Tuesday, November 06, 2012

A matter of life and death

Mine safety is a hot topic today (and I'll have more about it when the transcript of Question Time is released). But it may interest people to know that Solid Energy CEO Don Elder (the one who has just driven the state-owned company into the ground) thinks it is Very Important. So important, in fact, that he thinks Solid Energy should be exempted from the OIA so the company can discuss it properly. And he had Solid Energy's submission to the Law Commission's review of the Official Information Act altered to say exactly that:

Can you develop an argument that the OIA inhibits us from carrying out free and frank internal communication on a range of important issues critical to our business.

For example we find ourselves obliged to strike a compromise between two drivers: on one hand the desire to have open and unrestricted communication on important matters that need to be discussed, but possibly only involve opinions until investigated further and on the other hand the risk that these communications will then have to be released under an OIA and used out of context for a purpose unconnected with their original intent. These include, but are not limited to, safety issues.

And later:
You have captured the logic, however is is not sufficiently compelling. We are now in a position where H&S, and many other important areas of our business reqUiring frank open and honest communication, and our management ability, are compromised. People may die as a result. We need to spell this out bluntly.

(Emphasis added)

And when the legal staff baulked at his hyperbole, he edited the submission himself to reflect his views.

The real reason for Elder's hostility? Workers and their representatives can use the OIA to find out whether Solid Energy is doing enough in response to safety concerns. Environmental groups have also used it to hold the company responsible for poor environmental practices. A company with good practices in these areas would welcome this transparency - they'd have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. Elder's visceral hostility OTOH speaks volumes.

In the wake of Pike River, we need more information about health and safety, not less. As a state-owned company with legal obligations to be a good employer and exhibit a sense of social responsibility, Solid Energy should be leading that charge. Instead, its trying to start a charge to secrecy. Sadly, given National's own hostility to transparency, they'll probably succeed.

[Hat-tip: Aesthetic Letterheads and Public Knowledge]