A controversial board of inquiry into mine safety incidents at the Grosvenor and other underground coal mines may be off to a shaky start after it has been revealed today that at least one of the special counsellor’s assisting the inquiry has worked as a prosecutor for the Queensland mines department in a number of mining safety prosecutions.
The Chairperson and Board Member, Retired Queensland District Court Judge Terry Martin SC yesterday announced that the inquiry would also consider the role of all relevant parties including the mines inspectorate in its’ investigation.
The inquiry has appointed Queensland Barristers to act as ‘Counsel Assisting’ to gather information, assemble and present evidence through the conduct of the inquiry including information related to the mines inspectorate.
However, it has been revealed that one of the Barristers has worked extensively with the Queensland Mine Safety Commissioner and Queensland Mines Inspectorate on a number of high profile prosecution cases related to mine safety related offences.
A former mines inspector told ASMSJ “It simply doesn’t pass the pub test. We have someone who has been the mine safety inspectorate’s payroll now acting to gather evidence against it and possibly will later again be on the Government’s payroll for other prosecutorial matters.”
“It simply doesn’t pass the pub test”Former mine safety inspector
AMSJ is categorically not stating that the special counsel appointed will be unable to maintain objectivity in the matter, rather we are highlighting the issues that there may be a perceived ‘bias’ in the presentation and delivery of information given the counsel has been a recipient of financial benefits from work provided by the Department directly related to mining safety prosecutions of both companies and individuals.
Not the first time the mining safety inquiry has marred by controversy
The inquiry was also marred by controversy in its’ early days after lawyers for Anglo American considered that, Professor Andrew Hopkins may have been biased after he expressed opinion on the explosion.
Chairperson Terry Martin SC previously said lawyers for Anglo American’s Grosvenor Mine requested that Professor Hopkins recuse himself from continuing to sit as a member of the board because of statements made in an interview with the Australian Institute of Health & Safety. (AIHS).
Professor Hopkins reportedly made statements highlighting “striking” similarities between the Grosvenor explosion and the Moura mine explosion.
“It seems that there were consistently high levels of methane gas being recorded at that mine – explosive levels of methane gas,” he said.
“This was apparently one of the main causes of this accident. Concerns were raised about this beforehand but nothing effective was done” Professor Hopkins said.
Prof Hopkins then went on to say: “I do hope whatever inquiry there is into this Moranbah accident, (it) will identify those similarities with previous accidents in Australia and elsewhere.”
Challenges ahead for inquiry
The inquiry established into the Grosvenor mine gas explosion and other gas related incidents may go down as one of the most challenging boards of inquiry in Australian history.
The controversial terms of the inquiry (that failed to address the broader issues affecting mine safety in the State), the lack of inadequate time frames to complete the inquiry and, the substantial political pressure to provide a substantive outcome or at least a future direction prior to the Queensland election will no doubt make this inquiry one that is likely to be marred by future controversies.
Whether the inquiry achieves substantive improvements for the future safety of Queensland miners will be the key question.
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