says the labour department’s trust in Pike River Coal was misplaced.

The government is adopting or largely adopting all of the Royal Commission’s recommendations released today.

Mr Key says the idea of establishing a crown agency solely focused on health and safety needs further investigation. A ministerial task force led by Steven Joyce will look into what is best for the government.

“We accept there were systemic failures in the regulatory regime across successive governments.”

He has admitted the labour department probably relied far too heavily on Pike River to carry out its own mine safety inspections.

“The Royal Commission has said the company and to a degree the department of labour could have potentially prevented these men losing their lives. That is a very serious issue ... it’s possible that if they’d done their job better, if they’d issued a prohibition notice, those men would still be alive.”

Mr Key says it comes down to the department’s failure over time to keep itself updated on the best of international practice.

“Inspectors treated Pike River Coal under a high trust model. In fact, that trust was misplaced. While they found problems and errors in quarterly inspections, they didn’t raise them fast enough or close it down.

"So I think it now will change the way we do things, to a far more prescriptive regime.”

Mr Key says the government will also be looking to substantially improve workplace safety across the board as many of the Royal Commission’s recommendations are not mine-safety specific.

Commission chairman and High Court Justice Graham Panckhurst says New Zealand has a poor overall health and safety record compared with other advanced countries.

“In relation to underground coal mining, New Zealand has had a tragedy every generation or so… This time lessons must be remembered.”

Mr Key says “New Zealand has to stop having these tragedies every generation – we have to learn and change the way we do things”.

bcunningham@nbr.co.nz

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