What did you do wrong? Well, since you asked

VERNON SMALL
Last updated 13:23 09/11/2012

Cornered by reporters asking why she had only resigned from her Labour portfolio, Kate Wilkinson plaintively asked: ''What else have I . . . what have I done wrong?"

Well since you asked ...

The Royal Commission investigation into the Pike River mine tragedy produced a set of clear recommendations and one of the best-written reports of its type I can recall.

But if it had one gaping hole it was its failure to call evidence from Cabinet ministers from the last two decades.

Surely they could have shed useful light on their intent and the decision-making that went in to laws, regulations and departmental oversight during that time.

No doubt the commission had its reasons, and there is nothing in its terms of reference that would demand it.

And it did find the Health and Safety in Employment Act ''generally fit for purpose''.

However it specifically recommend two law changes: A return of union-appointed ''check inspectors'' and an extension of health and safety responsibilities to directors.

The failure to reinstate check inspectors, after problems emerged in the 1990s, straddles the change of Government in 2008.

So it is an open question. Did outgoing Labour Minister Trevor Mallard or incoming Wilkinson drop the ball?

The crucial document was sent from the Labour Department to Mallard in September 2008. It reported back on a discussion paper aimed at improving underground mine safety.

It identified two main issues: The variable (i.e. poor) safety practices in small mines - the original trigger for the review after a couple of fatalities in 1996 - and the quality of employee participation in health and safety in underground mines.

Mallard, in the run-up to the election, issued a press release announcing another round of consultation and a report back in June 2009.

It is clear from the report that submitters were ''polarised'' on employee participation and whether to regulate for check inspectors.

Employees saw check inspectors as a small change and the most effective solution. Employers saw them as ''overly prescriptive and inconsistent with the performance-based approach''. Hence the gridlock and the new round of ''consultation''.

It seems it was under Wilkinson's watch that the move to control small mines better was scrapped - for the very good reason that there were no longer any mines that fitted the description.

But it was also under her watch that any move towards check inspectors (or the department's preferred option of a ''mining specific employee participation code of practice'') went no further.

So Mallard dragged the chain and Wilkinson severed the link.

Since you asked.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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