Pike River recovery still just a maybe

The Coalition government is setting up a new standalone department, the Pike River Recovery Agency, Te Kahui Whakamana Rua Tekau ma Iwa – but it still may not send anyone into the mine, where 29 miners died.

That decision to attempt to recover any bodies will be taken by the Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry Andrew Little after a technical assessment of the risks by his new agency.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says a “thorough risk assessment will be undertaken.”

“There will be risks – our job is to mitigate them and to weigh it up if there is an acceptable level of risk.”

The recovery is expected to be carried out by March 2019.

Asked if she was giving the families an “absolute guarantee” the mine will be re-entered, Ms Ardern says she is giving them “the commitment we are going to do everything within our power to try.”

She says safety is the priority and, if any information is uncovered that shows there are problems along the journey to re-entry, “we will work it through together.”

The prime minister reiterated that there “will be risks” but it’s the new agency’s job will be to mitigate them as much as possible and to weigh up the “acceptable level of risk.”

Asked if it wasn’t a Labour Party election commitment to re-enter the mine, she says that is what her “absolute ambition is.”

“Of course we have always had to maintain that there may be evidence we’re not aware of, there may be expert advice that throws up a counter view.”

She says if that happens, “we will work through that with the families together.”

She says that is a “major difference” between the position of her government and the past government.

Little to front decision
Mr Little is responsible for the new agency, which will have a contingency of $7.6 million a year through until 2021.

He says the agency will gather evidence to better understand what happened in 2010, with an eye to preventing future mining tragedies and to give the Pike River families and victims’ overdue closure and peace of mind.

 “The standalone department will ensure resources are not diverted to other activities, and will provide accountability to Parliament. The final decision on whether to re-enter the drift will be made by me, informed by expert advice from the agency.

“I have planned on the basis that the new agency will – depending on my decision – execute a plan for complete recovery of the drift by the end of March 2019. Exact timing will depend on technical assessments.”

 “The families and the government are going into this with eyes wide open. We agree the decision about manned re-entry must be based on a technical assessment of the risks and advice that risks can be reasonably made."

Mr Little says the plan means there is no need to make any changes to work safety legislation.

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