[Note: The Parties have agreed on terms to fully and finally settle the proceeding and will jointly issue the below statement.]
At the heart of this litigation are the lives of the 29 men tragically lost at the Pike River mine on 19 November 2010 and to whom we pay our respects. The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the mine disaster concluded the fate of the men was the consequence of poor standards of corporate leadership and management, and poor regulatory oversight. The project to recover the mine drift for further evidence is part of the quest for justice for these men and their families.
In 2017 Bernie Monk, Anna Osborne and Sonya Rockhouse requested political parties sign a commitment to act immediately to safely re-enter, fully recover, make safe and comprehensively investigate the 2.2km Pike River mine drift. The Pike River Recovery Agency was established on 31 January 2018 with a mandate to recover the drift. Although there was no commitment made to go beyond the drift, Minister Little agreed that he would report to Cabinet on whether any further work to assess the feasibility of re-entering the mine workings should be undertaken once the process of recovering the drift was well advanced.
The Minister and the Pike River Recovery Agency have always been committed to and have demonstrated transparency and partnership with the families of the 29 men who died and the two who survived following the explosion at the Pike River mine on 19 November 2010. As part of that commitment, the Agency entered into an agreement with the Pike River Families Reference Group in 2018, which had a democratic mandate from the majority of Pike River Families to represent them. The Agency agreed it would only initiate contact with a Pike River family through the Family Reference Group but would keep an open door to any requests or queries from any Pike River family at any time.
As the Agency progressed through the drift in 2018 and 2019 it became apparent that further funding would be required in order to complete the drift recovery. Towards the tail-end of 2019 the Minister foreshadowed to the Family Reference Group that going beyond the drift was unlikely. The Minister now accepts that the families who were not represented by the Family Reference Group were not advised and were not included in this communication.
In February 2020 the Minister advised the Family Reference Group that, given the investment of time and money required to complete re-entry, recovery and examination of the drift, he did not intend to bring a proposal to Cabinet to move beyond the drift and try to explore the mine workings. The Minister communicated this decision to Cabinet in March 2020, while at the same time securing further funding to complete the drift recovery.
Although it had been foreshadowed with the Families Reference Group, the Minister accepts that his decision not to explore the feasibility of re-entering the mine workings should have been communicated to all Pike River Family members before it was presented to Cabinet. The Minister accepts this caused hurt to several family members as a result of this.
The families and the Government have stayed faithful to their commitment to “Stand with Pike” and the Government has kept its commitment to the re-entry, recovery and forensic examination of the Pike River Mine drift in an effort to find out as much as possible about what happened at Pike River and why, to promote accountability for what happened, to inform, and to help prevent future tragedies.
The Minister acknowledges and respects that all of the Pike River families remain committed to seeking justice and to ensuring that what happened at Pike River never happens again. Both the Minister and the families support the ongoing criminal investigation the Police is carrying out into the tragedy.