The Guardian 16 March, 2005

Outrage at
company challenge to mine death laws

Swiss mining giant Xstrata has been fined $1.47 million over the 1996 deaths of four Hunter Valley coalminers. In the wake of the record fine, handed down in Sydney last week, bereaved families have again urged the minerals company to drop its attempt to have health and safety laws declared unconstitutional.

Victims' family spokesman Ian Murray whose 18-year-old son Damon Murray was killed at Gretley said the families "have been through hell" in their eight-year campaign for justice.

"Today's decision should have provided us with closure but with Xstrata going to court on Monday to overturn the laws that secured the Gretley convictions, the issue is far from over", Mr Murray said.

If the Xstrata challenge succeeded, he said, mining companies would be immune from prosecutions for breaches of safety laws.

"I don't understand why they can't just cop the fine. All miners and their families are entitled to the full protection of the law and mining companies like Xstrata have no right to seek to put themselves above the law."

Mr Murray noted that companies are prosecuted for a wide range of violations of the law in areas like tax evasion and pollution yet Xstrata is demanding that mining companies be exempt from prosecutions for negligent actions that lead to mineworkers being injured or killed.

CFMEU Mining Division General President Tony Maher said that Xstrata's challenge had provoked enormous resentment among rank and file mineworkers.

Mineworker representatives from every pit in NSW rallied outside Sydney's Court of Appeal on Monday this week to demonstrate their opposition to the company's stance.

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