Duncan Garner has revealed new details about the Pike River mine re-entry, a promise made by Winston Peters in 2016.
While there is no official date yet, Pike River Minister Andrew Little said in June that re-entry into the mine would likely happen by the end of the year, and now new details have emerged about the operation.
Garner revealed on The AM Show Tuesday morning that Government staff are already working on the re-entry, and that the date of re-entry into the mine will be confirmed later this month.
This is, in my view, already Andrew Little's legacy.
"Hearts on the wounded West Coast are about to breathe a massive sigh of relief," he said of the families of the 29 victims who lost their lives after the mine exploded in 2010.
"It will be a strange jubilation, won't it? They've been waiting eight years to hear the words, but as I understand this, the Government will say, 'We're going back into the Pike River'," said Garner.
He said 14 staff are now working full-time at the mine location to make re-entry possible. The fourteenth member of staff "started yesterday", said Garner, adding that another "five miners are due to start shortly".
"That's not a Government walking away, is it? That's a Government walking towards the Pike River entrance through the 30m seal and into the unknown," Garner told The AM Show.
He praised Mr Little for treating the victims' families with the "utmost respect", and said he hopes the re-entry will grant them "everything they've been waiting for".
"This is, in my view, already Andrew Little's legacy. He kept his word - he kept a promise when others walked away. But most of all, he treated those families with kindness and with dignity," said Garner.
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New Zealand First leader Winston Peters promised Pike River victims' families in December 2016 that he would be the first person to re-enter the mine drift - the 2km long shaft which leads to the mind itself. He reaffirmed his pledge in June.
Police have not ruled out criminal charges being laid based on any new evidence that emerges if the re-entry takes place. Garner said the police are on standby with their forensic team.
Families of the victims blasted the police in September after an investigation was launched into whether police were responsible for a second explosion at the mine.
The investigation probed whether a conveyor belt inside the mine was started up, which could have created a spark which ignited methane and ended all hope of finding any of the men inside alive.
Official documents showed authorities considered turning the belt on to give survivors a chance to ride it out, although they cautioned it was a "moderate risk" which could ignite a secondary explosion.
"The families may get answers, but they also may not," said Garner, considering the ramifications of re-entry.
"Is there any evidence that suggests why the mine blew up? Are there any bodies there?"
"I hope it's everything they've been waiting for."
Watch the full commentary above.
The AM Show with Duncan Garner, Amanda Gillies and Mark Richardson, weekdays 6-9am on RadioLIVE and streaming live to the rova app on Android and iPhone.