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Date:
7 September 2010
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Ministerial Statements — Earthquake—Canterbury

[Volume:666;Page:13671]

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Mr Speaker took the Chair at 2 p.m.

Prayers.

Ministerial Statements

Earthquake—Canterbury

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister) : I wish to make a ministerial statement on the Canterbury earthquake. I seek leave for my statement and the responses of the leaders of the Labour and Green parties to be 10-minute speeches, for other parties to have speeches of up to 5 minutes, and for me to have a 5-minute right of reply.

Mr SPEAKER: Is there any objection to that course of action being followed? There is no objection.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: At 4.36 on Saturday morning Canterbury was hit by a devastating earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale. People woke in the darkness to a loud rumbling noise and a shaking home. Those with families gathered them together and took cover under a doorframe or wherever they could. Everybody in Canterbury has an earthquake story from that morning.

By the time the sun came up it was clear just how much damage the earthquake had caused. Having visited Christchurch on Saturday after the earthquake, I personally can appreciate the magnitude of the loss that people have suffered and the trauma they have experienced. I was awestruck by the power of the earthquake and the damage it caused the city I grew up in. Buildings have collapsed, roads have been ripped apart, and people have been injured. There are estimates that 100,000 homes may be damaged, some beyond repair. Frankly, it is a miracle that nobody was killed. The earthquake was the same magnitude as the one in Īnangahua in 1968, which caused extensive damage. It was as strong as the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year, which caused widespread devastation and is estimated to have killed approximately 230,000 people. Although no one lost their life in Canterbury’s earthquake, families have been traumatised and have lost their valued possessions. As one eyewitness put it, experiencing the earthquake was like being in the horror movie The Exorcist. It was a frightening experience for everyone.

But it has proven one thing: in the worst of times we see the very best of New Zealand. I have been impressed by the community spirit shown by everyone, from private individuals to Government agencies, non-governmental organisations, and businesses, both local and national. People who cannot stay in their homes have been taken in by family, friends, or neighbours. Work and Income staff have been ringing or visiting all of the elderly people who are known to be living alone. Students have used Facebook to find hundreds of people willing to help them with the clean-up. Local mayors Bob Parker, Ron Keating, and Kelvin Coe have stepped up and shown excellent leadership. Everybody involved is responding to this disaster, and has done a tremendous job so far. I am proud of the spirit shown by the people of Canterbury and New Zealand in the wake of this devastating natural disaster. We are also thankful to have had an outpouring of support and sympathy from Governments around the world.

It will take a long time to work through the damage caused by the earthquake, and we will need to be patient as we move into the rebuilding phase. Christchurch is New Zealand’s second-largest city, so there is likely to be considerable disruption to both the local and the national economies. The Government will help alleviate bottlenecks and speed up the rebuilding phase. Yesterday I announced that the Government has donated $5 million to the mayoral earthquake recovery fund. This is just a start. The Government is prepared to step up financially to rebuild the region. This afternoon I am travelling to Christchurch again, with other Ministers and the Leader of the Opposition. We are committed to working with local mayors and civil defence to get the region up and running again. This morning I also cancelled my visit to the United Kingdom and France, which was due to begin this Friday.

The thoughts and sympathy of the New Zealand Government are with the people of Canterbury in the aftermath of this earthquake. As the frightening aftershocks continue, we stand alongside them, committed to helping them rebuild their lives.

Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) : I join with the Prime Minister and, I am sure, all other members of the House in expressing our concern and our sympathy to the people of Christchurch and the people of the wider region of Canterbury for the trauma, the difficulties, and the damage that has been done to their lives.

I had the opportunity to move around Christchurch on Sunday, talking to a number of the different communities, observing the damage done to their homes, and hearing their stories. I today pay tribute to the courage and the resilience I saw from so many people across Christchurch. We talked to people who were worried about their neighbours’ well-being, not complaining about themselves, and were concerned to help others wherever they could.

I remember visiting an area of Christchurch that I had never been to before, called The Pines, or Pines Beach, which is just out of Kaiapoi. A whole street of houses had slipped off their foundations and sunk into the ground—some had sunk in as much as a metre—and houses had been torn apart by the force of the earthquake. A young couple was emptying out the possessions from their house, which would most certainly be condemned, and loading them on to a trailer. I went across to them, feeling really bad that they were facing that plight, and I expressed my concern for them. They smiled and said it was quite OK. They said they were lucky to live in this country, where assistance will be available. They asked me to imagine what it would be like to be those people in Pakistan whose homes and livelihoods have been devastated, and who face a future of famine and disease. I was really impressed by that couple, who were not worried about the fact that they had lost their home—they had carpeted their living room a week earlier—but were thinking about others.

I was pleased again to see this morning that students are going out in work parties to help others in the neighbourhood. People are concerned about their neighbours. I think it makes us proud to be New Zealanders when we see that selflessness on the part of people who have already lost so much in their own lives.

I pay tribute to the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management and the emergency services. What I saw of their work was incredibly impressive. The Fire Service, the police, and all sorts of people were out doing their job. The contractors were out working, and people from the lines company Orion were working around the clock reconnecting homes. Workers were repairing water mains. There have been something like 400 or 500 breaks to the water mains. They were all trying to get essential services back to people as quickly as possible. I acknowledge the work and commitment of the mayor and the ministry in that regard.

Members might notice that my Labour colleagues from Christchurch are not in the House today, and that is because they are out in their neighbourhoods, in their constituencies, trying to offer the help they can. Brendon and Philippa Burns lost their home. They cannot go back to their home. Brendon spent most of Sunday out with me around his own constituents seeing what he could do to help. I spoke to Lianne Dalziel on the phone today. She said she had had her first hot shower in a number of days. I said: “Good, you can come back to caucus now!”. She has been out working in the area of Bexley, where whole areas have been affected by liquefaction and homes have been destroyed. Clayton Cosgrove cannot get into his office in Rangiora, because the area is fenced off because of the damage. But he is out there with his mobile office, business as usual, trying to get information to his constituents about the assistance that he can give them. Likewise, Ruth Dyson is out there helping the areas in her constituency that have been badly damaged.

It is important that we offer sympathy, but it is even more important that we offer the people of Christchurch and Canterbury all the help that they need at this time. I have to say that the situation on the ground was worse than I had imagined from what I had seen through the news media. In some cases whole streets have been condemned; there is huge structural damage in other cases. People are uncertain about their future and their livelihood.

I went down Edgeware Road in St Albans and spoke to a lady who was doing work on a home that had been badly damaged. She pointed across the road to her business, which has been totally devastated. She has to worry not simply about getting her home back together, but about what she does now that she has no income coming in, yet the bills keep coming in. I say to the Prime Minister that I hope that we can work with Peter Townsend and the Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce to provide assistance for people who have lost their livelihoods and their ability to pay wages to their workers. Surely if we can give a helping hand to investors, we can give a helping hand to people who through no fault of their own have lost everything.

I believe that the House will approach this crisis in a spirit of total cross-party support for the people of Christchurch. There is no room for party politics in this crisis. That is why the Opposition has offered not to hold question time today, because our combativeness across the floor of the Chamber is not appropriate at a time when we need to show unity towards helping the people of Christchurch.

I believe that all New Zealanders support the strongest possible assistance to the people of Christchurch. All of us will feel that there but for the grace of God our own communities could have gone. I think we need to err on the side of generosity. I think we need to provide people with certainty about their entitlements. People are stoical, but they are also tired, stressed, and, often, traumatised. On behalf of the Labour Opposition I offer our support for any necessary initiatives to help people in that situation.

I say finally that we should be grateful that things are not worse than they are. If that quake had occurred not at 4.35 a.m. but at 4.35 p.m. we would have seen scores of casualties and, inevitably, a large number of fatalities. Shops whose frontages have fallen on to the road would have crushed anybody trying to get out of those shops. The devastation would have been terrible. Another important thing is that we had proper property standards, regulations, and buildings codes, so that in an earthquake the same size as Haiti’s we have not lost people in the way that that sad country has.

To all Cantabrians I offer Labour’s support, concern, and commitment to help them through this adversity.

Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) : The Green Party sends its condolences and aroha to the people of Canterbury. My colleague Russel Norman and I are leaving this Chamber within the next hour to fly south to inspect our parliamentary office for the first time, and to lend a hand to our fellow citizens there in whatever way that we can.

A catastrophic event such as the earthquake that rocked Christchurch in the depths of darkness on Saturday morning brings home with a sudden ferocity our human vulnerability before the powers of nature. It revealed in an instant the fragility of our buildings and of human life itself. It is deeply unsettling when a natural disaster of this magnitude strikes one’s own neighbourhood. The damage to my own home and its contents was miraculously light, but others whom I know have fared less well, including colleagues in this House. It is a surreal experience to go through certain areas of the city that appear to be normal and operating normally, and to suddenly encounter damage to an unbelievable extent. One can almost feel the associated trauma that some people are experiencing so deeply, not least because of the serious aftershocks that are still occurring. Our hearts go out to all of those most badly affected in their time of need, in Selwyn, Kaiapoi, the city centre, the eastern suburbs, and elsewhere—indeed, everywhere really.

Yet the aftermath of this event has displayed the strength of the human spirit and the resilience of our local communities. We congratulate the Government and the city authorities on the manner in which they have all responded to the disaster to date. I have personally witnessed the kindness and support that Cantabrians have shared, one with another, yet we cannot underestimate the emotional disquiet that will follow this event. We must ensure that it brings this country, as well as our own province, together. I am confident that this nation will rise to the occasion and extend full support to Christchurch in the rebuilding of our city.

This may be an opportunity for us as a nation to ensure that our rebuilding programme reflects state-of-the-art knowledge. Our modern earthquake-proof standards have been proven to be sound, with the extraordinary result that no fatalities occurred, compared with some other disaster areas elsewhere in the world. But we should also make sure that the rebuilding reflects updated methods of sustainable energy techniques and systems; we should make this setback a moment of opportunity. We in the Green Party look forward to working with both the Government and local communities to assist in every possible way. We have been confronted with disaster. Now we move to pick up the pieces, regroup and rebuild, and carry on, even stronger than we were before.

Hon RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) : On behalf of the ACT Party I join with all members in this House to express our support for the people of Canterbury, and to acknowledge the scale of the natural disaster in the region.

As Minister of Local Government, I take particular note of the role played by local government. It is a level of government, as we have seen, that is close to communities in a way that central government can never be in responding to a crisis such as this. Local government has done a magnificent job in Canterbury, but the job has scarcely begun. Let me put on record for this House the fact that I have had calls from local councils around New Zealand offering services and support to the people of Canterbury. It was very heartening to realise that even councils way up in Northland were offering what services they could to the people of Canterbury. I also commend Mayor Bob Parker and his team in Christchurch, and those in the Canterbury region. I also recognise the tremendous work of the civil defence teams. In doing that, I acknowledge the leadership provided by my ministerial colleague the Hon John Carter, and I thank him for the constant briefings that he was providing.

It has been observed in this House that we are lucky that this disaster did not lead to loss of life and to even greater damage. As the leader of the Labour Party observed, for that we have to thank the good fortune of the timing of the earthquake. But also we have to thank the development in New Zealand of world-class earthquake engineering standards, with all the subtle innovations they entail. That the damage was not so much greater was due to the applied science of engineering, and for that we as a country have much to be proud of. That applied science is directly responsible for saving many, many lives. So too is the quality of the work of the building trades, and it is now this sector, the builders, the plumbers, the electricians, and the engineers, who will repair and rebuild our city. Highly varied teams of specialists in a range of business activities will restore infrastructure: those in our construction industry will be out there rebuilding the roads and the damaged bridges, the lines companies will be restoring the power, and the telecommunications companies will be ensuring that we remain connected and able to communicate.

Central and local government will help, and all taxpayers, no doubt, will contribute, just as New Zealanders are now making voluntary contributions towards rebuilding our second-largest city. The people of Christchurch and the people of Canterbury have our support now, and they will have it in the future, as we work to rebuild their city and their towns. Thank you.

TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) :Huri noa i te Whare, tēnā tātou katoa. Ko tāku noa ake ko te whaiwhai haere i ngā kōrero kua puta i tēnei ahiahi me te tautoko ake i ngā kōrero katoa. Kua kī kē au i roto i tēnei Whare, kei roto i nga waiata Māori, ngā haka, ngā poi ko ngā kōrero katoa mō ngā āhuatanga o tēnei ao. Mai i te orokohanga ki a Ranginui e tū nei, ki a Papatūānuku e takoto nei, he whakamārama tonu mō te hau, te moana, te noho o te tuakana rāua ko te teina, tēnei mea te mate, te ora, te wehenga o te tāne me te wahine. Kei reira ngā whakamārama katoa. I a Ngāti Porou e haka ana i tā rātou haka, he kōrero anō tērā mō Rūaumoko, te tamaiti kei te kōpū tonu o tōna whāea e whanawhana nei, e ngunguru nei. Koirā te tikanga o tērā kōrero: “Ko Rūaumoko e ngunguru nei—au, au, auē hā!”. Nā, mō tātou te tangata, e kore e taea e tātou te karo i te mahi a Ranginui rāua ko Papatūānuku me wā rāua tamariki. I te pērā i te tīmatanga mai, kei te pērā anō hoki ināiatonunei.

Ka huri ōku whakaaro ki te rohe o Ōtautahi, tae rā anō ki ngā hapori huri noa i tērā takiwā. E hoa mā, he aha he kōrero māku? Koinei pea, kia kaha, kia toa, kia manawanui. Tērā anō hoki te whakataukī e mea ana: “Ahakoa whati te manga, e takoto ana anō te kōhiwi—although one branch may be broken off a tree, if the foundations are strong our survival is assured”.

Koirā pea te tikanga o tērā kōrero, Ōtautahi. Tau tahi, kotahi tonu te wā i te tau ka eke a aituā ki runga i a rātou. Tērā tērā. Ka rua, o ngā tau katoa kotahi tonu te wā ka tau a aituā ki runga i a koutou, i a rātou. Koirā te tūmanako, arā, kia kore a Rūaumoko e hoki anō rā ki te hapori o Ōtautahi.

Ki ngā ringa raupā e whakapau kaha nei ki te āwhina, ki te tiaki i te hapori, pirihimana mai, tākuta mai, nēhi mai, tauira mai, te hapori tonu, me mihi rā ka tika. Kei reira hoki taku hoa a Rahui Katene me tana tari e āwhina ana i te hunga rā. E ai ki ōna kōrero, he nui ngā tāngata nō Hornby e whāngai ana i wā rātou kōeke, arā, ko te hunga pakeke—kuia, koroua hoki. Tērā tētahi kuia e noho ana i Poihākena, e hiahia ana ki te āwhina i ōna whanaunga o Ngāi Tahu. E mīharo ana ahau ki te rongo i ērā momo kōrero. Ka nui te mihi ki a Bob Parker, ki te Minita tonu, ki a Hone Kaata me āna kaimahi o te civil defence. Koia rā rātou, ērā e ārahi nei i ngā mahi whakatikatika. Ki a Tūmatauenga, ngā wātene ka mutu, me whai wāhi au ki te mihi ki te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu e toro nei i ōna ringa ki te hunga e rongo nei i te pōuri, i te mamae.

Mēnā he painga o roto i te kino, tērā pea koia tēnei. He mea whakaohooho nei i a tātou ki te whakariterite i a tātou anō, mō te taunga mai o aituā. Kaua e tatari ki te meneti whakamutunga. Kaua e pōhēhē, e kore a aituā e pā mai ki a koe, ki ahau, ki a tātou. Ka tū tonu a Ranginui ki runga, ka takoto tonu a Papatūānuku ki raro, ahakoa pēhea, kei a rāua te kupu whakamutunga. Te rohe o Ōtautahi, kia kaha, kia toa.

[Greetings to us all, throughout the House. I merely follow on from the speeches delivered this afternoon, and endorse all that has been stated. I have already said in this House that Māori songs, posture dances, and poi movements explain all of the phenomena in this world. Since the beginning of time, to the time of the Great Sky Father above and Mother Earth below, there is an explanation for the wind, sea, relationships between siblings, death, life, and separation of men and women. The explanations are there for everything. Ngāti Porou perform their posture dance, which is about Rūaumoko the Earthquake God, the child lying within the womb of his mother, kicking and rumbling. Hence the phrase: “This is the Earthquake God rumbling here—oh, oh, indeed it is!”. Now, in terms of people, we cannot prevent whatever the Sky Father and Earth Mother and their children do. It was like that at the dawn of time, and remains so at this moment.

My thoughts are with the region of Christchurch, including its communities throughout that area. Fellow parliamentarians, what can I say? This, perhaps: be strong, be brave, and be stout-hearted. There is the aphorism also that says: “Although one branch may be broken off a tree, if the foundations are strong our survival is assured”.

That may possibly be the meaning of that word “Ōtautahi”: “tau” year, “tahi” one—tragedy strikes them only once in a year. That is the take on that. Secondly, in all the years, tragedy will fall upon you and them once only. The hope is that the Earthquake God does not return to the community of Christchurch again.

I must acknowledge those who have worked hard to help and protect the community: the police, doctors, nurses, students, and indeed the community itself. It is only right that we acknowledge them. My colleague Rahui Katene and her office are there as well, helping the people. According to her, many people from Hornby are feeding their aged—the elderly men, and the elderly women too. There is an elderly Māori woman living in Sydney who wants to help her Ngāi Tahu relatives. To hear that kind of talk is amazing to me. I commend Mayor Bob Parker and the honourable Minister John Carter and his staff from civil defence, as well, who are leading the rebuilding effort. I acknowledge the army and Māori wardens also. I mention the Ngāi Tahu tribal authority, which has reached out to the vast number who feel traumatised and in need of comforting.

If there is anything positive in the disaster, then it might be this. It is a wake-up call for us to prepare ourselves as well, should it happen to us. Do not wait until the last minute. Do not take it for granted that it will not happen to you, me, or us. Sky Father will always be up there, and Mother Earth will be down here, always. Regardless of what happens, they will always have the last say. Be strong and courageous, the Christchurch region. ]

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Leader—Progressive) : My thoughts and, I am sure, those of the members of the House are with the tens of thousands of people from my city who are only now realising the full impact of this disaster. The one ray of light is the miracle that not one single citizen was killed. I have been moving around the suburbs of Christchurch and I can see that the damage there is even worse than many people had first thought. A lot of attention has been given to the inner city, but the suburbs of Christchurch have suffered very significant and serious damage.

First, I would like to pay tribute to the spirit of the people of the city: the elderly men who were on the footpath in the Spreydon shopping centre at 7 o’clock on the morning of the quake, sweeping up all the glass and taking it away in skips so that people could walk on the footpaths; the neighbour who carried the elderly sick lady in the house next to him into his house so that he could care for her; and the 150 students who yesterday cleaned up an extraordinary mess in the suburbs of Hoon Hay and Halswell. Students often get a bad rap, but I would say that they deserve the highest of praise for the spirit of community service they showed there.

There were the many hundreds of people who have helped out in the aftermath of this quake. I especially thank the mayor, the civil defence team and the workers attached to it, the police, the firefighters, the Red Cross, and the thousands of volunteers for their dedicated work. All of those people are working long days to get food and water to those in need, to clear the rubble and make the buildings safe, and then, of course, they have to go back to their own homes that in many cases have been damaged beyond repair and to their own families, who are suffering as well.

I also want to thank the people from across New Zealand who have offered help and been a source of strength and inspiration to the families and businesses affected by this earthquake. Today, every New Zealander is a citizen of Christchurch. It makes me proud to be a Cantabrian, even if only through adoption, and proud to be a New Zealander to see these offers of help in such a time of need.

I also want to say that the clear and concise messages from Mayor Bob Parker have helped all the people of Christchurch in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. We should be in no doubt that we need to boil our water for 3 minutes before drinking. He deserves credit for his clarity, and the time he has given in this crisis. Prime Minister John Key’s determination to be on site and available has also been appreciated by everybody. However, I would like to see that there is a cross-party commission, group, or body, so that we can utilise the skills of all the people in Christchurch—MPs and councillors, no matter what their political persuasion. We all have knowledge, experience, and skills to offer, and they will be needed. Now is the time to work together for the sake of our city. I would like to offer John Key’s Ministers on the ground, John Carter and Gerry Brownlee, and Mayor Bob Parker, our hand of help because we will need each other to build the city again.

First, we have to stabilise the situation and provide relief for those in urgent need. We need to provide medium and long-term accommodation to those who cannot return to their homes. There is the obvious damage in the inner city; then there is the less obvious but no less serious damage to suburban housing and infrastructure. There might not be the dramatic pictures of our inner-city buildings turned to rubble, and the TV cameras might not be there, but I can tell the House that many, many hundreds, if not thousands, of suburban homes will never be lived in again, or not for any length of time anyway. Thousands more are at risk of demolition. Imagine the stress and trauma that will cause the people who fail yet to realise the enormity of this earthquake.

Like most people in Christchurch I live in the suburbs, and I want to see help to people living there. I visited an elderly couple yesterday who had lived in their solid 1960s home for 46 years. Now that house in the suburbs will have to be demolished. What will they do? Will they rebuild? The whole country and the Government will have to get behind every family and business in Christchurch. This is the time, I think, for examining all the levels of help through the Earthquake Commission and so on, and putting them to work.

The Government needs to make a commitment to move quickly because people need reassurance now. If they are fully insured, they may get sufficient insurance from their insurance companies, or they may not—not to mention the number who may not be fully insured. By reports, at least 100,000 homes are affected in Canterbury. It will take months, or even years, to fully recover, and the cost of the recovery will be well over $2 billion and maybe much more.

Finally, we will need the whole country and the Government to get behind Christchurch because it is not just homes that have been destroyed; it is jobs, as well. There are people who will never go back to their workplace. First, we have to provide immediate relief to people who have lost their incomes and have bills to pay but no wages coming in. People need some certainty about that relief, and they need to know that they will be helped now. Then we will have to talk about the long-term plan to rebuild our city, create jobs, and rebuild businesses—and that will involve everybody.

This is a time for all New Zealanders to be behind the people of Canterbury. They are assured by the responses they have had until now that they will be, but it will be a very long-haul operation. It will take not weeks or months, but years, and we have to be in for the long haul.

Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) : On behalf of United Future I join others who have spoken in this debate to place on record our support for the people of Canterbury and Christchurch as they recover from the largest natural disaster in this country since the great Napier earthquake of 1931. As a born and bred Cantabrian who is doing an admittedly rather extensive OE in Wellington, but who still has very close family links in Christchurch, I went through the full gamut of emotions, as did most people, on Saturday. I immediately checked how family were affected, and I heard the stories of what they did at 4.36 and 4.37 in the morning. More latterly, I heard the stories of the longer-term impact that many members have referred to already today.

This is not just an issue of recovering from the immediate shock of the earthquake and the aftershocks; it is about picking up the strands of normal life again. That includes little things such as going to the shops and making sure they are accessible, going to work, having somewhere to go, and making sure people can get about the city.

We have all learnt a huge amount in the few short hours since Saturday morning. Our assumptions about our so-called shaky isles being shaky in only one or two places were shattered when a fault not known to be active for 16,000 years suddenly ruptured in Christchurch. Our assumptions about the capacity of our communities to respond to great natural disaster have been heartened, I believe, by the response in Christchurch, by the way that the community has pulled together, by the leadership provided by Bob Parker and the local council, and by the support of the Prime Minister, the Government, and others to make sure that Christchurch’s concerns become the nation’s concerns, and that this country effectively goes on a war footing to help the city of Christchurch and the people of Canterbury recover from this tragedy.

As has been said, the impacts cut deep. Many people will be worrying about their business obligations and how they can meet those obligations. As the Minister of Revenue, I advise that the Inland Revenue Department has set up a special disaster response line. The number to ring is 0800 473566. It is for people and businesses who think they may be facing difficulties.

Having said that, the Inland Revenue Department faces its own difficulties. Its own building is not habitable in Christchurch at the moment. It may well be habitable by tomorrow, when we may be able to resume normal operations. That is a good little metaphor for what is happening right across the city. Things that people expect to be there and to function as normal will be hampered, one way or another, for a considerable period of time to come, and a great deal of flexibility and adaptation will be required to address those problems.

In this situation, New Zealanders have shown that we can pull together in time of crisis for the greater good. But I must observe that there has been one discordant note. I acknowledge the superb coverage provided by Television New Zealand, Radio New Zealand, and other radio stations on the day of the disaster, but, frankly, the incessant march of media vultures from outside the city since Saturday evening, and the situation we now have with the two major television channels who are arguing over ratings of their coverage of the tragedy is simply disgusting. I ask all of those media outlets to pull back and let us have the facts from people on the ground. We do not need the stars tramping over the rubble of Christchurch to advance their outlets’ ratings. This is a time of tragedy; it is not a time of entertainment or comedy. I urge the media outlets to act with greater responsibility, and to show some respect and dignity to the people of Christchurch in their hour of need as we in this House have done.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister) : I will take this moment to thank parliamentary leaders for their comments and their reflections. I often think that at times like this words are just hopelessly inadequate to reflect the pain, the stress, and the suffering that the people of Canterbury are going through. But, indeed, words and actions from not only members of this House but also people right across New Zealand are providing tremendous comfort to the people of Canterbury. They know that at this dark time they are not alone. They know that members of this House have their priorities in the right place, and that we are working collaboratively and collectively for the betterment of the people of Christchurch and the surrounding areas. We are focused on solving their problems and putting party politics to one side.

We have heard stories from a number of the leaders this afternoon that reflect the very human face of this natural disaster. In my own case, there are two stories that I will remember. The first was when I received a text message from my sister, at 4.41 on Saturday morning. It was a rather foreboding text, and I knew that there would be quite a major problem in Canterbury from that point on. The second came on Monday morning, as I came off my flight from Auckland. A grandmother came up to me at the airport and said: “Thank you for the work that you are doing and that Parliament is doing. I am going to Christchurch because my 5-year-old grandchild is terrified and can’t sleep.”

In the end, when we put back together the houses, the roads, the sewerage systems, the schools, and the broken businesses, what will be left is a lot of people who live in Canterbury and who genuinely are fearful of the experience they have gone through and what it means for them. We must encourage all of them to recognise the trauma that they are suffering and the experience that they have gone through, and not to be afraid to reach out and seek support from the agencies and from their families and their friends, and not to be afraid to speak of the concerns that they most naturally have and are experiencing.

I will take one final moment to acknowledge the notice of motion that my parliamentary colleague Mr Joyce will move in a moment concerning the other disaster that took place on Saturday, which was the loss of nine lives at Fox Glacier. Fox Glacier is a very small community; it will feel those losses very personally. It is a great tragedy for New Zealand and for those who lost their lives. Four of those who perished on that day came from overseas, and all of them were under 30—all of them were young.

It was a very, very difficult weekend for the South Island. Our thoughts, our hearts, and our prayers go to the people of the South Island.