Denis O’Rourke: Maiden Speech
Denis O’Rourke: Maiden Speech
On this occasion I would like to extend greetings to New Zealand First supporters throughout the country,
And especially to my friends and supporters in Christchurch, to whom I also extend my sincere thanks.
My home town is on its knees:
Christchurch is bent buckled and broken
In everything except spirit.
My first objective as a list MP for New Zealand First, and as a proud Cantabrian, is to do all I can to assist with the recovery from the earthquakes
And also to seek better governance for the City.
So I will speak about those issues first.
Secondly, I will speak about Egalitarianism as my driving force in politics.
And thirdly, I will talk about Environmental Sustainability as a strongly held personal mission.
FIRST - CHRISTCHURCH
Magnitude 6.3 for the February 2011 quake does not adequately describe it.
In my home on the Port Hills, directly above the fault, I felt the indescribable force of vertical ground acceleration 2.2 times the force of gravity, the largest ever recorded anywhere in a populated area.
But it was the great rolling waves following the initial shock which threatened to turn my home onto its side. Luckily it came back to the vertical again.
And on top of all that was the severity of the shaking for nearly a minute.
I helped neighbours out of shattered homes, and I looked across at the cloud of white dust rising over the central city, a thousand feet high and four kilometres wide.
Then came the exodus from the central city
People abandoned their cars on unpassable roads covered in liquifaction, and were exhausted even before reaching the hill, often with cuts and bruises and tears streaming down terrified faces, searching for children at the local school, or rushing home to loved ones.
Those terrible experiences are now all in the past.
But the effects are not.
We who live in Christchurch will rebuild our homes and our city.
And it is still New Zealand’s second largest city, essential to the nation’s economy, and especially to the viability and progress of the South Island.
The government’s initial response was welcome, even though many have reservations about home valuations and a raft of other issues.
It is what happens next that really matters.
We must turn adversity into advantage.
There are 6,600 homes in the red zone, 1,000 in the orange zone, and thousands more elsewhere requiring demolition and replacement, or reinstatement.
Too little is being done, and much too late.
While nobody wants bad, hasty decisions made, neither can the current uncertainties and delays be allowed to continue.
For many people these are worse than the earthquakes themselves.
And the Earthquake Commission has been too slow, as have the insurance companies with the reinstatement or rebuilding of homes and businesses.
The Commission has paid too much attention to administration, and too little to getting the work done on the ground.
It is clearly under-resourced, and is unable to reach its statutory targets.
It needs to put more resources where they are most needed, especially the rebuilding and reinstatement of homes and businesses, and the funding approvals needed for those purposes.
And we all want to know what will happen to the red zoned land.
As the thousands of houses are demolished, we must not be left with vast areas of dusty demolition deserts to add to the problems we already face.
I call upon the government to urgently establish and fund a plan to turn these areas into properly maintained grassed parklands which will enhance the environment of the city, while final decisions are made on how to deal with this land in the longer term.
Central City building owners also need certainty:
Much good work has been done to develop a plan for a bright new central city for Christchurch.
But when will it be done?
And who will pay for it?
A few have taken the punt that the Central City will recover soon, and have started rebuilding.
Many others are not so sure, and some capital is taking flight.
Leadership is called for, and more resources are required.
Because insurers, developers, and the Council will be unable to fully fund the rebuild, and the implementation of the Plan, in a timely way without assistance.
I call upon the government to quickly establish a major urban renewal fund for central Christchurch, provided over a period of years, designed to assist the rebuild of both public and private structures, for access by way of grants and concessionary loans, by building owners and businesses, and by the City Council for public space and transport enhancements.
This would go a long way to encourage an early rebuild at a standard all New Zealand can be proud of.
Another urgent issue for the government is Insurance:
Many thousands of home owners in Christchurch cannot get insurance for new homes, or cannot get new insurance for their existing properties. Some companies have departed the market altogether, leaving significant insurance gaps.
Without insurance people can’t get a mortgage, blocking rebuilding.
I call upon the government to re-establish a government backed insurer in New Zealand with a mission to provide cover for everybody who needs it.
Kiwi Bank has been a great success.
So could Kiwi Insurance be too.
But more is needed for Christchurch:
The Christchurch City Council is dysfunctional and deeply unpopular.
Part of the problem is its failure to establish adequate governance systems, delegations, accountability and transparency.
An underlying cause was the unwise decision of the Local Government Commission in 2004 to reduce the number of councillors from 24 to 13 while at the same time greatly increasing the size of the city.
Small councils for large populations are neither viable nor democratic.
On top of this was the sacking of the Canterbury Regional Council.
Its poor performance, especially over water issues, did justify its replacement by commissioners.
But it is obvious now that Christchurch needs a new broom to clean up the whole local government mess, and local democracy must be restored.
It is time for a new unitary authority for Christchurch to be established for election in 2013.
Unitary authorities for all of the Canterbury local authorities are needed, with no need to change boundaries, but with an adequate number of councillors for good governance and effective representation of residents.
The time for the government to act on this is now.
Delay will serve neither the need for certainty, nor the need to restore effective democratic governance.
MOVING ON TO OTHER MATTERS:
I AM AN EGALITARIANIST
And born in 1946, I am one of the first of the baby boomers.
I want to restore the best of the New Zealand I grew up in:
- A country which celebrates personal achievement, but not by the strong benefitting at the expense of those less able.
- A country which does not have the great gap between rich and poor we see today.
- And a country which not only keeps but develops its important strategic publicly owned assets, especially power generation companies, for the general benefit of all, not only for the private benefit of those who can afford to buy shares.
I want to do all I can to remove prejudice, division, and greed.
And I want to close the income gap:
Already in this country incomes are too low for most, and too high for some.
The trend under successive National and Labour governments has been in the wrong direction.
We must progressively raise the minimum wage to a level capable of adequately supporting a home owning family.
But instead our system encourages greed.
The huge salaries received by some are not really earned - they simply exploit the system.
The tax system must be used to help close the incomes gap.
It needs comprehensive review.
By an independent commission (once again) with terms of reference aimed at a fairer system.
And the government must actually implement its findings.
Anomalies such as gst on rates, a tax upon a tax, should be removed.
GST has been increased too much as a proportion of the total tax take.
It should be reduced.
It impacts unfairly on the poor.
But the tax system must also be broadened, including appropriate capital taxation measures, and it must be more progressive.
Most of all it must eliminate the tax minimisation methods by which high earners currently pay much less than they should..
With regard to superannuation:
The main parties seem to see the elderly as a problem.
To me and to New Zealand First they have earned superannuation at a level to provide a reasonable living income, along with a range of Gold Card services to make retirement easier.
Baby boomers were told during their working lives, by successive governments, to rely on the taxation system for their retirement incomes, but now (much too late) they are being told to rely on savings.
And they were told to rely on 65 as the qualifying age, but now the message seems to be 67 or even 70 years.
This would be a gross betrayal, and effectively a breach of the social contract which resulted from the acts and policies of past National and Labour governments.
The qualifying age should remain at 65 years indefinitely, but with an option for individuals to delay it in return for a higher pension.
Concerning other social services, especially health education and housing:
Access must never depend on the financial capacity of the individual, but must be available to everybody on the same terms, and at the best standard achievable.
Long hospital waiting lists and excessive class sizes are evidence of inept government and bad prioritisation of resources.
State funded services must never be compromised by subsidies for private services.
And run down state services are never an excuse for privatisation.
While people must always be free to buy fully private services,we must see that the there is no need to do so, by the quality and availability of all essential public services.
More intervention is also needed by the government in the housing market.
Too many young people are unable to buy a home because of income and deposit constraints.
Access to subsidised home savings, and concessionary loans provided or underwritten by the government should be put in place.
NOW ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY
New Zealanders have failed to live within the natural constraints of the physical environment.
Only our low population has saved us from the worst effects.
We are not just degrading our own world,
We are robbing future generations.
New Zealand needs a practical, achievable, honest approach to sustainability issues, not ineffective greenwash.
Much more attention is needed to employ green technologies for future development.
The top priority is water - the gold or oil of the 21st century.
I currently chair the Central Plains Water Trust in Canterbury.
Its plan and consents for irrigation with water from the Rakaia and Waimakariri rivers are based on protecting the natural character of the rivers through compliance with a robust regime of minimum flows, protecting acquifers from excessive extraction by providing surface water and on avoidance of pollution using a mandatory sustainable farming protocol built into the consents and into water user contracts.
That approach must be entrenched through tougher regulation everywhere in this country.
But without the large scale storage of water taken at times of plentiful flow, the reliability and sustainability of such schemes is compromised.
The $400 million so far announced to assist sustainable schemes with storage is a drop in the bucket.
A much greater commitment by government is needed if New Zealand is to achieve sustainable agricultural development and greater diversification..
Energy is another top priority
The fossil fuel age has peaked and is already in decline.
New Zealand is rich in renewable energy opportunities:
These and other methods require government leadership and investment.
There is no need to take the risks associated with deep sea drilling or fracking.
Waste issues still need urgent attention in New Zealand
I was proud to lead the Kate Valley regional landfill project in Canterbury, achieving much better environmental protection.
But Landfills will never be sustainable.
It is essential to recover much more of our wasted resources.
With others, I set up The Recovered Materials Foundation, and two commercial companies for these purposes.
Only to be frustrated by the inept policies and practices of local government, and inaction on the part of Labour and national governments alike.
Comprehensive regulation is needed to ensure the diversion of recoverable materials away from landfills.
This would not damage businesses, but would instead lead to more efficiency and cost reductions, job creation, and new business opportunities.
Lastly, the ETS is a valid concern for many in this country.
It is not the way to a sustainable future.
But it is the way to economic disaster, especially when our production forests are harvested a few years from now.
It is a deeply flawed system, expensive, limited and uncertain in its effectiveness,
- And it will make some people rich, without achieving its goals.
We can achieve much more, I believe with well developed strategies, excellent planning, well targetted incentives, and comprehensive regulation,
for the sustainable environmental outcomes we need.
My work list is long,
But I pledge to work with members of any party who will genuinely work together for egalitarian policies,
For environmental sustainability for our country,
And for the special support Christchurch needs so desperately at this troubled time.