Labour pledges Pike River compensation

08:38, Nov 19 2013
David Cunliffe
DAVID CUNLIFFE: The Labour leader said his government would seek to recover compensation from the parent companies, shareholders and directors of Pike River Coal.

Labour leader David Cunliffe has marked the third anniversary of the Pike River mine disaster with a promise to pay the full court-ordered compensation to the families.

"Under the Labour Government I lead the Government will pay the full $3.4 million court-ordered compensation to the families of the dead miners."

He said his government would then seek to recover the money from the parents, shareholders and directors of Pike River Coal.

Cunliffe said the Government had let the families of Pike River victims down and had a moral obligation to pay the compensation because the Department of Labour was held jointly responsible for the tragedy which claimed the lives of 29 miners.

"It is shameful that neither the Crown, nor Crown entities ACC and NZ Super Fund, have upheld their moral obligation to contribute.

"The financial well-being of the Pike River families is uppermost in our minds. Paying the court-ordered compensation is the decent and right thing to do," he said.

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Out of the millions in insurance payments only $5000 per miner killed found its way into the compensation for families out of court-ordered compensation of $110,000, Cunliffe said.

"That's reprehensible."

He said ACC,  with about 5 per cent of the shares, and the NZ Superannuation fund, with 1.6 per, cent would pay an amount proportionate to their holdings and they would be the first phone calls he would make.

Cunliffe said he would be surprised if legal avenues were needed, but he left open that option as well as a legislative change as a last resort to force payment.

"The companies shareholders and directors have two choices. One is the easy way, the other is the hard way."

As Prime Minister he would use the authority of the office, including perhaps a private dinner with the chairs of the relevant companies "where they see good sense and decide to take something back to their boards or a range of other tools at the Prime Minister's disposal".

"Despite John Key's promises to stand side by side with the families of the 29 miners, they have been left in the lurch by Mr Key, Pike River Coal Ltd, its shareholders and parent companies and directors,'' Cunliffe said.
Earlier Labour Minister Simon Bridges said he was comfortable with the government's decision not to pay compensation.

"There's, on our advice, no cause of action for the families," Bridges said.

"We have had a wide-ranging programme here to honour the deaths, make sure it never happens again," he said.

"We've taken on board everything that the Royal Commission has said and 16 hard hitting recommendations that now we've, practically speaking, implemented in full."

The Government was also spending around $7m attempting to reenter the mine, to assess whether the bodies of the victims could be recovered.

Cabinet held a "brief" discussion on the issue of compensation on Monday, Bridges said. He did not believe the conversation covered whether the Government had any moral obligation to pay the compensation, and was focused on its legal responsibilities, and the risk that it creating a precedent.

"There's no cause of action here, and we have to, I think, as a government, be careful with how we spend taxpayers' money, and also be mindful of the precedent effect that these sort of decisions make."

LAST PIKE RIVER RECORDING AIRED

A voice recording of the last contact with workers in the Pike River mine has been aired publicly for the first time on the third anniversary of the disaster.

The transcript, aired by Radio New Zealand today, was recorded at 3:44pm on November 19 2010.

In it, long-time Pike River employee Daniel Duggan is heard in the mining operation's control room making a call via the mine's internal communication system.

He started the call by saying, "Hello ABM or roadheader?"

RNZ paraphrased the words of Scottish miner Malcolm Campbell who replied asking who Duggan was after.*

In the recording, a series of alarms and beeps, as well as low rumbling noises can be heard.

An increasingly distressed Duggan is heard saying; "Hello, anyone underground?" followed by "Hello, monitor place, anyone underground? Anyone?"

The blast killed 29 men, including Duggan's younger brother Chris. 

A transcript of the conversation was read at the Pike River Royal Commission, but it had never been played publicly before today.

* An earlier version of this story said RNZ aired a fuller version of the recording which included Malcolm Campbell's voice speaking just moments before the blast. This was incorrect. We apologise for the error and any distress this has caused.

Fairfax Media