Mine deaths might become ‘cost of doing business’
A PERCEIVED lack of transparency in a mine death case has resulted in union fears mining bosses will use global companies to shield them from accountability.
The CFMEU believes a "plea bargain" allowing an Anglo American employee to avoid prosecution in the mine death of Paul McGuire could be replicated.
"And that unfortunately, accountability for safety and health breaches that result in deaths might ultimately end up being simply another cost of doing business," CFMEU barrister Gavin Rebetzke said.
A coronial inquest for the 34-year-old father, who was asphyxiated after being engulfed by lethal air in a goaf at Grasstree Mine on May 6, 2014, will begin next month. It will explore exactly who should handle mine death prosecutions.
During the pre-inquest conference yesterday, counsel assisting the coroner John Aberdeen said he would argue for mine deaths to be handled by the industrial manslaughter prosecutor rather than the mines inspectorate.
"Important parties in this industry are not happy or satisfied with the way things are done. There is no transparency for them of what is being done," Mr Aberdeen said.
"It is this lack of transparency and a lack of purpose … behind these decisions which appears to give rise to the concern of (the CFMEU)."
Mackay Coroners Court heard Anglo Coal agreed to plead guilty to a safety breach over Mr McGuire's death on the contingent that charges against employee Adam Garde were dropped.
Mr Garde was killed last year in a tragic boating incident off Yeppoon.
Mr Rebetzke said the CFMEU wanted to explore the reasons why the Mine Safety Commissioner agreed to the deal. A letter from current Commissioner Kate du Preez, tendered in court, explained it as a "reassessment of prospects of conviction".
"This submission described Mr Garde's prospect of successfully defending the charge as being very good," Mr Aberdeen said, adding that it may have caused some people concern that a "plea bargain" was struck.
Mr Aberdeen even suggested "the resources sector and in particular coal mining be brought within the ambit of the industrial prosecutor".
Anglo barrister Dr Kerrie Mellifont hit back at claims of a plea bargain, arguing it was a "very cynical" view and the Commissioner's letter had been misread.
"The proper reading of this letter is that the Department (of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy) and the community got the benefit of a plea of guilty for a company in circumstances where there was some litigation risk of failure of prosecution," she said.
Dr Mellifont also argued Mr Aberdeen's submission called for a "fundamental change" in the way mine deaths were dealt with that was "not justified in any sense on the evidence" currently before the coroner.
The CFMEU will also push to be consulted over who should be prosecuted, if any, in relation to mine deaths.
Five issues will be explored during the inquest including whether the process of prosecution, including the discontinuation of particular prosecutions, was appropriate to the circumstances of this case, which was hotly debated by the CFMEU, DNRME and Anglo lawyers.
The CFMEU and Andrew Busch, who represented Mr McGuire's family, pushed for the issue to remain while the DNRME and Anglo took issue with the wording. Mr O'Connell said he would provide written submissions about whether the issue remained, was moved or reworded.