Government must help Pike River people

One of the expectations of governments is that they will do things on behalf of people who can’t do things for themselves, particularly where the people fall into adverse circumstances that are not of their own making.

The families of the Pike River Miners are in just that position, and so, for that matter, is the West Coast community. There are also wider issues for the government and the mining industry which require the government to act.

First of all, let’s deal with the miners and their families. There is a common expectation that the bodies should be recovered. Even if recovery ultimately proves impossible, there is still an expectation that every possible effort will be made. 

Bodies are important to bereaved families; their recovery represents a kind of closure which thousand of messages of sympathy, flowers, memorial services and public donations cannot achieve.

Realistically it isn’t at all clear that the mine will ever be able to be accessed, and even more gruesomely it’s not obvious what might be found if anyone ever does get in there. The mine may well be the miners’ tomb, but proper efforts need to be made, and the cost should not be a factor. This is ordinary human decency and the government should pay, even if it turns out to be a waste of time and money.

Secondly the community needs help – not just to come to terms with the disaster - but also to ensure that there is still an economic base for the community.

Mining is important to the West Coast, and not just for historical and sentimental reasons. There is little else that Coasters can do to build their economy. Agriculture is important, but its growth potential is not vast, and it is not job rich. Tourism is important too, but the Coast is always at the peripheral of the tourist trails, although more resources can be put into developing more tourist product and encouraging more travel there.

There needs to be more mining, and it needs to happen on the West Coast soon. Tragic though the loss of life undoubtedly is, the failure of the mine and of the Pike River company cannot lead to the end of the mining industry – however welcome that might be to some groups.

The government needs to demonstrate some moral courage and some political backbone as well as to behave with a generous heart and an open chequebook.

The government needs to say loudly and long that mining is part of the future of the New Zealand economy, on the West Coast, and elsewhere as well. There is still a lot of coal in the Pike River area, and there’s lots more elsewhere as well. Mining coal and other minerals means jobs and export dollars.

The government ought to be commissioning studies about how to get mining going there again - and soon.  It could put in some development money to get a new mining company off the ground, because more jobs and a stronger economy is what the West Coast wants and needs.