Pike River

Andrew Little and EPMU seriously criticised by the Left

From the The Owl

We all wish and hope that bodies can be recovered or at least closure is gained for the families of the Pike River mine.

A number of editorials and opinion writers for MSM have suggested as soon as the report into the Pike River tragedy was released the “blame game” would begin.

Having read as many reports as possible it is the left wing blogger Steve Cowan with his article on “Against the Current” which is absolutely superb.

The parties involved have all put their hands up and in lay men’s terms have said “we have had a part to play in the disaster”. Prime Minister John Key, Minister of Labour Kate Wilkinson, David Shearer on behalf of previous Labour Governments and the list goes on.

However as Steve Cowan writes, the EPMU had a golden opportunity under Andrew Little’s leadership to raise concerns about the mine and health and safety within the mining industry. If his analysis is right and it is a very well researched piece he squarely puts part of the blame on “modern unionism”.

The focus must remain on the findings on the report, implementation of measures suggested without political tinkering and closure for the Pike River families. Accordingly Steve Cowan suggests that the EPMU, Andrew Little and Damian O’Connor should also look very seriously at their roles.

Observation by the Owl

For the followers of the Owl my mandate is to always apologise if what I have written is wrong.

Sometimes that takes guts and Steve Cowan piece has really got me thinking.

The words “modern unionism” means what? I don’t know what that means but what I do know is that people within the union have used their unions to build profiles and enter such domains as parliament.

The 20% voting shifty pulled by the Unions for the future appointment of any Labour Leader shows again how agendas can destroy institutions.

New Zealand needs strong governments and equally needs strong opposition – we can all handle a good debate but leadership on either side of the house also needs to exercise “humility”. Empathy for others.

As I heard recently on a radio show when the talk back hosts was criticising the 7% unemployment rate, the astute co-host said – that’s great 93% are employed in New Zealand.

Andrew Little comment in parliament this week when he said that “there was no business leadership in this country” reminded me how much our politicians are out of touch with reality.

Every morning, hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders wake up each day and go open their workshops, businesses and work on innovations and design to satisfy their needs of their workers, clients and families – not to satisfy unions or politicians.

Steve Cowan, the unions didn’t kill the workers, nor did the government – a whole lot of personal and ideological agendas did over a very long time.

Chris Trotter on Pike River

Chris Trotter is holding Labour accountable for Pike River, much more so than National:

[T]his column is written from the Left, so my focus will be on the party of the workers; the party whose founders came from the West Coast pits around Blackball; the party of the coalminers’ trade unions; the party which for nine long years did nothing to prevent the tragedy which, in such a criminally deregulated environment, was only ever a matter of time.

Labour took control of New Zealand’s state apparatus on November 27, 1999, and relinquished it on November 8, 2008.

During that time three Labour MPs held the labour portfolio: Margaret Wilson (1999-2004), Ruth Dyson (2005-07) and Trevor Mallard (2007-08).

All three of these politicians came into Parliament with strong Left-wing credentials.

And all of them, I’m sure, wanted to do only good things for the people they represented.

How, then, are we to explain their inaction? Their failure to impose a state-of-the-art health and safety regime on New Zealand’s coalmining industry?

Trevor Mallard isn’t too happy about that either…but Trotter goes on.

Throughout the 19th century, the dangers facing workers underground and the disasters which so regularly took their lives provided a powerful moral impetus for labour movements all over the world – including New Zealand’s.

In 2007, workers’ safety campaigner Hazel Armstrong wrote: “The 1890s’ West Coast coalfields have been evocatively described as a ‘slough of despond’.

“They were notoriously hazardous working environments: ‘There’s always blood on the coal’, miners said.”

It’s why the story of Paddy Webb’s 1908 fight for the Blackball miners’ rights became as ingrained as coal-dust in the political memory of Labour Party people.

How could three successive Labour ministers have forgotten so much?

Two of them are still in parliament, perhaps they might to atone by resigning?

There was no appetite in the Clark-led Labour Government for a return to the “heavy-handed” regulations of the past. As the source of rational behaviour, the market was still considered uniquely capable of regulating itself.

Tragically, it has taken the Pike River disaster to expose the fatal falsity of that belief.

Following the royal commission report’s release, Labour leader David Shearer was asked if he thought the deregulatory pendulum had swung too far. He responded by saying that, “the Government needs to be much more hands-on than it has been”.

It is to be hoped that these words reflect a genuine change of heart on Labour’s part, and that the next time they’re in office, Labour politicians will not hesitate to prevent the private sector’s “drive for production” (and profits) from pushing workers’ rights to effective workplace protection off the agenda.

Because if there’s “blood on the coal” at Pike River, Labour helped to put it there.

If anyone is responsible then it falls to Helen Clark and her ministers, from the Labour ministers listed above to the Conservation minister who cared more about two Blue Ducks than 29 miners lives.

Sledge of the Day

As Labour seeks to play politics with Pike River, John Key helpfully reminds Trevor Mallard that he was the Minister of Labour right before Kate Wilkinson.

Pressure on Comrade Kate

Comrade Kate is facing increased pressure to do a proper resignation, from all her positions:

Praise for Kate Wilkinson’s decision to quit as labour minister over the Pike River disaster has quickly turned sour, with pressure building on her to resign from the Cabinet altogether.

Within minutes of the publication of findings by a royal commission that the Labour Department contributed to the deaths of 29 miners by not closing down unsafe operations at Pike River, the MP for Waimakariri fell on her sword.

After initial admiration from West Coast-based Opposition MPs, questions were raised yesterday about why she remained in the Cabinet on a $250,000-plus salary.

Before publishing the commission’s report, the Government spent six days trawling through paperwork before Prime Minister John Key announced that none of Ms Wilkinson’s “actions or inactions” made her “culpable”.

But yesterday Labour’s industrial relations spokeswoman, Darien Fenton, called for her to step down from her remaining portfolios which include conservation.

Asked yesterday if she was going to resign from the Cabinet, an emotional Ms Wilkinson replied: “What else have I . . . what have I done wrong?”

Well there is quite long list on that…especially in Conservation, but that is for another day.

The problem Labour has in pushing for her total resignation (hey are bitter that she stole their thunder) is twofold. First, if she had to quit all posts then there really is no real reason to stick around and so would probably throw her toys and quit parliament altogether forcing a by-election which National would lose, thus ending the government. Second, the focus would then also be drawn to forcing Labour’s responsible former ministers to likewise quit.

Fortunately for Kate Wilkinson she has the double insulation of those reasons protecting her from too much pressure.

John Armstrong nearly asks the right question

John Armstrong makes an interesting observation and nearly asks the right question:

In its most damning criticism, the Commission says Wilkinson’s department should have prohibited Pike from operating the mine until its health and safety systems were adequate.

Given the mine opened in November 2008 – just a month before Wilkinson became Minister of Labour – there would have been demands for her resignation as her department’s woeful performance happened on her watch.

 It opened in the same month that National was elected. That means that previous ministers were responsible for the commissioning of the mine and the work to get it operational along with all the consents.

Farrar has gone all soft on this:

The Minister, when it did start operating, was Trevor Mallard - not Kate Wilkinson.

Now I say this not do do a blame game. I don’t think either Mallard or Wilkinson are to blame.

Chris Carter consented the mine with all of the silly provisions that ultimately led to the disaster, but Trevor Mallard and Ruth Dyson before him were the ministers responsible for the safety aspects during the construction of the mine.

If as Armstrong contends that the mine should never have opened, then it stands to reason that those most responsible for it being in a position to open should be held accountable like Kate Wilkinson.

If David Shearer is true to his word that Labour must share the blame, then he too must hold those in Labour who were responsible accountable. They cannot resign ministerial portfolios but they can resign from parliament. It is the right thing to do.

Should More Heads Roll?

I’ve spent some time yesterday, in between editing pages for my first issue of Truth, reading though the report on Pike River.

It’s not pretty reading for anyone. Unsurprisingly Kate Wilkinson fell on her sword…the accident happened on her watch.

However I’m really surprised by the void that appears to exist between consent (1997) and then its opening in November 2008.

There’s lots about the greenie protests and the agreements with DOC, including the award and praise given by Chris Carter.

But what was the Labour Department doing between 1999 and 2008 and who was the Minister?

Margaret Wilson 1999 – 2004

Ruth Dyson 2005 -07

Trevor Mallard 2007 – 08

And now I see Labour accepting some blame? Hannah Lynch from Newsroom reports:

Labour leader David Shearer says his party is prepared to share the blame for the Pike River coal mining disaster after the Royal Commission of Inquiry found the mining company put production before safety and the former Department of Labour should have shut the mine down.
The commission’s report was released to the public this afternoon after being presented to the families of the 29 miners killed following a series of explosions in November 2010. Their bodies remain trapped in the mine.
“If there is any portion of blame towards us during our term in office we have to accept that,” Mr Shearer told reporters.
“We stand by the fact that if there was any fault during our term of office we would also have to acknowledge that as well.”

Will Trevor and Ruth resign too? Have they the courage that Kate Wilkinson and National have shown?

Some how I doubt it.

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The Huddle at 1740

I am on The Huddle tonight with Larry Williams, and my new columnist Josie Pagani.

We will be talking about:

  • Pike River and Comrade Kate’s resignation
  • The MMP review
  • The US elections if there is time

You can listen through usual channels or online.

As usual I will post audio tomorrow morning.

Comrade Kate Falls on Her Sword

Comrade Kate has fallen on her sword as a result of the Pike River report:

Kate Wilkinson has resigned as Labour Minister, effective immediately, following today’s release of the report from the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine tragedy.

“The Pike River Mine tragedy of 19 November 2010 happened on my watch as Minister of Labour,” Ms Wilkinson said in a statement released this afternoon.

“While reports from the former Department of Labour did not advise me of concerns about their ability to administer the health and safety legislation, 29 men lost their lives in this tragedy.

“I feel it is the right and honourable thing to do.”

She is right, and it is honourable. A major difference between the Key led government and the travesty of Helen Clark’s ministry.

She has used this as a convenient time considering the the pressure she is facing for her limp handling of other Labour issues, in aprticular her response, or rather lack of it to Part 6A.

So Kate could not hack the pressure, we know this because Gerry has been running interference for her in caucus, standing up and moaning about the pressure this blog has brought to bear. Now I hear that  she had to be talked out of resigning from parliament to preserve the one seat majority.

Let’s hope the next Labour minister in John Key’s government realises that the unions are the party’s natural enemy and stop sucking up to them. meanwhile Chris Finalyson has taken over…and he is not a big fan of unions, so here’s hoping.

John Key can now use this resignation to prompt a more wider re-shuffle and move on Hekia Parata from her jobs too.

EPMU Pads Books With Pike River funds

NBR Online:

The dodgy accounting practices of the EPMU have been looked at by the NBR, in particular the accounting for donations for the Pike River miners families:

The EPMU is defending delays in establishing a trust for Pike River mine disaster families after questions were raised about its accounts.

The country’s largest private sector union was one of many organisations to take donations after the November 2010 disaster, in which 29 men were killed.

EPMU communications director Neale Jones told NBR ONLINE it had raised $750,926 by the end of last year, and money is still trickling in.

Payments totalling $344,745 were made to the Grey District Council’s fund early last year, but the balance of $406,181 is still on its accounts to December 31, 2011, published on the Societies and Trusts Online website this month.

That money had been earmarked for an educational fund for the killed miner’s families.

Questions were raised on the Whale Oil blog about the union’s lack of transparency and, at worst, whether the EPMU was using the money to boost its accounts.

Mr Jones says the union has applied to the Charities Commission to register the EPMU Pike River Family Education Trust.

Money should be dispersed within a few months, he says – likely before the two-year anniversary of the disaster.

Why has it taken this long?

“It’s quite a complex process having to work out how that’s all distributed and then seeing who’s eligible,” Mr Jones says.

While left-wingers are ranting at finance company directors let us have a look at the union who it appears are cooking their own books.

Even Rod Petricevic didn’t use funds donated for dead workers to make himself look better on paper than he was.

Has the Union borrowed money from thrid parties based on these padded accounts?

Mr Jones says the union is holding the Pike River money in a separate bank account and the interest is going back into the fund. The union’s auditors insisted if the money was being held it had to appear on its accounts.

“It’s a transparent process and our accounts are public.”

And a good thing too the accounts are public, because we can see that the EPMU is basically presenting dodgy accounts.

The fund was started prior to 2010 balance date so if the unions auditors insisted on the fund showing on the balance sheet then they should have corrected the 2010 accounts as well and not show the net balance in 2011. Maybe the prior period error of $1m is part of it?

But the bottom line is this, the treatment of the fund is wrong. The auditors can insist on showing on their books all they like but why haven’t they shown the liability for the payment out which would reduce the balance sheet. It is known as a contingent liability. To not show this is materially affecting the position shown in the accounts.

There can be only one reason to show only one side of the ledger in properly accounting for those funds and that is to make the accounts look better than they really are.

Face of the Day

There is a lot of fuss about Peter Whittall setting up a consultancy business dealing with mine safety.

He actually knows a fair bit about what not to do having been the boss of a mine that had a massive disaster.

I’d have to say that Peter Whittall knows as much about mine safety as the EPMU does about running a financially successful union, but more on that later.