Two Australian journalists have angered New Zealand officials, who labelled one ‘boorish’, following unsubstantiated comments and ill-informed questions regarding the rescue of trapped miners on the country’s south island.
Ean Higgins, from The Australian, drew gasps from fellow journalists and officials at a press conference yesterday when he questioned why Superintendent Gary Knowles was making decisions on the rescue, rather than mining unions.
Knowles was visibly angered by the question and refused to answer.
“I have responsibility for policing three quarters of the South Island,” he said.
"This is a multi-agency approach…this is not a union matter, sir, it’s a matter for the experts."
Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee has called on the journalist’s editor to act, and says Higgins is not representative of other Australians.
“The simple fact is he should not be reporting for a country like this because Australia has been so good to us.
"Australia are so focused on us, their prayers and their best wishes to all involved and they get some utter tosspot like that over here who mars all them.”
Adding insult to injury, the same company again got itself on the wrong side of NZ authorities with a question from a Channel 7 journalist.
He asked chief executive of Pike River Coal Peter Whittal, "Can you imagine New York fire fighters standing around the World Trade Centre waiting to be told they shouldn’t be told go in if there were lives in the balance."
Whittal refused to answer the question, labelling it inappropriate. Knowles later answered the question and said the journalist was using unrealistic comparisons.
“A fire underground has no relevance to a burning building. This is a totally different environment.”
“This is an underground mine that involves an explosive environment. The teams want to go in, but they can’t.”
Beyond being insulting and inappropriate in the delicate situation in New Zealand, the journalists also appear to be ill-informed.
Among the 2 753 victims of the 9/11 tragedy, 343 were fire fighters and 60 police officers.
These numbers only account for the deaths on the site, and not subsequent illnesses and health problems.
Furthermore, officials would no doubt also be carefully considering situations like Queensland’s Moura coal mine disaster of 1994 when planning their rescue missions, where an explosion was followed two days later by another.
Luckily, further disaster was avoided, as there were no people in the mines for the second explosion.
The careful planning and information process for the rescue mission in New Zealand aims to ensure there is no unnecessary tragedy.
NSW Minerals Council CEO Nikki Williams said that she supports the careful rescue process at the Pike River mines and that Australia is doing all it can to assist the country in a very distressing time.
“Our thoughts are with the miners trapped underground in New Zealand, their families and the authorities that are working tirelessly on the rescue effort.”