15 Mar 2013

Former Solid Energy chair fiercely defends performance

7:57 am on 15 March 2013

The former chairman of Solid Energy denies the company's slide into debt was due to a governance failure.

John Palmer has mounted a staunch defence of the board and former chief executive Don Elder, after both men appeared before Parliament's commerce select committee.

Mr Palmer says the board of the state coal miner takes responsibility for the company's $389 million debt.

Don Elder and John Palmer appearing before Parliament's commerce select committee.

Don Elder and John Palmer appearing before Parliament's commerce select committee. Photo: RNZ

However, he says it could have done little to combat last year's sudden and dramatic drop in the coal price.

Mr Palmer also defended Dr Elder, saying the way he has been treated by some media and the wider public is appalling.

He says Dr Elder should be applauded for his work.

Dr Elder quit suddenly as chief executive in February, shortly before the Government revealed the level of the company's debt.

He denies his resignation is anything to do with a performance failure on his part.

"There is a new board, a new direction for the company which I fully support the company delivering on and I believe it's appropriate that the new chairman, the new board and the company have an opportunity to do that in the way they wish and it's appropriate that they do it with a new CEO," he said after the hearing.

Dr Elder opened his address to the select committee by apologising to coal miners and others out of work as a result of Solid Energy's financial problems.

However, the Labour Party MP for West Coast Tasman, Damien O'Connor, says that is cold comfort for the hundreds of people who have lost their jobs.

He says some of the coal miners now out of work packed up their families and moved from Britain 18 months ago with the promise of 15 years employment and are desperate to know what to do.