National Government Cover-Up Of Victoria Uni's Pike River Robot

18 September 2017

NZ First can reveal that in late January, the Prime Minister received a proposal from Victoria University to re-enter Pike River mine using its robotic HADES underground mine disaster scout.

“Unmanned entry could easily have taken place by now, except this government does not want the public to learn the truth about what’s in there,” says New Zealand First Leader and Northland Member of Parliament for Northland Rt Hon Winston Peters.

“On 26 January, the Dean of Engineering at Victoria University, Professor Dale Carnegie, actually wrote to the Prime Minister offering its HADES explosion resistant mine disaster scout.  A robot specifically developed for Pike River but all he got back was silence.

“Also, in one of those ironies you occasionally get in politics, money from fraud-hit Fuji Xerox helped to develop the HADES robot.

“What we now know is that the Prime Minister and Minister Nick Smith not only knew of this robot’s existence in January, but Ministers Gerry Brownlee, Michael Woodhouse and Paul Goldsmith too. 

“This puts the cover-up at the highest level of this government.  It also means Mr English knew about HADES existence weeks before he met with Pike River families.

“Reading the letters and emails you get a sense of Professor Carnegie’s growing exasperation over National’s cold shoulder.  Especially when National was at that point moving to seal off the mine permanently.

“HADES is equipped with sensors, high definition infrared cameras and endurance to get inside Pike River and back again.  It is a solution that could have been in and out by now.

“And the existence of Victoria University’s HADES robot was withheld from the Select Committee considering Dame Fiona Kidman’s re-entry petition.  That Committee seriously deserved to know what Victoria University had to offer and what Ministers knew.

“Successive experts and video footage has disproved that Pike River is a Charnel House.  Now, with the existence of Victoria University’s purpose-built robot being quashed, we’re in no doubt National is complicit in a cover-up,” Mr Peters said.

 

Chronology of the Pike River Re-entry Cover-up

26 January 2017         Professor Dale Carnegie, Dean of Engineering and Computer Science at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) writes to Ministers informing them VUW has developed the HADES mine disaster scout specifically designed for Pike River re-entry.  Ministers written to include:

The Prime Minister, Rt Hon Bill English, Minister for Science and Innovation, Hon Paul Goldsmith, Minister of Civil Defence Hon Gerry Brownlee.

This letter confirms that Professor Carnegie had previously written after the Christchurch earthquake to inform Ministers of VUW’s victim detection technologies.  This included the then Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee along with former Prime Minister Sir John Key; then Minister of Civil Defence and now Far North Mayor, John Carter; as well as the then Minister for Science and Technology, Dr Wayne Mapp.

Professor Carnegie’s letter confirms that the HADES robot had the provisional support of the Extractives Industry Advisory Group including the then Chair of WorkSafe (Professor Coster) and then Chief Inspector, Tony Forster, for VUW to undertake advanced testing – the only such proposal given this approval at the time.

30 January 2017           Professor Carnegie receives an acknowledgement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

                                     Professor Carnegie replies to the Prime Minister’s office expressing surprise given moves to seal the mine and why his letter, sent four days earlier, is not being accorded more of a priority.

                                     Hon Paul Goldsmith’s Ministerial Secretary emails an acknowledgement.

Hon Gerry Brownlee’s Ministerial Secretary emails an acknowledgement saying this falls into the portfolio of the Hon Michael Woodhouse.

Written answer from the Prime Minister’s office confirms Victoria’s HADES underground mine disaster scout information was sent onto the Hon Nick Smith, Associate Minister of Conservation with responsibilities for Pike River.

14 February 2017          Professor Carnegie writes to Hon Nick Smith and Hon Michael Woodhouse detailing what HADES is, that it has the provisional support of the Extractives Industry Group and while not fully tested, is a viable solution before the mine is permanently sealed.

Hon Nick Smith’s office replies to Professor Carnegie with an acknowledgement and also one from his Ministerial Secretary.

Hon Michael Woodhouse office replies to Professor Carnegie with an automated acknowledgement.

Professor Carnegie emails Minister Goldsmith saying he hasn’t heard from him or had any considered reply from any other Minister.

15 February 2017          Prime Minister meets with Pike River Families and commits to suspend permanent sealing of the mine and to pursue unmanned entry.  It is the first time the government says it had received proposals for robotic entry but no mention is made of Victoria University’s HADES robot.

James Christmas (Senior Ministerial Advisor in the Prime Minister’s Office) emails his contact details to Professor Carnegie.

Undated February        Hon Michael Woodhouse office replies saying the permanent seal is on hold “while options for unmanned entry” are explored and that the Prime Minister had requested Solid Energy to do this work. 

16 February 2017          Petition of Dame Fiona Kidman is presented to Parliament’s Commerce Committee with expert testimony pointing to a safe manned re-entry.  While robots are raised no mention is made of Victoria University’s HADES robot.

27 February 2017          Professor Carnegie emails James Christmas (Senior Ministerial Advisor in the Prime Minister’s Office) to say he has heard media reports of robotics contractors being contacted and wanting to know if HADES had been ruled out.

Mr Christmas replies saying it was the families, who had contacted the robotics contractors.

Professor Carnegie responds to ask if the families were aware that Solid Energy and Government was progressing this.

Mr Christmas says families were told at the recent meeting and Dr Smith has “had a conversation with Solid Energy” and a “formal letter” to them was to follow.

9 March 2017                Melissa Lee, Chair of the Commerce Committee, writes to Minister Smith for clarification over the Prime Minister’s February statement.

22 March 2017              Minister Smith replies saying that he had written to Solid Energy with: “a number of proposals put to government by companies with technologies that could offer potential unmanned entry.”  This included government funding.

30 April -1 May 2017     Video is broadcast on Newshub showing the Western Australia Watercare Robot 1,500 metres inside Pike River before malfunctioning. It also shows workers, Mines Rescue later confirms, to have been 300 metres inside the mine (contradicting assertions the mine was a powder keg).

2 May 2017     Professor Carnegie emails James Christmas (Senior Ministerial Advisor in the Prime Minister’s Office) to say he has had no contact from Solid Energy nor anyone else on HADES and wanting to know what is going on.

Mr Christmas says he will follow up.

3 May 2017                   NZ First reveals that the drilling contractor employed to drill bore shafts is revealed to have been gagged while Solid Energy (in administration) pays $5,000 per-month for his equipment to be idle on-site.

5 May 2017                   Police release ‘full-footage’ taken inside Pike River.

15 May 2017                 Commerce Committee presents its report with a NZ First-led minority report backed by Labour and the Greens supporting re-entry.

20 June 2017                Recorded Video footage shows up to six intact bodies with equipment showing little, if any, fire damage.  Thus destroying the government’s contention the drift of Pike River was a Charnel House.

14 July 2017                 Written answer from Hon Nick Smith, Associate Minister of Conservation with responsibilities for Pike River, confirms that he had “passed on to Solid Energy New Zealand in late April 2017”, VUW’s correspondence regarding its HADES explosion resistant underground mine disaster scout [see 27 February].

1 August 2017              Written answer from Minister of SOE, Hon Todd McLay, says “…Solid Energy is in the process of investigating unmanned entry options, including robots”.  This is despite Solid Energy being in Administration, reports of which, show tight financials given it is also on the path towards liquidation.

9 August 2017              New Zealand First tries unsuccessfully to get Minister Smith to answer this overdue written question:

“Further to his answer to question 06575 (2017), and after passing information about Victoria University of Wellington’s robot, suitable for an un-manned re-entry into the Pike River Mine, onto Solid Energy “in late April 2017,” has he received any reply from Solid Energy New Zealand; and if not, when was the last time he inquired after Solid Energy as to their intentions regarding it?” 11 August 2017            

Audio with video taken from the Slimline Shaft after the first explosion, and before the second, suggests possible movement and shows open self-rescue packs. Hon Nick Smith dismisses any movement as being water.

14 August 2017             Rt Hon Winston Peters lodges written question to the Acting Minister of Conservation with responsibility for Pike River (14 Aug 2017):

“In the 145 days since he wrote to the Chair of the Commerce Committee, to tell her that he had asked Solid Energy to investigate proposals for the unmanned entry of Pike River, has he given a timeline for re-entry; and if not, why not?”

Parliament is dissolved with Minister Smith choosing not to answer this question.

15 August 2017             Written answer from Minister Goldsmith on whether he had been briefed on HADES were he replies “yes” [but no briefing seemingly exists from the VUW OIA, aside from the letter that Professor Carnegie sent to him on 26 January].