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Ridding Christchurch of Red Tape

Ridding Christchurch of Red Tape
The Christchurch Earthquake Memorial Service that was held in Hagley Park today was another step in showing the people of Christchurch the rest of the country is with them and they haven't been forgotten. In light of today’s service, arguments over whether or not it was too early are now academic. However, the fact that Prince William and Hayley Westenra flew in especially for the service, along with the country's leaders has a positive effect on the hearts and souls of those who have lost loved ones and suffered as a result of the quake.

The hard yards have already started though and now that the memorial service is over our minds need to go back to how best to get Christchurch and her people on their feet again.

It is amazing to see what rises phoenix like from the ashes of a crisis.

Decision making at a government level can be complex and time-consuming; regulations, legislation and convoluted consultation make it hard to do even the simplest of jobs.

However, I am encouraged by some of what I’ve seen coming out of the Christchurch crisis. Government has focused on the recovery effort and some initiatives give me hope that we may yet be able to move forward and reclaim our position as one of the best countries in the world. Three very recent examples are responsible for this glimmer of hope.

The first is an example of how consents for projects should happen. Just days after the earthquake Minister Gerry Brownlee issued consent for one of power company Orion's new networks in the quake affected suburb of Bromley and it took only five minutes to do it. The Minister proudly announced his speedy decision but no-one asked the question: “Why does it normally take weeks or months, along with a hefty fee, to gain consent for exactly the same type of project?” It shouldn’t take a crisis to cut red-tape in order to gain efficiencies.

The second example occurred when the Prime Minister visited welfare centres in affected areas two weeks after the earthquake struck. The welfare centres offered a range of social services under the one roof making it easier for people to access those they needed. The concept seemed to be quite a revelation to the Prime Minister who declared that: "They (people) can come to one location and have all of their needs addressed," and "This is the future of welfare centres in New Zealand, where we combine lots of activities in one shop."

I've been advocating a one-stop shop for social services since I arrived in parliament in 2002. A one-stop shop gets away from silo thinking and silo funding and provides complete wrap-around service for those in need. The real step that needs to be taken is for government departments to work more closely together rather than jealously guarding their respective budgets. Ministers will need to take the lead if this is ever to happen effectively and a good start would be to combine health and welfare as one portfolio. It is already often the case that the same people require the help of both agencies.

The third and most exciting example is in education. Many schools were damaged in the earthquake and are uninhabitable. Out of necessity many schools in Christchurch are currently sharing property so students can be educated and life returns to some sort of normality for them. Sharing the same facilities, one school will use the classrooms for a morning shift and another school moves in for the afternoon shift.

The ACT minority report – produced as a result of the inter-party working group on School Choice - Free to Learn (http://roy.org.nz/Files/FREE_TO_LEARN.pdf ) - suggested just this to better utilise school property and buildings which are normally used from 9am-3pm, 5 days a week, 40 weeks a year. This is terrible under-utilisation of an asset and costs the state dearly. When I asked the Minister of Education over a year ago why this couldn't just happen (some schools have been wanting to have morning and afternoon sessions for some time) I was told the law precludes it. The Education Act says students must attend school for at least 2 hours before lunch and 2 hours after lunch. I said we should change the law - she said it would take time to do that. There are other schools around the country that would welcome this opportunity and it shouldn’t only be given to those in Christchurch.

When decisions are made sans polling and handwringing, based on the obvious and in the cold hard light of a crisis, common sense often prevails. Once we've helped Christchurch let's use the lessons learned throughout the whole country.

Lest We Forget

While New Zealand mourns with Christchurch it is fitting to reflect that the city has a long and proud history – a history that I’m sure will develop and flourish in the years to come. Originally the name “Christ Church” was decided on by settlers arriving in the 1850s. The settlers, dubbed The Canterbury Pilgrims, decided on the name before even arriving in Canterbury. The name was suggested by John Robert Godley, who had attended Christ Church, Oxford.

While initially recorded as Christ Church the city was recorded as Christchurch in the Canterbury Association’s minutes, the name has since stuck. Christchurch became a city by Royal Charter on 31 July 1856, making it New Zealand’s oldest established city.


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