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Q+A Interviews Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee

Q+A’s Guyon Espiner Interviews Energy & Resources Minister, Gerry Brownlee

The interview has been transcribed below. The full length video interviews and panel discussions from this morning’s Q+A can also be seen on tvnz.co.nz at, http://tvnz.co.nz/q-and-a-news

Q+A is repeated on TVNZ 7 at 9.10pm on Sunday nights and 10.10am and 2.10pm on Mondays.

GERRY BROWNLEE interviewed by GUYON ESPINER

GUYON ESPINER – Political Editor Thank you, Gerry Brownlee, for joining us. Minister, we’ve heard reports this morning of some sort of combustion, some people even talking about it as a fire in this mine. How serious is that development this morning?

GERRY BROWNLEE – Energy and Resources Minister I can only work off the briefings that you’ve already seen, and a little bit of background beyond that, but essentially it is a heat source that’s in the mine, which would say yes, it is a fire. Just where it’s coming from is uncertain. Uh, it’s not certain that it’s the coal, for example; it could be some oil product that has been in the mine for a period of time for whatever reason. Um, and the other thing is there’s no great plumes of black smoke coming out; it’s more in the nature of a vapour which is containing some smoke. So we simply don’t know, I don’t know, and I can’t really answer much more than that.

GUYON We’ve heard the difficulties that they face mounting any form of rescue mission. The most simple equation that people, I guess, wanna know is time. Can you give people any indication, from the briefings that you’ve had, the earliest opportunity that we may see some form of rescue effort in this incident?

GERRY No. I think the only thing that we can go on is that once the atmosphere inside the mine is considered to be stable and respirable to the highest level you need, then the rescue could probably begin at that point. That’s also why that second sample hole is being drilled today, a 16- to 24-hour drill. It’s a six-inch hole that will go down into one of the roadways. Because it comes from the top because the terrain is pretty rugged, getting the drilling rig to a position means that they’ve gotta try and get to a roadway, and they’ll be able to do that, and that will give them a further sampling opportunity as well.

GUYON There are obviously calls from some frustrated family members, as you could understand, for this rescue mission to get underway. Who ultimately makes the decision about when it is safe or worth the risk of going in?

GERRY Well, that’s a very onerous decision that rests on the shoulders of the District Police Commander, and Gary’s very aware of the responsibilities he has, but he’s also guided by the experience in Australia, in a mine in 1979 where a similar circumstance existed. There was a rushing in, and there was a further incident which took out all of the rescue workers as well as the miners who were trapped in there, so there is a degree of caution being exercised here that is in the interests of the miners.

GUYON And assuming that they are able to access these miners who are still alive, where would they actually be taken for health care? What’s the plan?

GERRY There’s a bank of ambulances standing by. There’s extra facilities being placed into the Grey Hospital. Of course, it’s not too much of a hop across to Christchurch Hospital, and there’s also nearby Dunedin Hospital as well, so plenty of services, plenty of transport available when that’s required.

GUYON Obviously the major priority in everyone’s minds is getting people out safely, if that is possible, but we’re starting to hear and talk about the safety record of this mine. Is this something that’s going to need, regardless of the outcome, a major inquiry into how this happened and how the company has dealt with its health-and-safety issues?

GERRY Well, of course after an incident like this there would be a very significant inquiry, because the company themselves don’t know, nor do anyone else know, how this actual incident occurred. But I think you’ve gotta be careful to, in a very highly emotionally charged environment, start pointing fingers in different directions. This is a mine that has been recently constructed; it is, uh, a mine that does have an absolute focus on health and safety, and there are very experienced people – the top three men in the company have over 90 years’ mining experience amongst them. So I think that’s a diversion at this stage, looking at a future inquiry, that is interesting but the focus has to be on getting those guys out.

GUYON Have you spoken to the two miners who did make it out?

GERRY No, I haven’t. One of them is at home recovering; the other is at home and has a brother who’s down the mine, and clearly is emotionally affected in that way, as well as the trauma of his own experience.

GUYON Do you know whether their experience, as frantic as it was, has shed any light to be able to help the operation of getting their colleagues out?

GERRY No. >From what I can gather, it has simply confirmed that there was a blast of some kind, and that they were affected, it would seem, by the percussion from that blast.

GUYON Have we realistically, Minister, turned from a rescue mission to a recovery mission now? Is hope fading?

GERRY No, I don’t think that’s a fair suggestion. I think the desire still is to get in there and get people out. It’s a myriad of opportunities for miners to be in some part of the mine, and as Mr Whittle said yesterday – he’s experienced in underground work himself – if he were in there and he found a clear air space with breathable air, he’d sit tight and wait for someone to come and get him. And we have to continue on the basis that that’s exactly what the situation is.

GUYON Thanks for joining us. We appreciate that.

ENDS

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