Phil Goff has criticised a second veto keeping him from visiting Hamilton Fire Station and the men who battled the fatal Tamahere coolstore fire, as “unbelievably small-minded”.
The Opposition leader was in Hamilton today and had arranged to visit firefighters at the station after being denied access by the Government earlier in the year.
However, in a letter sent to Mr Goff on Tuesday, Internal Affairs Minister Nathan Guy said he had become aware of the visit and did not give approval, reported the Waikato Times.
“I do not believe it is appropriate for Opposition members of Parliament to visit fire stations that are located outside their electorates,” Mr Guy said in the August 25 letter.
A spokeswoman for Mr Guy said the minister also considered it inappropriate for MPs to visit during periods of industrial negotiation. Mr Guy had spoken to Mr Goff about it yesterday.
Mr Goff was to have met the firefighters with Waikato-based Labour MPs Sue Moroney and Nanaia Mahuta. It’s the second time in six months the Labour leader has been told he can’t go to the Anglesea St station and meet the firemen injured in the blaze at Tamahere last April.
In February, then Internal Affairs Minister Richard Worth, who resigned in June amid sexual allegations, also stopped the meeting at the last minute.
At the time Dr Worth said he wanted to visit the station and meet with staff involved in the explosion, which killed senior station officer Derek Lovell, before other MPs did.
It’s understood he later visited the station in May.
Mr Goff labelled the latest move as “high-handed and petty”. “We want to meet the local firefighters to acknowledge the great work they do and to offer condolences for the loss of their colleague in the Tamahere coolstore explosion in April 2008.”
The fire also injured seven of the Red Watch crew.
Ms Moroney said she was “gobsmacked” over the decision after the trio initially got permission through the station to go there.
“It makes you wonder what they’ve got to hide. In a democracy like New Zealand it’s rather astounding.”
The Labour-list MP accused the Government of not showing enough interest in the local fire service.
Waikato fire chief Roy Breeze said the firefighters were grateful to anyone “interested in their wellbeing”.
However, he could not comment on the political stoush.