Pike River mine would be illegal in Australia - Key

Prime Minister John Key has admitted to foreign media that the Pike River coalmine "would be illegal in Australia".

The comment has sparked a backlash from Labour leader Phil Goff, who has described it as ''an unbelievable about-face''.

The Australian newspaper reported that Key had yesterday "vowed that there would be changes to mining safety laws".

He told the newspaper that the Pike River mine, which was a single-entry uphill mine, "couldn't have been constructed in Australia" because it would have been "illegal".

"There will be changes in New Zealand," Key said.

He repeated comments to New Zealand media that a full response on mining safety would have to wait until the conclusion of the royal commission into the Pike River mine disaster, which killed 29 men in November last year.

But, in an apparent departure from his comments at the time of the disaster, Key conceded that the mine could not have been operational in Australia.

In November last year, however, he said: "I have no reason to believe that New Zealand safety standards are any less than Australia's."

Key has this afternoon landed in Wellington after a short trip to Canberra and Sydney. He will face questions over the comments when Parliament sits this afternoon.

Already, Goff has said the "sudden change in his position" is "quite incredible".

"Just a month ago he publicly condemned a union representative for questioning safety at the mine, accusing her of being 'churlish and insensitive'," Goff said.

"He also said it was 'dangerous' to raise concerns about safety issues when the Royal Commission of Inquiry was still underway. Yet he is now making similar claims himself while the Commission is still underway."

If there was any new evidence about serious safety issues in New Zealand's mines, there should be immediate action to address those concerns, Goff said.

The royal commission is currently receiving written submissions and open hearings will recommence in July.

The Press