A planned visit by Opposition leader Phil Goff to the Hamilton Fire Station has been blocked in a political stoush over which party gets to meet those injured in the Tamahere explosion first.
Mr Goff wanted to meet with the firefighters as part of his whistle-stop tour but his visit has been vetoed by Internal Affairs Minister Richard Worth, reports the Waikato Times.
According to Waikato-based Labour list MP Sue Moroney, who had tried to organise the meeting, Dr Worth denied permission for the visit because he wanted to be the first member of the new Parliament to meet with those firefighters involved in the Tamahere coolstore explosion last year.
In an email to Ms Moroney about the meeting, Dr Worth said through a spokeswoman: “… any visit to the Hamilton Fire Station is likely to involve discussion on the Tamahere fire of April 2008.
“The minister would prefer that he visited the station and met with staff involved in the Tamahere fire before other members of Parliament did so.”
The request was made last Thursday, and denied yesterday morning.
Ms Moroney said the move was “completely unjustified and unprecedented”.
“It’s just an outrageous thing for a minister to do, to deny the Leader of the Opposition the ability to meet with the local fire service.
She queried why the minister had not already been to the station to discuss the “major incident” and added that as a local MP she had been kept well-informed of details surrounding the fire, which killed senior station officer Derek Lovell and injured seven of the Red Watch crew.
She said Mr Goff had no specific issues to raise about the incident, but now Labour was wondering if there was “something to hide”.
“When we approached the fire service they said it was fine by them, but to check with the minister’s office. I was surprised at that.”
A spokeswoman for Dr Worth said usually the minister would not have any problems with granting this kind of request.
“But it is in respect to the particularly sensitive circumstances as outlined in the email to Sue Moroney. We have also arranged for the fire region commander to provide a briefing to the Labour caucus members at a convenient place.”
Waikato Fire Chief Roy Breeze said he was unable to comment on the situation.
It was unclear when Dr Worth planned to visit the station himself, though a spokeswoman said he was out of the country for the next week.