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Turia: Debate into the Auckland Black-out

A Matter of Urgent Public importance: Urgent Debate into the Auckland Black-out

Tariana Turia, Energy Spokesperson for the Maori Party

Tuesday 13 June 2006

Tena tatou te whare

The Maori Party today rises today to speak of the outrage of our constituents in homes, in businesses, throughout the greater Tamaki Makaurau and Tainui region, who were plunged into chaos yesterday through a major power black-out.

A blackout, caused by a failure at Transpower's Otahuhu sub-station, caused chaos in the central business district, which affected an estimated 700,000 people.

We must make every effort to secure New Zealand’s power supply.

The Maori Party has been speaking - ever since our establishment - about the need to develop an ‘Energy Strategy for Aotearoa’ to ensure the best use of available resources.

We have raised our concerns about the fragility of a city’s power supply and the need to take responsibility for ensuring New Zealand’s future in a low-energy sustainable world.

There is one thing that no-one can deny. Weather issues are always going to present risks but we don’t need to take the risk of just crossing our fingers and hoping we are prepared.

We need to plan for the ever-present threat.

This is not just a trivial matter - ripe for personality politics like we have seen already in this debate.

This was literally a case of life and death - with Auckland City and Middlemore Hospitals operating for emergencies only.

The Auckland District Health Board has confirmed that during the power outage the emergency department had to turn people away.

Some elective surgery was postponed due to the crisis.

And what have we had here this afternoon - accusations of alcohol use by Members? Is that really how low the debate has become?

The crisis yesterday was a case of business and investment strangulation.

Let me remind this House of the grim facts of yesterday.

The Employers and Manufacturers Association has stated the outage was unacceptable and Transpower must fully investigate.

The Auckland Chamber of Commerce says an alternative supply line is needed.

Alex Swney from the business promotion group, Heart of the City, said uncertainty over the power supply risks Auckland's status as an international city.

There was physical, environmental, economic, social desperation - and what is the Government saying?

Allegations and accusations of who should be speaking in this debate, legal bills of previous MPs.

Many in the House has had enough of the frivolous way in which these matters are being dealt with.

Less than five years ago, the nation, and in particular the nations of Ngapuhi, were devastated by the fires in Kaikohe and Herekino which it appeared were started from candles. Both houses were without electricity and the occupants turned to candles for alternative sources of light.

In the aftermath of those tragedies, Northland Ngapuhi leader Sonny Tau called for urgent talks with the Minister of Housing describing the houses that hundreds of Northland people are living in conditions that he described as death traps.

So we have already had the fatal experience in the North, when families had no power, and lost their lives.

That experience provides a solemn warning to all members in considering what could have happened as a results of yesterday's power outage.

I absolutely agree with the Honourable Member who spoke earlier in this debate, urging us not to be flippant, not to play politics.

It is critical that we ‘prepare now’ for a pending energy crises.

We must work together as a nation in a collaborative approach to set up a timeline for action. And we must do that in this House.

Last year, the Maori Party proposed the establishment of the cross-party Parliamentary Commission.

We believed that this Commission would signal that the Parliament was prepared to take a collaborative, united approach towards the most critical issue facing our future sustainability.

We need to be innovative, to look at wind generation, to look at alternative sources of supply, and to work together for the good of our nation.

So yesterday, when I heard the chair of the Electricity Commission, Roy Hemmingway, suggesting that he will be talking with Government agencies and Transpower about how to proceed with an inquiry into the power crisis, I was heartened.

When we talked about the cross-party Parliamentary Commission, we suggested it should have the facility to co-opt independent advisors such as the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, or representation from specialist groups such as the Sustainable Energy Forum.

We need to pull together our best brains, our most creative energy, to guarantee the power supply can be secured throughout all of Aotearoa.

One of the brightest moments of an otherwise bleak crisis, was a young Auckland town-planning student, who responding to the desperate calls for help from senior citizens trying to negotiate the traffic, stepped up to the challenge, walked out into the middle of the road, and started directing traffic.

I admire his initiative and his courage, in trying to do what he could to assist the community, and particularly vulnerable members of our society, in a time of crisis.

Mr Speaker, I call today, for all Members of the House to rise up to that same challenge, to stride out into the storm, and to think how we can work together, to ensure sustainable energy is generated and sustained for the future of all peoples of Aotearoa.

ENDS

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