“We want Australian mining standards,” NZ miners say

 Solid Energy used the Pike River inquiry to call for mines inspections to be run by the Queensland Mines Inspectorate rather than New Zealand’s own Labour Department.

It comes as the inquiry into the Pike River coal mine disaster comes to a close this week.

The demand was made by both the coal miner and the country’s Engineering, Printing & Manufacturing Union (EPMU) in the final submissions to the River Royal Commission this morning, according to The Press.

Solid Energy, a major New Zealand coal miner and the acquirer of the Pike River mine, told the commission that by outsourcing to an overseas regulator it solved the problem of trying to staff the NZ unit in competition with Australia, and that the risks are the same no matter whether you mine in Queensland or the Buller”, Solid Energy lawyer Craig Stevens stated, the NZ Herald reported.

"The challenges of being able to establish a fully resourced and efficient coal mines inspectorate in New Zealand under the high hazards unit and in a market which is rapidly becoming a single market, is a very big ask,” he added.

The EPMU agreed, calling for a complete overhaul of the country’s mining laws and regulations to avoid a similar disaster, Voxy reports.

"Coal mine workers deserve to have the best laws and mechanisms in place to ensure that they return home safely from work," Ged O’Connell, EPMU assistant national secretary said.

"This Commission has heard how the current laws governing health and safety are inadequate and that we need new regulatory provisions in place that represent international best practice."

It called for the adoption of Queensland’s mine regulations and practices, saying this will provide clearer and more detailed safety obligations for miners.

"A fundamental and necessary part of the Queensland system is the legislated role of workers to participate in respect of health and safety. This provides workers a real voice, without fear or favour, to raise issues and concerns with management on the job and with the statutory authorities," O’Connell said.

"The mechanisms that exist in New Zealand for mine workers to have a real say in health and safety are very weak and it’s a constant struggle for workers to have real influence with on-site safety management."

 Backlash against Australian control

However the Coal Association of New Zealand called for it to remain in New Zealand as familiarity with the country’s mining conditions is crucial.

Tony King, from the Association, warned that contracting the inspectorate to Queensland could lead to a higher turnover in the country’s inspectorate, with no worker gaining specialist knowledge of the mines around New Zealand.

Commission head Graham Panckhurst questioned whether Australia would ever provide an inspectorate in the country, with Queensland Mines Inspectorate Commissioner Stewart Bell noting that one jurisdiction alone in QLD had eight new mines coming online.

 Police try to take charge

During the commission the Police force has repeatedly stressed that it should lead following any mining disasters, despite coming under heavy criticism for the rescue efforts at Pike River.

Police lawyer Simon Moore said police should be in charge at major incidents as they had suitable resources and expertise to handle it.

However Solid Energy noted that the police had to Google what Mines Resource Services were on the night of Pike River.

Moore countered that despite the Police not have mining experience; they had practical experience of real life and death emergencies.

NZ Mines Rescue Service lawyer Garth Gallaway said the police structure had caused delays in information being relayed, with footage of the explosion taking 72 hours to reach its Wellington office.

He added that a mining expert should be in charge, not a police officer.

The inquiry is expected to finish tomorrow.

Image: The NZ Herald

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