By Jenny Ruth
Nov. 13 (BusinessDesk) - Dame Silvia Cartwright has been appointed to lead the public inquiry into the Earthquake Commission.
EQC Minister Megan Woods says the former Governor-General and High Court Judge has “enormous mana and experience with public enquiries, having led the famous Cartwright Inquiry into Auckland National Women’s Hospital in the 1980s and served on the Cambodian War Crimes Tribunal.
“To have someone of her standing, skills and experience agree to lead this very important public inquiry is really exceptional.”
The EQC inquiry will be the first of its kind under the Public Inquiries Act 2013. It will have all the powers of a royal commission, will be independent of the government and will report directly to the Governor-General.
The Insurance Council of New Zealand has welcomed today’s announcement and says it’s pleased other models, such as the one deployed after the Kaikoura earthquake in November 2016, will be considered.
“The aim of the inquiry is to learn from the experience of the Canterbury earthquakes and ensure that the Earthquake Commission is fit for purpose in future events,” Woods said.
“The insurance system as a whole, including EQC’s role in that system, needs to be ready to deliver services to those affected by the next big event – whenever or wherever that happens,” she said.
Woods has also released the inquiry’s terms of reference. It will not consider past insurance settlements or current claims and nor will it comment on previous decisions by the courts on insurance-related matters.
“The focus of the inquiry is on the handling of insurance claims by EQC and, as appropriate, other insurers following the Canterbury events,” she said.
Insurance claimants have other avenues to pursue their individual cases including the recently announced one-stop-shop, the Greater Christchurch Claims Resolution Service.
“It is important to this government that the people of Canterbury, who have been through so much with EQC, get the chance to have their say and that the whole country can learn from the experiences of the Canterbury earthquakes,” the minister said.
The insurance council says that in Canterbury, customers had to first lodge a claim with EQC and then EQC would need to seek validation that the claimant was insured by contacting their insurer.
If the claimant’s insurance was validated, EQC would then scope and assess the claim before passing the claim on to the claimant's own insurer if the damage to their property proved to be more than the $100,000 EQC cap.
But after the Kaikoura quake, EQC and insurers signed a memorandum of understanding appointing insurers as agents of the EQC.
“The Kaikoura model has been incredibly effective,” insurance council chief executive Tim Grafton said.
“In two years, 99.8 percent of all domestic claims and 99.2 percent of total claims have been resolved.”
Insurers manage and settle more than 1.2 million claims a year with staff working around the clock processing claims. Using these resources makes more sense than staffing EQC to be ready for a disaster when it’s unclear when those resources may be called upon, said Grafton.
The inquiry is expected to provide an interim report by the end of June 2019.