[Sitting date: 06 November 2012. Volume:685;Page:6264. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]
KEVIN HAGUE (Green) to the
Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement in regard to the report of the
Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy that “the company completely and utterly failed to protect their workers”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister)
: Yes. The first obligation of any employer is to keep its employees safe. By any measure, Pike River Coal failed to do so.
Kevin Hague: Does he agree with the royal commission that at Pike River production was put before safety?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Reading the royal commission’s report, I am drawn to the same conclusion.
Kevin Hague: How is it possible that for years we had an underground coalmine operating in New Zealand with only one usable exit?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think the member raises a good point. There is a whole section on the ventilation issues and the use of an underground ventilation fan in the Pike River mine. The member will also be aware that some of that was done to accommodate a variety of reasons, including demands by the Department of Conservation that looked at the conservation issues.
Kevin Hague: Does he agree that the deregulation of occupational health and safety that occurred in the 1990s was the major factor in creating an environment where
management at Pike River were able to ignore workers’ calls to improve safety; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. Let us take a step back. The primary responsibility of any company, when it comes to health and safety issues, rests with that company, so a good employer is always going to make sure that their employees are safe in the workplace. The role of a regulator is someone to ensure that the company is fulfilling its obligations, not to fulfil those obligations for the company. The company itself must do that. In the case of Pike River Coal, the company utterly failed.
Kevin Hague: Does he agree that standard economic theory suggests that profit-maximising firms will always prioritise profitability over safety, unless the Government, as regulator, ensures the safety of workers?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think that is a ridiculous statement. That is saying that a company is prepared to risk the deaths of its employees and the reputation of the company for the sole purpose of making money, and even from the most hardened socialist I find that something difficult to believe. In the case of the Pike River mine, let us argue just for a moment that the Pike River Coal company was halfway through its mining operations, and was a successful operation that was operating well. An explosion of the magnitude that took place back in 2010 would have then completely and utterly collapsed that company. That would have made no economic sense to anyone.
Kevin Hague: Will his Government address the pervasive “low touch, high trust” regulatory culture that he referred to yesterday that continues to kill and to injure workers in other areas besides mining, such as agriculture, forestry, and manufacturing?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think what is quite clear from the royal commission’s report yesterday is that while it is specific at one level to the Pike River mine disaster, it makes wide-sweeping recommendations in relation to health and safety issues across the entire New Zealand workforce. In that regard, the Government is committed to implementing those recommendations. Therefore, there will be significant change, and that significant change will permeate across all industries around New Zealand. So, in answer to his question, my view is that there will be a difference of approach in the way that health and safety issues are managed in New Zealand. But I go back to still the most fundamental point: in the end, that responsibility still rests with the company. We can change the way that we go from being a more high trust regime to being a more prescriptive regime, but that is still a situation of dealing with the issues after the fact. We still need New Zealand employers to make sure they deploy the highest safety standards they can.
Kevin Hague: Given that the ideology of deregulation in our workplaces has cost at least these 29 lives, will he now assure the public that the era of ideologically driven deregulation is over?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In one regard, all issues of policy are ideological. You can take an ideological view that something should be more prescriptive over something being more deregulated. Secondly, I would take issue with the statement that the member made—it was not a question; he started it with “given”. His statement was that the primary responsibility rests with the Government. The primary responsibility rests with the company.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Did the review of safety in underground mines instituted by the Labour Government and scrapped by his Government relate to all underground mines or only to small mines?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I simply do not have that paperwork in front of me to comment on that.