New mine safety legislation introduced in New South Wales following recommendations of the Gretley Inquiry and a State Government review of mine safety is expected to streamline investigations into fatal and serious accidents.
The legislation also clarifies the duty of mine operator representatives to cooperate with government inspectors.
John Hunter, Edward Batterham, Damon Murray and Mark Kaiser died while working at the Gretley underground mine, near Wallsend, on November 14, 1996, after breaking through into a water-filled section of the adjacent and abandoned Young Wallsend colliery.
The Gretley Inquiry into the deaths found that management had not “properly discharged their duties”, and highlighted “serious shortcomings” on the part of then operator, Cyprus Coal Australia subsidiary the Newcastle Wallsend Coal Company, and the NSW Department of Mineral Resources.
The father of one of the Gretley victims, Ken Kaiser, said legislative changes were unlikely to prevent mine deaths until the people charged with upholding the legislation were made accountable.
“I am pessimistic about it because the history of the Gretley accident has told everyone that it should not have happened because there was enough legislation in place to prevent the Gretley disaster and it didn’t,” Kaiser told the Newcastle Herald. “The only way the legislation is ever going to work is if the people who are supposed to uphold the legislation are made accountable.
“More than 30 people have died in coal mines in the last seven years and no-one has been made accountable.”