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Govt has to step in with help for South Isld flood

Sun Nov 21 1999

If there is a change of government next weekend, Alliance leader Jim Anderton wants a senior minister despatched to the flooded South Island areas immediately to co-ordinate hands-on assistance. He visited the flooded area today to see the effects of the disaster first hand and to meet with community leaders about potential government support.Jim Anderton is urging the government to accept moral responsibility for flooding in Alexandra, and to roll up its sleeves up and pledge support for the communities affected by the natural disaster in the Queenstown Lakes District.' The Government should send a senior minister to Alexandra immediately , with engineers and other specialist expertise and a brief to come up with a solution.'If the Alliance is part of the government next week, this is what we will do: A Minister will go to Alexandra to co-ordinate relief in partnership with the local authority and community with the object of fixing the problem, not avoiding it.'There are two options. The first is to fix silting in the river, which is now a massive job. The second option is to close off part of the town which is likely to be subject to flooding in future and redesign it as a park and stop-bank that protects the rest of the town. That option would require compensation of the people whose land was wrecked, but it may be the cheaper and more viable option.'What should not be an option is for the government to simply sit on its hands and say 'good luck' to a community that needs its help.'The government has a moral responsibility for the crisis in Alexandra. It has developed the hydro scheme there for forty years without adequate maintenance or prevention of silting which has led to the flooding there.'The Alexandra flood is not a natural disaster. It is caused by hydro developments. But the township is caught in an argument between government and Contact over which is liable. It's far too small to take on the government and a massive transnational corporation like Edison. 'The government should not be trying to wash its hands of responsibility just because it has sold Contact. It has a moral responsibility on behalf of all New Zealanders to protect individual communities and give them support when they are hit by disasters which are beyond their ability to cope. That is especially so when the disaster is the result of a hydro scheme that the government has been benefiting from for forty years.'The government's priority should be relief for Alexandra. It can sort out the liability with Contact later, but it can't just sit on its hands and say 'it's Contact's problem not ours', while Contact is saying 'it's the government's fault' and the township gets nowhere.'Jim Anderton said the Queenstown Lakes District flooding is different, because it is the result of a natural disaster, but he says the government should still be co-operating with the local community to do everything necessary to relieve the effect of the floods.'They can't just leave this to the local community and insurance companies. The government should roll up its sleeves and offer whatever help it can. The Lakes District is a major tourism resort of national significance to New Zealand and all New Zealand suffers if it's under water.'It's no wonder that people hold the government in contempt when its response to a natural disaster is to call for reports, tell the community 'we'll see' or even tell the affected individuals to go and see Income Support.'The government should start from the premise that a New Zealand community needs a hand. It should roll up its sleeves and immediately indicate that it will co-operate however it can.'The alternative is that a new government will do exactly that in seven days time,' Jim Anderton said.

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