Home' Greymouth Star : January 13th 2017 Contents Greymouth Star
4 - Friday, January 13, 2017
We appreciate the value of the Letters to the Editor
column as a public forum for West Coasters and
welcome your opinion and suggestions.
Letters may be submitted by post, fax or e-mail and
must include your name, address, phone number
and — except for e-mails — your signature. Noms
de plume are not accepted.
Please keep your letters honest, respectful and
within 300 words. Letter writers will generally not
be published more often than weekly. The Editor
reserves the right to edit or not publish letters,
especially those that are offensive or too long.
Post to PO Box 3, Greymouth, fax to 768 6205 or
e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
uLetters to the editor
1842 - At the end of an attempted retreat from
Kabul, a British force of 9000 men is massacred
in the Khyber Pass.
1893 - Britain’s Independent Labour Party,
precursor to the current Labour Party, holds its
1898 - Emile Zola’s famous defence
of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, J’Accuse,
is published in Paris.
1929 - Death of US marshal Wyatt
Earp, famous for his role in the 1881
gunfight at the OK Corral.
1968 - US singer Johnny Cash
performed live at California’s Folsom
1992 - US serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer pleads
guilty but insane to 15 mutilation killings.
2004 - British serial killer Harold Shipman,
convicted in 2000 of murdering 15 of his
patients, is found hanging dead in his cell.
2008 - Kayakers James Castrission, 25, and
Justin Jones, 24, arrive in New Zealand, 62 days
after leaving Australia to cross the Tasman Sea.
uWest Coast yesteryear
uToday in history
Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, New Zealand-born
former Queensland premier (1911-2005); Paul
Kelly, Australian singer/songwriter
(1955-); Julia Louis- Dreyfus, US
actress (1961-); Graham “Suggs”
McPherson, British singer of
Madness fame (1961-); Orlando
Bloom, British actor (1977-);
Liam Hemsworth, Australian actor
“ If all mankind minus one, were of one
opinion, and only one person were of the
contrary opinion, mankind would be no more
justified in silencing that one person, than
he, if he had the power, would be justified
in silencing mankind.” — John Stuart Mill,
English philosopher (1806-1873).
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness
exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you
will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
— (Matthew 5:20).
Greymouth railcar did
not wait till Friday 13
for its share of ill-luck. It was involved in two
level crossing smashes within an hour. Luckily
no one was hurt in either although in the first
a unit of the railcar and a lime sower were
Bound for Greymouth and accelerating out
of a cur ve the double unit railcar struck a lime
sower of Molloy Bros at Kotuku. A Railways
Department spokesman said this morning the
truck had been shifted out of a nearby yard and
parked fouling the line. The railcar crashed into
it causing severe panel damage and throwing
the fully loaded sower from the line.
“The contractor parked the truck out of his
way but in ours,” said the spokesman.
The railcar was able to proceed to Greymouth
where the damaged unit was shed and the
remaining single unit continued on its way to
Ross. Less than an hour after the first crash
and only a few miles south of Greymouth,
it hit a car on the Bundy Road crossing at
Camerons. Because the railcar was travelling
very slowly there was no damage to the railcar
and the car was able to be driven away.
A car “ran out of road” and became
momentarily airborne two miles south of
Ngahere yesterday afternoon and a D unedin
man was subsequently admitted to the
Greymouth Hospital. He is Mr Gilbert
McLeod, aged 21, of Dunedin, who was
visiting friends in the district. His condition is
Three other occupants of the vehicle were
treated at the scene for bruises and abrasions
by Dr G Stone of Dobson.
uFood for thought
Printed and published by the
Greymouth Evening Star Co Limited
3 Werita Street, PO Box 3, Greymouth
03 769 7900 (office)
769 7913 (editorial)
768 6205 (fax)
03 769 7913
03 755 8422
here was widespread
criticism of the police
engagement in this disaster.
I am not about to criticise
frontline police officers
involved in the disaster
response. Their efforts are worthy of
praise, but they were let down by their
At the time of the Pike disaster there
were four organisations with legal
authority to control major emergencies.
These were Civil Defence, Ministry of
Health, NZ Police, and NZ Fire Ser vice.
The protocol was for the organisation
with the expertise to handle a particular
situation to take the lead role. The
leadership choice would be confirmed
by consultation within the group. In the
Pike River event this did not happen.
The police took control without any
consultation. They declared themselves
the organisation with the expertise to
manage this disaster, and proceeded to
do so. Their performance would show just
how wrong they were.
The Royal Commission revealed that the
police lacked the necessary expertise, their
communications and command structure
was clumsy and dysfunctional, and they
were being influenced by parties who
should never have been engaged at all. So
how does this relate to today ’s dispute?
At an early stage in the disaster
response, the police were informed by
the on-site experts of Mines Rescue
NZ, Mines Rescue Australia, and NZ
Fire Service, that conditions within the
mine were unsurvivable, and there was
imminent danger of further explosions.
Their assessment was supported by tests
of underground conditions, and video
footage from the mine portal. They
recommended immediate sealing of
the mine. This recommendation, with
supporting data, was passed on to Police
headquarters in Wellington. The senior
police there lacked the expertise to make a
judgment, so they contacted an official of
the Department of Labour for advice. His
knowledge of coalmining would not fill
an egg cup, so he contacted some obscure
person in the USA, and his political
The end result was, the experts on site
were ignored, false hope was fed to the
waiting families, and the mine was kept
open. The inevitable happened, and the
mine exploded again, and again.
What we can glean from this is that, had
proper procedure been followed in the
first instance, the NZ Fire Ser vice would
have been appointed lead organisation.
With their expertise, and close
relationship with Mines Rescue, it is
reasonable to assume that the mine would
have been sealed, and the families would
have been told the harsh truth, instead
of being fed on false hope. Sealing of the
mine then, would have prevented further
explosions, thus making re-entry easier,
and so avoiding today ’s problems.
Who authorised the police to take the
lead? The police would
not have broken protocol
without authority from
above. No one has put
their hand up for that
one, but the decision had
to come from a minister,
and that decision puts the
Government firmly in the
frame for today ’s mess.
The use of the new health
and safety legislation in
the mine re-entry dispute
needs scrutiny. It is ironic
that the Pike River disaster
triggered the introduction
of the legislation now being
used against the families of
those lost in that disaster.
But does its use stem from
genuine safety concerns, or
is it a misuse by those with
ACC has coalmining high
on its list of dangerous
industries. Accordingly both
ACC and the health and
safety legislation require the
provision of detailed health
and safety plans. These
must include trained health
and safety staff, suitable to
the industry. Such people
will be first responders in underground
emergencies. They are the frontline of
any Mines Rescue response, and they are
required under the Act.
The mine drift re-entry plan, presented
by the families, was produced and
reviewed by experts in coalmine safety,
and will be implemented by experienced
Mines Rescue people. The rejection of
this plan by Solid Energy must be viewed
with scepticism on several fronts. One
being that, penalties in the Act, can now
be applied to directors. One wonders if we
are seeing Solid Energy directors simply
protecting their butts? Is enforcing this
zero risk policy even possible?
To take such a policy to its logical
conclusion, the trained personnel
required under the Act would not
be allowed to undertake their core
functions. Consequently, under the Act,
all underground work would be forced to
stop. It is a complete nonsense. One must
conclude that both Solid Energy and the
Government are deliberately misusing this
legislation to pursue their own interests. It
looks as if the health and safety card is the
only card in the Government ’s hand that
gives it an excuse to seal the mine, while
delivering some semblance of credibility.
Be your own judge. But if I held such a
card, I would fold.
The Pike River Coal Company ’s
proposal to mine at Pike River became
the flag bearer of the Government ’s
regional development plan, and was
promoted by a number of ministers.
The proposal was submitted to the
Departments of Conser vation, and
Labour, for approval. DOC became so
concerned with its content, or the lack
of, that they sought expert advice. Their
adviser reported glaring shortcomings in
the entire proposal. DOC ’s interest was
limited to environmental effects, so they
approved the proposal, despite having
The Department of Labour approved
the proposal without any reser vation.
How could this happen when DOC
had found such basic flaws? One expects
that with such a high profile proposal,
there would be communication between
departments. How could this department,
with its specialist knowledge, miss glaring
shortcomings and approve such a sub-
standard proposal? Was it because of
political pressure to speed the process, or
On November 19, 2010, Pike River
Mine exploded. The Government
appointed NZ Police to manage rescue-
recovery operations. I have already
detailed this decision. The end result
was that the police, supported by the
Government, opted to keep the mine
open against advice, and on November
24 the mine exploded again, and again,
causing the re-entry issues we face today.
At the memorial ser vice on December
2, 2010, Prime Minister John Key made
a promise to the Pike River families
that no stone would be left unturned
to recover their loved ones, and money
would not become an issue. Getting
those words into actions has proved
problematic. To date, no stone has been
turned, and money became the issue
In January 2011, on instruction from
the Government, the NZ Police handed
back control of the mine to Pike River
Coal Company (in receivership). The
police quoted budget restraints as
justification. This effectively put the
financing of recovery work in the hands
of the receiver. But his brief was to
deal with debt and creditors, not fund
recovery operations. Remember, ‘money
would not become an issue’? Really?
In November 2011 the Department of
Labour filed prosecution against Peter
Whittall, chief executive of Pike River
Coal Company, under the Health and
Safety in the Workplace Act.
In July 2012 Solid Energy purchased
the assets of the Pike River Coal
Company. Talks took place between Solid
Energy, the Government, and the families
about setting up a trust to finance mine
re-entry. Where did this proposal go?
Money was again an issue.
In February 2013 the Government,
Solid Energy and the families again
met and agreed re-entry of the mine
was possible. The Government promised
to fund the project, if its High Hazard
Unit approved. In December 2013 the
Department of Labour withdrew its
prosecution of Peter Whittall. The reason
given was its inability to convince 14
overseas witnesses to attend. Plus a failure
by 31 witnesses to sign their witness brief.
How could that happen? Another factor
to consider, is that the Whittall defence
made it clear that a major platform in the
defence would be the prosecution’s own
This backdown left no one held to
account for the deaths of 29 men, in an
accident that was both predictable and
In November 2014 Solid Energy
decided not to re-enter the mine, quoting
health and safety concerns. This was in
spite of Worksafe NZ’s High Hazard
Unit having deemed re-entry safe, and
the 2013 undertaking to the families.
Solid Energy produced its own report to
challenge the High Hazard Unit findings,
and the Government supported them.
Broken promises again.
The families were forced to produce
their own report, using international
experts. This supported the findings of
the High Hazard Unit, and showed how
re-entry could be safety achieved. The
Government refused to accept either
report, refused to talk, and started a
campaign to discredit both the reports,
and the families group. At the same
time they approved Solid Energy’s
heavy-handed efforts to seal off the mine
immediately. Breaking promises by this
Government has become an art form.
That is the situation today. So after a
short Christmas truce, it is back to the
picket line for the families and on with
this seemingly endless struggle to find
justice, and peace. I have only scratched
the surface of this issue, but the few
dots I have connected here present a
disturbing picture, and some questions
for us to ponder: Will we, as New
Zealanders, tolerate yet another Mount
Erebus, with its ‘orchestrated litany of
lies’? How do we want future generations
to view us? What are we prepared to do
to change things?
Our response will define us. Remember
that old saying, ‘Evil prospers when
good people do nothing’. Food for
The politics of Pike River
All parties want finality brought to the Pike River Mine dispute, but for different reasons. The mine
disaster has been in the media for six years now, and as the saga is reaching a crucial point, it is timely
to revisit certain aspects that have not been widely publicised, and see how they relate to today’s
dispute. DES McENANEY summarises the post-disaster mess that has led to the current impasse
over sealing the mine portal.
Heather Somerville and Mike Blake
Long before the desert sun has had
a chance to heat the dusty prison yard,
some 20 inmates at an Arizona State
prison begin quietly tending horses.
The men — many with violent histories
— gently manoeuvre bits into the mouths
of mustangs still unaccustomed to human
touch; they remove caked mud from
hooves and tighten girths against bulging
bellies. And the horses, which just weeks
ago roamed free, mostly comply with
what is asked of them.
Both the men and the horses are still
learning how to live behind fences.
Prisoners participating in the Wild
Horse inmate programme train mustangs
that will eventually be adopted by the
United States Border Patrol, providing
the agency with inexpensive but agile
horses, and inmates with skills and
insights they hope to one day carry with
them from prison.
For Brian Tierce, 49, who has served
about five years of his seven-year sentence
for domestic violence and assault, the
horses have taught him “a lot of things
I didn’t know I had in me — patience,
perseverance, kindness, understanding.”
“I’ve got to be a compromising person,
other wise I’ll never get this job done.”
At least 80% of the US Border Patrol’s
current stable of 400 horses come from
inmate training programmes in Arizona,
Colorado, Kansas and Nevada. The horses
are critical for patrolling the rugged and
remote stretches of the Mexican border
to detect illegal crossings by migrants and
And, at $500 to $800 for a saddle-ready
horse, the price is right.
Some 55,000 mustangs roam the
western US, more than double the
number public land can support, said
Bureau of Land Management spokesman
Jason Lutterman. Those that do not
end up in adoption programmes face an
At the prison in Florence, a cactus-
dotted town about 225km north of the
Mexican border, participating prisoners
round up their horses before dawn and
work all day under the watchful eyes
of Randy Helm, the third-generation
rancher, former narcotics officer and
self-proclaimed “cowboy preacher” who
super vises the programme.
Over the course of four to six months,
the men train their horses — with names
like Billy, Rocky and Patches — to
tolerate bridles and saddles, respond
to commands to trot and canter and
perform footwork that will come in
handy on the uneven desert terrain along
Helm, 62, teaches the men not to
“ break” the horses, but to “gentle” them.
The method relies on incremental steps
and rewarding the horses for good
behaviour. Any inmate that raises a
hand to a horse gets booted from the
“It’s more working on us than on
them,” said Rick Kline, 32, who has
served five years of a seven and a half
year sentence for stealing cars. “It’s a new
understanding of calming down.”
He hopes to apply that skill of staying
calm to parenting his two children when
he gets out of prison.
Bret Karakey, 35, who is in prison for
identity theft, recently broke his hip
when he was thrown from a horse. But he
came back without hesitation.
“I kind of need this,” he said.
Most prisoners who apply for the
programme do not have experience with
horses, and Helm prefers it that way. They
tend to be gentler with the animals.
Florence began its horse training
programme in 2012, and while it is too
early to assess the long-term effects on
participating inmates, of the 50 or so who
have gone through it and been released,
none has returned to prison, Helm said.
The national recidivism rate is about 68%
within three years of release.
Helm says he sees real transformations
in inmates who stay with the programme.
“A lot of them haven’t really bonded
with a person, let alone an animal,”
he said. “It’s been really interesting to
obser ve these guys’ lives change.”
United States Border Patrol adoptions
are key to the government ’s effort to
stem the nation’s growing population of
mustangs. A Federal law passed in 1971
tasked the Bureau of Land Management
with managing wild horse and burro
populations in the American west, both
to protect the animals and to ensure that
vegetation was not overgrazed and water
But with the soaring cost of hay and
dwindling public interest in horse
ownership, the BLM can place only about
2000 into adoption each year, severely
limiting the number it can capture from
the open desert and plains, Lutterman
Fifteen years ago, the BLM was
rounding up more than 10,000 mustangs
and putting about 6000 into new homes
Border Patrol is the biggest single
purchaser of mustangs from the inmate
On horseback, the agents can navigate
desolate stretches land that vehicles
cannot. The mustangs are sure-footed on
steep terrain, crossing creekbeds without
hesitation and stepping spryly over
“It really feels like the wild west out
where we patrol for sure,” said Bobby
Stine, super visory agent of the San Diego
Sector Horse Patrol Unit. “ There’s just
not a lot of law enforcement presence,
except for us.”
The border is an unforgiving place;
just 1000km of fence exist between the
United States and Mexico, accounting
for about a third of the border. The rest
is defined by mountains, rivers, private
ranches and wild country — terrain more
suited for horses, which all agents had
back when Border Patrol was founded in
The San Diego border patrol unit has
28 horses, and the Tucson unit more than
130. Fifteen horses from the Florence
prison were adopted in 2014 and 2015.
The task of the Florence inmates who
train the horses is, at times, thick with
irony : Some are Mexican nationals,
apprehended on the border for drug-
The inmates, though, say they do
not mind that the horses help law
enforcement. They are simply happy
the animals no longer face thirst and
star vation in the drought-stricken west.
“All the ‘inmates against cops’ stuff —
that ’s not true,” said Kline. “ They’re just
doing their job. And we’re doing our job.
These horses depend on us.”
Programme helping inmates and horses
An inmate rides a wild horse over an obstacle course as part of the Wild Horse
inmate programme, at Florence State Prison in Florence, Arizona.
Protesters block the road to the Pike River Mine.
Links Archive January 12th 2017 January 14th 2017 Navigation Previous Page Next Page