Wrong call on mining disaster compo

MICHAEL LAWS
Last updated 05:00 17/11/2013
Bernie Monk
TOUGH: The loved ones of Bernie Monk and others were killed by a measure of incompetence and neglect, and central government was a part of that.

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OPINION: Call it sympathy fatigue. Call it precedent aversion. Call it pragmatism.

But whatever rationale Cabinet used this week in deciding not to offer public compensation to Pike River mining families, the rationale is wrong.

And the impression provided to the public is, unfairly, of a government and a prime minister that have lost interest in Pike River after years of empathy. Against the suggested splurging of tens of millions more on an America's Cup challenge, it appears a particularly mean-spirited response.

Certainly the Government can argue that compensation is not its responsibility. It has provided the usual ACC-related support plus pledged millions to re-open the mine in an attempt to recover the bodies. That alone suggests that it is not a hard-hearted insensate.

But the fact is that the New Zealand Government did contribute to the tragedy. Its lack of safety oversight even led to the resignation of labour minister Kate Wilkinson.

Sure, the major responsibility rested with the mine owners, the mine management and the shareholding companies. Report after report has documented the appalling failures that made the deaths of the Pike River miners almost inevitable.

And the Government can logically claim that it should not be responsible for the failure of private companies that cripple or kill their employees. On that basis, the liability would never end.

But this is also the Government that made the mad-headed decision to bail out finance company investors - a bailout that had the potential to top $2 billion - that's 2000 million dollars. The Pike River compo was $3 million.

And guess what: not a single finance company investor was killed. They may have lost their money and some their life savings. But they were still alive. Twenty-nine Pike River men are not - and their families have lost their fathers, partners and sons forever.

That said, and despite the populist pitch of Labour leader David Cunliffe, you do get the impression that the New Zealand public is over Pike River. That we have collectively lost our initial empathy as newer and fresher tragedies saturate our sympathy.

Such similar compassion fatigue seems to haunt Christchurch's recovery too. There's a "oh-they're-bleating-again" response to most of the appeals that emanate from the south these days.

Despite the city still being broken. And the daily travails of living in the former Garden City being beyond the patience of the rest of us. The moral of both Christchurch and Pike River seems to be - get in quick, get as much compo as you can, because the tap and the heart will soon dry.

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But it shouldn't. Bernie Monk and the Pike River families still deserve to be listened to, and their demands met. Their loved ones were killed by a measure of incompetence and neglect, and central government was a part of that. Pay them their due. It is the right thing to do.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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