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SPEECH: 10th Anniversary of Pike River tragedy

Tēnei te mihi ki a tātau katoa e huihui nei i tēnei rā

I greet us all who are gathered here today

Ki a koutou ngā whānau o te hunga kua riro i kōnei – he mihi aroha ki a koutou

To you the families of those who were lost here – our deepest sympathies to you all

Ki te hapori whānui – tēnā koutou

To the wider community – I greet you all

Ki ngā tāngata whenua – tēnā koutou

To the tangata whenua – I acknowledge you

Ki ngā mate, e kore koutou e warewaretia

To the dead, you will never be forgotten

Haere, haere, moe mai rā

Go now and rest in peace.

 

My warmest greetings to everyone here today. To those who are watching from elsewhere in New Zealand and around the world on the live stream.

Greetings to those who are on the Coast at the portal at Pike River. Greetings to you, your loved ones, your family and your friends.

Greetings to you all.

10 years ago today 31 men went to work at the Pike River Mine.

29 of those men never came home.

There is nothing relative about grief, sudden loss is devastating. And New Zealand saw that grief, so gut wrenching, and so raw. It alone would have been too much for most to bear. But for the families of the 29, it was only the beginning. You were left to pick up the pieces. To raise children. To fill a void. And for many, to fight to change, so that deep, painful loss would never happen to someone else.

We now know what happened at Pike River should not have happened.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the tragedy found that in the drive towards coal production the directors and executive managers paid insufficient attention to health and safety and exposed the workers to unacceptable risks.

It found the board of directors did not ensure that health and safety was being properly managed and the executive managers did not properly assess the health and safety risks the workers were facing.

It found that the mining should have stopped.

And those findings are where this could have all ended was it not for the Pike families.

Today I want to acknowledge your loss, but I also want to acknowledge your strength.

We are here because of your determined efforts to ensure that everything that could be done in honour of your men would be done.

You are the ones who said never again.

Can I acknowledge the Stand With Pike Families reference group:

  • Anna Osborne
  • Sonya Rockhouse
  • Rowdy Durbridge

The chance to get to know you, I consider a privilege.

I admire you and all you have fought for. You have never given up your quest for justice. But I also admire who you are as people. Tough, kind, stubborn. And honest. A few weeks ago Sonya even messaged me after seeing moe on the news to tell me to eat a pie.

Thank you. You started as Pike family representation – I now consider you friends.

I also want to take a moment to remember Simon Meikle, who was untiring in giving the Pike families legal advice, and who sadly passed away earlier this month after a battle with cancer.

And of course no anniversary of Pike River would be complete without acknowledgment of Helen Kelly and the role she played in holding the company and its leadership to account.

Helen passed away before I became leader of the Labour Party in 2017 but I know she would have been in my ear to sign the Pike River Political Commitment, which I did very soon after taking over the position from Andrew Little. Andrew has been an exemplary Minister for and staunch advocate of the Pike River re-entry. 

It was a simple pledge - to do all we could to safely recover the Pike River Mine drift and collect evidence, in the hope that there might never be another Pike River disaster again.

In our first 100 days we established Te Kāhui Whakamana Rua Tekau mā Iwa — Pike River Recovery Agency.

The Agency’s mission is clear:

  • To safely re-enter and recover the Pike River Mine drift;
  • To give the Pike River families closure;
  • To promote accountability for the tragedy and to help prevent future mining tragedies.

10 years later we are very close to fulfilling the commitment to you.

On 15 September this year, in advance of today’s anniversary, Agency staff reached the Pit Bottom in Stone area which is critical for forensic examination.

I know that as the recovery project draws to a close you are turning your minds to the legacy of Pike River – so that the memory of your men, and your decade of efforts, will contribute to better ways for Government to stand alongside victims and their families in times of enormous tragedy.

In the meantime, we are committed to honouring those who died at Pike by making workplaces safer. In fact, it’s one of the reasons we are here today. In Wellington, the place that must continue to ensure that when people go to work each day, they come home too.

For the past decade you have held Governments both blue and red to account.

You have brought about legislative change already and there is more to come. But now is the time for us, all of us, to take up that mantle too. You have carried too much, walked too far, pushed so hard. Let us carry that burden now too.

Till then, as we depart this place today, please know all of New Zealand stands with you, embraces you, wishes you rest, wishes you peace.

Kia kaha. We all stand with Pike.