We all share blame for Pike River

SEAN PLUNKET
Last updated 05:00 10/11/2012

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OPINION: It has been quite a week, what with the release of the Pike River report and the presidential election in the United States.

First let's deal with the presidential election. Just more than half of half the eligible voters in the United States chose the smart black guy over the rich white guy which was enough to get Barack Obama a second term in the White House.

One only needed to look at the respective crowds of supporters in Chicago and Boston to see why Obama won. Romney's fans in Boston were predominantly white and older. The men were in suits and the bottle blonde women wore designer clothes and fake tans.

Cut to Chicago where, handpicked or not, the crowd was a genuine melting pot of old and young, black and white and yellow and all shades in between. There were guys in suits and guys with short hair, but there were also guys with dreadlocks, guys with guys and guys with girls and girls with girls.

Boston showed us the past and Chicago the future. As one television pundit observed Obama's victory was a triumph of demographics over economics and many are now convinced that the power base of American democracy has forever shifted from the majority (white voters) holding sway, to an era in which a coalition of minorities will decide elections.

I would like to think that change has already occurred here and we certainly live in a country in which political discourse is less polarised and less extreme. John Key might be a rich white guy but National has to some extent shed its image of a party run by rich white farmers.

I was at National Party headquarters last election night and the first to arrive and last to leave were Indian and Asian supporters, recent arrivals who clearly didn't feel out of place or unwelcome.

The need for diversity is also understood by Labour which draws strong support from in particular the Pacific Island community.

MMP also allows our minorities, be they ethnic or political, to represent themselves in government. This is not to say our progressive politics always produces good outcomes. The tragedy at Pike River is proof of that.

The Royal Commission's report told us what we had already figured out. Light-handed regulation of a dangerous industry, underfunding of what few inspectors were left and corporate obsession with meeting production targets and delivering to shareholders created a perfect storm of unsafe work practices and mine design leading to a deadly explosion.

I commend fellow columnist Chris Trotter for highlighting the fact that those circumstances were not created by the current Government or one particular company alone. Chris rightly points out that a political philosophy, that began in the Lange/Douglas years and has to a greater or lesser extent been followed by every government of whatever hue since, is the culprit.

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The idea that left to its own devices the "free market" will do the right thing and come up with elegant and efficient solutions to problems previously solved by red tape and regulation is and was always bunkum.

One group who didn't get any blame for Pike River was the miners themselves. While this may be an uncomfortable truth, I believe they too were part of the problem.

There is no way the workforce at Pike River didn't know about the risks they were taking, the alarms that were being ignored and the sensors that were being covered in sack cloth. There was a reason they were getting production bonuses and being asked to cut corners and for whatever reasons they chose to work in that environment.

Free market theory presumes that everyone always acts in their own interests but that, as I said, is bunkum.

In fact, we should all collectively share the blame for Pike River. We collectively allowed successive Governments to obsess about the price of everything and the value of nothing, our political parties and their members didn't have the sort of serious internal debates that might have turned the ship around and our political process failed to give voice or power to those who said this would happen.

Who knows if demographic politics can fix that?

- The Dominion Post

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