Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Penny-pinching costs lives

Back in 1998, the then-National government disbanded the mine inspectorate group and shifted its functions to the Department of Labour. The number of mine inspectors was reduced from seven to two, saving $1 million. In light of what has happened at Pike River, and what is emerging from the Royal Commission hearings, that is now looking like a foolish decision. That penny-pinching desire to cull public service positions (especially public service positions which annoy employers) seems to have cost lives.

Meanwhile, Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson is also looking like she's made some foolish decisions. In October 2009, the Department of Labour recommended tightening mine safety, by requiring them to document health and safety systems and hazard management plans, introduce check inspectors, and impose greater employee participation in mine safety. Wilkinson refused. And now, rather than accepting responsibility for her failure, she's trying to spin it, trying to equivocate over a different briefing paper and other recommendations she accepted. Nice try, but it won't wash. When given a choice between believing a public servant under oath, or a spinning Minister, its really no contest, is it?