Select committee ready to grill Elder

VERNON SMALL
Last updated 05:00 11/03/2013
DON ELDER
CRAIG SIMCOX
DON ELDER: Quit as Solid Energy chief executive in February.
Clayton Cosgrove
CLAYTON COSGROVE: "Excellent. He's coming to the party under huge political and public duress."
John Key
ANDREA VANCE/Fairfax NZ
JOHN KEY: "Totally comfortable" about Elder appearing.

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The former boss of failing state coal miner Solid Energy will be called to give evidence at a parliamentary committee this week after National MPs dropped their opposition to the move.

Commerce Committee chairman Jonathan Young said he would write today to Don Elder, who quit as chief executive last month, and invite him to front at Thursday's meeting of the commerce select committee.

"I know that Labour members want to and I have had affirmations from National members."

It follows pressure from Labour and Green MPs frustrated at Elder's no-show in front of the committee last week.

Elder is still drawing his $1.3 million salary until April in exchange for sharing his memory of the company with its management, working from home on what opposition MPs have dubbed "gardening leave".

Elder has worked for the company for 12 years and has been paid a total of more than $10m.

He is also expected to receive a severance payment tipped to be more than $1m. Labour state-owned enterprise spokesman Clayton Cosgrove welcomed the move by Young.

"Excellent. He's coming to the party under huge political and public duress."

But he said Young was playing games by saying he wanted formal confirmation of Labour MPs' support before sending the letter.

"Take it from me no-one from my crew will be standing in his way now he has seen the light."

Young said he had not heard from Elder but he assumed he was available and would show on Thursday.

"I'm sure he is watching TV."

New chairman Mark Ford and acting chief executive Garry Diack were unable to answer many questions at a committee examination of Solid Energy's finances last week, which intensified calls for Elder to appear.

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Prime Minister John Key later cleared the way for that to happen, saying he was "totally comfortable" about it.

Cosgrove has also called for former chairman John Palmer to appear to explain, among other things, why he approved Elder's new contract the day before he left the chair last July.

But Young said he was yet to hear from Cosgrove personally about Palmer, who is chairman of Air New Zealand, and he would "stick with" only inviting Elder at this stage. Cosgrove said yesterday that even if Elder did appear this week he still wanted a full inquiry into Solid Energy.

Then, if witnesses refused to appear, Parliament could use its powers to summon them. An inquiry would also allow people with relevant information to come forward under the protection of parliamentary privilege.

Solid Energy, struggling under $389m of debt, is in talks with its bankers and the Government over a possible bailout.

Ford believes that the company could return to profit by 2015.

Elder has not returned calls.

- Fairfax Media

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