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Christchurch Earthquake bulletin edition 88

Christchurch
LABOUR MPs
4 August 2011

Christchurch Earthquake bulletin edition 88


The Labour Party’s Christchurch electorate MPs, Clayton Cosgrove (Waimakariri), Ruth Dyson (Port Hills), Lianne Dalziel (Christchurch East) and Brendon Burns (Christchurch Central) have started a regular bulletin to keep people in their electorates and media informed about what is happening at grass roots level.

CLAYTON COSGROVE: Yesterday I asked Attorney-General Chris Finlayson a series of questions in Parliament relating to legal representation for families at the Royal Commission of Inquiry that has been set up following the earthquakes. What I wanted to discover, on behalf of some of these families, was why the Government had done the right thing in providing legal representation for the Pike River families, but was failing to do so for Christchurch families, despite their circumstances being the same to all intents and purposes. After we got past Nick Smith’s totally unnecessary attempt at points-scoring by way of interjection, Chris Finlayson made a serious effort to answer my questions. He believes there is a closer parallel between the Christchurch inquiry and the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Victorian bushfires than there is between Christchurch and Pike River. I am not convinced by his argument. Mr Finlayson says that counsel assisting the Victorian commission liaised with families to help them through the process, and he believes a similar process will occur in Christchurch. There are differences, however, which I believe diminish the strength of his argument. In Victoria a group called Bushfire Legal Help was set up as a collaboration between a number of organisations, including the state-funded Victoria Legal Aid body. Among other actions, this group “initiated advocacy work to promote direct participation of people affected by the bushfires in the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal commission”. The Bushfire Legal Help group also recommended that the legal and human rights of individuals at inquiries such as the Bushfire Royal Commission should be “strengthened and protected”. In other words in Victoria families were able to feel that they were represented legally, just as is the case at Pike River. That’s why I find Mr Finlayson’s explanations, earnest though they may be, insufficient and unconvincing. I believe affected families will feel the same way.

RUTH DYSON: What constitutes news in Wellington seems somewhat trivial at times. Bill English getting booted out of Parliament was a spectacle for sure, but my colleagues and I have constituents booted out of their homes, these people are still without heating, without jobs and without a definitive future in sight. Their struggles are monotonous, relentless, and for many, silent. Their plight is a world away from the woes of Wellington The Governor General and Lady Susan will be visiting Rapaki and Lyttelton tomorrow which is a really appreciated visit of support, particularly given his recent ill health. I know that they will be really impressed with the resilience of the local community and that their visit will be a real morale booster. I am also going to the opening of the new home of the Problem Gambling Foundation at 15 Stanley Street in Sydenham at 3pm tomorrow. They have been inundated with extra work as a result of peoples' response to the quakes and it's great to have them here in our side of town. I am looking forward to the ‘Play-in’ on August 8 to protest funding cuts to playcentres nationwide. Playcentre is generally seen as a politically inactive organisation but they are so worried about planned funding cuts that they are having a protest this Sunday at 1pm on Sunday at Sydenham Park. The idea that the government can give tax cuts to the highest income earners and then cut funding to playcentres just beggars belief but this is what is proposed!

LIANNE DALZIEL: I wish to congratulate the University of Canterbury for holding a series of lectures that help us understand the range of issues we now have to confront in the wake of the earthquakes. (Details on http://www.communityed.canterbury.ac.nz/public_lectures.php) As lay people, we are really only just beginning to come to terms with the reality of what this series of earthquakes has exposed. The University has a range of experts who are able to demystify complex issues. Last night’s lecture saw the associate professor of civil and natural resources engineering, Misko Cubrinovski, talking about liquefaction. He confirmed that the seismic hazard Christchurch currently faces is higher than was anticipated before the earthquakes, meaning we will have to provide more robust design against liquefaction and be more rigorous in the assessment of liquefaction. This confirms for me that we need to start thinking about alternative land use for the residential red zones. I believe we need to press the case for land swapping, in order to free up stronger land not susceptible to liquefaction for residential dwellings. I am aware that the government has ruled out land swaps, but there is support for such an idea in communities that have to face the reality of significant de-population and the impact that will have on their schools, services and businesses But we must build on firm ground – we cannot re-entrench our newly found vulnerability. During my visit to the Queensland Reconstruction Authority, I learned about Grantham – we all recall seeing the dramatic pictures of houses being swept along the river. Obviously parts of Grantham needed to be rebuilt after the flood, but not in the same area of risk. The government has already bought the high ground (literally & figuratively) and is making land available for redevelopment – the work has already begun and the first houses will be under construction as soon as the infrastructure is in place. The Grantham Reconstruction Area Timeline reads like this: Flash Flooding in January; Community Engagement starts in February; Final Plan approved end of July; the first of the people will be in new houses by Christmas. I know that Christchurch has the after-shocks, but I want us to capture the essence of what they have done – use this uncertain time where we can’t rebuild to engage with the community. The vision Grantham wrote for itself post-dates the floods by two years and says this: “Grantham is an amazing place – we have endured tragedy and emerged stronger and prouder, with a wonderful mix of history and character and strong and vibrant new areas that are helping us achieve a safe and bright new future.”

BRENDON BURNS: A Parliamentary select committee heard today that the Auditor General has received complaints about a Christchurch councillor’s on-going involvement on the appointment panel for the council’s chief executive, who will lead Christchurch through its rebuild. Concern was raised due to Cr Aaron Keown remaining on the CEO appointment panel when he has made public and repeated statements in support of current CEO Tony Marryatt, who is seeking reappointment. In response to my questioning around this perceived conflict of interest the OAG said issues of bias and pre-determination arise quite frequently in local government and required careful management. It said that such issues risk legal challenges being made to the courts, especially where a vote is close. The OAG said it is looking at how to respond to the complaints about Cr Keown. A legal battle is already underway involving Cr Keown, with several affidavits filed this week in the High Court against his continued presence on the CEO appointment committee. The last thing we need in Christchurch at this time is an on-going wrangle about the CEO appointment process which leaves the council dysfunctional. The OAG’s guidance on these matters is explicit and deserves to be heeded. Ironically, the updated guidance from the OAG on conflicts of interest was sparked by a complaint I lodged against four then Environment Canterbury councillors who voted against part-charging farmers for water management when they had water rights interests. The complaint was upheld but fed claims about ECAN being dysfunctional.

ENDS


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