Hansard and Journals
Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill — Procedure, First Reading, Second Reading
Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House) : I seek leave for the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill to be introduced and passed through all stages, and, if required for the completion of that business, for the sitting of the House to extend beyond 10 p.m.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that course of action. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery) : I move, That the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill be now read a first time. It is now a matter of history that on Saturday, 4 September at 4.31 in the morning, Cantabrians were woken by the largest earthquake this country has seen for some time. The scale of damage from the earthquake and the hundreds of aftershocks since is something that New Zealand has not seen in recent times. As a result of the devastation caused by these events, a state of emergency still is in place across Canterbury.
The destruction caused to infrastructure and buildings across the Canterbury region is considerable. The damage is so substantial that the recovery will be one of the most significant events in New Zealand’s history. Estimates of damage vary, but the costs will run into some billions of dollars, and we have to give thanks while we are talking about property damage that there was no loss of life. That miracle makes it easier for us to focus on rebuilding Canterbury and maintaining a positive frame of mind. Cantabrians have shown tremendous spirit to so rapidly reconnect and restore first Christchurch City and then the regions of Waimakariri and Selwyn District. I also thank the people outside the region who have so generously come to the aid of their fellow Kiwis.
There are far too many to mention, but I would like to mention the officials of government who have worked so tirelessly over the weekend to put this bill together.
We have all seen images of homes and schools wrecked by the tremendous force that was unleashed, images of the towns and city centres where large numbers of buildings are damaged or inaccessible, and images of the many churches and historic buildings shattered by the quake. Furthermore, roads have moved, railway lines have been twisted, and farm lands have been so damaged by holes, fissures, and tears that they cannot be used safely for livestock, and some cropping may be endangered. Vital infrastructure such as sewerage work has been disrupted, although that infrastructure has been largely reconnected in the heaviest urban areas.
New Zealand is a country prone to earthquakes. We have known that for some time and we have prepared for an event like this by establishing the Earthquake Commission, by strengthening our buildings, by having emergency contingency plans, and by having emergency kits in our homes. But we can never fully prepare for, or prevent, the damage that an earthquake of this magnitude causes.
I spent a lot of time in Canterbury over the last 10 days, and I saw for myself the damage in my home area. I have seen firsthand the spirit of the people of Canterbury, and I am very impressed by the way that they have worked tirelessly and carried out their responsibilities in the different organisations of the region to get the place reconnected. When we look back over the last 10 days—and it has been only 10 days—we see that the emergency response has been, to say the least, most impressive. All those involved in achieving that result should be congratulated. It should be remembered that those people often leave their own families and homes to help others. I spoke last Friday night to a group of people who had been helping connect water and sewerage in Christchurch City. Many of them left their homes on Saturday at 5 o’clock in the morning, simply leaving their wives, partners, and families while they went out to help others.
They did up to 100 hours’ work last week and achieved an enormous result. The same can be said for the power workers and the communications workers. Their efforts were very impressive.
The task ahead is enormous. The rebuilding and recovery may have begun, but it will take a long time and we will need the rest of New Zealand to lend a hand. The support offered by people from outside the region—the donations they have made to the mayoral and other funds—is evidence of the willingness of this country to help out Cantabrians. I know that the people of Canterbury welcome that support and thank their fellow New Zealanders for that help, but more help is needed.
In 2009, there were about 50,000 building consents, or consents relating to building issues, around the country. If we consider the scale of destruction in Canterbury and apply similar consenting arrangements, we find that every consenting officer in this country could be locked up in the consenting process for a number of years before anything is done in a practical sense. Business as usual will not work. Legislation needs to be adapted to respond to the special circumstances that now exist in Canterbury and, in particular, that will apply when the state of emergency is lifted. So far, we have identified several needs: modifying legislative requirements under the Resource Management Act, such as in respect of heavier than allowable loads being able to be taken to landfills; streamlining Building Act processes to deal with dangerous buildings without delay, and the repair and perhaps replacement of buildings; and flexible welfare support and payments for people in need.
To facilitate the Canterbury recovery, we need a mechanism that allows specific amendments to a range of legislation. This bill will be the House’s expression of a strong desire to remove bureaucracy that could slow down the very necessary work we now have to do. I know this Parliament is united in its desire to assist Canterbury in every way it can, and on behalf of the people of Canterbury I offer thanks for that. Therefore, today I am introducing the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill to help Canterbury get over and get past this disaster. This bill enables the Government to use Orders in Council to facilitate emergency recovery responses. Orders in Council can be used to tailor specific solutions to identified issues as the recovery progresses. Most important, Orders in Council will allow the Government to react quickly with the support of the whole Parliament. Just as Orders in Council can be made, they can also be revoked or replaced as needs change during the recovery process.
The current state of emergency has allowed authorities in Canterbury to get on with the job of ensuring the health and safety of residents while taking steps towards ongoing recovery. Some actions would not be permitted in normal circumstances. A number of those activities need to continue immediately after the state of emergency has lifted. Although retrospective provisions are usually not desirable, they are needed in this case to protect those who have taken necessary action in this period and immediately following the earthquake.
We want to remove impediments to the recovery of Canterbury, but I am mindful that we need to be cautious in our approach. We do not want to remove, suspend, or otherwise modify legislation that protects the people of Canterbury and thus create a perverse outcome. For that reason, I am taking steps to ensure that the Orders in Council are used only for emergency response to, and recovery from, the earthquake event. The first measure I am proposing is that each Order in Council developed in response to the recovery needs to meet the tests of complying with the purpose of the bill. It must facilitate the response to the Canterbury earthquake. The Orders in Council in this legislation will be in place only while they are needed and for no longer than the period up to 1 April 2012. Those Orders in Council will be subject to the House’s normal disallowance provisions.
The bill also establishes the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Commission, of which the three district mayors of Christchurch, Waimakariri, and Selwyn will be members. Later this week, four other members will be added, including an Environment Canterbury commissioner, to augment that commission.
It is important to recognise the enormous capacity of the regions and districts to know what they need in order to recover. This mechanism will mean that they are easily able to connect with their counterparts in Wellington, and that the Government has a clear path for offering assistance to them as they go through that recovery. I stress again, however, that the people of Canterbury and their elected representatives will be leading the recovery, with the Government standing firmly behind them to give assistance where it is needed.
I close by offering my thanks to other Canterbury MPs, from all parties, who have been very cooperative in getting to this point today. I know that that cooperation will continue as the recovery continues. The resource we have in our local MPs is considerable, and we look to give Cantabrians comfort to go about this recovery by enabling those MPs to be prominent in their communities and to give advice on how those communities might progress. I think that providing the mechanism to modify any legislation hindering the recovery of Canterbury and ensuring that scarce resources are not diverted from that recovery is the clearest demonstration of Parliament’s support for the people in my home district. I commend this bill to the House.
Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) : Labour is very pleased to support the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill. When we observe the scale of the disaster in the Canterbury region, I think every member of this House accepts that there is no room for partisan squabbling at central government level or, for that matter, at local government level. This is a time when people in New Zealand expect their legislators to work together to assist the recovery, to help people to get their lives back together, and to do so without unnecessary delay.
I have had the opportunity over 3 days to spend some time with my Christchurch member of Parliament colleagues, looking around at the scale of the disaster. From Kaiapoi in the north and Pines Beach, where I went with Clayton Cosgrove, through to the central business district, St Albans, Avonside, and south into Bexley, I have seen some of the scale of what this earthquake has done to the people of Christchurch. Literally tens of thousands of people have been affected. There have been 2,500 homes rendered uninhabitable, and the people from those homes have been forced to seek alternative accommodation. Thousands more homes have been damaged and, sadly, much of the heritage and the history of this beautiful city has been damaged or, in some cases, destroyed. The human effects are no less real. To see in the shelters the people suffering from the trauma of that night—4.30 in the morning—and to see the stress and the fatigue on the faces of those people makes it very clear that we in this House need to do everything that we are capable of to help them to get their lives back together just as quickly as they can.
That is why we support this legislation. We understand that this situation is not one of business as usual, and that we need to make an efficient and swift response. We welcome the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Commission as a way of coordinating and facilitating the response to this disaster, and it makes sense that we work to assist the Government in its efforts to achieve that end. I acknowledge the role of Clayton Cosgrove, who is Labour’s shadow spokesperson on the recovery. He has worked very hard not only in his own electorate but also with all of my colleagues and with Jim Anderton to do everything that they can to help the people on the ground.
It is important that we have legislation to streamline the process, but it is equally important that in doing so we do not remove the safeguards that are necessary in order to maintain standards. We do not want to see the cowboys moving in. We do not want to see get-rich-quick merchants moving in and exploiting people in this situation. We do not want to see an opportunity being provided to those who would knock over heritage buildings not because they cannot be repaired but simply because it is convenient for them to wipe out that piece of heritage, which might have been protected. We do not want to see people lose their legitimate rights. When they are affected by a regulation in an adverse manner, they should have the right to respond, and to be heard and listened to. It is important to have those safeguards in place.
I acknowledge the cooperative attitude that the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, Gerry Brownlee, has shown in this matter. It has been a good example of how the two sides of the House have been able to work together. The Minister’s offer to allow Labour to see the Orders in Council in advance is much appreciated. The changes that were made from the early drafts, allowing those Orders in Council to go to the Regulations Review Committee, where they can be subject to scrutiny and where the committee members can get expert advice and listen to the report of the Office of the Clerk, are an important safeguard. Where something is wrong, to then be able to bring it back to the House and expose it to debate is, I think, very important. I welcome too the announcement by the Minister that the sunset clause that is necessary in legislation of this nature will be brought back, from 2015 to 2012, because, by and large, the substantial work will have been done in that period of time.
Although we are streamlining the process, one thing that we should be rejoicing about in this House is that despite the complaints about red tape, compliance costs, and nanny State, we have building codes in New Zealand that are so effective in preserving human life that we saw not one life lost in our country, although an earthquake of a similar magnitude in Haiti took the lives of 230,000 people. We can be proud of that. So, you know, although on occasions in the 1990s this House got it wrong about the building codes and that led to leaky homes, it is really important that we maintain those high standards and that level of protection.
I acknowledge the work done by many people to alleviate the plight of those who have been affected by this earthquake. It is a bit hard to know where to begin, but I suppose we would begin with the emergency services. We have seen the search and rescue teams coming in from all parts of the country, seen the work done by the police, and seen the soldiers out there at night, doing the work. They have been working alongside the police. The firefighters have been doing what they could to help. All of those things make one proud to be a New Zealander, with those people being prepared to act in a professional and selfless way. I acknowledge the role of the mayor, the council, and the officials of not only the Christchurch City Council but also the Waimakariri and Selwyn districts. They have worked beyond people’s expectations. I have seen the people out there in the streets, working long hours, and doing the jobs. I have seen the Salvation Army and the Order of St John working in the night shelters. They are doing that work in a way that lifts the lives of the people whom they are helping. I have seen the work of the volunteers, the students with shovels over their shoulder, who are ready to muck in and help. All of those things are, I think, very positive in the response.
I have also seen the resilient nature of Christchurch people and the way in which they have often dealt with adversity. They have been prepared to work alongside and help their neighbours first, even when their own situation is also a very difficult one. But there comes a point where the euphoria wears off, and people start to feel the stress and strain. At that point it is really important to provide the support and information that they need. I am really pleased that the Earthquake Commission has started to hold a series of meetings, working alongside my colleagues. Lianne Dalziel convened a meeting of 500 people in Christchurch south with the Earthquake Commission. I think that is really important.
Aaron Gilmore: There weren’t 500.
Hon Ruth Dyson: You can’t count.
Hon PHIL GOFF: I do not think it is helpful to have that sort of debate across the House. We are talking about something positive that is happening there, where the Earthquake Commission is there to provide advice, along with the geotechnical experts and the loss adjusters.
But I say to the Minister, in a helpful manner, that our members have been getting a lot of questions out there that people need to be given answers to. Some people have built their homes in areas subject to liquefaction, and I have seen the disaster that that has caused. Those people desperately want to know whether they will be able to rebuild their homes. If they cannot rebuild on their sections, they want to know about the level of compensation that there might be for their plight. I want to know why the insurance companies have refused to cover people, for 3 weeks, when they move into new homes. What situation does that create for people who want to sign up to a new home, but who know that they have to have insurance protection? I hope the House will be able to work on that issue with the insurance companies in order to achieve a change in attitude. I want to know what is to happen for those people who are either under-insured or not insured. I know it is easy to condemn people for not having insurance, but I spoke to somebody who is on an invalids benefit, and he did not have insurance because he could not afford it. Obviously, we cannot leave those people to suffer, and to be without any help.
There are people out there who still do not have their sewerage connected. We can see the Portaloos down the street, but there is no way that elderly people should have to go out into the street to use them. I know that the Minister and others will be working hard to get those services put back in place and to help people who are in temporary accommodation. I have spoken to people who are living with family, living with friends, or renting a motel, and who cannot do that for the longer term. Clearly, that is another area where there is a need for help.
I know that everybody—including members of the House—needs to be patient, but we also need to acknowledge that people out there want, and need, to be given full information, and that they need to be given adequate resourcing in order to get the job done. Labour undertakes to assist the Government in meeting those needs, but equally we will be working on behalf of, and advocating for, people who need help and assistance, and we will be doing that in a constructive manner. Thank you very much.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment) : The Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill is an appropriate and timely response to Canterbury’s massive earthquake on 4 September. It is an exceptional bill, but these are exceptional circumstances. It is a realistic bill, given the scale of the challenge to rebuild Christchurch and its surrounding communities. The bill is designed to take us smoothly from emergency to recovery. It is important we consider this bill in the context of the Canterbury earthquake being the most costly natural disaster in the history of our country. The release of energy at 4.31 on Saturday morning from this 7.1 magnitude earthquake was the equivalent of 1,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs. Engineers prefer to measure earthquakes by ground horizontal acceleration levels because it is these that cause the building damage. The Canterbury earthquake recorded accelerations of 1.26G at Greendale. That is, the horizontal force exerted on buildings was 1.26 times gravity and is like tipping up a building, like Parliament House, on its end and then putting it back again. These are the highest ever recorded on a New Zealand seismograph and amongst only a very few of that size globally.
Yes, we are fortunate that the earthquake occurred at an hour when most people were at home in bed. But the main reason the casualties were so low is that New Zealand, post the 1931 Napier earthquake, implemented building standards that ensured their structural integrity under such an earthquake. Christchurch owes much to two remarkable Cantabrians, Professor Bob Park and Tom Paulay, both now deceased, who set the global standard for the design of earthquake-resistant buildings and bridges in the 1960s and 1970s. That no modern building or bridge built to these standards failed is a huge tribute to the quality of their successful research, the work of their successors, and the hundreds of engineers whom they trained.
Numbers tell a powerful story. It has already been mentioned that the Haiti earthquake at the beginning of the year, of magnitude 7.0, killed 230,000 people; the earthquake in the Sichuan province, in China, in May 2008 of magnitude 7.9 killed 69,000 people; the Kashmir earthquake of magnitude 7.6 in 2005 killed 79,000 people; the San Francisco earthquake of magnitude 6.9 killed 63 people; and the Kobe earthquake of magnitude 6.8 in 1995, in another developed country, killed over 6,000 people. We can be justifiably proud of the design standards that proved their worth last Saturday.
I must also join others in paying tribute to our civil defence and emergency staff, both nationally and locally, for their response over the last 10 days. When in Christchurch at the weekend I caught up with Professor Green from the United States, who has visited the site of almost every major earthquake in the last two decades. He noted that the organisation of the response in Christchurch and Canterbury was the best he had seen, and set the standard internationally. That is a huge compliment to the hundreds of professionals and volunteers who have been working so hard over the past 10 days. Our challenge with this bill is to ensure we continue that excellence as we move from emergency to the recovery phase of this disaster.
This will get harder, not easier. There are some very difficult judgments to be made about which heritage buildings should be demolished as they are beyond repair, and which ones must be saved. Tough calls will also need to be made on which areas can be, and should be, built on, which areas need some form of geotechnical ground improvement before rebuilding, and which areas are too unstable to safely reconstruct on. The enormous challenge is in making these important judgments quickly but correctly. Nobody wants people to be unable to live in their homes or unable to resume trade in their businesses for a day longer than is necessary. Yet the decisions made over the next few months will impact on Christchurch and Canterbury for a century or more. Getting the framework right for these decisions is vital.
This bill creates the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Commission to lead that work. It links the work of central, regional, and local government. It makes sure we work in harmony through this recovery and reconstruction phase. The bill provides the necessary provisions to override current Acts. For instance, we do not want our council staff spending the next several months filling out the many forms required for retrospective approval for the demolition of buildings that have already come down during the civil emergency, nor do we want officials applying for consents for discharges that have inevitably occurred into Canterbury’s waterways. If we are to get through the recovery phase as quickly and efficiently as possible, we need to be very focused on the right priorities, and those are rebuilding the houses and infrastructure of Canterbury as quickly as possible.
As one of the three responsible Ministers listed in the bill, I assure the House that those powers will be used sparingly. In the early stages of drafting this bill we attempted to identify with officials the very specific provisions we would need to amend. We rapidly came to a conclusion that that would be impossible. There were so many issues that we would inevitably get it wrong, and the only practical way forward was this sort of generic empowering bill. In the coming months, it will require trust and goodwill to work, and like the Minister in charge of the bill, Gerry Brownlee, I appreciate the cooperative way in which Opposition parties have approached this bill.
Questions have been raised about the geographic provisions of the bill and why they are deliberately orientated towards the impacts of the earthquake, not just to the geographic area of the districts of Selwyn, Waimakariri, and Christchurch City. That is with good reason. For instance, the landslide that is being dealt with in the northern part of Canterbury is outside those districts but related to the earthquake recovery; equally so, the Kate Valley landfill, which is taking the bulk of the waste, is outside those districts, but the provisions of this bill may be needed. There have also been questions about the specific Acts that are affected. We have attempted to list all those Acts in this bill, but, again, it is inevitable that we will not know all of the issues, so flexibility is provided for in this bill.
I completed my PhD two decades ago in geotechnical engineering at the University of Canterbury. I studied liquefaction, earthquakes, and landslides from a very academic perspective. None of that prepared me for my visit at the weekend to Canterbury and the sight of uprooted houses, wrecked bridges, collapsed buildings, split stopbanks, and fractured pipe systems. The forces at work are indescribable, but this disaster has brought out the very best in people. My favourite story has been about the Facebook-driven droves of young people getting out and helping the people of Canterbury with the clean-up. This bill is about Parliament doing its bit and giving us a commission and the necessary powers to get on with the most difficult part, which is the rebuilding of New Zealand’s second-largest city. With patience, goodwill, and cooperation, and by tapping into New Zealand’s world-renowned engineering expertise, we can rebuild a better, safer, and cleaner Christchurch. I commend the bill to the House.
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) : Before I deal with the substance of my speech on the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill, I extend my thanks to Gerry Brownlee and John Carter, the Ministers who are responsible for the bill. I do so for a number of reasons. Firstly, as my party leader, Phil Goff, has done, I thank them for accepting the two recommendations that we made yesterday on consultation in respect of Orders in Council and scrutiny of those Orders in Council. Additionally, I thank them for the way we, as opposite numbers, have interacted in the last few days in a spirit of cooperation; there are no politics in this issue. People in my province and in New Zealand would hang their heads in shame if they thought there were.
As we go through the debates on this bill, my colleagues and my party will be supporting the bill. I thank Gerry Brownlee for a further commitment he made yesterday. I accept the logistics involved, but given the short notice we have had to look at the legislation, my colleagues have been working on it and may propose some additional ideas and thoughts. As a Parliament we want to ensure that the bill is as robust as possible, so as to deliver as best as possible for the people of Canterbury. I thank Minister Brownlee for his commitment to look, in the spirit of bipartisanship, at any proposals we may put up in all seriousness in order to present to the people of Canterbury a bill that is as high-quality and effective as we can deliver.
As the member of Parliament for Waimakariri, which has incurred damage throughout an area from Belfast and Redwood through to Kaiapoi, Kairaki Beach, and Pines Beach, and through to, in a lesser extent, parts of Woodend, Rangiora, and Waikuku, I join with other members in saying that whether we are religious or not religious, we would have to say that we believe in miracles. It is a miracle that people in Courtenay Drive in Kaiapoi were not killed as a result of this earthquake. I am told that a female police officer was sleeping in her bed when the “shake, rattle, and roll” occurred, after which she got out of bed and walked out of the bedroom. Had she done so a second later, I am advised that she would have been killed as the roof collapsed on top of her.
This event is a tragedy of immense proportions. It has provided huge trauma for people. As I walked around Pines Beach, Kairaki Beach, and Featherston Avenue, I found that it has also brought out, as other speakers have said, the best in the human and Kiwi spirit. I wandered down Hood Street, which basically looks like Beirut in the 1980s on a good day. I do not think there is one house in Hood Street in Pines Beach that is habitable as we speak. There I found two young guys taking to their trailer what was left of their belongings. They were in their 20s, I would have thought, and they said they had a question for me. I asked them what it was. They asked where they could sign up to assist at the civil defence post. I told them that they were entitled to think of themselves, at least for the next few hours, and to get themselves and their families sorted out. They said that they would be finished in an hour, and that people were worse off than them. They wanted to know where they could sign up for the civil defence post.
As I went from house to house, I heard amazing stories. There was an interesting theme. If there was a door, I would knock on it and go into the property. I asked how it was going, how the people were, and whether they were OK. Almost to a house, the response from people would be that they were OK, and that I should go next door to look after “Mrs Smith” or “Mrs Jones”. I would look up at their house, and it would look like somebody had taken to it with a giant can-opener. But they showed incredible generosity of spirit in saying that I should not worry about them—even families who had kids said that—and that I should check next door, where people were worse off than they were.
I also went to Kaiapoi North School, to the civil defence welfare post located at the Kaiapoi Rugby Football Club on Smith Street, and to the civil defence post at Pines Beach, where a lady had lost her home. Her house had gone, but she had gone in to man that civil defence post, day in and day out, as a civil defence worker. She had been brought to tears occasionally when, very rarely, she thought of herself instead of thinking of others, even though she was more than entitled to do that.
I met Michael, the Salvation Army worker who had, with his team, looked after folks by providing hot meals day after day, and I met Dave Pilkington, a vegetable packer whom I called to say that I needed vegetables for the civil defence post. He said he did not own the vegetables—he only packed them—yet 5 minutes later he took it upon himself, in liaison with his customers, to provide a couple of truckloads of vegetables to folks. Those are wonderful examples of the human spirit.
We are now moving to a second phase. We are moving to a phase in which, as a counsellor said to me, the “negative euphoria” and shock are dissipating, and folks are becoming more brittle. We have to respect that situation. One person said to me that they might have to go to the toilet in a bucket for the next 6 months. They are worried that they may not have a house, and about how they will get the kids to school. All of those mundane activities that we take for granted in a normal course of events have now become insurmountable problems for many people of our respective communities in Waimakariri, Christchurch, and Selwyn. Just the day-to-day activities of getting by now present an emotional marathon for folks, and that is creating a higher expectation, and a greater demand for resource, activity, and swift resolution of problems. I say to the Government in goodwill that the challenge it will ultimately face as we move through this emergency will be meeting that demand, those higher expectations, and that need for further resource.
This bill is needed. No one wants to see a delay in returning people to a decent standard of living and giving them their lives back. No one wants to see it delayed, but we make the point—and I am gratified that Ministers have touched on it—that those powers should be limited to the recovery, limited to the emergency, and not used by local authorities or others for surreptitious means, shall we say. I am gratified that there will be parliamentary scrutiny through the normal parliamentary process of the Standing Orders. As I said, the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, Mr Brownlee, has guaranteed that there will be consultation with us prior to Orders in Council coming into force.
There are many competing forces in our respective local authorities: the issue of heritage, the issue of environment, the issue, of course, of getting people back to normality and into a liveable house or other accommodation, and the issue of dealing with trauma. We should not forget those people who have responded to that trauma, the people who have acted like human sponges in soaking up the trauma of others, like the volunteer fire brigade in Kaiapoi, in my patch. Trauma counsellors, too, have dealt with folks who have burst into tears—men, women and kids alike who have been terrified. Those counsellors have sat there and put an arm around their shoulder, and have let those people talk and try to deal with the here and now and the trauma that they feel. Kids, especially have felt trauma with every aftershock, and we are still having aftershocks.
I say as a personal note that Mr Brownlee should be proud of some of his relations. I pay tribute to the Brownlee boys who own the Kāikanui Tavern in Kaiapoi. I do this in all sincerity. As a gesture, they took in the contractors and the volunteers who have worked hours on end—12, 13, 15 hours a day. Many of them have had their own homes destroyed, but have got out there and said “To hell with it, we have to do something.” The Brownlee boys put a bit of a shout on; they did Kiwi thing. They said “For the next hour, boys and girls, the beers are on us.” Not only did they do that, but they have done a number of other social things just to give people a breather. Mr Brownlee should be proud of his distant cousins.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Not distant, first cousins.
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Not so distant—first cousins, my apologies.
Hon Ruth Dyson: That’s not what they say.
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Ha, ha! It is a culmination of Government and parliamentary work, of work of local authority politicians and officials, right down to private and public contractors, to St John Ambulance workers, to the fire brigade, to the odd publican who provides a bit of light relief, and to the victim who helps out his or her neighbour. It is culmination of all those things that will get us back on the road to recovery and will start to give people back their humanity. It has been an awful, traumatic event, but I say, as I did at the start, there is one saving grace: houses can be rebuilt, roads can be packed, but we cannot replace human life. Thank goodness we have had no losses thus far!
Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) : I begin by paying tribute to the Government and particularly to Ministers Gerry Brownlee and John Carter for their work and their cooperation over the past week. That is much appreciated by all of us.
I believe that all of us in this House today would prefer not to have to address this bill, the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill. It is the product of the ravages of nature and the cause of far-reaching human distress, yet the bill is a symbol of human resilience. It shows a determination to respond to a natural disaster with purpose and resolve, and that our communities can rally together in the face of disaster even stronger than we were before. The Green Party enters this debate in a constructive spirit. At this moment our nation is one, united in a societal sense. The Green Party shares in that and celebrates it. I have suggested to Mayor Bob Parker that Christchurch hold a celebration of life this weekend for the city’s residents to enjoy each other’s company and share in the glory of being alive. In the here and now, down under, just for the moment, we are one world.
Those of us in Parliament also carry an obligation to ensure the political process continues unabated. That includes a requirement to ensure democracy remains intact. That requirement is continuous and non-derogable. So we have no option but to approach this bill with a constructive attitude for the sake of national cohesion, yet with a critical attitude for the sake of political principles that underpin and give meaning to that cohesion, and to do so on the basis of an overnight reading of the bill and one day of debate.
The bill has been described by the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery as a fairly powerful piece of legislation. He has never got it so very right before. It accords enormous powers to the Government and through it to the local authorities. It gives full protection from legal liability for any acts of omission or commission. This is not a normal bill. These are not normal powers. We shall not speak of the nanny State, for this is no time for banter, but let us all acknowledge that this Parliament would be ceding the most far-reaching power to the executive in a generation at least, if not more. I agree with Minister Brownlee it is not business as usual, but it is a question of what type of business we should be doing from now on. The question must be asked—and the Green Party will not shirk the question—of whether the circumstances justify such far-reaching suspension of powers.
Mayor Parker said last night that no building can be demolished without consent. So what will the nature of that consent be? Presumably, the three city councils will receive consent applications as before and process them. So what is this bill changing? As drafted, it allows central government to suspend virtually any piece of New Zealand legislation to enable the three councils to proceed rapidly to demolish and rebuild. The point of consent in times of normalcy is to ensure that the broader public interest is served beyond the immediate private interests involved. So why is that changing? How does an earthquake change that? Where is the emergency? Has there been loss of life? No. Is there an emergency in the recovery and reconstruction period? No. If there is a security threat or a humanitarian disaster, then there is justification for emergency powers of this kind. But emergency powers are lifted when these end, and the recovery period begins. The Government itself makes it clear we are about to exit from the emergency period. This is to end tomorrow. The bill is not titled the “Canterbury Earthquake Emergency Bill” but the “Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill.” If we are out of the emergency and into the recovery, why are we according emergency powers and why are those powers so very sweeping? If all we are seeking to do is expedite reconstruction, then let us find proper ways of doing this that are proportionate to the challenge. We do not have to potentially suspend virtually the entire New Zealand statute book to rebuild Christchurch.
There are many people in the city who are moved by the opposite concern of the Government. They are worried that the city will be rebuilt too damn quickly and that insufficient thought will go into the concept design and the planning work. As I said in the House last week, this setback is an opportunity for us. It is a chance to introduce new methods and techniques of sustainability. We could have green shoots where there is currently rubble. But if we rush headlong into sprouting concrete edifices within months, simply because there is a new and temporary hole in the ground, we shall live to regret some of the decisions we make.
So what exactly does the bill do? The bill establishes a commission. The commission advises the relevant Minister about an Order in Council. The relevant Minister then makes a recommendation to the Governor-General to issue an Order in Council. That recommendation is above the law; essentially, it may not be challenged, reviewed, quashed, or called into question in any court. What is the Order in Council to address? It may grant an exemption or suspend any provision contained in 22 New Zealand statutes. These include the Building Act, the Commerce Act, the Health Act, the Historic Places Act, the Land Transport Act, the Local Government Act, the Public Works Act, the Ratings Valuations Act, the Resource Management Act, the Social Security Act, the Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Act, and the Waste Minimisation Act. I repeat: any provision of these Acts may be suspended by the head of State because of an earthquake, because of the Government’s desire to respond to, and recover from, the earthquake. But that is not all; the bill allows exemptions not just from these 22 Acts but from any other piece of New Zealand legislation, with the exception of five Acts pertaining to the constitution and some custody and detention provisions.
So the relevant Minister can, because of an earthquake in Christchurch, suspend the application of virtually any legislation in New Zealand. Is that truly what this Government intends? Are we perhaps losing all sense of proportion here? There is even a supremacy clause: no order is invalid in the event it is repugnant to, or inconsistent with, any other Act, with the few exceptions already cited. That means the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Act will be, with those exceptions, the supreme law in the land.
A related concern is the jurisdictional application of these sweeping powers. There appears to be no territorial limitation in the bill. Does this mean that in pursuit of recovery in Canterbury there could be a suspension of consent outside the region? Is that far-fetched, perhaps? Then there will be no problem in introducing such a limitation. The point of legislating is to add clarity, so let us do that.
I take the points Minister Smith has made; these need to be pursued and we look forward to doing that. In the response and recovery mode we should be moved by personal plight and communal aspiration, but not by shock and awe legislation. The Government is essentially saying we must trust it not to do anything silly. But trust is not the normal ingredient of the political process. The reason for political principles, legislative acts, and judicial review is so that societal trust can be applied to executive action. This is no disrespect to the Government. Our Cabinet Ministers may be as pure as the driven snow; it would still be irrelevant. Personal trust and societal trust are different creatures. We can all personally trust Cabinet Ministers yet require that they remain within the law and not suspend it.
It appears to the Green Party that the Government has been galvanised in this by its broad economic philosophy: do not let the GDP fall, do not let the tourists become concerned, rebuild as fast as possible, and time is money. Well, time is also wisdom. Time enables people not simply to rush headlong into the coming months, but to reflect—not for ever, but for a decent interval—on what we wish to do.
The Green Party will support this bill through its first reading. In the Committee stage we shall advance amendments designed to turn this extreme law round to be more modest and appropriate to the circumstances. If our concerns are met we shall ultimately vote for the bill. If they are not, our support may not be forthcoming in the third reading.
Hon JOHN BOSCAWEN (Deputy Leader—ACT) : I rise on behalf of the ACT Party to speak on the first reading of the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill. First, I thank the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, the Hon Gerry Brownlee, for the work he has done to rapidly identify and respond to the issues facing Cantabrians as a result of this horrific disaster. I also acknowledge the Hon John Carter, the Minister for Civil Defence, for the work that he and his team have done, as well as other Ministers of the Government. I also acknowledge the work that all Canterbury MPs have done in representing their constituents and trying to bring some order to the situation in Christchurch.
On behalf of the ACT caucus I start by saying that our hearts go out to the several hundred thousand residents of Canterbury who have been affected by this earthquake. Although we are incredibly grateful that no lives were lost as a direct result of the earthquake, we are sorely aware that this has been a very trying time for the people and communities of Christchurch and Canterbury, and we in the ACT Party wish them every support on the road to recovery that lies ahead. I acknowledge and commend at this time the tremendous work that has been done and the way that central government and local government staff have responded to this emergency. Staff have worked long hours, worked through the nights, and supported those in need during what has been a very upsetting and stressful time.
Just one example to illustrate this work to the House is the staff from Work and Income working throughout the weekend of the earthquake to ensure that over 10,000 superannuitants and pensioners living alone in Canterbury were contacted by phone, offered support, and advised on safety precautions such as boiling water. Of course, it is not just staff of central government and local government; it is all the volunteers, the members of the police, the army, the St John Ambulance, and the Salvation Army, as we have heard this afternoon.
The ACT Party fully supports the Government’s proposed measures to assist the people of Canterbury with their recovery, and completely agrees with the important need to address the statutory requirements that may divert resources from the recovery. I note the Hon Gerry Brownlee’s comment this afternoon about going back to retrospectively seek approval to demolish buildings that have, of course, already been demolished.
The ACT Party supports this bill. However, we have serious concerns about the trend that this Government appears to be setting towards transferring decision-making powers from Parliament to individual Ministers via the Order in Council process. Examples of this development have been seen in the House recently when we have considered legislation that contained special intervention powers for the upcoming Rugby World Cup, and issues relating to the performance of Environment Canterbury.
In each case, as with the bill we are discussing today, there have been specific and very important reasons for the application of special powers that override normal parliamentary processes. However, ACT has serious concerns about the impact this trend will have on New Zealand’s constitutional principles. Our constitutional system depends on a clear separation of powers between the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. Parliamentary scrutiny is an essential and vital element of our system of government and constitutional framework, both of which are threatened by this developing trend, which will only be reinforced every time the Government enacts legislation that overrides normal parliamentary or local government process.
The enacting of such legislation must not become the norm. The New Zealand regulatory system should have sufficient flexibility and universality to handle exceptional events like the Canterbury earthquake and the Rugby World Cup. ACT does not support the risk that such legislation poses to our constitutional safeguards in relation to the role of Parliament and local government in making decisions that affect our nation’s communities. We support, however, the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill, which will ensure that the earthquake recovery effort is not compromised.
The bill will go a long way to help the communities of Canterbury recover and will provide much-needed assistance in their time of need. It will provide welcome relief for Cantabrians and enhance the considerable and effective support that has already been provided by Government and local government agencies since 4 September—a week ago last Saturday. The needs of the people and communities affected by the earthquake are paramount and the Government is ensuring that those needs are met. I commend this bill to the House.
Hon TARIANA TURIA (Co-Leader—Māori Party) : Tēnā koe, Mr Assistant Speaker. Tēnā tātou katoa. There has been one word on my mind in the aftermath of the events of 4 September, and that word is “manaakitanga”. The very core of the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill is about showing manaakitanga by helping the people of Christchurch, including its 30,500 Māori, to recover from the earthquake, to rebuild their homes, to renew their spirits, and—most of all—to restore the quality of their lives and that of their w’ānau around them. Manaakitanga, as defined by Professor Hirini Moko Mead, focuses on positive human behaviour and on encouraging people to rise above their personal attitudes and feelings towards others. The aim is to nurture relationships and to respect the mana of other people, no matter what their standing is in society. Being hospitable and looking after visitors is given very high priority. And so it is that in this bill—and this has been very evident in the days interrupted by hundreds of aftershocks and further disarray—priority is given to looking after the people of Canterbury today and into the future.
The bill enables an effective response to the Canterbury earthquake to be put in place, with the associated statutory powers provided that are necessary to assist with the response. A key priority in the bill is to facilitate the gathering of information about any structure or infrastructure affected by the earthquake. An important note in the fine print is that the information sought through the processes introduced in the bill is defined as that which is “relevant to understanding how to minimise the damage caused by earthquakes.” This is where we come back to the concept of manaakitanga. How much more relevant to the issue of damage can it be than to focus on the well-being of the people?
I will reiterate here what the ACT spokesperson said about the amazing efforts that have been made by Work and Income to make contact with people who are over 65 years of age in order to provide a basic level of contact that can be very appreciated in times of need. The numbers are absolutely remarkable. As at earlier today, Work and Income staff had contacted 16,233 superannuitants by phone, and had visited another 706 elderly people in their homes in the days following the quake. In addition, I commend Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, which has telephoned over 700 kaumātua to check on their well-being. Telephone teams organised by te rūnanga have also been calling w’ānau in other age groups, with the aim of calling all w’ānau in the badly affected areas for whom they have contact details.
I also draw attention to the commitment of the local MP Rahui Katene, who alongside all the other MPs in Christchurch has been doing sterling work. She has spent every moment visiting Māori communities and w’ānau in the worst affected areas of Ōtautahi following the 7.1 magnitude earthquake.
When we talk about infrastructure and the damage that has been incurred, we say it is the human infrastructure that must prevail. I am very pleased that in the Government’s initial response to the earthquake a fund of $2.5 million has been established for trauma counselling, to be drawn from the Community Response Fund. I have to say how saddened I was that in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake on Saturday, 4 September, the police reported that incidents of domestic violence had increased by 53 percent. Such a statistic mirrored the research findings issued by Victoria University earlier this year, which revealed that after a disaster there is up to triple the usual number of reports of domestic violence. The ugly face of violence, the escalating rates of anxiety, and the levels of mental illness, stress, and depression are all casualties of the damage caused by any disaster, including the recent Canterbury earthquake. I welcome the purpose of this bill of gathering information about the extent of the damage, not just to the bricks and mortar but also to the human experience.
The response and recovery provisions outlined in Part 2 deal with some 22 Acts that may be affected by the granting of an exemption from the provisions contained within them. I will focus specifically on two areas that are of special interest to the Māori Party, and they relate to the ongoing provision of public health. The Health Act 1956 and the Health and Disability Services (Safety) Act 2001 are the key means by which legislation ensures that there is adequate drinking-water, sewerage, waste disposal, sanitation, and so on. Although there are no concerns about ensuring that decisions are made quickly in order to ensure that the Canterbury region gets back to normal, there are some concerns that affected parties have no recourse after the responsible Minister makes a decision. We need to ensure that those affected parties or groups, which are already disadvantaged, are not further disadvantaged by any decisions that are made. I am thinking in particular of the tangata whenua, people with disabilities, people on low incomes, refugee and migrant communities, Pasifika peoples, those in poor housing, and other groups that may be more vulnerable in this time of instability. There must be some assurances that all decisions will be consulted on with affected parties and groups before final decisions are made.
In addition, the basic human rights of people and the international conventions such as our United Nations commitments must also be taken into account.
We absolutely support this bill, as it gives those who are involved in the rebuilding effort another tool to aid in the recovery of the people of Christchurch. I want to be clear that clause 6(3) in Part 2 causes us some concern, in that the statement that “The recommendation of the relevant Minister may not be challenged, reviewed, quashed, or called into question in any court.” might suggest that liability and, logically, accountability and culpability are all being removed. We table this concern now in order to enable the Minister to provide an assurance as to how issues of liability can be addressed.
If I could make one final suggestion, it would be to recommend—indeed, to strongly advise the Minister—that mana whenua must have representation on the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Commission. There are 30,500 Māori living in Selwyn District, Waimakariri District, and Christchurch City. We want to ensure that Māori have a guaranteed voice on the recovery commission, and that the unique needs of marae, w’ānau, hapū, and iwi are actively respected within it. We strongly urge the Government to reserve a place for Ngāi Tahu amongst the four appointed persons on the seven-person commission.
I return once more to the expression of manaakitanga. While we debate the bill in this House today I want to extend our heartfelt gratitude for the offers of assistance that have been made by many other iwi and, indeed, by the papatipu rūnanga to support Kai Tahu and other iwi living in the rohe of Ōtautahi, and to all the other people who have made significant contributions. Volunteers from right throughout Aotearoa have devoted themselves to the task of supporting the people of Canterbury. All of us in this House have been touched by the generosity of spirit that has been demonstrated by social service providers, non-governmental organisations, Government agencies, and members of the greater public alike. They have spared a thought for their kith and kin in Canterbury, and have reached deep to show their support. This is also an opportune time to make acknowledgments to all of the hard-working local MPs from all sides of the House who have been working to support the people of Canterbury. He mihi atu nei ki a koutou. This bill will be all the better for all of their efforts. Nā reira, tēnā koutou katoa.
NICKY WAGNER (National) : I rise to support the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill. I particularly thank Minister Gerry Brownlee and Minister Nick Smith for preparing this bill so quickly and so effectively since the Canterbury earthquake on 4 September.
It is indeed a miracle that all Cantabrians have survived one of the worst earthquakes in our country’s history. Canterbury people have responded magnificently to the emergency. As I have knocked on doors in some of the worst areas in Christchurch Central I have found that I seem to have the same conversation. One asks people first how they are, and they say they are OK or all right, and within a few seconds they are saying things like they are so lucky. They all have a reason why they are so lucky. It might be something as simple as the cat having turned up, or that their bedroom has only one crack in it. The most amazing, courageous elderly people that I came across had a house that was absolutely destroyed. The garden was torn up, there were cracks in the driveway, and every room was almost impassable. They said they were so lucky because they have a campervan in the drive and they can drive away any time they like.
That is the sort of spirit that has been coming from the Canterbury people. It warms one’s heart to hear of it. Every Cantabrian, every family, and every organisation has been affected. We are all licking our wounds but also we are all counting our blessings. We are all absolutely resolved to restore and rebuild our great region with vigour and with speed.
Christchurch and Canterbury are full of can-do Cantabrians, and the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill will enable us to move swiftly to begin the long, hard work of restoration and rebuilding so we can all get back to that everyday comfort of business as usual. The bill will allow the region to move seamlessly from the present state of emergency to recovery mode, and it will provide a mechanism to coordinate reconstruction.
Thousands of New Zealanders from all over the country have rallied to support Canterbury, and have worked side by side with us. Thousands of people have worked tirelessly over the last 10 days, and we have made great progress; I thank each and every one of them. We have already heard mention of young people who have been out there giving their time and energy to the clean-up effort. A large group of about 1,000 students have taken turns digging out some of the worst areas. There has also been a group of students from Mairehau High School. Those students have been out there in their neighbourhood, doing their bit.
The interesting thing about this is that it has raised the spirits of the whole community. I have talked to elderly people and they have asked me whether I have heard about the students. They feel so much better now that they know that the students are out there. The interesting thing about those students is that they have caught the imagination of the world. The story of those mostly university students has actually gone out globally, and it has even been in newspapers in places as far-flung as Pakistan.
We have seen a real rallying of spirit in Christchurch. We now have a really good feeling for the future of our city, and we want to move forward. I have always been a one-eyed Cantabrian, but after the last 10 days I am very happy to identify as a one-eyed New Zealander as well. Thank you.
Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) : I acknowledge the previous speakers who have contributed to the debate on the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill, and say that this is one of those rare occasions when many parties are praising each other. That is an indication of how severe the earthquake was, and of how much it has affected all of us. Very soon I am going to praise two Cabinet Ministers, which I am not wont to do very regularly. But I am doing it because they deserve the praise.
I begin by acknowledging Gerry Brownlee, who has been appointed by the Government to be in charge of the earthquake response. He has worked hard and constructively with all parties in this House, and I commend him for that. I was very distressed to learn that his home had been damaged in the earthquake. I know that he deliberately chose not to raise that matter in public, but it has been in the media and I just give him an extra commendation. When one feels like getting on with sorting out one’s own life and gets a big new job, it makes it much harder. But he has done it magnificently. I also commend John Carter for what I think is a genuine effort to understand the issues from our perspective in Canterbury. He has helped to work alongside us to resolve those issues. I urge both of those Ministers to continue with that attitude as we progress this legislation in the House.
A number of us have concerns about the process and some of the specifics in the legislation. We would like to have those concerns at least considered, and preferably addressed. We certainly have questions to be answered. We have a few hours to do it. I do not generally like legislation being put through all stages without the opportunity for a select committee consideration, so I ask the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, who is leading this debate—assisted by John Carter—to take seriously during the Committee stage the issues that have been raised. That will continue the spirit in which they are raised in this House.
I will move on, just briefly, and digress from the specifics of the legislation to talk about some of the damage in my electorate. My electorate is called Port Hills. It got away lightly compared with much of the rest of our region, but people would not think so when they drive around it. There have been two earthquakes in Canterbury. I put on record that we had a second one on Wednesday, 8 September. It was not an aftershock; it caused a lot of people to say: “Bother!”, and some shorter words as well. It was very sharp, and it was centred quite close to Lyttelton in my electorate.
Lyttelton and Heathcote Valley, particularly, bore the brunt of that second earthquake. The port itself in Lyttelton was much damaged in both the Saturday quake and the Wednesday quake, but fortunately it was able to continue operating, which is a great relief. But many homes in Lyttelton have been substantially damaged, as have been many commercial buildings. Two historic buildings in Lyttelton, the Harbour Light and the Empire Hotel, are both still under threat of demolition. I understand that the Harbour Light will be saved, which will be a great relief to the many people who have enjoyed evenings there, and I hope that the same will be true of the Empire Hotel.
The whole of our province has seen significant damage to many churches, and it was amazing to see the response to the cross-faith service that was held on Sunday outside the Christchurch Cathedral. In Lyttelton the Holy Trinity Church was extensively damaged, and I certainly hope that it is able to be restored. In Sumner there are no chimneys left, to speak of. Fortunately, not many of them were in use prior to the quakes. Also we have had significant damage to the Sumner Borough Council building, which again is a historic building. In Heathcote Valley there has been a lot of damage to houses—primarily as a result of the second quake, as I said—and we have also lost the Valley Inn, which was the centre for social evenings and drinking in the valley. It was the home of many good conversations, and the host of our Anzac Day dawn parade services. It was over 130 years old; that building is no longer there. In Woolston historic buildings such as the Ferry Road Law Centre and the community library are under threat of demolition, and many of the businesses will have to move. In Sydenham, many historic buildings that are used as commercial premises and residential facilities are still cordoned off, and are quite literally teetering.
Many other parts of my electorate, our city, and our region have suffered significant damage, and every single person who was there on Saturday, on Wednesday, and in between has suffered huge stress. For some, that stress has been nearly overwhelming.
A community can be judged by its reaction to bad times. The earthquakes on Saturday and Wednesday, and the hundreds of aftershocks since, were big and scary, but from every corner of our communities people got out of their homes and businesses and asked what they could to help someone else. The response has been extraordinary. The response from around the country has been extraordinary. I expect you, Mr Assistant Speaker Roy, and others, who in the past have not been able to do so, to really go the final step and back the Crusaders next time they play—such has been the strength of support from around the country. I seriously—
Brendon Burns: Give us the shield.
Hon RUTH DYSON: We will have the shield back; that would be a very generous donation to our region. It would certainly lift our spirits.
People have helped by checking on their own families, their neighbours, and their work colleagues—just checking that people are OK. They have cooked and baked; they have shovelled and sweated. Students have changed their image for ever by volunteering in their hundreds to help with the clean-up. They cancelled the Undie 500—that was a big joy to many people in the South Island—to help.
They have been brilliantly led by our civil defence, our fire brigade—professional firefighters and volunteers—our police, our ambulance officers, our health professionals, and our workers in Orion and City Care. There are so many highly competent, hard-working people—all the staff in our Government departments and agencies. All of these people were helping others in both their professional and private capacities—because many of them have worked well outside of their paid hours—when I know for a fact that many of them needed help themselves. Those people deserve a huge thanks from this House and from our nation.
I move back to the specifics of the bill itself. It is a reaction to extreme events, and to the consequences of those quakes. The bill itself is an extreme measure. It basically suspends 22 Acts and replaces them with an Order in Council without any parliamentary scrutiny or agreement for the actions that would normally come within a legislative framework. That is a big step for the House to take. The establishment of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Commission provides an opportunity for a collaborative approach and clear leadership, but there is no accountability to the public for its decisions, and no specific skill set for the commissioners is outlined in the bill. There does not appear to be any provision for a robust registration process for the activities undertaken through this new process.
We cannot afford to have another 1990s leaky building scenario, with local government and central government pointing the finger of blame at each other, while the homeowner is surrounded by wet, rotten boards and ends up carrying the burden. Minister Turia herself noted this very point and I agree with her. In this legislation, the Government is exempted from all responsibility. That is a very big step for Parliament to take.
The final point I make is to ask where this bill will take us. I ask members to look at Napier and the clear vision the city had for life after its earthquake. We in Canterbury have not yet had such an opportunity. It is not surprising after only 10 days. We have spent all our time looking after each other; getting sewerage, water, and power connected; and providing food for people—literally, the essentials of life. We need an opportunity to have a say in the shape of our future. The legislation must not be used in a way that will block our voice being heard in determining the shape of our future.
I end by inviting all my parliamentary colleagues from outside our region, and their friends and families, to come to Canterbury. I do not want people to come to rubberneck. I do not want them to ghoulishly look at the misfortune of others. I want people to come and spend their good money in our town, and to do as much as they can to help with the rebuilding of Canterbury. Thank you.
Hon DAVID CARTER (Minister of Agriculture) : I will start by acknowledging the special atmosphere in the House today. As all who have contributed to the debate acknowledge, and as Clayton Cosgrove said, we need to deal with this emergency without politics getting in the way. I have to say that I knew we were in for a special time when I came up to the Cabinet meeting on the Monday immediately following the quake to learn that the Labour Opposition in particular were prepared to cooperate by allowing all Canterbury members to remain in Canterbury and still have their votes count in the parliamentary process. I thank very much all the MPs who contributed to that idea. It was great for MPs to be able to be away last week in their home region. MPs from all political parties had that opportunity and Parliament was able to function.
In my opinion, Saturday, 4 September delivered the greatest disaster New Zealand has ever seen. I acknowledge that if it were measured in terms of loss of life, we were lucky. There was no loss of life and that in itself is an absolute miracle. When we consider the scale of the event and the fact that it hit Christchurch, the second largest city in New Zealand, and its surrounding regions, in dollar terms there is no doubt the disaster is of immense proportions and is something that we have never seen before.
I was not at home in Teddington on the night of the earthquake; I was in Auckland. It was a pretty scary experience to receive a phone call from home at 5.30. The terror and fear in my wife’s voice is something that I will never forget. The issue for me was to get down to Christchurch as quickly as possible. I walked into the emergency centre that had been established in the art gallery—I guess we got there about 3 or 4 o’clock with the Prime Minister—and immediately realised how the city had responded. It was quite incredible. One might see civil defence exercises and question the worthiness of them, but to see an established civil defence emergency team working in such a coordinated fashion was a pleasure to behold. I congratulate everybody who was involved in that. I am talking about the major centre in Christchurch, but other centres were established in Kilmore Street by Environment Canterbury, and centres were also established in the Selwyn District and the Kaiapoi District.
I spent my time on Sunday in the Selwyn District, and, again, I say that I will never forget the resilience of the farmers who have been affected by this disaster. They cooperated to ensure that, first of all, they, their families, and their animals were OK, and then they immediately looked to their neighbours, whom they automatically assumed would be worse off than them. It showed the spirit of Canterbury and the spirit of farmers throughout New Zealand. We saw some tremendous examples. A dairy shed designed for 400 cows milked 3,000 cows in a 24-hour period. I ask members to bear in mind that even without the earthquake, for those involved in dairy farming this is the most stressful time in their annual calendar as they are in the midst of calving season. So I think the emergency stage worked particularly well, and I congratulate everyone who was involved in that.
We are now moving to the recovery stage, and that is exactly what the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill is about. It is extraordinarily powerful legislation, and for it to be used correctly involves an act of faith from all of us who will vote for it. If we develop the spirit of political cooperation, which I feel in the House today, I have no doubt that as we move through the next stage of the recovery and deal with issues that we have not even thought of yet, we will find a way for the bill, being flexible as it is, to work to help the recovery.
How long will it take for Canterbury to recover? I do not think any of us know that. I thank and congratulate those who have been involved in the immediate recovery. Seeing Christchurch on Saturday, 4 September, and going back there a little over a week later, one has to acknowledge the huge amount of work that has already been done to clean up our city. I do not suggest that every part of this recovery will be easy. It will not be. But to return to my original point, and as Clayton Cosgrove said, we have to keep politics out the recovery. If we do that, I have no doubt that the recovery process will be a lot quicker, and, equally, that we will build a stronger, more beautiful, and more vibrant part of New Zealand out of this disaster. I wish all Cantabrians well as we embark on that endeavour.
BRENDON BURNS (Labour—Christchurch Central) : Ten days ago, before dawn, life changed for me, my family, my city, my electorate, my province, and, I think, probably our country. Our story is not unfamiliar and is not unusual. We were thrown around in our beds, we managed to get downstairs with our daughter to crouch under our dining table, and waited for the aftershocks to subside. As light came through, the scale of the damage became apparent. There was a slash a metre deep, and half a metre wide, across our backyard, a chimney through our bathroom only metres away from where we had been sleeping, and damage across the house. That is not unusual across Christchurch or Canterbury. Many people have been through it and many people are in much worse situations than we are. My first thought after we got out was for my poor sister in Wellington. I thought that if the earthquake was as big as this in Christchurch, how big could it have been in Wellington? I called her, and was reassured to know, in fact, that although they had felt it, Wellington had not been damaged.
The damage across my electorate of Christchurch Central has been well featured in the media, and much of that has been on the central business district, which, of course, has been hard hit. I will talk a little more about some other parts of the electorate. We have lost several community shopping centres in St Albans, and a community centre has lost a wall and may be facing demolition. The Coptic Christian church on Edgeware Road has lost its entire façade, both for the church and the community hall behind it. In Avonside, which is probably the part of my electorate that has been hit hardest, it is like a war zone. Many houses have been abandoned. When I wandered through on Monday talking to people, a chap showed me his pristine house. It was as neat as a pin, but basically its back had been broken by the quake. There was a huge, jagged slash through his backyard, and his heart was broken. He had lived in that house since 1963, when he was a boy.
The good news was that out in the street a dozen or more students and other young people from Rolleston were moving the sand with spades and wheelbarrows, and by the time I came back to Avonside a day or two later with more volunteers, who had rung me begging for work, all of the sand in Avonside had been moved out on to the street and carted away by the council. That is an indication of how rapidly some of the recovery efforts swung into action.
It has been harrowing sometimes to hear the stories in Avonside and in other parts. Men of a certain age do not often burst into tears, but that has happened more than once as I have taken my caravan out to try to provide a base to give advice to constituents who have been affected by the quake. Stories come through about houses broken in half and about people with no water and no power, but I have to acknowledge the response of the emergency services. The restoration of water and power was truly remarkable. By the end of the first week just about everybody had their power and water back on, and, given the scale of the emergency, that is a truly, truly remarkable achievement.
There was a poll quite recently that acknowledged that New Zealanders were amongst the most generous people on the planet. I think that the last 10 days in Christchurch and Canterbury have been absolutely underscoring of that. We just have to look at the students and at the turn-outs at the welfare centres as an example. The welfare centres are staffed by volunteers—generally local, yes, but I bumped into a Red Cross crew at the Linwood welfare centre that was from Whangarei. Others had come from Timaru, from Nelson, and from Blenheim. There were St John members from all over the city and beyond. Government departments had staff there providing advice on accommodation, on welfare, on trauma, and on stress. They have all done an amazing job, and we need to acknowledge just what a generous people we are. It has been truly impressive to see how quickly help swung into action, the depth of it, and the support that people have provided to other New Zealanders.
I wanted to talk for a moment about liquefaction, which is a new word that everybody now has discovered, and probably 10 days ago most of us would not have known exactly what it meant—
Hon Ruth Dyson: Aaron would have.
BRENDON BURNS: Yes. I acknowledge a very good summary on liquefaction by Environment Canterbury from a couple of years ago. One of the things the report from Environment Canterbury said was that liquefaction has the potential to strike just about anywhere across Christchurch. It is very dependent on the level of groundwater. We have had a very wet winter, so we paid a heavier price than we might have because of the fact that it has been a very wet winter. Also we need to be careful when we start talking about suburbs and potentially not rebuilding them, given the fact that much of the city is subject to potential liquefaction, other than the good rock of Port Hills, and, of course, so is much of New Zealand, if we think about it. Many of our cities are built on the coast and on the river fringes, which seem to be the most at risk from liquefaction. So I think that rather begins to dissipate any notion that we will not be rebuilding in most areas of Christchurch, because liquefaction is nothing particularly new. It has been there, and there are building techniques that can deal with the worst parts of it, so there is certainly no case for abandoning suburbs.
I think there is a message in all of this for every New Zealander. We are all at some risk from earthquakes. We all need to prepare. Every family needs to have a plan, a civil defence kit, some stored fresh water, and food. I say that as somebody who grew up in Wellington and then moved to Marlborough, which are rather more quake-prone areas, one thought, than Christchurch. I think we know now that a quake can strike anywhere at any time. I think we have also shown over the last 10 days that given the nature of our buildings, our building codes, and the regulation we have in place, we can come through these things with absolutely minimal, if any, loss of life, as we have shown, because we are so much better prepared than many nations are for these things.
In the central business district part of my electorate it is the heritage buildings that very much make our city. Extraordinarily, not a lot has been done—and I am talking pre-quake—to protect them. Much of what has been badly damaged by last weekend’s quake, and the aftershocks since, have been those unreinforced, double-storied—sometimes higher—brick buildings from the turn of the 19th and 20th century. Yet some of the more iconic buildings have come through extraordinarily well, such as Christchurch Cathedral, which seems to have come through without much damage. I thought until last night that our iconic Arts Centre had come through pretty lightly. But at a meeting last night, Dr Ian Lochhead, one of our eminent architectural lecturers, said that he thought, with a “suck of the thumb” figure, that the damage might be $10 million on that one site alone. I think that rather illustrates some of the challenges we will face in the central business district of Christchurch Central. The Arts Centre chair, Ken Franklin, at another meeting last night identified 25 buildings—just 25, and many of those heritage buildings across the central business district were assessed quite recently—and the estimate was that there would be the thick end of $1 million each to earthquake-strengthen those buildings. That is, of course, not counting any repairs.
So we will have to take stock of some our damaged infrastructure. We will have to decide what can be saved, what needs to be saved, and what must be saved, and make some decisions on that. Obviously this legislation is assisting and facilitating with that. My big question is: if we replace buildings, which we will do in many instances, what will we do to ensure that those buildings that will replace those wonderful heritage buildings that cannot be saved will be built with some grace and with some sympathy to what has been lost? I think that is an important challenge ahead of us as a Parliament and as a region and city.
This Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill is about the rebuilding in infrastructure terms, but there are many other issues we face. We have issues about jobs. There has been a commendable bipartisan effort by unions and employers in Canterbury that has been wonderful to see, and I think we need to acknowledge how well they have been working together. It is an example to us in this House that they have worked so darn well.
I finish by saying that my mother went through the Blitz in Liverpool, and I now feel like I have some understanding of what she went through. Of course, that city was rebuilt, sometimes not in the best fashion, I would have to acknowledge, and certainly the scale of damage was much bigger than what Christchurch faces. But we now have the chance to rebuild our city. Let us get the support of New Zealanders. We will come through this. The best thing, as my colleague Ruth Dyson said, is that New Zealanders can now plan a holiday in Christchurch. The city is almost all operational, apart from the occasional building sites. We would like people to come and visit and pay respects to our city, enjoy themselves, and know that Christchurch, the “city that shines”, will continue to shine throughout.
AARON GILMORE (National) : About 350 hours ago Christchurch was a calm, beautiful place. It is the place of my birth and the province of Canterbury has been home to my family for at least seven generations. That changed about 350 hours ago. I will read a little bit about how the world sees Christchurch in the latest Rugby World Cup advertising. “Christchurch the Garden City is surrounded by natural wonders, a sparkling Pacific Ocean, majestic Southern Alps, and an ancient volcanic peninsula. The South Island’s largest city has an Alps to Ocean horizon, a heritage heart and a sense of adventure. Visitors discover 19th century stone buildings, a network of hillside walking tracks, contemporary galleries, and open-air markets.” That is how the world sees Christchurch, and that is how I saw Christchurch up until 10 days ago.
Since that time, over 350 aftershocks have hit our city and our region. For me, that was a pretty remarkable time. My five-year-old daughter went from being a wonderful happy-go-lucky little girl to spending 24 hours in sheer terror that the world was going to open up and swallow her. It was only yesterday that she resorted to drawing pictures of houses falling down and the men digging up holes, and she has got back to normality.
I live in the north-east of Christchurch, where there has been significant damage. About 1,000 homes have been seriously damaged or destroyed. Houses in Brooklands, Dallington, Burwood, and Bexley, including my brother’s house in Bexley, have been heavily damaged, if not destroyed.
The people’s response has been remarkable. On Saturday I went through the whole process of denial of what happened to my home city and what will happen. But the people of Canterbury, like they always do on the rugby field or anywhere else, stuck together. The civil defence and the fire service came out. Students came out of the woodwork and stuck together, for no reason other than wanting to help. We saw in Mayor Bob Parker an unbelievable reserve of courage and constitution to get the city back to normal. The Prime Minister came down on the Saturday hours after the quake hit, and showed New Zealand that he cares and that the Government intends to rebuild my home city.
I want to mention quickly people who helped, such as the students. Sam Johnson organised over 1,000 university students to help dig out the city. Sam, Gina, Jade, Tommy, and over 1,000 others took their time and effort over hundreds of hours to clean up people’s back gardens and the streets of my city.
The Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill has far-reaching potential consequences. It has the potential to make Christchurch not just as good as it was, but great. Earlier speakers on the other side of the House pointed out that Napier rebuilt itself after the 1930s earthquake to become the art deco capital of New Zealand and, potentially, the world. I think Christchurch has the potential to do that, as well.
This earthquake has impacted my city in terms of not only buildings, roads, and bridges, which we will rebuild, but also scars on people’s minds that will take much longer to heal. I organised a meeting that drew 600 people in Brooklands on Saturday and I saw grown men cry about what will happen to their homes. It will take a long time to heal. This bill will not heal the hurt, but it will go a long way to helping rebuild our city faster and better than it was before.
There have been some concerns about the powers that the bill legislates for. There are avenues in this bill to take into account via the Regulations Review Committee in terms of the Orders in Council. Being a member of that committee, I will take a strong active interest in making sure that is right. Minister Turia pointed out some issues about making sure mana whenua are taken into account, and I think that it is good to make sure there are wide-ranging views and opinions as we rebuild our city. There are 2,500 homes that need to be rebuilt, and that will take the efforts of everybody together. This bill will allow our city to be rebuilt bigger, better, and stronger. I am proud to be part of a Government that is putting it in place. Thank you.
- Bill read a first time.
Hon JOHN CARTER (Minister of Civil Defence) : I move, That the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill be now read a second time. It is a proud moment to stand and speak in this debate, and to recognise the effort that is being put in by so many people for so many people. As the Minister of Civil Defence, I have to say that the civil defence team and all those agencies that worked with it, both in Christchurch and here in Wellington, were an absolute stand-out. I must also say that the people of Canterbury themselves, who were so directly affected, have been stoic. The response from people around New Zealand and the way in which they have offered their support and their condolences to the people of Canterbury makes one proud to be a New Zealander.
That is something we can share in this Parliament. I thank those members who have paid compliments to all of us who have been involved, right across both sides of the House. This Parliament shows, and has shown, that when necessary it can work together as a team of leaders of this country to ensure that the needs of the people are responded to.
Importantly, it shows other countries that we have a society and a structure in place that is world class; indeed, it leads the world. The Hon Nick Smith said he heard a comment from a person involved in earthquakes around the world that our nation and our response is to be complimented; it has been way above anything else that that gentleman had been involved with. I am certain that in time to come this country’s response will be studied by many others.
Of course, there was always going to be a phase when the civil defence emergency finished and we moved into the urgency of the rebuild. That is the stage we are now at. This bill allows the people of Canterbury to get on and rebuild their lives. We all know that rebuilding will be hugely challenging for them. We are all well aware how many of them are still distressed and that the aftershocks are causing worry. Many people are still not sleeping well. As Aaron Gilmore said, his young child has been affected by this event, and will be affected by it, along with so many others in Canterbury, for days if not months and years to come. It has had a serious impact on the lives of people to the extent that a good number of them are so tired they are not necessarily thinking straight. We need to be there to support them, and this bill will do that.
Again, I say that this Parliament can be proud of the people of this nation, and this nation can be proud of its people. Certainly, we are pleased and proud to be Kiwis. I commend this bill to the House.
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) : I will take only a brief call. By affirmation, at least, I would argue that most of the MPs in the House support the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill.
It is an issue of priorities. I make the comment, and I think Phil Goff referred to this, that part of the reason we have to date had no loss of life, acknowledging that possibly two individuals are still in critical condition in Christchurch hospital, is the building standards we have maintained over time. I was formerly Minister for Building and Construction, and I note in passing that there was quite a bit of criticism some years ago. I think “nanny State” was one of the terms levelled at the level of scrutiny and standard required and—in some respects, quite rightly—the time it took to get a building up and get it completed. It is interesting to note that those criticisms have dissipated, and quite rightly so, because our building code has proved its worth and our building standards have proved their worth. I note Minister Brownlee’s—or was it Minister Carter’s—comments acknowledging the fact that there is concern that we do not want the cowboys back, throwing up boxes willy-nilly, and creating further difficulty for us down the track. Although the legislation contemplates a fast-track procedure for a number of processes, there is acknowledgment from the Government and also the Opposition that we want it done properly.
I also say that one of the biggest fears that is starting to come out from the communities is the question of whether people will be able to build on existing land. I think the local councils need to provide at least an intention and some direction. Obviously, they cannot be definitive. I believe 100 geotechnical engineers are out on site, testing land to see whether it is still suitable for construction. We have to wait for their verdict, but I personally believe that a signal needs to be sent that it will be the intention and objective to allow people to build on their existing land, pending—
Nicky Wagner: Of course that’s what we want to do.
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I thank the member, but I do not think I was addressing her; I was talking about the local authorities. People are looking for some direction, and my personal view is it should be the objective and intention—as I was saying, I say to Ms Wagner—to allow people to build where they are now, pending geotechnical and engineering advice. In some areas, we do not know what is down there; there may well be a void. I think it was Mr Carter who said to us in a briefing that the only area where we could avoid liquefaction was probably up his way. We have lived with liquefaction. It is not a new concept; it is an old concept that we have lived with for many, many years. But people need to have some confidence restored.
Let us look at the example of Pegasus Bay, in my patch, which is a brand new town being built basically on sand. With the new technology and the higher standards that the Environment Court’s decision, from memory, required those developers to build to, there was almost no earthquake damage. I was there the other day. I think that a wine glass was lost in the cafe, some Gib was cracked, and a few bottles of wine came out in the general store, but generally, at least on the surface, everything appears to be intact. I say to the people of Canterbury that technology has existed in recent years that allows places like the Palm Islands in the United Arab Emirates to be built. I have stood there; basically sand has been poured into the sea to create land, and people can live there habitably. People need to have a relative degree of confidence that they can return to the plot of land they have, pending, of course, issues related to geotechnical matters and engineering.
I think the local authorities need to get that signal out there. It does not bind them into a position; I know that they will not want to be bound into a position until they have the relevant technical advice. But I think people in Canterbury are looking for that direction. There is a lot of uncertainty, especially in coastal areas around my way.
We support this bill, and I reiterate Minister John Carter’s comments about civil defence. It is impossible to train for every contingency, especially when we are dealing with a massive volunteer force. Many of the civil defence folks have just walked in without any training at all in many cases. They have manned the food banks and water stations, and others have put on the yellow jacket and have got into it. Many have had the benefit of training for coordinating activities. Yes, there have been some strains, and still are, in respect of people getting access through telephone lines to necessary resources. I say to the Minister of Civil Defence that we need to continue to work on giving people swifter access through the telephone lines to the relevant inspectors, people, and resources they need, because when the state of emergency is lifted—hopefully, tomorrow at noon—a degree of uncertainty will be created again.
Certainty was created over the last week in my patch and in others that the welfare post was where one went to get assistance, whether it was with accommodation, trauma counselling, food, or water. Those welfare posts will, I assume, be dissolved and the business as usual agencies will go and pick up that strain. We need to make provision in the coming days for things like ongoing and easy access to trauma counselling. That access has been very good and people have been able to get it with ease. It would be difficult and a shame if people then had to revert to some sort of bureaucratic model, maybe through their general practitioner or otherwise, to get trauma counselling, which in many cases they need. They may not realise that they need it now, but they will need it in coming days.
I simply reiterate the issues that we have raised previously and say that I accept that these are wide-ranging powers. I note that the Green member who spoke neglected to say that these are very, very strange times. This is a time when we need swift action, but also we need to state for the record that there need to be safeguards. It would be inappropriate if these powers went beyond emergency recovery. We have assurances from Ministers, and I take those Ministers at their word, that those powers will not be extended. I assume that we will gain those same assurances from the commissioners yet to be appointed and from other public figures, like the mayors. But we will raise some issues through the Committee stage and ask for feedback from Ministers in order to provide assurances on the record that these powers, which are very wide ranging and can be used very effectively, will not be abused—which is probably the incorrect word to use—or used for surreptitious means at any level of government, whether it be central or local authorities.
I welcome the passage of this bill and I support it.
AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) : I will take a call in the second reading of the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill, firstly, to pay tribute to everyone in Canterbury who has been working so hard since 4 September. I also pay tribute to my colleagues in the House. Certainly, not just the Canterbury-based MPs but everyone has shown a great willingness to do what needs to be done to support the people of Canterbury. That is very much acknowledged, and we in Canterbury are very grateful for it.
I want to make the point that I am talking about the Canterbury earthquake, because, as Clayton Cosgrove, my parliamentary colleague who has just sat down, would agree, this is not simply a Christchurch issue. The districts of Waimakariri and Selwyn have been greatly affected, as well.
When I spoke to the House in the general debate last week, I talked about the fact that the time it will take Canterbury to move through the recovery phase is a big part of what is causing stress and anguish for the people of Canterbury. It is heartening to see this House acknowledge the need to do all that we can, prudently, to facilitate that process and to ensure that it is no more long-winded than it needs to be. That is very much the way that I see this bill.
I acknowledge the comments made about the extraordinary nature of the bill. From a constitutional point of view, it is well out of the ordinary, and I accept that it involves somewhat of a leap of faith. But, equally, I think that we in this House are recognising that this is what is required. The actions of this House, of the Government, of local government, and of regional government since 4 September have shown to all of us that the people leading this recovery have the skills, the passion, and the absolute desire to make sure that this is done well and that the powers are used simply to encourage Canterbury to get back on its feet. I want to be absolutely confident that there is no ulterior motive or tomfoolery. I am very confident that these powers will be used appropriately and expeditiously to get Canterbury back on its feet.
It simply would not be right to be pontificating about red-letter law while more and more damage is caused. To give a real example of that, I was speaking with a constituent of mine just yesterday who has a commercial building that has been significantly damaged. The constituent is not working through the Earthquake Commission, but their own insurers have been out. The constituent has structural engineer’s drawings and knows what needs to be done. Everybody is ready to go, and the only thing holding them up is the lack of a building consent. In a business-as-usual world, processing that building consent would take some time, and during that time there is a very real chance that that building could be further damaged, even to the point of needing to be demolished. So if we allow ourselves to be slowed down while we follow a process for the sake of process, we will see not only a continuation of the anguish and heartbreak but also further damage occurring that could simply be avoided.
I acknowledge that this is a significant set of powers, but equally I draw attention to clause 3, “Purpose”, which provides a very clear statement of the scope and the ambit within which these powers are to be used. As a member of the Regulations Review Committee, I can well imagine that in the subsequent considerations of the Orders in Council that are made under this bill, the purpose clause will provide a very clear set of guidelines as to the appropriate ways in which those powers can be exercised. But, as I say, the response from all levels of government has indicated to me that everybody is on the same page. Everybody will use those powers appropriately so that we can ensure that the rebuilding effort is not hampered and not done callously and carelessly, and so that we can get on as fast as we can to move through the disaster phase and into the recovery and rebuilding phase. Everybody in Canterbury is anxiously awaiting that, so I am very pleased to commend the bill to the House.
I will begin by acknowledging the two Ministers who have led this process, Gerry Brownlee and John Carter. When I spoke in the earlier part of this debate, I raised some concerns and questions alongside my genuine commendation of both those Ministers. I think both Gerry Brownlee and John Carter not only worked hard and diligently to get agreement for the progress of this legislation but also have been very genuine in the way they have worked with other people. Some people can be bipartisan when it suits them, but in this specific instance the attempt to gain not bipartisan but multipartisan support was absolutely genuine from both of those Ministers. I want that to continue through the remaining stages of the bill. That is why I urge the Minister whose name is on the bill to take the opportunity to take a call in this second reading, and answer perhaps not all but at least some of the concerns and questions raised in the first reading. The Hon Gerry Brownlee has not yet taken a call, and time is running out for him to do so in this second reading.
All members of this House know that it is a lot easier for members of Parliament to make mistakes when they are working under serious time constraints and under the pressure a Committee stage of the House generates. In my view we should use this second reading debate to raise the concerns we have and to ask the questions that we have that are unanswered. Hopefully, the Minister will use this time before we start the Committee stage to give serious consideration to those concerns, and, hopefully, express support for resolving them through amendments to the legislation, or at least answer the questions, even if there is not agreement. But at the moment we are left in some frustration that the Minister has not done that, and I urge him to do so before the second reading debate is completed.
There is no doubt at all that everyone in this country supports the rebuilding of Canterbury in the most efficient way possible. It is also clear Canterbury is in a state of shock at the moment. We have spent the last 10 days trying to get the essentials of life, quite literally, reconnected to our constituents. Many people are still without power, without sewerage, and are using Portaloos on the footpath outside their homes. That is better than some of the alternatives that had to be employed earlier in the week, but it is not a great way to live. We want those infrastructure issues, as well as people’s businesses and their lives, to get back as much as possible to post-quake normality—and it will be different from pre-quake normality—but we are nowhere near that. We have been really focused on getting the essentials of life reconnected to our constituents. We have not had the opportunity to say what the bigger picture is now. Where do we want to go in the future? What will our city look like in 10, 30, 50, or 100 years’ time? What will fill the spaces in our streets where buildings will be demolished, or where buildings have already been demolished? What do we want Canterbury to look like? It is my view that we need a genuine commitment from our city leaders and our parliamentarians to ensure this legislation does not block our voice being heard in the debate about what our city and our province will look like in the future. We have not yet heard such a commitment from Minister Brownlee and I am keen to hear it.
This is an extreme bill. It has been introduced out of a genuine interest to speed things up for our recovery; I have no doubt about that. But the bill is extreme. It removes the legislative framework of 22 Acts of Parliament. Legislation is suspended and replaced by Orders in Council. I assume it will be used on rare occasions, but there is nothing in the bill requiring that. Complete power is given to the Ministers, and that is a big step for this Parliament to take.
The appointment of commissioners is seen as a way to have more collaboration and more fast-tracking of the process of rebuilding within the different territorial local authorities. Nobody could argue against collaboration and efficiency, and I certainly would not attempt to do that. But in this process there is no public accountability and there is no transparency. The commissioners are not subject to the ordinary provisions of the local government legislation, nor the Official Information Act. There is no input from the public into their process of consideration or even as spectators at their meetings. Those are quite small requirements. If the Minister thought them worthy of consideration he could respond by saying that, yes, perhaps we would include that as an amendment during the Committee stage. As I mentioned in my first reading speech, not even a skill set is described. What sorts of people would the commissioners be, what type of representation would they provide, and what sorts of skills would we expect the commissioners to have? Again, it may seem quite a small point, but if the wrong people are appointed we will be in a lot of bother. We might not even agree with the process; we certainly did not with the abolition of the Environment Canterbury council. But even in that legislation we had a description of the skills that would be required of the commissioners who were replacing our democratically elected regional councillors. That was a step further than this.
Obviously, another glaring omission in this bill is there is no regulatory impact statement. I presume it is because of the haste in which the bill was put together, but that is often a consideration that is taken very seriously by this Parliament. That is the purpose of a regulatory impact statement, but in this bill there is none at all.
Today in the Press our former mayor Garry Moore contributed a very thought-provoking article. He is a person who has always had, and always demonstrated, a genuine passion for our city and its people. His views often provoke debate, and he enjoys that because he is a good debater and loves to provoke thinking about the future of our city. He said in today’s Press: “Central and local government should remember at this stage that they are public servants. They need to make haste slowly. Rushing legislation, or bylaws, could mean they have to be reversed when flaws in what they have passed start emerging.” There is no doubt there is a need to support the efficient processing of the various bits of the law that currently need to be enacted in order to progress Canterbury’s recovery. This measure is an extreme way of doing it. It is not like an amendment that allows more flexibility. It is actually revoking legislation and replacing it by Orders in Council. So it is a big step to ask.
I ask the Minister to take the opportunity in this second reading debate to come to the House and take a call so that we can have some of those concerns debated and considered, and some of our questions answered.
Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) : I rise to speak on behalf of the Green Party on the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill. This is extraordinary legislation, in an extraordinary time, but the Greens have some concerns about it.
It is worth briefly recapping the powers that the bill gives the Government. Effectively it gives the Government the powers to suspend, change, extend, or modify in any way every piece of legislation bar five. The Government can effectively change by Order in Council any legislation except for the five constitutional Acts: the Bill of Rights 1688, the Constitution Act, the Electoral Act, the Judicature Amendment Act, and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. Aside from those five Acts, every other statute can be changed by Order in Council. The bill would empower Ministers to go to the Governor-General seeking to amend, quash, change, modify, or extend any provision of any enactment simply by Order in Council.
We have seldom seen legislation that gives such extensive powers and effectively hands over lawmaking to the executive part of Government. That is what this bill does. Even though in this bill a list is identified of 22 Acts that can be changed by Government by Order in Council, the bill also goes on to say that it is not limited to those 22 Acts. In fact, the executive can, by Order in Council, amend any Act except for the five constitutional Acts. It is extraordinary legislation.
The Greens are very keen to get on with the recovery work, but we want it to be done well. We have a number of suggestions as to how the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill can be amended to make it much more proportionate to the situation we are in, and give Cantabrians more of an opportunity to be involved in it. The first amendment that I wish to identify, which the Greens will be moving in the Committee stage, is that the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Commission, which this bill establishes, will comprise a majority of elected Cantabrians. This bill proposes a seven-person commission, with four of those commissioners appointed by central government. It seems to me that Cantabrians should lead the recovery process, and that there should be a majority of elected Cantabrians on the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Commission. That seems a very basic requirement. The Greens will move an amendment to get a further two elected councillors on to the commission so that there is a majority of elected Cantabrians on the commission.
I asked the Prime Minister a question in the House last week about exactly that issue: whether the people of Canterbury would lead the recovery. He said they would, yet when we look at the make-up of the commission we find that four out of seven commissioners are to be appointed by central government. We will move an amendment to make sure Cantabrians themselves lead the process.
The second amendment we will move will limit the lifespan of this legislation to 6 months. We think the extraordinary powers that this bill gives should be kept on a short leash. We think it should apply for 6 months only. The Government will be able to come back after 6 months and move a motion in the House to get a further 6-month extension. That seems reasonable. Given the extraordinary powers in this bill, it seems only right that Parliament keep the executive on a short leash. We say there should be a sunset clause after 6 months, when the Government can come back to this House and seek a further extension for another 6 months via a simple notice of motion. That way, the executive will be kept on a pretty short leash in its use of these incredible powers.
The third amendment we will move relates to the fact that it seems to us that the Government should be given the power to change through Order in Council only those Acts that are identified in the bill. Under the current bill the Government will have the power to amend any statute on the books. We think it should be limited solely to those Acts that are identified, so people know which Acts the Government can change by fiat. Law by fiat is effectively what this bill provides for, and the people of New Zealand have a right to know which bills will be amended by the executive.
Furthermore, we think the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act should not be in that list. The people of Canterbury and New Zealand have a right to know what their local bodies get up to, so the Government should not be able to amend the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act through those Orders in Council. We think it is very important that there is transparency, so that Act should not be on the list.
The fourth amendment we will move is to make sure that the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Commission is subject to Official Information Act requests. Currently it is unclear; there is no statement that the commission is subject to the Official Information Act or the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, and we think it should be made clear that the commission is subject to Official Information Act proceedings. If there is no transparency on that process, it will be hard for ordinary New Zealanders to know what is going on, let alone Parliament or anyone else.
The fifth amendment we will move relates to the publishing and tabling of Orders in Council. Effectively those Orders in Council will be legislating by fiat; the executive will have the power to legislate by fiat on any statute except for the five constitutional statutes. It seems critical to us that when Orders in Council are made they are published immediately. They should be put up on a Government website so that people know what the law of the land is. It is very hard to know the law of the land when there is no way to find it out. We think that as soon as an Order in Council is passed by the Government, it should be published on a Government website within 24 hours, so that people will know the law of the land. It is hard to follow the law if it is not published somewhere. We think that as Orders in Council are effectively legislating by fiat, they should be immediately available to the people of New Zealand and Canterbury, so that they can see what the law is.
Furthermore, we think those Orders in Council should be tabled on the next sitting day. Under the Regulations (Disallowance) Act they have to be tabled within 16 sitting days, which is a very long period—it is a number of months, in fact. It seems to us that Orders in Council should be tabled on the very next sitting day, so that Parliament can see them. It seems a basic requirement that Orders in Council should be given to Parliament on its next sitting day. That should not be any trouble, given that the Government must know what is in those Orders in Council.
The sixth amendment the Greens will move relates to clause 6(3), which basically states that Government decision-making will not be able to be reviewed by any court. That is a pretty concerning provision. It is fundamental to our constitutional arrangement that the courts can review the Government’s decision-making processes. We understand that this is a time when we need to make decisions quickly, and we accept that proviso. However, completely throwing out the ability of the courts to have any kind of review of Government decision-making processes seems to us to be a step too far. It is part of the balance of power that the courts have the ability to look at what the Government has done. The bill currently states in clause 6(3): “The recommendation of the relevant Minister”—that is, a recommendation to the Governor-General to have an Order in Council—“may not be challenged, reviewed, quashed, or called into question in any court.” That is a pretty extraordinary provision. As an amendment we are suggesting we insert into that subclause, after the words “called into question in court”, the words “unless a High Court judge determines that fundamental principles of justice will be compromised by not allowing a case to be heard.”
We think it is critical that there be some kind of judicial oversight of the executive. If we are to give the executive these extraordinary powers to effectively legislate by fiat, there must be at least some process whereby the courts can review it if a High Court judge is of the view that fundamental principles of justice could be compromised by not allowing a case to be heard. There has to be some kind of mechanism to ensure that the courts have some ability to review the executive if it is acting in a way that is fundamentally against the principles of justice.
The Green Party believes the Government has good intentions in pushing this legislation. We understand where it is coming from and what it is trying to do. However, we think it is a step too far and that there are a number of ways this legislation could be improved so that it gets the support of the entire Parliament and we can all stand behind it, protecting our constitution while rebuilding Christchurch and Canterbury.
CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) : I will give a chronology of what the Opposition understands to be the development of the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill, then make a few comments about some of the issues that have been raised in the debate so far. It has been said, rightly, earlier in the discussion that there has been a good level of consultation between the Government and the Opposition on the proposals. What was shown to the Leader of the Opposition’s office on Saturday was a series of drafting instructions that represented a wish list, if you like, from the Canterbury councils on the sorts of legislative amendments they felt they would need to effectively engage in emergency recovery and relief. I looked through those drafting instructions carefully. They proposed quite a wide series of amendments to exempt the councils from legislation such as the Resource Management Act, Building Act, Local Government Act, and Land Transport Act, and went on to provide for a suspending power in respect of a further series of enactments that were scheduled to the instructions.
I was disturbed by the scope of those drafting instructions and some of the language used in them. The councils were keen, for example, to “facilitate an efficient clean-up, in particular without diverting staff away from emergency work and on to paperwork requirements.” As a paperwork requirement, one of the examples given was a desired amendment to sections 330A(1) and 330B(2) of the Resource Management Act that would have removed any requirement to notify a consent authority that emergency works had been carried out in any particular case. I cannot imagine that, if we had agreed to that sort of request, ratepayers or future purchasers of land or properties would have been happy with that exemption, because of course potential purchasers want to know whether emergency work has been carried out on particular land or property. There needs to be notification and a record of that work. While we were formulating our response to those drafting instructions they were superseded by a draft bill that, happily, discarded the approach that had originally been proposed by the councils, and instead adopted the sort of scheme that we are now debating in the House today.
The bill, as originally worded, proposed the ability to suspend a wide range of legislation for a period of 5 years by Order in Council through a negative resolution procedure. We thought that that was a better approach than the approach that had been originally mooted by the councils, but we did not think that it was an altogether perfect approach. After Clayton Cosgrove had some discussions with Gerry Brownlee we ended up with a number of changes. So there was the undertaking to notify the Opposition in advance of the detail of any Order in Council that proposed to suspend a measure, and to consult the spokesperson over that Order in Council. There was a narrowing down of the 5-year period to just over 18 months. There was the agreement to dispose of the negative resolution procedure and replace it with the procedure set out in the Standing Orders that would normally apply to the business of the Regulations Review Committee. So any Order in Council under this bill will come to the Regulations Review Committee.
I think it would be useful for the House to understand what that change means. It means that there will be systematic scrutiny of Orders in Council. There will be advice from the legal adviser to the committee on every Order in Council against the Standing Order grounds that the Regulations Review Committee normally checks delegated legislation under—rather than it being for a member of the House to simply look at an Order in Council and wonder whether there is something objectionable in it, which would have been the case under the ordinary negative resolution procedure originally proposed. If any member of the Regulations Review Committee objects to any provision in any Order in Council, then all that member needs to do under the Standing Orders is put a notice of motion on the Order Paper of the House to that effect.
What that will mean is that if the Government does not bring on a debate about that Order in Council within 21 sitting days, then the Order in Council will lapse. So if the Government does not bring on the debate, the order will lapse. If it does bring on the debate, then there will be a proper discussion in the House about the provision that is intended to suspend a legislative requirement.
Obviously there are other safeguards that come from using that ordinary scrutiny procedure that the House has had in effect since 1986. The committee is chaired by an Opposition MP. In the way that the House originally decided to set up the committee, it had a neutral composition, because Rahui Katene held the balance of authority on it. I hope we will see Rahui Katene back in the committee, because she plays a very constructive role in it when she attends. Because of her workload, she has allowed herself to be replaced by a National member for the last 9 months or so. What I hope—because Rahui Katene is a member who has an office in Canterbury and who makes a constructive approach to the committee—is that we will see her again coming to the committee on any business to do with the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill Standing Orders and Orders in Council, and that that will also help to restore the proper role of the committee to act not with a National or a Labour majority but with a cross-bencher holding the balance of responsibility in the committee. If she were to do that, we would improve scrutiny even further. Those are the comments I wanted to address to the evolution of the legislation that we are debating tonight, as I understand it.
This bill is not perfect. I do not like the idea of suspending power, in principle; it is a power that has caused great controversy in our constitutional history and the history that we inherited from the English common law. There are other aspects of the bill that disturb me. I do not like the privative clause that Russel Norman referred to in the speech given just before mine. Clearly, the Greens have some concerns. We will look at the detail of the amendments that they put up. We will decide what our position will be on them during the Committee stage of the debate. But for the moment, having agreed the concessions that we have, and in particular the safeguards around scrutiny, it is—as Clayton Cosgrove has said—our intention to adopt a non-partisan approach to the legislation and to support its passage through the House.
TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) : Tēnā koe, Mr Deputy Speaker. Kia ora tātou katoa e hoa mā e noho nei i roto i te Whare i tēnei pō. Our co-leader has already advised Parliament that we will support this bill, as it gives those involved in the rebuilding effort another tool to aid the recovery in Christchurch. I do not think there are too many people at all in the whole of Aotearoa who would stand in the way of Parliament seeking to develop an effective response to the Canterbury earthquake. Such is the nature of our nation that there are many links to Te Wai Pounamu throughout our party and our electorates that have been important during the time of need. I have been in touch with my brother a couple of times now, just to see how they are going. Fortunately he has not been in the zone. But despite the fact that he is not in the zone, those after-tremors in Christchurch City are certainly keeping them on their toes. Like other members over the last week or so, we feel very much for them.
For our party, the local MP Rahui Katene has been our eyes and our ears. She has kept us fully apprised of the situation. She has been checking with our people, checking on marae, seeing where the needs are, and listening to the stories. She has seen the destroyed homes and roads, and the whole streets of houses tracing a fault through collapsed roofs and walls, through the new divisions as well. Although she said had shared some of the sadness and the grim reality of the hardship for whānau in Kaiapoi, Bexley, St Albans, and New Brighton, she has also heard plenty of stories of hope: so many people opening up their homes to complete strangers, emptying their freezers and cupboards to feed their neighbours, checking on their whānau and neighbours, helping to pick up or move furniture, dig out the sand, which is everywhere, and listening to other people’s stories. Again, that is reiterating many of the discussion points that other members have made tonight.
I want to pick up on the comment made by my co-leader Tariana Turia on this legislation. She said that we should not minimise the damage caused by the earthquake to the social and human infrastructure. This bill sets in place the appropriate statutory powers to assist in the response to the Canterbury earthquake. It does what is required to enable the relaxation or suspension of provisions and enactments. But, importantly, the Order in Council mechanism gives priority to the facilitation of information. I want to come to this from a Treaty of Waitangi perspective. Our policy manifesto “Requires robust and accountable work practices by local government and regional authorities when working with mana whenua …”. It also stipulates “As provided in the Treaty, tangata whenua should have an equal say in the decisions which affect them.” So we make it known that Māori, specifically Ngāi Tahu as mana whenua, should have representation on the commission that is being discussed, since there are 30,500 Māori who live in the wider Canterbury area.
A wealth of information has come in, whether it be from Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, from Te Puni Kōkiri, or from our own Rahui Katene. I know from the Minister of Māori Affairs that Te Puni Kōkiri staff have visited whānau as homes were reported damaged, and assisted them to locate. They have monitored the operations of the welfare centre. They made daily visits to the Christchurch City emergency welfare centres. They visited the Selwyn district emergency command centre and the district welfare manager. They also spent time with residents in Darfield, close to the epicentre of the earthquake, who were exhibiting much greater distress levels than elsewhere in the district. The same was true for Tai Tapu. I share some of this information because it is vital that the recovery commission incorporate the experience of tangata whenua. We recommend that the mana whenua be represented amongst the four commissioners to be appointed by the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery.
One of the things that were really hard to hear about from Rahui was about visiting whānau who were too afraid to leave their homes despite the fact that they would be distinctly threatened if they stayed in them. In fact their whole whānau would be threatened by that. We need to know why they did not feel that the welfare centres catered for their needs, and how they can best be supported in the next few months as they try to return to some form of normality. Some of the people she talked to did not realise that the welfare centre was for the public; they thought it was only for the emergency staff. That is clearly an example of an aspect of communication that needs to be tidied up a little. I share these things because it is important to have the full range of information available in preparing for full recovery.
In closing, I say we believe that this bill will aid the recovery and rebuilding of Christchurch, which will boost the collective wairua of the people who have been affected by the quake. We will be advocating to ensure that Māori have a guaranteed voice on the commission, and we continue to promote the importance of engaging with mana whenua to ensure that the pathway ahead is one that meets the needs of all of the people in Christchurch and the general Canterbury area. Tēnā koe.
JO GOODHEW (National—Rangitata) : I rise to speak briefly in the second reading of the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill. It is at a time like this that I feel really proud to be a Cantabrian. For most people in my Rangitata electorate, damage has been minimal or there has been none at all, but some residents have suffered considerable damage and disruption. It seems as if we all have either a friend or a relative who has been badly affected. There is disruption in my electorate in the form of uncertainty for those who are in the middle of a house purchase and who are unable to secure an urgent inspection of their new home—what a dent that must be in their excitement. Those people face uncertainty, additional expense, and worry in relation to getting insurance cover. We can see why there is such uncertainty at this time. The issue has widespread impact far beyond the parts of Canterbury that are so obviously damaged.
I have observed disruption in homes, churches, and businesses. Many chimneys took a dive, as did spires on churches such as St Mary’s in Timaru, which just a couple of weeks ago celebrated its 150th anniversary. This also happened to the Catholic church at Temuka where, almost exactly 23 years ago, my sister was married during another severe event—a storm on 15 October.
Some businesses received minor damage. Our plumber had a bench top for us, but it was smashed. His business will now be set back weeks in terms of getting jobs done. In Methven, the Blue Pub and the Brown Pub were both yellow-stickered, putting their accommodation out of commission for now. So employment has been affected. Cafe 131 will be out of operation for at least 3 weeks, St Ita’s Guesthouse is without the ability to take bookings as its owners address damage, and the pub in Rākaia has received minimal damage but the falling chimneys gave a very big fright. For the Icehouse Gallery, the Steel-Worx businesses, and the Thai restaurant in Methven, business is on hold and so, too, is the income of people working in those places.
Others in Ashburton and Timaru are also without income. It is temporary, but they have been reassured by the immediate response of Government agencies, Canterbury MPs from across the House, the mayors, and emergency services. Help has been swift and helpful, and there has been understanding. We have served the immediate need, but now it is time for stage 2 and that is what brings me to this bill. There needs to be a more lasting set of actions for the recovery and that is why this is called the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill.
Clause 3(b) of the bill speaks of giving the Government “adequate statutory power to assist with the response to the Canterbury earthquake:” It is a very necessary next step. But people of the Canterbury region do not need anger and resentment borne out of frustration. They want to rebuild their lives—their homes, their businesses, and their schools.
The courage, compassion, and sharing of the response is one that the people of Canterbury—in fact, all of New Zealand—can be proud of. As already expressed in the House, students stepped up to the mark and will justifiably feel proud of what they have achieved. This recovery needs this legislation, and I am therefore very proud and very happy to commend it to the House.
BRENDON BURNS (Labour—Christchurch Central) : It is important in the second reading of the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill that I declare that, although I and my Labour colleagues support this bill, we do so with a degree of nervousness about some of the provisions contained within it. I support it as the MP for Christchurch Central. With all due acknowledgment of the damage inflicted at Kaiapoi, Bexley, and other parts of Canterbury, Christchurch Central has suffered the most damage and certainly the most dollar damage to buildings, particularly—but not exclusively—across the central business district of our city. All members will know that heritage is the hallmark of Christchurch. Christchurch has one of the best preserved central business districts in Australasia and beyond; it is what brings the tourists to our city, and it enriches our lives.
We know that this bill is a response to a once-in-a-generation event: a disaster that we are not likely to—or that we hope and pray we do not—ever see again in our lifetime. We know that a number of non-compliant activities within the city and within the region are currently permitted by the state of emergency, which, the indications are, will lift at midday tomorrow. So the need for the bill is there in terms of what needs to happen for progress in our city, both with the first phase of demolition of unsafe buildings—buildings that definitively cannot be restored—and then so that the next phase, which is the rebuilding of our city, can happen in rapid fashion.
I see this bill as a test of good faith. It would not be in anybody’s interests if that good faith was not fulfilled. But at the back of my mind is the last time I spoke on such legislation, the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Bill, which was passed under urgency prior to Easter. That bill was not hallmarked by the sort of disaster we face, so I am not making a direct comparison, but it is, obviously, in my mind.
Talking about preservation of buildings, I understand that a small business in my electorate, the Canterbury Cheesemongers shop, has unfortunately fallen to demolition. I visited that shop twice early last week at the call of Martin, the cheesemonger. His building, a small building, had been declared sound, but the buildings on both sides of it had been very badly damaged. We were trying to see whether there was some way of preserving that business and that building when the demolition of the surrounding damaged buildings took place. I understand—and I cannot vouch for this—that, unfortunately, that shop has gone today. That might signal to us the sorts of challenges we will face in the demolition phase: the need to protect and preserve as many of our heritage buildings as we can. The cheesemonger’s shop was not an iconic building by any means, but it was a small, turn-of-the-century building that added some character to our city, and it will be a loss that it has gone. We will wait to see whether it absolutely had to happen or may possibly have been avoided. There are big questions as we go through this bill and what lies beyond.
One of the best things that we as local electorate MPs can do is ensure that we provide the best possible information to our constituents, and I am pleased to say that electorate MPs have swung into action. Last night Lianne Dalziel held a meeting that was attended by 500 people. She had an Earthquake Commission representative and others assisting 500 people who wanted to know about insurance, Earthquake Commission cover, and the like. I know that my colleague Clayton Cosgrove has a similar meeting coming up tomorrow night in Kaiapoi. Gerry Brownlee and I have meetings in our electorates on Thursday night with Earthquake Commission staff present. I will also have senior staff from AMI Insurance and, hopefully, other insurance companies present at my meeting at Shirley Intermediate School at 5 o’clock on Thursday night. I am doing a similar meeting at the same venue at 5 o’clock on Friday night to provide the best information we can. I know that both Ruth Dyson and Lianne Dalziel have meetings planned through the weekend and into next week to try to provide that sort of advice and information to their constituents. That is truly, truly important.
But to come back to the bill, I think that although we have some of the best heritage remaining in Australasia in Christchurch’s central business district, the track record has not been flash. We had already lost too many buildings prior to the quake. We have a cumbersome city plan that has done very little to protect our heritage buildings. I think of buildings like the very ugly Rebel Sport building on the corner of Colombo Street and Moorhouse Avenue—a big, ugly, tilt-slab monstrosity that somehow or other has managed to invade our cityscape. I know that more is on its way.
The printing room of the Press was demolished. It had immediately adjoined my now vacated office in Worcester Street. The replacement for it on that site is four multi-storeyed buildings stretching to 20 storeys high. This is within 100 metres of the square—the centre and the heart of Christchurch. How that could get through is beyond me. It is because the city plan allows it. My concern is—and we need everybody to hold hands on this—that we make sure that this legislation does not provide carte blanche for further development of that ugly, tilt-slab kind of construction, which does nothing for a cityscape, be it Christchurch or anywhere else.
We have a unique series of façades across Christchurch. It is a unique set of buildings, which has added a huge amount to the fabric of our city, to its beauty, to its character, and to its iconic status. At the moment we are seeking Unesco acknowledgment of the Gothic revival buildings of our city, to put it on the world map in that respect. It would be a disaster if there was an enhancement of the prospects for ugly, tilt-slab designs to replace some of those heritage buildings. We acknowledge that that is happening, and that in some instances it has to happen, but there is a limit as to how much can be restored both physically and financially. We have to protect the best of what we have, rebuild the best of what we have, and acknowledge that some will go. It is clear that we cannot save everything. We are concerned to ensure that this bill allows the best of what is left to be retained, protected, preserved, and enhanced, and that when other new buildings are built they are not ugly buildings that will add nothing to the vibrancy of our city.
I make two acknowledgments in relation to groups of people. One is the Orion lines staff, who have done a fantastic job over the last 10 days restoring power across the city. I also acknowledge those people in the media who have, in general, done a very good job. However, I have one message in that respect. I note the comments made by Peter Townsend from the Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce, who was being interviewed by a Perth radio station. The station asked him what he was doing now that Christchurch’s central business district had been obliterated. I want the message to go out very clearly that 98 percent of Christchurch’s central business district is standing, most people are back at work, and the city is functioning very normally. People should take note that although we have sustained a considerable amount of damage, our city is up and running and looking toward a viable future with buildings restored and new buildings that complement the historic façades of our cityscape.
- Debate interrupted.