Archives for posts with tag: John Key

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:


Just hanging with the boys:


More boys (and Nicky Wagner):


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


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


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


Our second attempt worked better:


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!


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.


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):


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.

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 10.26.00 AM

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

Porcupine Farm's take on the Quake Outcast decision

I always forget to check regularly on what’s going on at Porcupine Farm, but when I do it’s amazing and I wish I did more often. Anyway, if you haven’t seen the site, go over and have a look. It’s fantastic.

Hi From Christchurch!

The Minister of Tourism has released a new advertising campaign to try and attract more visitors to quake damaged Christchurch

Yesterday, the Quake Outcasts won a landmark decision in the High Court, which found that the government had indeed screwed them over by paying 50% of what their land was valued at under a compulsory acquisition. Gerry Brownlee has decided to appeal, and the Prime Minister has come out with this astonishing statement:

“The Government would say actually we are being pretty generous on an insured piece of land, we are paying you out 50 per cent. One option is the Government says ‘thanks very much, it’s been a lot of fun. If you don’t want to take the offer, that’s where it’s at’.”

Thanks very much. It’s been a lot of fun. This is in response to a small group of people who have had to fight the Crown through the courts to get a fair amount of money for the land that the Government made a unilateral decision to remove from them. I understand that this will be one of Key’s flippant, throw-away lines, but to dismiss this group of people – who have taken your Minister to Court, and won – in this way shows just how appallingly out of touch Key and Brownlee have become about this city.

So the most powerful man in Christchurch – at least according to the Press – has taken to twitter to recycle this gem:

He asked people to retweet if they agreed – and while he got around 30, it’s hard to tell how many of them are genuine. Considering he has 83,000 followers, it’s not exactly a high percentage. Key was in the city today, visiting rebuild sites, and announcing the winner of a design competition for a playground. Across on the other side of town, the Phillipstown community was protesting the government’s decision to merge them with Woolston school. There were a number of politicians there – including Port Hills MP Ruth Dyson (Woolston school is in Port Hills), Lianne Dalziel, councillors Yani Johanson and Glenn Livingstone, as well as political studies lecturer Bronwyn Hayward. Notable by her absence was the MP who actually represents the area, Nicky Wagner. She was with the PM, tagging along as though she was John Key’s mullet – slightly behind, decades out of date, completely useless.

It’s this sort of uncaring negligence that is getting on Cantabrian’s nerves. While Key and his entourage go around cutting ribbons on hotel rooms and announcing playground competitions at private primary schools (does it really take the PM, at least two MPs and the mayor to make such a vital decision?), the people his government have left behind are out on the streets, working to save their communities from ideological indifference to their suffering.

You wanna roll out the big R word again? This shows how little you care about our plight. Cheryl Bernstein blogged about how we were sick of hearing that word IN AUGUST 2011. That’s practically 2 years ago. 2 years of empty promises, or patronising platitudes, of 100 day plans for the CBD and endless delays for residents. Compassionate, practical and resilient could describe our people in the immediate aftermath of the quakes, banding together, helping each other out. But if the PM had any idea what it was like to live down here, he would know that being practical doesn’t help when EQC won’t give you information about your own house, being compassionate isn’t easy when your insurer blames EQC, who blames the insurer, and being resilient isn’t much help when your fourth project manager rings to tell you that they need to come and do a 12th assessment of your house.

Resilience has two definitions. The first being the ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like. I’m sure that’s what everyone who overuses it means. The second, though, is slightly different. “The power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched.” Christchurch is so far away from being returned to the original form, or even something that looks different but at least functions like it did before. Opening a hotel, a playground design cometition and a hollow tweet show that this government has run out of ideas on how to fix it.


I’m not sure quite why it chose a Sunday, but this morning, John Key’s twitter account belched out three infographics about the Christchurch rebuild. They contain figures, numbers and some ticks, and are all in a soothing blue palate. But they aren’t very useful.

This one was about building consents. It shows a steady increase – although under the new CBD plan, the towers to denote Dec 2011, Mar 2012 and June 2012 would be prohibited from being built in the city, as they breach the 7-storey height limit outlined in the City Plan.

At the top of the graphic, it mentions the $3.9 billion spend up to the December 2012 quarter*. So why aren’t the Sep 2012 and Dec 2012 consent numbers included on the graph? Well, it’s because the December 2012 numbers are about 150 down on the September ones, so it wouldn’t much such a happy graph. So they just ignored it.

Update: I made the graph with the Sep and Dec quarters. Wasn’t hard to do – I even did the bars in a nice soft blue. You can see why they didn’t include the Dec quarter.

Total Consents in Canterbury

Another problem here is the scale – it looks impressive, as it comes off of a very low base. This base has been set low by the September and February quakes. I can’t imagine many people lining up to build after those events – and that’s what the numbers show. So this doesn’t really say much, as you’d expect that these numbers would increase. The problem with this info-graphic – and the other two really – is that they don’t place the numbers in any sort of meaningful context. Is 719 earthquake-related building consents in a quarter a lot?

An earthquake-ralted building consent is apparently any building consent (residential, non-residential, non-building) issued since September 2010. I’m not bored enough to go back and tally up all the building consents in Christchurch over the last decade, but I did find the numbers for residential building consents. They go like this:

New residential buildings for Christchurch city for the year to December:

2003 – 2542

2004 – 2492

2005 – 2095

2006 – 2240

2007 – 2375

2008 – 1282

2009 – 1248

2010 – 1492

2011 – 979

As you can see residential building consents have been falling for years. This graphic takes an arbitrary low point and calls it a baseline, without giving us any other context. And even then, the number of ERBCs from Dec 2010 through to Jun 2012 – 2,412 – is lower than the number of residential consents per year from the mid 2000’s. Or number for context – we’ve lost about 10,000 buildings since the quake.

All the consent numbers are on this page at Stats NZ, so if you like your figures hard and truthy, rather than soft and manipulated, that’s the place to go.

* this figure – $3.9 billion – can’t be just the value of earthquake-related building consents, as that is only $793.3 million since Sept 2010. I assume it includes other building work in Canterbury, but don’t know where the number is from. If the bars below show numbers for one thing, then the figure at the top should relate to the same data set. Bad form.

This one is probably the worst of the three. The figures have been cribbed from the Press lift out I mentioned above (which cites their sources as CERA, EQC, Stats NZ and SCIRT.) The figures are pretty much the same, though with some generous rounding up (the Press says 104km of wastewater pipe, National rounds up to 111km.) Again, the problem here is context. 21 km of fresh water pipe means nothing if you don’t tell us how much they have to repair. If there is 25km to repair, we’re almost there; if there is 1000km, we’ve barely started. SCIRT estimates that there is 51km of water pipe to repair – so almost half way. Pretty good. Wastewater damage is estimated at 528km, so about a fifth. Less good. Roading damage is listed as 1,021km, but the info graphic has gone for square metres of pavement. My suspicion would be that they have used that unit to make it sound more impressive.

The real red herring is the number at the top – $100m on 181 projects. Again, context. A dollar figure is completely useless unless you give us some context. This article in the Press lists infrastructure costs as up to $4 billion – which would mean that only about 1/40th of the job (by monetary value) have been completed in two and half years. Less impressive when you put it that way.

This last one is really ugly and kind of pointless, though I’m not going to argue with it as an info-graphic really. The cordon went up immediately after the quakes because there was an emergency. Then, a few months on, it was up to keep us safe, while they demolished buildings. As the buildings came down, so did the cordon. Many of the buildings that came down were unsafe, many were heritage buildings that could have been saved by a more enlightened dictator. There was another group of buildings that fell into a strange grey area, where they could have probably been fixed if the money (read: the insurance companies) had been right. Whatever happened, they’re gone now. Another way of saying this would be that they’ve demolished 9/10th of a city. Only 1/10th to go!

Final word has to go to Guy Williams, for this fantastic tweet in response to the PM.

There are two far-right people writing letters to the this morning’s Press, claiming the Government package is too generous, and that they have no obligation to buy land (the letters editor has given them the titles “Government Generous” and “Too Generous”). The two letter writers listed their suburbs as “Upper Riccarton” (the unaffected west) and “Strowan” (the word prats from Merivale use to make themselves feel even more elitist). C Newman of Strowan said:

“The Government has been over generous with taxpayers’ money towards the householders of Christchurch, maintaining the myth that the state is there to protect the citizen from nature.”

He goes on to spout some deplorable neoliberal drivel that only someone who had undergone a complete empathy lobotomy could think. If C Newman of Strowan weren’t so clearly prejudiced, he might like to do some research before he puts his bucolic pen to paper. Confident that he* wont bother to do so, I’ll refute some of that crap here.

The second part of his statement above – “maintaining the myth that the state is there to protect the citizen from nature” – has he heard of EQC? It was not set up to literally protect the individual from the effects of nature, but it can do the next best thing. From the Earthquake Commission Act of 1993:

The functions of the Commission are—

(a) to administer the insurance against natural disaster damage provided under this Act

EQC, which is a body that is set up and run soley by the Government of New Zealand, for the people of New Zealand, lists it’s primary function as providing insurance against natural disaster damage. That’s not a myth. It’s in legislation. Publicly available legislation that people like C Newman of Strowan could investigate, if they had the innate curiosity that bigots of the far-right clearly lack. Though I do wonder whether C Newman of Strowan might not qualify as far-right – even those on the hard right would generally agree that if the state is to have any role in the lives of it’s citizens, it is to try and protect them.

David Weusten, of Upper Riccarton writes:

“I applaud the Government on its offer to purchase red-zoned preoperties, as it was under no obligation to do so and has helped minimise the equity destruction that those in the zone face.”

This letter, and that of C Newman of Strowan, imply that the Government has been overly generous, that they are just handing out money willy nilly, bundles of notes to all these undeserving, unhoused people. Again, this is about as far from reality as C Newman of Strowan is. I hate to be a bore, and keep citing the same source, but in this case, the legislation does seem like an appropriate thing to take the time to read. Clause 19, Residential Land:

Subject to any regulations made under this Act and to Schedule 3, where a residential building is deemed to be insured under this Act against natural disaster damage, the residential land on which that building is situated shall, while that insurance of the residential building is in force, be deemed to be insured under this Act against natural disaster damage to the amount (exclusive of goods and services tax) which is the sum of, in the case of any particular damage,—

(a) the value, at the site of the damage, of—

(i) if there is a district plan operative in respect of the residential land, an area of land equal to the minimum area allowable under the district plan for land used for the same purpose that the residential land was being used at the time of the damage; or

(ii) an area of land of 4 000 square metres; or

(iii) the area of land that is actually lost or damaged—

whichever is the smallest; and

(b) the indemnity value of any property referred to in paragraphs (d) and (e) of the definition of the term residential land in section 2(1) that is lost or damaged.

Now, I know there are quite a few words there, and that C Newman of Strowan and others of that persuasion might have trouble getting through them all, so I will summarise it: EQC covers the land under a house. You say “generous”, I say “obligation as defined by law”**. So all this shit about the government being generous, or too generous, is some of the most offensive crap I have ever heard. Ever since the 4th of September, we have been waiting for a land package. We knew that the EQC would pay for land. That’s why we were waiting for a land package. Then, somewhere around the time of the June 13th aftershocks, people seem to have forgotten about this. Then, Generous John Key strolls in to town, offers to buy people’s land, doesn’t bother to remind people that the government was always going to buy the land, and people think he’s the most charitable guy since Allan Hubbard. The Government – whether intentionally or not – has used the word “generous” with regards to their clearly flawed land package offer so frequently that it has now become attached. It’s either very smart, or very cynical, to successfully rebrand your obligations as generosity.

I’m not going to go into all the ways that the package is anything but generous right here – I’m getting angry enough to write another blog about that soon. Suffice it to say that contrary to what C Newman of Strowan thinks, this package will see a large number of people – people from some of our poorest and most vulnerable areas – struggling to re-house themselves in Christchurch. The sad fact of the government response is that the good, hardworking people of the East may end up having to move out of Christchurch, leaving us with a city over-represented by detestable cunts like C Newman of Strowan.

* Halfway through writing this, I realised that C Newman could actually be a woman. I guess I just assumed that someone with such misguided, hateful thoughts could only be an aging, spite-filled man who has little to look forward to in life but the thrill he gets from yelling at his neighbour’s yappy novelty dog. I guess that I have encountered fewer female hard-right nutters in my times. I could be wrong on this.

** I guess you could argue that the legislation doesn’t explicitly state that the EQC will “buy” the land, but it clearly states that the EQC will pay for the cost of it.


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