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The Government’s work on unmanned exploration of the inner section of the Pike River Mine drift is progressing and will only be slowed by setting up a new agency, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith says.

“Work on unmanned exploration is progressing as quickly as possible. A preferred drill site has been selected, the pipe has been ordered and the new robot technology is due in New Zealand in November. The programme of work of exploring the last 400m of the drift is due for completion by Christmas.”

Prime Minister Bill English gave a commitment to the Pike River families earlier this year that the Government would see through safe, unmanned entry to the area of the drift that had not been accessed.

“This work would be delayed if taken off Solid Energy and given to some new agency. It is a hollow political stunt for parties to promise manned re-entry of the mine by the end of 2018. A political statement does not change the risks in the mine. It would be reckless for politicians to override the 800-page detailed assessment that concluded that manned entry deep into this drift was too risky to life.

“This political commitment of manned entry of the complete drift by the end of 2018 could not be done under New Zealand’s workplace law – a law supported by these very parties. They are either making empty promises to the Pike families or are proposing to water down a law intended to prevent future workplace tragedies.

“There is no cover-up. There is no conspiracy. Pike River was a horrible industrial accident that unnecessarily killed 29 men. The greatest duty we owe the memory of these men is to take the risks of explosions in gassy coalmines seriously and to comply with the new workplace safety laws that stemmed from the Royal Commission of Inquiry.”

Editor’s notes: Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith has delegated responsibility for issues relating to the Pike disaster due to Conservation Minister Maggie Barry being a close family relative of Bernie Monk, the spokesperson for the Pike River Families Group.

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