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Government could fund Pike River Mine re-entry

Published: 5:58AM Thursday December 13, 2012 Source: ONE News

The Government has vowed to offer financial assistance to recover the bodies of those who died in the Pike River Mine explosion if a viable plan is developed.

Prime Minister John Key made the announcement today as he offered a personal apology to the families of those killed for Government failings which contributed to the loss of the 29 men.

Key visited Greymouth this morning, where he held a two hour closed-door meeting with the victims' families in the wake of a Royal Commission report which has recommended several changes to improve mine safety in New Zealand.

"Obviously we've put out statements before but it was really important I came face-to-face and said, 'look, we're really sorry about what happened'," the Prime Minister said following the meeting.

"The Government has to take some responsibility for that as does the company and others."

But it was a gesture lost on some, with a few of the families leaving the meeting early.

"I don't accept any apologies because the regulatory system shouldn't have been removed in the first place," said Lawrie Drew, whose son Zen was among the 29.

And families representative Bernie Monk said they were "more interested in getting up the tunnel than any apology".

"At the moment we've got two camps - their camp and our camp - so I said we need both these camps to join forces, and bring them to New Zealand, sit around the table and iron out the problems about getting down the tunnel," Monk said.

Re-entry discussions

Key said he was open to the idea of a round-table meeting.

"I can't see any harm in pooling them all together and see whether there can be a bit of agreement," he said.

The Prime Minister said if both parties can agree on a satisfactory re-entry plan, and it is vetted by the High Hazards Unit, the Government will provide funding to help recover the remains of the 29 men.

The cost of re-entering the entrance tunnel to the mine is estimated at $10 million, which would be split between the Government and the mine's new owners, Solid Energy.

"I've written to all the families and said to them if they can come up with a plan, or effectively if Solid Energy can come up with a safe and credible plan, to go up the drift then the Government will put in money to make that happen," Key said.

However, the families have said discussions are "on the same merry-go-round".

The families have long campaigned for the mine to be re-entered and the bodies of their loved ones recovered.

ONE News reporter Ali Pugh  has spoken to the former mine safety manager Neville Rockhouse, who told her "time really is of the essence".

"The barometric pressure inside the mine changes quite drastically between seasons, meaning it is much safer to stage a re-entry during the summer months," said Pugh.

"And if they don't take that opportunity now they could be waiting another year."

Regulatory framework

The Government said it plans to introduce a regulatory framework for the entire mining sector, not just underground mining, and would implement all 16 recommendations from the Royal Commission of Inquiry.

Key passed on this message to the families today.

The new mining framework is due to be ready for consultation by mid-2013 and the Government has given a timeframe of 12 months for the new safety regulations to be approved by Cabinet.