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Pike River role part of Little’s rejuvenation

Opinion Piece

The formation of the Pike River Recovery Agency marks the honouring of a commitment by the new Government and is another sign of the restoration of former Labour leader Andrew Little.

Actions to allow for re-entry of the Pike River mine were in the plan for the Government’s first 100 days. It has allocated $7.6 million a year over three years and the agency is aiming for re-entry by March 2019.

Little has been at the forefront of this key commitment from the coalition Government. On Sunday, the seventh anniversary of the disaster, he handed the mine access-road key to the families of the 29 men who died.

His quiet compassion and measured approach is a big difference from the “Angry Andy” jibes thrown at him by National in his early days as leader of the Opposition.

The portfolios he has been given show he is recognised as someone with ability and mana.

Little is ranked eighth in the new Cabinet. As well as the Pike River appointment he is Minister for Justice, Courts, the Government Communications Security Bureau, the SIS and Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations. All are potentially tricky portfolios and all match his skill set as a lawyer.

For example, the Pike River re-entry is by no means assured. Both Little and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have told the families re-entry will be a dangerous task. They have said that if it is found to be too dangerous, they will not risk any future loss of life — something the families accept.

In fact, the families seem quite enamoured and comfortable with the overall approach of the new Government and of Little in person.

Some would say Labour owes Andrew Little.

His decision to fall on his sword and stand down as leader led to the appointment of a young, popular replacement who carried the party into government, albeit as part of a three-party coalition.

Freed of the pressures of falling polls and a critical media, Little is perfectly placed to fully rehabilitate himself in New Zealand’s political life.