22 of the 29 Pike River families are supporting an application for a Judicial Review filed today challenging the decision made by Minister Andrew Little which rejects a plan to continue a short distance into the Pike River mine and instead begins a process to permanently seal it before the Police underground investigation has been completed.
The Government has rejected a proposal by the Pike River Independent Technical Advisory Group on behalf of the families to continue into the mine as far as the main fan, which has been established as the likely source of the explosion and the most critical forensic site within the mine. The Technical Advisory Group is made up of the very same advisors that wrote the drift re-entry plan which was implemented by the Pike River Recovery Agency. These are internationally recognised experts in their fields.
In a report prepared by the Pike River Recovery Agency, Minister Little was given the option of directing the Agency to complete a full risk assessed and costed plan or to simply decline to implement the Plan without any further consultation with the families or their experts. He chose simply to decline to implement the Plan.
In addition, Little initially refused to direct the Agency to brief the families on his decision or to release the advice to them.
Partnership, consultation and transparency were all stated principles which underpinned the Government’s commitments to the Pike River families. Little has rejected the families Plan without engaging or consulting with them or their technical advisors. He made no contact. As well as being a breach of the Government’s commitments to the families, it is disappointing and has caused them further pain, given they took the Government at its word.
The report prepared for Minister Little states, “while the Plan is technically feasible, there would be significant costs associated with developing and implementing the detail”. However, as Minister Little has rejected the Agency option to complete a full costing on the Plan, the figures and time frames quoted in the Agency report cannot be substantiated and appear to be guesswork. The figures included in the Plan presented by the families were supported by data provided by the Agency itself.
The Minister states that there has never been a “blank cheque” with regards to the drift re-entry and no one expects there to be. That said, early on the Police advised that they were treating this investigation as a 29 man homicide. Never before has the New Zealand justice system been subjected to arbitrary fiscal restraints in this way.
The Government has effectively taken a “cut and run” stance in relation to Pike River. They made commitments to the families and to the people of New Zealand but the Minister seems to have forgotten what they were.