Questions And Answers March 15
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
TUESDAY, 15 MARCH 2011
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Earthquakes, Canterbury—Predicted Number of Earthquake Commission Claims
1. AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: How many claims does the Earthquake Commission expect to receive as a result of the earthquakes in Canterbury since 4 September 2010?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): So far the Earthquake Commission has received 240,000 claims since the earthquake on 4 September: 157,000 claims for the September earthquake itself, 58,000 claims for the 22 February earthquake, and the remainder for earthquakes that occurred between those two major events. Overall, the Earthquake Commission expects to handle more than 300,000 claims. That is a very significant insurable disaster by world standards.
Amy Adams: How does the likely number of claims for the Canterbury earthquakes compare with those for other disasters in New Zealand and overseas?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The 300,000 claims that are expected from the Canterbury earthquakes far exceed any number that the Earthquake Commission has dealt with before. Previously, the largest number of claims for a single earthquake was the 6,227 claims for the Gisborne earthquake in 2007. We need to bear in mind that the Earthquake Commission was, as recently as September last year, an organisation of about 25 people. It has now expanded to over 1,200, and will probably employ more. By international standards the number of claims is large. For instance, after Hurricane Katrina in the US, one large insurer—State Farm Insurance—handled 400,000 claims. It is worth noting that that company had 68,000 employees to handle that large spike in claims whereas the Earthquake Commission has about 1,200.
Amy Adams: What steps has the Earthquake Commission taken to assess damaged properties in a timely manner after the 22 February earthquake?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Earthquake Commission understands the need to give people information so that they can make decisions about their accommodation. The commission has already completed about a thousand emergency repairs of Christchurch homes, and has another 1,200 under way. Those are repairs to make homes liveable. Last week it announced a new rapid assessment process for all Christchurch houses. About 25,000 houses have been assessed under this process, which is designed to prioritise those that need urgent repairs. The assessment will rank homes into categories of damage and give homeowners a time frame for when they will receive their full Earthquake Commission assessment. The priority is urgent repairs to make houses weathertight and secure. The rapid assessment process started last Friday in the most affected suburbs, including Bexley, Bromley, and Aranui. The Earthquake Commission expects to have completed a rapid assessment of every house in metropolitan Christchurch, including Lyttelton, within 8 weeks.
Amy Adams: How has the Earthquake Commission performed in paying contractors repairing earthquake damage in the Christchurch area?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I followed up on some publicity that the Earthquake Commission was being slow in paying its contractors. Of course, the Government would want the commission to pay them as quickly as possible. As of last Friday, I am advised that there are 475 unpaid invoices and none of these is more than a week old. On 22 February, the date of the second large earthquake, there were 205 invoices in the Earthquake Commission’s system, and the oldest invoice was dated 16 February. We will keep monitoring the situation, but I think there has been some confusion because there are contractors operating in Christchurch who are not, in fact, contractors for the Earthquake Commission. I myself have come across examples where excessive charges have been made or bills have not been paid, but they are actually private arrangements and not to do with the Earthquake Commission.
Earthquake, Christchurch—Government’s Plans for Rebuilding City
2. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that “rebuilding Christchurch is a key priority for the Government this year”; if so, what rebuilding plans are currently in place?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, I do. However, due to aftershocks and the need for inspections and demolitions, rebuilding may not begin in the central business district for at least 6 months. It is very important that the reasons for the severity of damage to certain buildings and consequent loss of life are understood as soon as possible. For this reason, Cabinet will request that the royal commission provide an interim report back in approximately 6 months. This report will include any recommendations that may be relevant to the construction of new buildings in Christchurch’s central business district.
Hon Phil Goff: What steps is the Government taking to begin an emergency housing programme for the 10,000 families unable to return to their homes because they are uninhabitable?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The relevant Minister and Cabinet has that issue well in hand. We will be in a position to make an announcement in the foreseeable future.
Hon Phil Goff: What is he doing to help businesses that were operating out of the central business district, which obviously cannot operate there until it is reopened and rebuilt, so that as many of those businesses as possible can continue to operate and survive into the future?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Government is working on a package for businesses. Again, we will be in a position to announce that package very soon. We have also been working with the Christchurch group that is responsible for that: the old chamber of commerce, the Canterbury Business Recovery Group, I think it is called. We are putting in place facilitators that can help work alongside them and we have a number of other plans for those businesses. Again, in due course we will release those plans.
Hon Phil Goff: What new skills training initiatives are being put into place, given the massive rebuilding job that lies ahead of Christchurch? Given that 9,000 people in Christchurch have been made redundant as a result of the earthquake, with unemployment expected to reach 7 percent, what skills training initiatives are being put in place to ensure that those people can help in the rebuilding of their own city?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The relevant Ministers—Steven Joyce, the Minister for Tertiary Education, and Paula Bennett, the Minister for Social Development and Employment, have been meeting with both their departments and the business recovery group, which is the old chamber of commerce, to discuss skills requirements. Again, they have planning in hand and will be able to make announcements in due course.
Hon Phil Goff: Given the Prime Minister’s answer, what has the Canterbury building industry told his Ministers about a severe shortage of skills that will exist within 12 to 18 months in the absence of real measures to provide for those skills?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member might better address his questions directly to the Minister for Tertiary Education and the Minister for Social Development and Employment, but I can say that there will clearly be gaps because of the sheer amount of rebuilding that is required. Those gaps will be filled by a number of initiatives that the Government has.
Hon Phil Goff: What does his Government propose to do to stop families who have lost their homes being subject to rent gouging because of a shortage of rental accommodation?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Government has in train some initiatives in terms of temporary housing and the like. It is also working with a number of other providers. The Department of Building and Housing has a website that is looking to match those who are offering rental properties with those who require them. Again, we will have more announcements to make on that in due course.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think that answer addressed the supply, but not whether any specific measure will go to price gouging.
Mr SPEAKER: The member should not litigate an answer in that way. The Prime Minister was asked what measures the Government was putting in place. Obviously the member was looking for some regulation or other, but the Prime Minister’s answer indicated that the Government was taking a somewhat different approach, making sure supply was better matched to demand. It was a perfectly legitimate answer.
Hon Phil Goff: What advice has his Government or Rugby World Cup 2011 given to the International Rugby Board about Christchurch’s capacity to host the cup games?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am not privy to all the conversations that the relevant Minister, Murray McCully, has had. I am aware that the International Rugby Board representative here in New Zealand has been involved in a number of discussions with the Government. I myself was at a meeting with them on Sunday evening. We are working our way through those issues. Again, when we have all of the facts and we are in a position to advise the International Rugby Board what our thinking is, then I am sure it will be in a position to make a decision along with us.
Hon Rodney Hide: Is the Prime Minister, like me—
Hon Members: Ha, ha!
Hon Rodney Hide: In so many ways! Is the Prime Minister, like me, pleased and proud of the way officials have worked with council staff, business leaders, and community leaders in Christchurch—and, indeed, with his Ministers—not just in terms of the emergency response required for Christchurch but now, looking ahead, in terms of the massive job of rebuilding Christchurch for the people of Christchurch?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am a lot like the member, although, arguably, with slightly more hair. Yes, I am delighted with the work that local government and the officials have been doing to work though a process to ensure that Canterbury can be rebuilt as quickly as it can.
Hon Rodney Hide: What role will the new, sped-up processes for the Earthquake Commission play in allowing Christchurch people to get on with the business of rebuilding their lives and their houses?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am not in a position to detail all those processes today, but I can say that they will play a significant role. It is important that good and speedy decision-making can take place. Obviously, we want to work closely and in partnership with local government in Christchurch, but everyone will appreciate that the significance of that event means that we need a different structure if we are going to be successful in rebuilding Christchurch as quickly as we can.
Social Assistance—Minister’s Statement
3. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Social Development and
Employment: Does she stand by her statement that State support is for “people to fall back on when they really need it”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Yes.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree that the earthquake in Christchurch shows how important State support is and highlights the harshness of the Welfare Working Group’s recommendations?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes to the first bit, no to the second.
Metiria Turei: Will the Minister reject the Welfare Working Group’s recommendation for work testing and abatement rates, which mean that sole parents will be required to work for 30 hours a week for less money than they currently get in the hand?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Decisions have not yet been made about the Welfare Working Group recommendations.
Metiria Turei: Will the Minister reject the recommendation that benefit receipt be linked to contraception for women who are on the domestic purposes benefit?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: That was not suggested by the Welfare Working Group and no decisions have yet been made on the recommendations.
Metiria Turei: That certainly was. Will she reject the recommendation that benefits be cut off completely if people fail the work-test requirements three times—even people from Canterbury?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: No decisions have yet been made on the recommendations of the Welfare Working Group.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree that people in other parts of the country who have suffered from factory closures or the sudden loss of a partner also need to fall back on State support, just as the people in Christchurch do; if so, why will she not rule out these harsh recommendations for everyone in this country?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes to the first bit, and we have not ruled anything in or out to the second.
Metiria Turei: Given the devastation in Christchurch, the unforeseen circumstances that can happen to anyone at any time, and that 70 percent of people who receive the unemployment benefit come off it within 12 months, will she not just reject the Welfare Working Group’s punishing, punitive report and all its recommendations?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: No.
Hon Annette King: Has a date been set for the Government to announce its response to the Welfare Working Group’s recommendation; if so, what is that date?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: No.
4. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that New Zealanders were “more than compensated” for last year’s increase in GST?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, because at the same time that GST went up, income taxes were reduced across the board, and benefits, along with Working for Families and New Zealand superannuation, were increased. Those changes at least compensated—in most cases, more than compensated—people for the increase in GST. If the member disputes that, then she should fire up the bus and campaign on reversing the tax cuts.
Hon Annette King: I think the last part of the answer was unnecessary, Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: No.
Hon Annette King: How long did he envisage that the impact of the GST increase to 15 percent would take to filter through the system, at which time those on fixed incomes, like pensioners and beneficiaries, would be compensated for price increases through the normal annual adjustment?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In some cases, price increases from GST have not actually filtered through; people have reduced their margins and held prices. But the increases to beneficiaries and the like were immediate.
Hon Annette King: I could not hear the last part of the answer.
Mr SPEAKER: Would the Prime Minister mind repeating the last part of the answer.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The increase to benefits, Working for Families, and the like were made immediately on 1 October.
Hon Annette King: Why did the Government legislate for the temporary pre-funding of pensions and benefits to be withdrawn on 31 March, in 16 days’ time, even though Treasury is predicting that the CPI will rise to 4.5 percent by 31 December this year? If he is true to his word that pre-funding will more than compensate for price increases, will he now extend pre-funding until March 2012 to help people through the tough times ahead?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is very simple: an annual calculation is done for an increase in benefits, superannuation, and the like that takes into account yearly inflation. Of course, that figure includes the 2.02 percent increase from GST going up. The Government put a temporary patch on to get people through till the annual adjustment took place. The Government then took it up, took that temporary patch off, and compensated it fully with the increase in the CPI.
Hon Annette King: Does he believe Grey Power when it stated 3 weeks ago that there have been extraordinary price rises that are severely challenging the resources of older New Zealanders on fixed incomes, with further cost of living pressures to come throughout this year? Will he revisit the Government’s decision not to keep temporary pre-funding in place until March 2012?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The full increase of the CPI has been passed through with an increase in superannuation. I might add that the increase in superannuation has been significant under our Government because, of course, there are calculations on after-tax average wages, and those amounts have increased significantly under our Government. Whether there have been extraordinary increases, I do not know, but if Grey Power wants to detail them that is fine. One thing I can say to its members—and I know they thank me for it every time I go and see them—is thank goodness they do not have a Labour Government, under which power prices went up 72 percent in 9 years.
Hon Annette King: Is he aware that Grey Power members believed his promise to assist them and beneficiaries through the period while price increases stabilised, but now they believe that his lack of commitment to that promise indicates the shallowness of his October 2010 assurances; and will he now apologise to Grey Power members, many of whom are on fixed incomes and face a difficult year ahead as costs keep going up?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member might be trying to confuse New Zealanders; she has obviously confused her own back bench. The reality is that an adjustment takes place every year for the CPI. That adjustment is in—
Hon Annette King: Tell Grey Power.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: If the member wants to hear the answer, she is welcome to; if she does not, I am happy to sit down and we will not bother answering questions.
Rahui Katene: Does he believe that New Zealanders have been adequately compensated for the GST rise, given that for the full year fruit and vegetable prices increased by 8.1 percent? What consideration will he give to the Māori Party proposal to remove GST from healthy foods?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes. It is important to understand that the increase in GST is only one reason for the overall increase in food prices. I might add that, in terms of fresh fruit and vegetables, in certain areas there has actually been a reduction in cost over the course of the last 12 months.
Hon Trevor Mallard: When will the final items be measured by the Department of Statistics and incorporated into the CPI—the ones that went up in October but have not been measured yet? When will they finally be measured and incorporated into the CPI this year?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In part, they already are. In terms of the others, I will have to check.
Earthquake, Christchurch—Ministry’s Response
5. NICKY WAGNER (National) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: How is her ministry responding to support the Christchurch recovery following last month’s earthquake?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Very quickly. We have already helped over 85,000 people with financial assistance totalling about $85 million.
Nicky Wagner: How have businesses responded in taking up the earthquake support subsidy?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The earthquake support subsidy has been used by 7,825 businesses. Some have already opted out, so the next group of payments may not be for the full 3 weeks. I encourage businesses that do not need it to voluntarily opt out so there is support for those that do.
Darien Fenton: Is she concerned about the hundreds of cleaners in Christchurch offices and schools, and the caregivers in aged-care facilities, who have been unable to access their workplaces but who are excluded from job-loss cover because they were employed by multinational or national companies?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes. We have tried to make exceptions for some of those cases. If the member would like to raise them with me, I would be more than happy to look at them in more detail to see whether we can do something.
Darien Fenton: Why is the wage subsidy not available in cases where the employer can offer work, but the workers cannot attend, due to the need to support their families and where workers have genuine reasons for their absence?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: There are exceptions where it is available, but, to be honest, as part of the recovery, those who can work need to. I understand that some people are struggling with that; as a consequence, a lot of them are receiving payments from the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management. Those payments have totalled well over $12 million to date, and they are still available. We figure that there is other assistance for those who are unable to get to work. Schools being back up, like they are, should make a difference as well. But we have a bit available for exceptions and exceptional cases.
Earthquake, Christchurch—Adequacy of Actions and Areas of Concern
6. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his answers to oral question No. 1 on 8 March 2011; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Jacinda Ardern: Is he satisfied that every possible effort was made after the September quake to ensure that young tradespeople part-way through their training continue that training?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: People always do their best.
Jacinda Ardern: When he said “In terms of the skills capability … there is quite a pool of people in the construction sector from around New Zealand, and, potentially, from around the world”, was he acknowledging that a skills shortage exists in New Zealand?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, it was the opposite: to explain that there are some people who have skills in the construction sector but who are currently unemployed around New Zealand.
Jacinda Ardern: Is there a shortage of people with plumbing skills for the Christchurch rebuild?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There probably will be, given the size of the job at hand. That is why both the Minister of Social Development and the Minister for Tertiary Education are working on that issue as we speak.
Jacinda Ardern: Is he concerned about the number of partly trained plumbers who have left New Zealand for Australia since September?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, and I think Helen Clark should apologise for it.
Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I am on my feet.
Jacinda Ardern: My question specifically asked about the period since September. I am not sure what Helen Clark has to do with that time period.
Mr SPEAKER: I am not sure that we are helping ourselves here. The member should reflect on the question she asked the Prime Minister, about whether he was concerned about plumbers going to Australia. The Prime Minister answered by saying yes, he was, and he gave a reason for why he thought they might be going. [Interruption] I am on my feet. I cannot help with the answer; that was the answer that was given. [Interruption] Members know better than that. A little order, please.
Jacinda Ardern: What does he say to Julie Colthurst, whose son has been forced to move to Australia to find a plumbing apprenticeship even after completing 12 months of plumbing training at Manukau Institute of Technology?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I ask him to please get in contact with my office.
Jacinda Ardern: Does he agree with an area manager from the Apprenticeship Training Trust that “from business reports the boost in the construction sector is just not happening and that Christchurch situation will further delay projects. Apprenticeship opportunities in Auckland are few and far between.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: If the opportunities in Auckland are few and far between, there will certainly be opportunities in Christchurch, because a $20 billion rebuild is coming.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why did the Prime Minister’s Ministers not take action to prevent people like this young man from leaving the country?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am glad that the member asked that question, because this Government has taken lots of steps to prevent people from going from New Zealand. We have cut personal taxes, we have got on top of the crime wave that was prevalent when those members were in Government, we have made a priority of economic growth, we have had an outward-facing economy, and under our Government fewer people have left for Australia than under the previous Government.
Hon Phil Goff: Why will the Prime Minister not concede that the reason why a new record number of New Zealanders qualified in the skilled areas are leaving to go to Australia is because, first, the wage gap has grown not narrowed as he promised, and, secondly, the building industry is at its lowest point for 45 years in terms of house starts?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, the housing construction starts are low. That is a reflection of the fact that we have gone through a global recession and that is the impact that has been most highly felt. But over the course of the next 4 or 5 years I do not think that finding jobs in the construction industry will be a problem if people are prepared to work in Christchurch.
Earthquake, Christchurch—Support Provided by Department of Corrections
7. AARON GILMORE (National) to the Minister of Corrections: What support has the Department of Corrections provided to the people of Christchurch following last month’s earthquake?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Corrections): I am pleased to report that prisoners have been hard at work supporting the people of Christchurch since the earthquake last month. The three Canterbury prison kitchens have put together 5,000 ration packs, 350 heat-and-eat meals, and 500 packs of fresh vegetables harvested from the prisons’ organic vegetable gardens. Prisoners have assembled 5,000 sanitation packs, which have been provided to welfare agencies for distribution to those in need. The Department of Corrections has also provided a 44-foot shipping container of surplus supplies to civil defence. The supplies included 30,000 bottles of handwash, 185,000 antibacterial wipes, and a number of water containers.
Aaron Gilmore: What else has the Department of Corrections been doing to help Christchurch recover from the earthquake?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Since the earthquake, offenders on community work have been clearing the streets and helping schools to get up and running. They have also been helping to tidy
up local marae and assist in the relocation of some of the Christchurch City Mission services. This weekend prisoners will be making 2,000 lunches for the Farmy Army and the Student Volunteer Army. Department vehicles will also be used to help transport student army volunteers. I acknowledge the hundreds of Department of Corrections staff who have kept our prison and probation services running in Canterbury despite facing considerable difficulties of their own at home.
Earthquake, Christchurch—Predicted Outcome for Christchurch Earthquake Appeal
8. Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) to the Minister of Finance: How much has he budgeted to raise from the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal and has this figure been revised in light of the Japanese earthquake?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): We have not budgeted on any money from the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal, simply because it has been set up as a charitable trust and it is not intended to substitute for core Government responsibilities or to replicate the emergency relief support provided by Government or other charitable agencies. It may end up addressing the gap between the core Government and other charitable agencies, but we are not counting on any cash from it.
Dr Kennedy Graham: If the Government is not counting on any particular amount, and essentially has no idea how much is going to come, and given that the Crown’s bill is likely to be close to $10 billion, why is he not actively considering a temporary levy on income as a way to cover the massive shortfall?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are a range of ways we can finance the earthquake, as we have said since the earthquake occurred. In the first place, we need to get better information about what those costs will be, because the ranges given are often between $2 billion, $3 billion, and $5 billion, and then we will be considering whether the Government is going to fund those costs by taking on more debt or reprioritising its spending. The Government has been looking at tightening up its spending in any case, regardless of the earthquake.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Given that the Australian Government, whose books are actually in better shape than ours, is using a levy to pay for its disaster, rather than incurring more debt, as is the intention here, why is the Government not seriously considering one?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It has been seriously considered, and I think we have said before that our preference would be to not bring in a levy, particularly at this time when economic growth is relatively weak. Many households do feel under pressure with their incomes and concerns about their jobs, particularly in Christchurch, and we would not want to reverse direction by imposing an extra cost on the economy at a time when we all have to work pretty hard to get it up and running.
Earthquake and Tsunami, Japan—New Zealand Urban Search and Rescue Team
9. JO GOODHEW (National—Rangitata) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: What work will the New Zealand urban search and rescue team be carrying out in Japan?
Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister of Internal Affairs): I am informed by the New Zealand Fire Service that the New Zealand urban search and rescue team will be working in the town of Minami Sanriku in the Miyagi Prefecture in north-east Japan. This area is one of the most badly affected by the tsunami. The urban search and rescue team’s work will involve identifying the sites most likely to offer potential for finding survivors, undertaking rescue operations, and helping to move survivors to places of safety.
Jo Goodhew: What urban search and rescue capability will remain in New Zealand to deal with another major event?
Hon NATHAN GUY: The team deployed to Japan was in part from each of the three New Zealand urban search and rescue task forces. The Fire Service has advised that each of the three task forces are still able to operate and will backfill vacancies, if needed, from the Fire Service. In the
case of a significant disaster event in New Zealand, we would also look to international assistance, as was the case for the 22 February Christchurch earthquake.
Earthquake, Christchurch—Restoration of Roading
10. Hon SHANE JONES (Labour) to the Minister of Transport: Does he stand by his statement that the $300 million bill for restoring the Christchurch road network will not be causing any “dramatic issues”, and what is his time frame for the completion of this work?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): Generally yes, although I stress it is very early days and the $300 million figure has since been widened to $400 million and is simply the best rough estimate of the cost to repair the Christchurch road network at this point. In the context of the approximately $3 billion available annually in the National Land Transport Fund, that current estimate is manageable and will not cause any dramatic issues in the shape of that fund. The cost is likely to be spread over 4 to 5 years, but again I would say the timing is very much dependent on the extent of damage to underground services and the time frame for repairing that damage.
Hon Shane Jones: The Minister told this House on 8 September that the damage to the State highway network from the first quake was $6 million to $10 million; can he now give us a revised figure that includes both levels of damage?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am doing this from memory, but I think it was less than $10 million after the September quake, and the number is in the order of $20 million following the 22 February quake for the State highway network. The local roading network is what it is in relation to the $300 million to $400 million figure. After the September quake the Christchurch City estimates for local road damage was around $185 million, and that was subsequently revised down to $85 million earlier this year.
Hon Shane Jones: Given the inevitable changes and stresses on the National Land Transport Fund as a consequence of the Christchurch earthquake, has he informed the Mayor of Auckland, Len Brown, that the earthquake-related transport costs means his Government will not be supporting the mayor’s public transport aspirations, such as the central business district rail link?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, I have said to the mayor that the public transport aspirations for Auckland will not be any easier to fund—nothing will be easier to fund—as a result of the additional cost of the Christchurch earthquake. I point out to the member two things: firstly, the Government has made no decision to fund that project at this point; and, secondly, it would not be funded from the National Land Transport Fund.
Hon Shane Jones: Will the Minister abandon his favoured project, otherwise known as the “Holiday Highway” and at a cost of $1.7 billion, and divert those funds to the more valuable purpose of restoring Christchurch’s transport infrastructure?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No. The Government will not be adjusting its roads of national significance programme, except perhaps in relation to some timing matters. Those seven projects were chosen on the basis of their contribution to economic growth in New Zealand, their improvement of journey reliability, and their contribution to safety. I would have thought that the member as a Northland MP may have been focused on economic development in Auckland, but perhaps not.
Earthquake, Christchurch—Restoration of Roading
11. COLIN KING (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister of Transport: What work has been done to repair and reopen Christchurch’s roads and highways following the 22 February earthquake?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): The State highway network was, in fact, remarkably resilient. The New Zealand Transport Agency worked quickly to check and reopen the vital roading links in Christchurch, including the Lyttelton tunnel, which was reopened to emergency vehicles the day after the quake, and State Highway 74, which was reopened to general
traffic flows by 24 February. The major focus has been the removal of tonnes of silt from roads in Christchurch, and some remedial work has taken place on State Highways 73 and 74, including new seals.
Colin King: What is being done to assist the Christchurch City Council with the repairs of local roads that are required?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The New Zealand Transport Agency and its contractor on the Christchurch Southern Motorway project immediately released workers from that project in order to fix immediate problems with the roads. The New Zealand Transport Agency is also providing engineers from around the country to assist the council with damage assessment. Looking ahead, the New Zealand Transport Agency will provide a significantly higher than normal rate of funding assistance to the council so that it can get on with local road and bridge repairs. As mentioned in answer to the earlier question, the cost of the repairs is currently estimated at between $300 million and $400 million. In addition, we are looking at contracting arrangements that will provide Christchurch with an efficient and coordinated response to the repair of roads and other horizontal infrastructure.
Earthquake, Christchurch—Heritage Buildings and Recovery of Cultural Artefacts
12. Hon STEVE CHADWICK (Labour) to the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage: Has he had any discussions with the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery about heritage buildings or recovering cultural artefacts from buildings damaged by the earthquake on 22 February; if so, what did he say to the Minister?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage): Yes, we have had a number of conversations about those issues. We both agreed that the priority was first to ensure that the city was as safe as possible for the rescue effort, and then the recovery and rebuilding effort could begin.
Hon Steve Chadwick: Did he read the statement by Blue Shield, the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross, placing the expertise and network of its members at the disposal of their New Zealand colleagues; if so, what action has he taken to ensure that it is involved in the process?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I do not recall reading that statement; I am sure that Ministry for Culture and Heritage officials will have read it. We are certainly anxious to contact as many people as possible around the globe to assist us with the tasks of reconstruction and also, I might add, deconstruction, which is a different concept from demolition. It is focused deconstruction, saving the materials until reconstruction can begin.
Hon Steve Chadwick: Does he agree with Bruce Chapman, the chief executive of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, that much of Christchurch’s heritage could be saved; if so, what action has he taken to ensure that as much as possible is saved, after all due regard is had to safety?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I certainly agree with Mr Chapman. He, I, and a group of my Cabinet colleagues visited Christchurch last Sunday and were briefed by civil defence and various engineers on what could be done to save buildings. Mr Chapman’s views are commendable, but they are not his alone.
Hon Steve Chadwick: I seek leave to table the Blue Shield statement on Christchurch, offering assistance to the New Zealand Government. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.