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Q+A: Transcript of Bernie Monk interview

Published: 12:42PM Sunday November 04, 2012 Source: Q+A


Tomorrow we'll find out what the Royal Commission thinks caused the explosion at the Pike River mine two years ago. Cabinet will discuss the report before making it public. 29 men were killed. The families aren't hopeful they will learn anything new. They say it's all speculation because no one has gone more than 300 metres into the mine. Bernie Monk, whose son Michael was killed in the explosion, has worked hard to make sure the families aren't forgotten. Bernie Monk is in Greymouth and he joins us now. Good morning, Bernie. What are you hoping to hear from the government from this report?

BERNIE MONK, Pike River Families Spokesman

Well, I think, you know, we're gonna get most of the truth out of this commission. I've got every confidence in the men that were commissioned to do this hearing, and I think we'll get probably 99% of where we want to be at and let the country know what we've had to put up with, not only in the months that we've had since the disaster but what actually went wrong down there.

GREG What have you put up with, Bernie? Just let us know, since two years ago.

BERNIE Well, I mean, no one's ever come to sit around the tables with the families and discussed anything about getting down the mine. All the experts have said to us that it's too unsafe to do. We've fought hard to have dialogue with all these people, but no one seems to want to come forward, so we've had to go alone. We are now bringing people in from overseas ourselves, the families are, and only in the last big breakthrough since Solid Energy have taken over we've had people round the table, and they said that this job can be done and we just need to put the expertise in place, and it won't be long before we'll know rightly that we'll be able to get down there and answer a few questions that should have been done at least 18 months ago.

GREG Bernie, on the subject of people from overseas, I understand a group of experts arrived from the UK today. What are you hoping from them? Realistically, are they going to be the men who go down and find the remains of the 29 men?

BERNIE No. They're going to put- Obviously, you know, safety is a top priority. I think we've done that many risk assessments on this. Everyone's done the risk assessments. They'll go over all this and help us put our case forward for this- Mines Rescue are the people that are going to be doing the job. The people on the West Coast, which have always said the job can be done and have been stopped from doing it are the ones that are going to be doing the job.

GREG Time is of the essence with that side of it, because a lot of those men, of course, and gear and the expertise will be going before too long.

BERNIE That's the biggest problem. That's why the push is on to try and get this job done before that expertise goes, because once they leave, then we're going to be relying on Australia again, you know, the ones that actually designed the mine and caused this explosion in the first place.

GREG Has the prime minister- I know you had a meeting you described as 'very disappointing' with the prime minister last October. Are you hoping for any advance from that?

BERNIE Well, I think so. I think he's a wise man. He got it completely wrong when he came to see us. He's relied on experts, and I'm sorry, his experts blew that mine up another three times after the first explosion, and all we've asked for is to sit down with all these people and go through where they think it's impossible to do, and no one's come forth. That's why the push has been on and it will continue to happen till someone sits around the table. So Solid Energy have said to us, 'You get the proposals forward, you get the people to do it, and we won't stand in your way.' And that's what we're going to do.

GREG Give us a timeframe, Bernie. When does Solid Energy, when do you think that could happen?

BERNIE Well, everyone has told us over the years, the months and years and that, and I'll be very disappointed if we aren't up within the next month or so.

GREG That quick?

BERNIE That quick. It's only a two-hour walk. We're only talking about a walk up the drift. Let's do a summary on the drift, because everything up till now is speculation. Everything. And once we take a walk up the drift, we can do the analysis on where to go from there.

GREG You sound like-

BERNIE That's how important it is.

GREG Bernie, you sound like a man who feels pretty let down by this government, let down by the prime minister.

BERNIE Well, I think the prime minister has been wrongly advised by the superiors that are in charge of this whole saga. All we've asked for is dialogue, and they just shut the door on us. So if they wanna shut the door on us, we'll go alone.

GREG I understand John Key isn't coming to Greymouth in the foreseeable future. How disappointing is that? When do you hope to get that dialogue, get around the table with him again?

BERNIE Well, I've since written to him since the meeting we had in Greymouth a few weeks ago, and I've had information back that he's taken what I wrote very seriously, and I'm still waiting.

GREG You said you felt that the prime minister felt that New Zealanders had forgotten about you. Do you think that's the case?

BERNIE I don't think they've forgotten about us. I just think, you know, it's a long journey, and people think that we should move on, but what they've got to realise, we know, the Coasters know, the people with the experience here know it can be done. They haven't got families down there. They haven't got members down there. And let's face it, they haven't had one shot of doing anything. They've just walked away from the whole situation. We've been given two bankrupt companies, or one bankrupt company and one that's in financial difficulties to deal with, so, you know, they're not really interested in doing a job that's gotta be done, so that's why we've had to go alone.

GREG Bernie, just finally, there are a lot of corporate settings, a lot of that type of thing still to come. Corporate manslaughter - is that something that needs to be looked at in the future, needs to be realistically considered?

BERNIE Oh, very much so. There's gotta be big law changes here. This is another part of where the Pike families have gone. We've already met with the special task force for health and safety that's been put forth from the government. The families have already met them. We've put submissions in with that. Listen, Pike River will be remembered from what we're doing, and we're going to make sure that in 30 years' time they're gonna be saying, 'These men didn't die in vain. They've left a legacy that'll be remembered for years.'

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