Archives for posts with tag: John Key
photo via Hayden EM

photo via Hayden EM

8 Days till the election, and there are lots of things on. Tuesday, we had the Ilam candidates debate on CTV. It was the only chance to talk about Ilam issues with the sitting MP, and I think it was a pretty good discussion. You can watch it here. On Wednesday, we had the only Ilam candidates debate. All the candidates have known about it for ages, at least a month. Yes, it’s a busy photo – but it was pretty disappointing that only 3 of the candidates standing in the electorate were there. And of course, the only MP to have held the seat, Gerry, wasn’t there.

There was a reporter from Radio New Zealand there, and one from the Press, who filed this story. The organiser, Len McCrane, said this:

We would have loved to have Gerry here. He sent his apologies. He prefers to do meetings on street corners than to come to something like this.

The thing is, street corner meetings aren’t anything like candidate debates. I’ve been out doing some street corner meetings myself. They are a very different beast. You pick a corner, preferably high traffic, and stand around talking for 15 minutes as confused passers by wonder what’s going on. They are primarily a visibility exercise. You don’t get to do them for 2 weekends every three years and then pretend you’ve been accountable to the people you purport to represent.

There is a pattern emerging. He declines the invitation to the only public meeting with the candidates in the electorate he represents. He refuses to turn up to Campbell Live’s show on the 4th of September, despite them asking him repeatedly and giving him plenty of notice. The thing isn’t, Brownlee isn’t opposed to fronting to the press about issues – tonight, he’s appearing on Prime in a transport debate. He just wants to be able to do it on his terms. Rather than turning up to a debate and getting booed, he’d rather not turn up at all.

The problem with that – not only for Ilam, but the whole country – is that 8 days out from the election, we haven’t had a serious discussion about the rebuild of Christchurch, about the role of CERA, or about EQC. The only time it was really touched on was during the second half of the Press debate, where David Cunliffe ran through Labour’s policies for the city whilst John Key barely feigned an interest in the city he grew up in. Key’s only major announcement was to confirm that if re-elected, Brownlee would retain his portfolio as CERA Minister. What would Key or Brownlee do? We don’t know.

I’ve said this time and time again, and I guess you must be bored of it, because it doesn’t seem to make a difference. But I’ll restate it again, just for kicks. We’ve got a week until the election. The recovery of New Zealand’s second biggest city following a major natural disaster should be the number one election issue, but the Minister responsible for overseeing the “recovery”, part of the Government that campaigned on “Rebuilding Christchurch” in 2011, are going to the polls without announcing a single substantive policy about how they are going to turn this man-made disaster around. I’ll repeat: NOT A SINGLE SUBSTANTIVE POLICY*.

You, the taxpayers of New Zealand, are largely paying for this. Close to 16 billion dollars. Do you know how your investment is going? Do you care? Do you just believe the Prime Minister when he says that the city is “booming, almost full“? We, the citizens of Christchurch, are having to live this – and if you’re sick of hearing us whinging about EQC and insurance and the recovery, well, you have no idea how miserable we’ll get under a third term of National.

* merging CERA into the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet isn’t a policy; it’s an admission of failure

Over-rated

Gerry Brownlee said it was disappointing a “democratic process can potentially be subverted by this sort of activity”.

That’s Brownlee talking about the Greens fiddling with submissions to ECan. It is deeply ironic that the Minister, or anyone in the National party, can try and take the moral high ground on democratic issues relating to ECan, the regional council which they sacked in 2010, promising new elections in 2013. Then in 2012, using the excuse of the earthquakes, they extended the commissioners remit through till 2016. If they are re-elected, there is no guarantee that they will return the mandate to the people who pay their rates to ECan. The only party “subverting” democratic processes at ECan are National.

When he was campaigning in Christchurch last week, John Key said that “elections are over-rated”. That was an incredibly insulting thing for him to say – let alone for him to say it in Christchurch, a city where many in the population feel totally disempowered by the dictatorship at ECan, the sidelining of the City Council, and the frustrating struggle with EQC, a part of the government that was theoretically set up to help all New Zealanders. From my conversations in Ilam and elsewhere, there are many people who will be voting to remove Key and Brownlee – then they won’t have to be bothered with the nuisance of elections any more.

 

So last night I was in the front row of the audience at the Press leader’s debate between David Cunliffe and John Key. It was an exciting occasion and great to have so many people interested in politics in the Ilam electorate. I went with my parents, my grandmother and my great aunt – the latter who both live in Merivale, but vote very differently! I think watching it in the room is quite different to what happens on the lifestream. Firstly, it was VERY loud. Both the debaters, and the crowd. Key got a warm welcome but DC’s was louder. The two men talked over each other quite a lot, which wasn’t the most satisfying auditory experience.

James at the debate - photo by Patrick Gower (http://i.instagram.com/p/sb7DqFCA5S/)

James at the debate – photo by Patrick Gower (http://i.instagram.com/p/sb7DqFCA5S/)

Key started really angrily, and talked over David a lot. Most questions seemed to be given to Key for 30 seconds, for him to then talk for 90 seconds, then passed on to David for 30 seconds, at which point Key started sniping at him and not allowing him to answer. While I’ve seen some people comment that they thought the (lack of) moderation was fine, it made for a number of occasions where both men just talked over each other, as if the first person to stop talking was less of a man or something. Key’s question about CGT on houses in a trust did seem to catch David, but he was right to check and see. It’s a complicated issue and it’s worth being right on it.

As with the first debate, most of the commentators seemed to make up their minds about “who won” based on the early exchanges. Key was definitely much weaker in the second half. This was because if focussed on Christchurch issues, and National’s record on this is poor. When he announced that Gerry Brownlee would be CERA minister after the election, this was received with boos. There was laughter when he claimed that the CBD was “booming and almost full“. There was confusion when he started telling Press editor Joanna Norris about an advertorial supplement that will appear in the paper next week. And when he said that the government wouldn’t want to “run roughshod” the Anglican church (when talking about the Cathedral) one was reminded of some of the other institutions that this government has run roughshod over – including ECan and the CCC.

Cunliffe spoke well on these matters, as he has done over the last 3 months of the campaign in the city. He knows that Labour’s policy is popular here, as he has been down here to announce it, and has talked with hundreds of residents who are in difficult situation. Instead of just making light of people’s real hardship like the Prime Minister, Cunliffe has showed an empathy that Key lacks. While the media in Auckland and Wellington might have called it one way, the people in Christchurch were only presented with one leader who understands the issues in this city, and it wasn’t the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister announced today that if re-elected, after the election, he would look to merge CERA into the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. This is an admission that the CERA model – authoritarian, dictatorial and deaf to the concerns of the people it claims to represent – has failed, and failed absolutely. This is what people in this city have been saying for years. When Labour announced that we would introduce a board of governance, and look to wind CERA down in 2016, National said that CERA was working just fine. Nothing has changed since then, but National know how unpopular CERA and it’s Minister are in this city, and are trying to stop the bleeding of votes.

Given what we have seen from the Prime Minister’s office through the Dirty Politics saga, it is the last place that should be running a city. The last thing Christchurch needs is another layer of bureaucracy in a city on another island. Control of the rebuild needs to be passed back to the people, by strengthening the role of the CCC.

It also raises questions for Minister Brownlee, who has been given a vote of no confidence from the Prime Minister just weeks out from the election. He’s been in charge of the rebuild for almost 4 years, but has proved to be most effective at demolition, not construction. Many people I meet in the electorate tell me that while they will be voting for National, they can’t bring themselves to vote for Mr Brownlee. It will be calls like that from National’s base that have forced Key’s hand.  But for the PM in his home city, it is too little, too late.

On August 7, the Prime Minister was in town to announce the convention centre plans. This was done in a special marquee that was erected on the site, and to a very select group of delegates. I used an OIA to ask CERA how much hosting this shin-dig cost; almost $16,000. This was an event for around 90 people; this works out at around $170 a head (on the taxpayer). I’m sure Key and Brownlee thought that the convention centre announcement would lead the news. Instead, their trip to Christchurch was derailed by the real hardship that their government is responsible for, as Paulette Barr approached the PM directly with her case.

On the PM’s trip to Barrington Mall last week, he was again approached by a resident at wit’s end. This pattern will repeat each time he visits the city until he does something to address the growing divide between those who have done ok through the quakes, and those who are still battling on a daily basis. Whilst Key and Brownlee eat canapés, there are people in this city living under canopies. Mr Brownlee needs to explain to the public of Ilam and Christchurch how he can justify spending almost $16,000 on a swanky party for him, the PM and a few exclusive guests, to announce a facility that very few residents of this city will ever have a need to use. If Mr Brownlee spent more time in the electorate he represents, he’d know that his constituents don’t care about convention centres: they want their houses fixed, their EQC claims sorted, their rents to stop increasing at double digit rates.

photo from the Press, by Iain McGregor

Yesterday, the Prime Minister was in town for a big-ticket announcement in a bigtop tent. Unfortunately, events got in the way, and the convention centre has been over shadowed by an impassioned plea made to John Key while he was out looking for votes in Riccarton Mall. Paulette Barr was at her wit’s end, so decided the best way to get some traction on her case was to put it to the PM directly:

“I was just saying, ‘Look, what can you do for us, it’s three years. We had liquefaction come right through our house. They had to remove the skirting boards because the liquefaction had gone in and contaminated the place,” the 61-year-old said.

Barr and her house-mate, Maureen Doherty, 74, said they had put their lives on hold since February 2011 as they waited for an over-cap EQC and NZI private insurance claim to progress on their Hills Rd property.

While Key might think he’s coming down to sing of the brighter future song sheet, he’s finding that people still have the helplessness blues. It’s a sure sign of how desperate the situation has become, how broken the process of dealing with EQC and insurance has become, how out of touch his Minister Brownlee has become, that the only way people think they are going to get anything resolved is by appealing directly to John – either the PM Key, or people’s champion, Campbell.

Poor Matthew Doocey. While David Cunliffe, David Parker, and a large number of Labour MPs and local councillors joined Poto Williams to celebrate her “stonking” win in Christchurch East, Doocey cut a rather solitary figure at his election night do, his party leader no-where to be seen. John Key can try and distance himself from this failure, but he did spend quite a lot of time down here in the East, campaigning with the Dooce. It felt appropriate to celebrate their short-lived but passionate bromance.

The first flowerings of a relationship:

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Just hanging with the boys:

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More boys (and Nicky Wagner):

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Looking at the plans for the expansion of our dream home:

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On our first trip abroad together, Matthew got a little sunburnt:

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Matthew plays look-out for our first (unsuccessful) attempt to steal a child:

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Our second attempt worked better:

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Look all good venture capitalists, we successfully expanded our baby-acquiring business with the help of Judith Collins. Franchise opportunities in an area near you!

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Always the party-pooper, Bill crashed one of our dates, and stopped us from ordering lunch. We were so hungry! Matthew gets cranky when he hasn’t had his lunch.

BZpNgTXCIAAug2l.jpg-largeI started to get worried that Matthew was seeing other men. Men that looked like him. I think he has a type.

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The first is the first of four guest posts from my friend Barnaby Bennett, PhD candidate, chief egg at Freerange Press and editor of the magnificent book “Christchurch: The Transitional City Part IV“.

No government was ever going to be able to seamlessly respond to a crazy series of events like the earthquakes that hit Christchurch between September 2010 and the end of 2011.  It was an insanely complex and difficult event and the tangled nature of all the little parts mean the development of new ideas and plans and the construction of these is no easy task. Yet, this shouldn’t mean a pass card for our representatives. In this article I’ll argue, and explain, why I think the removal of the public from most of the rebuild process is a critical mistake both politically for the government and for the citizens of Christchurch.

It’s common to view debate and argument as evidence of processes gone wrong or the result of someone’s bad idea. It might be hard to work out who’s to blame or what has gone wrong, but surely a functioning democracy with strong leadership shouldn’t have so much public argument and debate?  Then there is another view that sees public discourse and discussion as a necessary and important part of democracy, as the critical part of politics where many and varied publics get to partake in a conversation.  I favour the second view, and thus believe public argument and discussion is especially critical in post-disaster situations where the amount of problems, issues and difficulties are amplified.

The reality is that any government or group of politicians was going to be inadequate. The public forms in response to this inadequacy. The problem is not whether we have arguments and debates, but whether we are having them intelligently and openly.

The fallacy of the way CERA has operated itself starts to be revealed when we consider its organization from the perspective of public debate.  With a local council struggling to deal with an enormous disaster, and the people of the city reeling from the physical and emotional damage, the extra horse-power of the central government should be there to promote better forms of democracy and better ways of arguing and disagreeing with each other. Instead, it has taken over power, denied the public access to its decision-making and treated the CCC as a rogue organization, when it is supposed to be there to support the cities elected representatives. A clear example of this is that CERA has still not given substantial information about major anchor projects such as the Convention Centre to the elected council – yet expects the council to be able to make sensible decisions about what facilities an arts precinct should have.  This is idiotic planning.

CERA has set itself up in what appears to be a strangely naïve manner, and this I suggest is a direct result of the political leadership from the office of the Prime Minister at the beginning. The CERA legislation (which was criticised by legal experts at the time it passed through parliament) put all the power at the cabinet table.  On one hand this makes sense – the Prime Minister and other senior ministers want direct supervision and control over this huge and economically vital process. But by doing so they become directly responsible for the results.  If it fails, there is no one else to blame.  This single political factor is what, I think, has led to the ongoing denial of the involvement of Christchurch people in the rebuild of the city, and also why there has been no public recognition of the many failures that have occurred so far. I also think that some failure is ok. This is an immensely difficult situation; no one was ever going to get it all right.  But the way to fix failure is not to keep it secret and deny it is happening. This just leads to the erosion of trust that we are seeing in the city at the moment, and explains why CERA and the minister are so deeply disliked.  Basically we are sick of being lied to and not engaged with. I don’t think the minister or the Prime Minister do this because they like it; they do it because to admit problems would be admit that their entire process back to the weeks after the quake is flawed.

The politically smart thing to do would have been to create an entity like the CCDU at arms length that had very strict areas of responsibility, that was created to work with the cabinet and the CCC (not over the top of them). By keeping them at arms length the government would then able to publicly intervene (on behalf of the public and tax-payers) when bad decisions are being made. This would keep the process in check, and it would politically protect the government as they would be fixing things up rather than admitting failure as happens now.

Instead the presence of the cabinet and the office of the Prime Minister runs deep into the blueprint process. What hasn’t been discussed in public is that the plan A of the blue print which involved attracting billions of dollars of investment into the city has been almost complete failure. What we are seeing now is a desperate attempt to develop a plan B.

The CCDU scheme was almost entirely based on a logic of attracting international investors. Just watch the video to see that camera flying in from over the Southern Alps to understand that the logic of this plan was never based on the needs of the citizens of Christchurch. The narration for the video that was released on the day of the launch of the 100-day plan was written by the Prime Minister’s office, and it reveals how the plan is focused almost entirely on gaining foreign investment into the city. These investors haven’t turned up (why would you invest in the middle of a swampy earthquake-prone city with no particular economic plan?) and in the process they’ve ridden rough–shod over the local landowners who want to reinvest because it is their home. The only progress in the central city has been on the massive state-led projects (and that has been very slow). This leads to the government press releases that cite progress of money spent and resources used and a circular logic of “we’ve done some stuff – and this is evidence of stuff happening.”

Apparently the brief for the main CCDU plan was developed by the Prime Minister’s office (a group of around 50 people at core of government).  We can speculate that the main anchor projects that the designers and planners located in the city were developed from here.  The anchor projects can be split into two groups. The first are projects that the council had planned to do such as a new convention centre, stadium, and things like the library. These were all substantially increased in size, scope and expense. The other group of projects were formed after the council’s plan: the justice precinct, the arts precinct, massive upgrade of the Avon and the frame. The innovation precinct that sits uncomfortably in the plan because it was introduced around day 92 by Stephen Joyce.

Understanding that the one hundred day plan was driven from the very top politically explains how CERA has become such a political entity. Recently getting in trouble for frequent re-tweeting and re-posting of National Party announcements. It seems it’s no coincidence that the naming of the blueprint and associated branding is similar to National party colours.

There is a sense amongst some commentators that the rebuild should not be politicized. I think this is naïve for two reasons. The first is that planning and urban design are intensely political activities that are based on often conflicting and contradictory visions of the future. Planning is almost the essence of politics. The second is that the current approach being led by this government is intensely party political – and to suggest that everyone else should just roll over and ‘trust the experts’ can only be described as naïve. The ‘let’s not politicise this’ comment in the context of Christchurch amounts to ‘shut up and let us get on with our plans for things’. It’s a good rule to never trust anyone who says they don’t want something to become political.

Around two thirds of the new central city are government- or council-led projects. This is political. The forced purchase of massive parts of the city to make way for high-end apartments (this is what is now happening to the green-frame) is political. The government not opening up the redzone in the city and keeping Cathedral square closed (allegedly because they didn’t want people protesting in the square) is political. CERA re-tweeting the announcements of the National Party is political. I’ve been told by a senior member of the CCDU that the decisions being made at both CERA and CCDU are more about pleasing the minister than making the right decisions for Christchurch. This is political.

The key point that I’m trying to make here is that controversy and argument is often a productive thing, and politics is part of this process. We need more of it here in Christchurch – not less. I’m constantly staggered there is not more outrage around things in this city: the forced closing of legitimate businesses to make way for economically questionable projects, the recent declaration that the residential red-zoning was unlawful, that the green frame is now turning into high-end accommodation, that three years after the quake there still hasn’t been any substantial consultation with the community about the blueprint or any of the major projects, that half the top heritage listed buildings in the city have been demolished and there is still no heritage plan in place, and that the transport plan was stupidly unlocked from the planning decisions and has been stalled in the ministers office for around 6 months now etc.  We are a city with too many problems and a stretched and exhausted public. But that public is re-energised by engagement not by exclusion.

Planning problems are about making complex trade-offs and negotiations between many different types of actors; between different public groups, different organisms and ecological populations, different government departments, different communities, different competing visions of the future and of cultural identity. I for one don’t trust any elected politician or expert to be able to quantify all this complexity and make a decision on behalf of all these groups.  I have much more faith in the rich intelligence of the people that live in this place, and the thousands of years of lived experience in this city needs to be the thing that drives the rebuild. We just need to keep working out ways to make these processes as intelligent and productive as possible. Handing it completely over to the experts is a naïve option. I’ve trained for almost a decade in this stuff and worked in various post-disaster and development situations in Sri Lanka, Canada, South Africa, Australia and here. Trust me when I say that the experts don’t have all the answers to the problems (it’s the same fallacy that sees traffic engineers making critical transport, urban design, and planning decisions through out the country).

So far the plan has been based on a possibly good-willed but politically dangerous approach shown by this government. Their need to control the process and the narrative (especially now we are moving into election year) around the rebuild is strangling this city and the current process needs to change. I am not saying all this to be anti-National or anti-government; I am saying this as someone that is pro-Christchurch and wants to see the best possible city emerge from this crazy past few years. But to do this we need the public spotlight to enter into the debates around this city again. This isn’t because democracy and public participation are nice to have or because some people seem left out. But because when there is no external examination of an organization intellectual laziness creeps in and people often fall back to their default ideological positions (in this case it is a strange mix of pro-business with support from big government.) This in turn leads to a siege mentality and a belief that no-one else understands the issues, and as a result we get an organization with its head in the sand; blind and deaf. Over a year ago I asked a CERA representative if there was any plans to have either public feedback on the plan or any sort of international peer-review and the answer was negative in both cases. This goes against all best practice and sensible urban development. It is quite simply a disgrace and we deserve better from our political representatives.

In part two of this series I will look at some of the key appointments that have been made and see how these have affected the development of the new Christchurch.

Last week, I posted about CERA, and how they were retweeting and posting the PM’s press releases on twitter and facebook. After that got picked up by No Right Turn and the Standard, I think CERA twigged and starting taking things down. As they should have.

So I was a bit surprised to see that they have recently favourited a tweet from last week (their avatar is the one at the bottom right, with a picture of the New Zealand coat of arms):

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Often people say “retweets are not an endorsement”, but I don’t think you can say that favouriting something doesn’t mean that you like it.

And no, this isn’t about the Cathedral…

John Key was down in Christchurch yesterday, making some announcements about the CBD (which I might discuss later). He did his usual – poorly designed infographic with a picture of him, tweeted out. That’s fine, I’d expect that. What I didn’t expect was that CERA would retweet it.

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Not once, but a number of times. But then, if you look at the CERA twitter account, it seems to spend a lot of time retweeting Key:

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 10.25.21 AMCERA have also, excitingly, just launched their own facebook page, as they took to twitter to tell us, on September 10, 2013. They posted this up on that page:

533717_515724291847327_362440013_nClearly, what the Prime Minister has to say is important to CERA and the recovery; however, CERA is a government department, and should remain apolitical. Posting National Party material through these channels crosses the line into political activism. Remember all those times when Brownlee has claimed that the opposition were “politicizing” the earthquakes? Well, here he is, using a massive government department to do exactly that.

Update: If you want to check the State Services guidelines, they’re here. Front page, it says

We must: – maintain the political neutrality required to enable us to work with current and future governments

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