Gretley Mine Tragedy

In 1996, four miners died when a rush of water from an old mine broke into the tunnel where they were digging.

On 9 October 2006 allegations are made in “The Politics of Tragedy” about the “deep institutional links between the CFMEU and the NSW Government”. This report and the viseo belowcomes from the right-wing think tank the Institute of Public Affairs which supports the free market of ideas, the free flow of capital, a limited and efficient government, evidence-based public policy, the rule of law, and representative democracy.

Even at a cursory glance “The Politics of Tragedy” and the article in the THE AUSTRALIAN based on it demonstrate the bias against workers in these publications.

These claims are being made on the eve of proposed changes by Premier Morris Iemma to the OH&S Act of NSW to demonstrate that NSW is “open for business”.

In fact Iemma’s reforms are being opposed by the CFMEU and other mining unions.

This Institute of Public Affairs paper says that “Industrial relations institutions such as the IRC (NSW Industrial Relations Commission) have embedded within them a mindset that considers workplace warfare along class lines to be a reality. This is the environment of industrial relations disputes. But it’s an inappropriate environment for criminal-type prosecutions as occur under the NSW OHS Act.” It says that the OH& S Act brings about “A system of predetermined guilt from a culture of class conscious hate.”

The author may have been better served by looking at the facts of the disaster.

Unfortunately even though the coronial inquiry into the Gretley tragedy is referred to at pages 7 & 8 of this paper from the Institute of Public Affairs, did the author of this paper actually read the coroner’s report?

The author, Ken Phillips, makes much of the company Newcastle Wallsend Coal Company [bought out by Xstrata Coal] being given the incorrect map by the NSW Dept of Mines. Phillips certainly makes much of the poor maps (plans) being the cause of the disaster. The original map dated back to the 1890’s. It had been amended in 1909 and again in the 1960s by the Dept of Mines.


The coroner’s inquest presided over by Judge JH Staunton pointed out the following:

A surveyor approaching the old plan (provided by Dept of Mines) in respect of the Young Wallsend Colliery, therefore, should have taken account of the following:

* First, it was not the original mine plan, but a copy.
* Secondly, there was no plan of abandonment.
* Thirdly, it was an old plan, not signed, not certified, and drawn at a time when it may or may not have been prepared by someone with qualifications or experience in surveying.
* Fourthly, there were no survey books from which the plan might be verified.
* Fifthly, nothing was known of the history of surveying at the mine.
* Sixthly, there were puzzling and anomalous features in both the black and red workings.
* Finally, there was nothing on the plan to indicate that it was up to date.”

The four miners who died were not warned by their employer of how close they were to the old diggings that were the subject of these old maps.

It is the workers who are important not the mine or the profits made from it.

We remember the refrain in Joe Hill’s famous ballard:

“The Copper Bosses killed you Joe,
they shot you Joe” says I.
“Takes more than guns to kill a man”
Says Joe “I didn’t die”
Says Joe “I didn’t die”

No fine or penalty against Xtrata or its directors and no change to the OH&S Act of NSW will ever bring the Gretley miners back. Nor are they likely to prevent future tragedies.

And the union is weaker for their loss.

Good people are irreplaceable.

Ian Curr
October 2006

One thought on “Gretley Mine Tragedy

  1. It has been pointed out to BushTelegraph that when it comes to OH&S, the only thing that works is the capacity to stop the job when a safety concern arises.

    Virtually every certified agreement (CA) contains a provision which entitles a worker to stop work where there is an immanent risk to health and safety.

    Of course, the employer then claims that there is no immanent risk to safety (often while conceding there is a non-immanent risk) and that the worker is not justified in stopping work, therefore forfeiting pay, potentially facing disciplinary action, and possible claims of industrial action against the Union.

    Workers quickly realise that the right contained in the Certified Agreement is meaningless.

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