John Key takes campaign to the West Coast
STACEY KIRK AND ANDREA VANCE
Prime Minister John Key has met with the families of the Pike River mine tragedy, who were protesting during his campaign visit to the West Coast.
Key took his campaign to Hokitika and Greymouth today, where he received a mixed reception.
His visit follows news last week that Solid Energy has delayed re-entry into the Pike River coalmine where 29 men lost their lives in 2010.
Insults about a West Coast family by National-aligned blogger Cameron Slater have not helped Key's standing in the region.
Key arrived to West Coast Development this afternoon, where he immediately went to greet the families, led by spokesman Bernie Monk.
Ahead of Key's arrival Monk said he did not expect Key to speak to them, and they would only stage a silent protest, to let National know "we won't be going away".
But he was sympathetic to Key's position, saying his hands were, to some extent, tied.
"He's probably as frustrated as we are, at the delays. We know he wants this to happen," Monk said.
While the decision to reenter the mine, was Solid Energy's alone, the company was owned by the Government.
"We need Key to be more active in making this happen."
Monk said he had not sought a meeting with Key, and no meeting was planned for by the PM's office.
Key listened to the concerns of Anna Osborne who said it felt like a "kick in the guts" .
"It'd be nice to actually smile a little once in a while and know that there is a chance our men will come home eventually.
"We've waited three years, nine months, and seven days for it to happen John, and we're prepared to wait longer, but we need your support, we need the nation's support not to forget about us because you're talking about human beings here."
Talking to media, Key said he understood the families' frustration.
But he could not be seen to be applying pressure on the company to enter too soon.
"That's a decision for them, to make because they're the directors and they're liable."
Key did not know why the latest attempt to re-enter the mine had been delayed.
Last September the Government announced it would fund a plan to re-enter the mine and explore 2.3 kilometres of main tunnel leading up to the rockfall.
The first three stages of the project had been completed, which involved plugging the main ventilation shaft using material flown in by helicopter, drilling new boreholes and checking the area with a camera.
The next four stages - plugging the tunnel with cement foam, pumping in inert nitrogen, ventilating the tunnel with fresh air and re-entering - would not proceed until Solid Energy's board had given approval.
Solid Energy bought the assets of Pike River Coal in 2012 after the explosion.
Also at the protest was Jo Hall. She lost a son in Pike River and later, another son Judd Hall in a car crash.
Judd Hall was a passenger in the crash, caused by a drink driver, earlier this year.
Days after, attack blogger Cameron Slater posted to his WhaleOil site calling him a "feral", whose death "made the world a better place".
Jo Hall looked Key in the eye, but would not speak to him. She said she was furious to hear of the links between Key and Slater.
Earlier today, Cunliffe said Key should apologise for his association with Slater.
"He is reported to have made comments which were derogatory ... he certainly has some explaining to do," he said.