13 Jul 2011

Minister stonewalls opposition on mine safety

9:51 pm on 13 July 2011

The Minister of Labour has repeatedly ducked questions in Parliament about why the Government is not acting to improve mining safety standards.

Kate Wilkinson also batted away a question about whether she would resign if a Royal Commission into the Pike River Coal mining disaster finds any failings with her department.

An inquiry is being held in Greymouth into the deaths of 29 workers killed in a series of explosions at the West Coast mine in November last year.

Former mines inspector Robin Hughes told the commission on Wednesday that the tragedy had its origins in the 1990s when the mines inspectorate was abolished.

Mr Hughes says the government of the day ignored strong objections from mine inspectors to this and the transfer of all inspectors to the Department of Labour.

On Wednesday, West Coast-based MP Kevin Hague had a series of questions for Ms Wilkinson about details of the Pike River explosions and the Government's record on mining safety.

The Green MP and the Labour Party pressed the minister on why she is waiting for the Royal Commission report before making any changes to better protect miners.

Ms Wilkinson said she did not want to respond while the Royal Commission is being held to avoid influencing its outcome.

The minister did not have a direct response to Mr Hague about whether she would personally be taking any responsibility if the Department of Labour is found to have failed in its duty to protect the Pike River miners.

Ms Wilkinson says a recent audit of underground mines found no immediate evidence of dangerous conditions for workers.

Call to reinstate mines inspection

Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn says the mines' inspection system needs to be strengthened immediately and now is a perfect opportunity for everyone to set politics aside and get on with using inspectors.

On Wednesday state-owned Solid Energy supported a call from miners' union the EPMU for a significantly strengthened mining inspectorate.

It follows Solid Energy chief executive Don Elder's admission that there have been four fires at the Spring Creek mine on the West Coast in the past two months.