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Poverty a Key Factor in Northland Fire Deaths

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Poverty a Key Factor in Northland Fire Deaths

Based on a Speech Delivered Today in Parliament
19th June 2001

In assessing the performance and current operations of state agencies, it is worthwhile to examine how these agencies interrelate. In making such assessments, it is often instructive to look at an issue in a broad context.

While poverty, quite rightly, is often highlighted as an issue in itself - the downstream effects of long term poverty can have a devastating impact.

A few short weeks ago, a Herekino home was burn to the ground by fire. Three children lost their lives. Three others had a narrow escape, saved from the flames due to the heroic actions of a 12 year old girl.

The Honourable Dover Samuels has recommended that the girl's brave actions ought to be recognised. I congratulate his efforts in this and also his efforts and those of Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton to address the complex issues affecting the Northland community.

The NZ Fire Service believe that the Herekino fire was started by a lit candle.

The house had no power supply. The house had no telephone by which to call for help. There was no water supply to fight the fire. If these basic amenities had been available, three children may still be alive. Lack of these basic amenities is a sure sign that poverty is the underlying problem.

The Te Aupouri Maori Trust Board in Kaitaia called the fire a sad indictment on the substandard state of housing into which some rural families are forced. The board said that Government initiatives such as income related rents and the low-deposit rural lending scheme had improved the situation, but more progress was needed.

Utility companies, local authorities and government departments also have a responsibility in this area.

The most concerning aspect of the Herekino fire is that this fire is merely one more fire, in a long string of fires in the Northland region.

People don't just die in fires they die horribly in fires.

The region has a history of fire deaths involving children. In 1997 three children died when makeshift accommodation burnt down in Matauri Bay. In 1999 two children died in a house fire in Whangarei.

A mere two or three days after the Herekino tragedy, another house fire struck the Northland region. This second house was normally occupied by a couple and their nine children. The house was razed to the ground. It was lucky that there was only one occupant of the house at the time - otherwise it could have been a greater disaster.

These narrow escapes demonstrate the danger. The alternative is awful to contemplate.

Together with the Herekino tragedy, 12 children could have died in fire. 12 children in one week!

The loss of young lives in a fire is an absolute tragedy. The worst tragedy of all is that most of these tragedies are avoidable.

Just this week - fire claimed another fatality at Pakotai.

Once again, the house had no electricity. It had no running water. Once again, candles appear to be culpable.

How long are we going to tolerate this?

Jim Anderton has taken up Northland's cause. It is a significant issue for the Alliance. It is a significant issue for Parliament.

It is a significant issue for Northland.

We need to look at real ways to alleviate poverty, real ways of improving substandard housing, and real ways of avoiding fire deaths.

In other words, a comprehensive strategy for the people of the region. This ought to include the Housing Corporation, the New Zealand Fire Service, the Social Services and the Ministry of Economic Development.

While we are upgrading the level of housing, it is a good time to improve the level of fire safety.

The need for well maintained smoke alarms can't be stressed enough. I would like to congratulate the Accident Compensation Corporation for agreeing to fund smoke alarms for homes that might not otherwise be able to afford them. They are currently working with the Fire Service to implement this policy.

The Northland area is likely to be one of the greatest beneficiaries of the existing regional development programme.

The infamous trickle down theory was not working.

Jim Anderton took note of the region's needs. As a result, he has announced a number of economic development initiatives to kick start the region.

Additionally, Northland will benefit from several measures in Budget 2001.

In the long term, the best way to alleviate poverty in Northland is to unlock its potential.

In the short term, we must urgently invest in alleviating the real needs of the people.


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