Speech to the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce
Rt Hon John Key
Prime Minister & Leader of the National
2 September 2014
Speech to the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce
Thank you to everybody for coming to this event today.
And I would like to thank the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce for hosting this event.
Two days from now, it will be four years to the day since the first Canterbury earthquake.
That earthquake, on the 4th of September 2010, was very damaging, but as we all know, worse was to come on the 22nd of February 2011.
Since day one, the National Government I lead has stood beside the people of Canterbury, as we moved from the initial response to the emergency and into the recovery and rebuild.
I want to acknowledge that the recovery has been difficult for a great many people.
Some are still in difficult circumstances.
But I want to assure you that I remain as committed now as I was then to ensuring everything possible Is done – and continues to be done – to aid the recovery and rebuild.
It’s appropriate that we take stock now of where we are, just shy of four years from the first earthquake.
We have moved firmly from demolition to construction in the central city.
Every time I visit Christchurch there is something new to see, and this hectic rebuild phase is only going to ramp up over the next few years.
I want to acknowledge that everyone in this room is playing a significant role in the recovery.
The Government’s efforts would have been lost without your commitment to keeping jobs and businesses here after the earthquakes struck.
More than three years on, your businesses are helping to bring life back to the central city, and are fuelling strong economic activity in the region.
The unwavering commitment of businesses and employers in the region speaks to the strength of this city and the wider Canterbury community.
You have ensured that rather than face economic collapse and ruin, Canterbury has gone from strength to strength and will continue to do so.
I also want to acknowledge here the leadership shown by the Christchurch City Council, and the Selwyn and Waimakariri district councils.
The City Council, led during the earthquakes by Mayor Bob Parker, and since the last local body elections by Lianne Dalziel, has frankly faced a huge task as it has tried to cope with its share of the recovery and rebuild.
But what I can say is that the Government is standing with the council – and the people of this city - through all this. And I want to thank the Mayor, the councillors, and the staff for all the work they do.
If there have been tensions they should be seen as to be expected when passionate Cantabrians discuss the best ways to advance the province and city.
The Government’s support for the recent Cameron Partners report on Council finances, which identified a longer-term problem and advanced some possible solutions, sets a basis for ongoing talks between the Government and the Council on how to best achieve the results we all want.
I can tell you today that should National have the privilege of governing again after the election on September 20, the commitment we gave on day one will remain as unwavering as ever.
Our next term will be about building on the progress we’ve made so far as we move beyond the rebuild to a more business as usual mode of operation for the Government in Christchurch.
We are gradually starting to see a return to business as usual, but I stress again that the Government is in Canterbury for the long haul and we will not rest until the job is done.
Progress so far
I want to run through some of the things we’ve achieved together to get the city back on its feet, and moving forward.
The results we’re seeing can give us huge confidence in the future. Canterbury’s economy is pumping and there were 37,000 additional jobs created in the region over the last year.
This includes a large number of construction jobs, but there’s also been strong growth in other sectors.
Exports are driving the recovery, with a 22 per cent increase in exports out of Lyttelton Port in the year to June, valued at over $3.6 billion.
In housing, residential building consents have exceeded the highs from 2007.
More than 11,000 new homes have been consented in greater Christchurch since 2012.
In the central city, road and pipe repairs will be 90 per cent complete by Christmas. Across the whole city, the horizontal infrastructure rebuild programme is half complete.
In the central city, we are also making great strides with the anchor projects – everything from the convention centre to the bus interchange to the Avon River park to the retail precinct.
The certainty created by the Blueprint Plan we released in 2012 for the central city has given confidence to other investors as well.
More than 200 buildings are finished, reinstated or under construction within the four avenues.
The Vodafone building, which anchors the new Innovation Precinct, will be a premier example of the ultra-modern workplaces that are springing up.
During the next three years, an international standard convention centre to bring thousands of business tourists to the city will be opened.
The concept design released last month shows what a fantastic building this will be, flanked by the Avon River in the heart of the city.
Across the road in the Performing Arts Precinct the Music Centre, Court Theatre and Symphony Orchestra will be the core tenants and will drive the social and cultural recovery.
The Metro Sports Facility is also on track to open in 2017.
Outside the central city, we are investing more than a billion dollars to build new schools, repair existing ones, and add new classrooms.
The rebuilds of Christchurch and Burwood hospitals will make them world class. Hundreds of millions are being poured into tertiary institutions – CPIT, and Canterbury and Lincoln universities.
We are building a city we can all be proud of.
I firmly believe that the new Christchurch won’t just be as good as it was before, but better.
Together we are building a modern city that will stand proud and deliver for its people.
I want to turn now to the future of the Government’s arrangements with regard to Canterbury earthquake recovery.
For a number of months, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee has been considering an orderly and timely transition from the current response arrangements to an appropriate relationship between central and local government that reflects confidence in the long-term recovery.
In 2011 the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority -- or CERA -- was set up under legislation that also granted special powers to both the authority and the Minister to ensure the recovery remained on track.
The powers were legislated for because of the magnitude of the recovery task that we faced. The powers that have been used, have been exercised responsibly.
They currently expire in April 2016, though CERA does not automatically wind up at that time.
The recovery will not simply come to an abrupt end on that date, and the Government’s interest in the recovery won’t end then either.
There is a need to make arrangements beyond April 2016.
CERA is currently responsible for 24 areas of work and three recovery plans.
Each is important and should run its course. Some are in collaboration with local councils and Ngāi Tahu.
CERA also has the Central City Development Unit within its responsibility, and represents Crown interests in the SCIRT horizontal infrastructure programme.
Expecting CERA to engage in, and lead, discussions about transition is too much of an ask when the agency is focused on such a big work programme.
Bearing all that in mind, yesterday the Minister brought a paper to Cabinet for decisions about where we go from here on transition arrangements.
To ensure there is no loss of momentum in the recovery, we have determined that a central agency needs to lead the transition.
Accordingly from 1 February 2015, CERA will become a departmental agency within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
CERA will remain the face of the Government’s recovery effort in Christchurch.
But housing CERA within the department enables its functions to be wound back gradually -- rather than seeing its role come to an abrupt end.
Many people will not know that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet also now houses the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management.
We are keen that CERA and the ministry work closely together so the lessons learnt from both the initial response and the recovery phases of the Canterbury earthquakes are adopted permanently and shared widely.
Hosting CERA and the ministry together within DPMC will ensure this happens.
How will this new arrangement work, and what will be the difference?
First, Roger Sutton who has done an excellent job in establishing and driving CERA, will remain chief executive but will join a team of senior state sector officials who will develop a plan for the transition.
This will include an analysis of the need for powers granted under the CERA Act to endure beyond 2016, and a plan for the handover of programmes to either government agencies or local government.
At the time we passed the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act in 2011, we anticipated that most of the special powers in the Act would be able to expire by April 2016.
There will be certain functions in the law which may need to continue. Many of the provisions are still used on a regular basis and are required to ensure the recovery work is effective.
For example, the law currently underpins Recovery Plans, workers’ indemnities, and compensation for land acquisitions, all of which remain needed.
On the other hand, the bulk of the more far-reaching legislative powers, such as the ability to direct local councils, will be able to expire as planned.
We have also decided to establish an advisory group to assist the Minister and transition team on appropriate transfers of responsibilities, and a timeline for doing so.
There will be other matters that come up which the Minister will refer to the advisory group.
Expected to be appointed later in the year, the advisory group will include representatives from local councils, ECan, and Ngāi Tahu and other yet to be determined stakeholders.
The decisions Cabinet has made show the Government has been doing a lot of thinking about how the transition can be undertaken in as orderly a way as possible.
We recognise that within all the institutions of greater Christchurch, including private enterprise, business as usual will not be the same as before the earthquakes.
We believe it can be better.
In advancing these arrangements, we want to give reassurance to the people of Canterbury that in no way are we lessening our commitment to the rebuild and recovery.
What we are doing is expressing confidence in the future.
I want to touch briefly now on the regional council, ECan.
Let’s not forget how we ended up installing commissioners.
ECan was dysfunctional – to the extent that all the Mayors of the region wrote to then then Local Government Minister asking that action be taken. That sentiment was shared by other stakeholders too.
When it comes to the future, we need to ensure a smooth transition to long-term arrangements.
The ECan Commissioners’ term will end at a single point in time in October 2016 before local body elections are held. If this happens too abruptly, there are real risks of a lack of continuity and we could see the region go backwards.
Immediately after the election, we plan to release a consultation document on ECan’s future. We are committed to seeing elections happen.
However, we need to ensure that the gains made by the Commissioners are not lost.
The options we will propose for consultation range from a fully elected governing body, to a mixed model of elected and appointed members.
In conclusion, can I say that the recovery will not end abruptly on any particular date.
The rebuild and recovery has so far cost New Zealander taxpayers more than $15 billion.
There are still complex and difficult issues to be faced by both central and local government, and other agencies and organisations.
To ensure that we do not lose momentum as the city rebuilds and recovers, we want to build on the progress made so far to ensure Christchurch and the surrounding region continues to go from strength to strength.
As I have said, our commitment remains as unwavering as it was on day one.
We will continue to stand beside the people of Christchurch and Canterbury.
We have absolute confidence in the future of this great city, and we will continue working for Christchurch until the job is done.
Our vision is that this city be rebuilt as a place we can all be proud of – a great place to live in, work in and raise a family in.