Interview with Warwick Long, ABC Melbourne

WARWICK LONG: Let’s bring in Catherine King, the Federal Member for Ballarat, also the Federal Transport Minister, can join you on the program now. Catherine King, welcome.

CATHERINE KING: Thanks for having me.

WARWICK LONG: As that text just described, it’s been a tough time for your community.

CATHERINE KING: It has, and can I just particularly thank your listeners and the person who sent that text in for the sentiments of that and the support that we’re getting from right the way across the state of Victoria. It has been a pretty rough time, and obviously, today is a tragic day. We’ve had a family lose their husband, son, father, and who’s not from our community, but has worked in our community, 37-year-old who deserved to come home safe to work. We’ve got a 21-year-old local Ballarat kid’s family who’ll be incredibly distraught, who’s in critical condition. And as I said, everyone deserves to come home safe from work. And this is a tragedy and one that WorkSafe now, it’s now in the hands of WorkSafe to investigate.

WARWICK LONG: Is there anything you can do as a local member, or you can do as a member of the government to help those affected?

CATHERINE KING: Well, really for me in this circumstance is to make sure that we’ve got good leadership within the community, obviously through the union movement, with the Ballarat Trades and Labour Council showing that the union members are also on deck as well, but obviously from the City of Ballarat and just being present, I think, is really important in these circumstances. [broadcaster error]

WARWICK LONG: We might have lost Catherine King there. We’ll work on getting Catherine King back for you. We are speaking to Catherine King because she is the Member for Ballarat, the Federal Member that encompasses the region where this mine disaster has occurred, which only happened just before 5pm yesterday. We’re in the 25th, 26th hour of these events and their impacts on her community. Do we have you back, Catherine King? 

CATHERINE KING: Yes, you do I’m so sorry. I’ve actually just been to Senator Linda White’s memorial and we’re stuck in traffic getting home so the phone went through to the car unfortunately then. So yeah our community, people come from all over the country really to live in Ballarat and we’re a strong community, we’ve got connections throughout, everywhere. 

And I know we’ve had, obviously, we’ve had the awful, awful events with Samantha Murphy that made national and international news, and we’re still processing all of that. We’ve got the police and justice systems now to go through those processes in the months ahead. We’ve obviously had bushfires out further away from Ballarat but out at Pomonal, and as well now this event. 

This mine does employ, it sort of fluctuates when the gold price fluctuates, you see the workforce surge at this particular mine, was a mine that was in administration last year. It’s been, sort of quietly goes about employing people in our community and through the mining sector right the way. And obviously, it’s going to be important for us to understand what happened in these circumstances here. But as a community, we’ll rally around the families and do what we can to support one another.

WARWICK LONG: Unions have made a lot of accusations, a number of accusations, about the safety at the site. Do you have questions?

CATHERINE KING: Well, I think that obviously is now going to be in the hands of WorkSafe Victoria, and we need to let them do their processes. And obviously, it’d be very important that the union and its members come forward and provide evidence, if they have that, to WorkSafe. This is a mine that has been operating in Ballarat for a long period of time. There was an event back in 2007 that ended in much better circumstances with everybody getting out than what we’ve seen here. And I think it’s incumbent for WorkSafe to look at the history of this mine, what’s happened, and to really understand what’s happened in this particular event. And it’s good that the site is now closed down until those investigations can happen.

WARWICK LONG: Ballarat has a long history of mining, a history of mine disasters as well, and there’s monuments and so forth around that. I can’t imagine you would think one would happen in this day and age?

CATHERINE KING: No, but it does. It’s an inherently very dangerous workplace that people go in. I heard, I’ve met the Beaconsfield, the survivors of the Beaconsfield mine, and as you say, that’s affected them to this day on everybody who was involved in that event, but particularly the two beautiful miners who came to our town actually not long after their rescue, to talk about mine safety and to give their experiences to our community as well. But we do have a long history of mining, and there’s mine shafts everywhere underneath our great city. That’s its history and heritage, and we’re used to that. But it is, it can be a very dangerous place to work in. But it’s incumbent on employers to make sure it’s safe every single day. And as I said, WorkSafe will investigate what’s happened in this circumstance. And let’s hope we get to the bottom of it. We learn some lessons so that it doesn’t happen again. And we don’t have other families going through what they’re going through today.

WARWICK LONG: What are the next steps for your community?

CATHERINE KING: Well, the next steps really for our community, I would imagine that there’ll be people spontaneously going to the site and laying flowers. I’ll do that tomorrow myself, just to do that. I’ll also reach out to the Trades and Labour Council and the union members to see if there’s any particular support the family needs and stand ready to do that. And really, then we need to let the process of WorkSafe really do its investigation, ensure that, as I said, the union brings forward any evidence that it’s got, because that will be really critical to making sure we get to the bottom of what’s happened here.

WARWICK LONG: Catherine King, thanks very much for your time.

CATHERINE KING: Thank you very much for having me.

WARWICK LONG: Catherine King, Member for Ballarat, Federal Transport Minister, the Local Member of Ballarat, where this mining accident tragedy has unfolded.