I almost lost my shit last night when listening to an interview on Radio NZ with Scott Simpson, National MP. He is the chair of the select committee looking at toughening building standards, with respect to earthquake risk. Specifically this bit, from 1:30, in the audio here:

“If you exclude the fatalities that occurred in buildings like the CCTV building”

Firstly, he can’t even get the name of the building that collapsed correct. It’s the CTV building, not the CCTV building.

Secondly, and more importantly, you simply cannot exclude the CTV building. 115 people of the 185 people who died in the quake were in that building. A further 18 people were in the PGC building. Between those two buildings – one built in the 1980’s, the other in the 1960’s – more than 70% of the casualties occurred. If you choose to exclude the major part of the problem, then you have a different problem. You may come up with a valid response, but you are still ignoring the major underlying problem.

I am grateful for the tireless campaigning of Anne Brower. The 15 year time frame to fix buildings was far too long, and I think that this timeframe makes much more sense. But what are we doing to ensure that more people don’t die as a result of badly built or badly engineered buildings in subsequent earthquakes? Old dungers are part of the problem, but not the largest part. For the government to go after one small but easily scapegoated type of buildings, whilst excluding the major problem, is a dereliction of responsibility. To put an MP who doesn’t even know the name of the bloody building in charge of the select committee is an insult.

As you’ve probably noticed, I haven’t posted much on the site in the last few weeks. I often go through periods where I don’t update the site for a while, for whatever reason. This is one of those periods, and I’m not sure how it will last. The main reason for this is that I have a new role. I’m the breakfast host on radio station RDU. So my opinions are still around, you just have to listen out for them now. 7:30 – 9:30am weekdays, on 98.5FM (or via the internet, if you aren’t in Christchurch). It’s not straight-up politics or rebuild focussed show, but I will be trying to have discussions with many of the people who are shaping the city, and those who can step back and have a look at how things are going.

So for the time being, there may not be many updates here. It doesn’t mean I don’t care, or that I don’t have anything to say. Just that I’m a bit tied up with other things!

Today, Dave Cliff was appointed as the new head of CERA, from now until when it is disestablished next year.

Former Canterbury district commander Dave Cliff, who became the face of policing after the Canterbury earthquakes, started his new role last month as head of Cera’s change management office.

Now, I don’t have anything against Cliff. But the appointment itself just shows the remarkable lack of diversity in the government’s appointments to leadership positions in the rebuild. It’s another white, middle-aged man. That’s not Cliff’s fault, but it has got to be beyond a series of improbable coincidences that there have been no women in positions of power. From the top:

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister

Gerry Brownlee


Obviously the most important single figure in the rebuild, he’s increasingly concentrated power into himself. You can’t imagine a female minister behaving in the same way, calling heritage buildings “old Dungers”, or calling people “carpers and moaners”. His leadership is fatally masculine, like a grumpy middle-aged bloke who’s taken the car onto a back road, and steadfastly refuses to consult the roadmap that his wife is offering him.


Roger Sutton


Headhunted for the role, he started as the “great white hope”, but ended up leaving under a cloud after claims of inappropriate behaviour.

John Ombler


Respected public servant who wrote the CER act that created CERA, was it’s foundation Chief Executive until Sutton was appointed, then filled the role again after he left.

Dave Cliff



Warwick Isaacs


After playing a key role in the demolition of the CBD, Isaacs was then given the job of heading the CCDU, the Central City Development Unit. He left that job, to run a company that makes franchise houses. This sounds like the plot to a particularly bad boring movie – but I swear it is all true.

Baden Ewart


Ewart was a planner during the emergency response phase, then moved to CERA. He became CCDU deputy director in 2013, and is now the acting head, following Isaacs’ departure.

Don Miskell


Co-leader on the “Blueprint” document that Brownlee commissioned in 100 days, after sitting on the CCC’s plan for 5 months without doing anything. Moved to CCDU in 2013 as a deputy director.


Ian Simpson


The Chief Executive of the EQC, the government department that has a reputation similar to the shit that came out of the ground in the eastern suburbs during liquefaction events. Despite the security breaches, the tens of thousands of complaints, the shoddy workmanship and so on, still maintains the confidence of the Minister.

Reid Stiven


The EQC home repair programme manager, Stiven was “the face of the commission and its Christchurch recovery work.” Left EQC in April.

Again, I don’t have anything against any of these guys personally. But you would think that in almost five years, they government would have appointed at least one woman into one of these roles. I mean, really, they should have appointed 5 women to these roles. And before all the MRA’s descend and tell me it’s about merit, are you legit saying that a woman in any of these roles could have failed any worse than any of these guys?

As many of you will know from the various twitter, Facebook and blog posts I have been making in the last two weeks, the Draft Transition Plan is open for submissions, but only until 5pm today. So if you haven’t made a submission yet, please do so. You can do it in just a couple of minutes, using the quick and easy ActionStation submission form. If you have a bit more time, or want to make a more detailed submission, you can email CERA directly – info@cera.govt.nz – and outline your thoughts. Over on the Option3+ website, we have some resources that may be of use, including other people’s submissions, which you may want to use to give you some ideas, if you are unsure of what to say.

The submissions close at 5pm, but we hope that this is the beginning of a process which sees power being returned to the citizens of this city.

Documents released today under the Official Information Act (OIA) reveal the size and scale of the CERA’s covert “money pit” operation. Whilst the secret project has been a topic of frequent whispers around Worcester St, these documents are the first hard evidence that has come to light of the scheme. Located between Armagh and Gloucester St, the pit is approximately 12 metres in diameter, with an unknown depth. CERA engineers launched a series of recognisance missions into the pit, but these were abandoned after a 3-man team was lost somewhere between 270 and 280 metres below the surface.

A statement from CERA attempted to deny that the pit existed. “The money pit that you refer to is in fact a metaphorical money pit, not a literal money pit. And I mean “literal” in the “literal” sense of the word “literal”, not in the “figurative” sense of the word “literal”. This is literally a metaphorical money pit. A figurative money pit. No actual pit exists.”

However, documents released under the OIA to Rebuilding Christchurch today clearly indicate that the money pit has been included in plans for the central city since as far back as 2011, when a number of prominent Christchurch property developers started lobbying for the inclusion of the money pit in the Blueprint. When a black circle first started appearing in planning documents, it was initially believed that this was because part of the map had been redacted. However, we now believe that this black hole is in fact the symbol for the money pit.

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 9.10.45 am

Business advocate and legendary rock guitarist Pete Townsend was enthusiastic about the money pit project. “This is good news for the rebuild, good news for Christchurch, good news for New Zealand taxpayers. This will create jobs, with up to 15 people required to shovel money into the pit, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. For every 100 dollars hurled into the pit, 1 dollar will go into the wider Canterbury economy. This is a good deal for Christchurch.”

When asked about whether a money pit was part of National’s “Brighter Future” campaign, Prime Minister John Key responded that it was the ultimate realisation of his vision. “What we have here, actually, is a future that has shined so bright that it has collapsed in on itself, creating a black vortex that will suck in money and ultimately end all of life on earth. We’re pretty relaxed about it.”

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee assured the residents of Christchurch that the money pit is safe, although it should not be approached without the appropriate hi-vis safety equipment. He said that the current plan was to continue throwing money into the pit, and added that they are also investigating the practicalities of trying to house some of CERA’s expanding communications department in the entrance to the depression.

Freerange Press are running a “Recovery Clinic” this weekend, at Smash Palace, from 12 till 6pm. When we released the book – Once in a Lifetime, if you’re keeping score at home – part of our rationale was that we’d have a continuing dialog about the city and recovery. So almost a year on from the book’s release, we’re having this clinic. We’ll have our one Doctor, Ryan Reynolds, as well as our two almost-doctors, myself and Barnaby Bennett. Completing the editorial team, Emma Johnson, organiser extraordinaire, will also be in the building. Plus plus plus! We’ve got some of the authors who contributed to the book coming down at various times in the afternoon. The idea for the afternoon is that you can come down and have a conversation with one or all of us about the state of the rebuild. Maybe you’ve got some ideas. Maybe you hated one of the chapters in the book and want to admonish us personally. Maybe you just like drinking beer and hanging around in pubs.

We will be selling copies of the book at crazy discount prices! There’s more info about the event here, and the Facebook event here.

Hope to see some of you down there!

Just over a year ago, it was reported that CERA had a disproportionately high number of staff employed in communications – with 5.5% of total staff in a communications role, the next highest government department being just over 2%. Well, they obviously decided that wasn’t enough, and a year later, that figure is now around 7.3%. From the Press:

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) has almost doubled its communication budget and increased its public relations staff by a third in the past two years.

The big problem for CERA is that public trust in them as an organisation is close to zero. Instead of realising that this is a fundamental issue with the way they communicate, they’ve decided that it must be because they don’t communicate enough. More petrol on the fire, then. In the last year, we’ve had highlights such as the smartphone app that cost $80k to develop and was downloaded just over a thousand times. We also had the fantastic “Live Central” campaign, which encouraged rich white people to live in the CBD. It’d be interesting to know if they provided any advice to the PR shambles that was CEO Roger Sutton leaving.

But far more important than what the CERA comms team tells us is what they don’t. Their job is to manage the story, to ensure that the CERA version of events is the one that gets out.

The best way to ensure that they control the message is to say as little as possible. From time to time we hear stories about the number of communications and PR people employed for every journalist in the country. It’s worth thinking about that ratio in the context of the rebuild. CERA is a massive, political government department which has been placed (rightfully) in the city where it acts. Beyond the initial reporting of the disaster, there has been no increase in the resources dedicated to covering the rebuild. If anything, due to cut backs at the various media organisations, there are fewer journalists in the city than there were in 2011.

The media organisations in this city haven’t been able to increase their staffing to cover the increase in government activity post-quake. The Press, which Brownlee infamously called “the enemy of the rebuild”, has two reporters who cover the rebuild. They have some very good reporters on other beats which frequently overlap with what CERA does, such as the business and property sections. They also have some excellent feature writers, with articles from Philip Matthews and John McCrone often leading the debate on rebuild issues. Radio New Zealand has 4.5 reporters in the city, who are meant to cover everything that happens here – not just rebuild issues. Campbell Live was obviously a champion for the city, doing a lot of great reporting on the state of the rebuild, and they’re now gone. Aside from that, the TV networks don’t have the resources based here to do complex investigations.

I know that the journalists working in this city are doing their absolute best to get stories out. I also don’t doubt that the people who work in comms at CERA are good people, trying to do their best as well. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves; CERA is one of the most powerful, least transparent government organisations New Zealand has seen in a generation. Like something from the Soviet Union, it is a command and control department; and also like our socialist brothers, command and control of the media message is a critical part of its ongoing success (while I’m riffing on the Marxist metaphor, Fiona Farrell talks about Brownleegrad in her recently released book).

The suppression of any genuine opposition to the government’s actions in Christchurch, despite the obvious failures in the CBD and out East, is remarkable political management. That the Message® about the recovery is so removed from the situation on the ground is victory for the comms department – Duncan Garner wrote about what he saw when he was down here last week, and he didn’t pull any punches. It’s not that these people are bad at their job; it’s that the job they are doing is actively misleading the people of Christchurch about the state of the city. That’s something we should all be alarmed about.

At the end of June, the Prime Minister came to Christchurch to announce what is probably the most important document for the city’s recovery since the Blueprint. It’s the Draft Transition Recovery Plan, and it’s about the transition of power from the government (via CERA and CCDU) back to local authorities in Canterbury. It’s so important that the government decided the public only needed 30 days to read it, think about it, and make submissions on it. The full document is here, and I’d recommend that you try and give it a read. I don’t just mean Christchurch residents. Everyone in the country should have an interest in this, and anyone in the country can make a submission on it. There are some good bits in the document, like this:

International research shows that, for recovery to be sustainable in the long term, it needs to be ‘owned’ and led by local communities and institutions. Central government leadership and coordination of the recovery, through CERA, was needed in the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes, but the time has come for central government’s role in the recovery of greater Christchurch to evolve.

It is hard to resolve the intentions of the paragraph above with the recommendations of the report. Though advocating for local and community ownership of the recovery, the main thrust of the Draft Transition Recovery Plan is to give CERA a change of name, to Regenerate Christchurch, then put that in charge for another 5 years. The responsibility for the Residential Red Zone will go to Land Information New Zealand; another lot of powers currently held by CERA will move across to MoBIE. While saying things like “the central city is at a critical point and requires a step-change in approach to ensure its recovery”, this document suggests an entrenchment of the status quo. It’s a recipe for disaster, with Head Chef Brownlee being joined by Sous Chef Joyce.

We’ve got just over two weeks to make submissions, and tell the government that this just won’t do. I’m sure they will try and ignore us; we need to get thousands of submissions in on this, so they can’t ignore us. While none of the suggestions put forward in this document are ideal, a group of us have formed around the idea of Option 3+. Option 3 suggests that the to-be-created rebuild entity be led by the Christchurch City Council, not the Government. We’ve started a campaign to get as many people are possible to submit in support of this idea. We’ve called it Option 3+, as we think that while Option 3 is the best of the three proposals, we would like to see more than that. If you’re submitting, you might want to say you’re submitting in support of Option 3, plus additional community feedback, or plus an additional focus on the suburbs. You can check out the Facebook group to see what other people want for the city.

There are a number of ways you can provide feedback, including via email, going to the website, or hitting them up on Facebook. You’ve got until 5pm, Thursday the 30th of July.

There is a Big Sports tour coming up in 2017, when the British and Irish Lions will come to New Zealand. They don’t do this very often – it’s usually once in every 12 years. Last time they came, in 2005, they played a test in Christchurch, and a tour match in Dunedin. This time, there is no test in the South Island at all, but two (2!) in Auckland. There has been much complaining from southern rugby fans about this, and the NZRU has responded that Christchurch doesn’t have the capacity to host a test in the current stadium. That’s clearly true. One of the main reasons that proponents for the $500m stadium have put forward is that if we don’t have said stadium, we won’t get this game, and that’s come to pass. Is $500m to guarantee one game every dozen years a worthwhile investment? I really doubt it.

But I feel for the people of Dunedin. They don’t have a hypothetical white elephant stadium; they have a bricks and mortar white elephant stadium. Still, they didn’t even get a test. They get a game against the Highlanders – but so do all the Super teams. So for all their ratepayers money, they’re no better off than Christchurch or Hamilton, which also get to see the Lions play against the Crusaders and Chiefs, respectively. This should have alarm bells ringing for the people of Christchurch though; the government still wants to spend $500m of ratepayer money on the boondoggle covered stadium, whilst forcing the council to sell assets to pay for it. In doing so, we’d get a big test each year, and we might get a test against the Lions. In 2029. This city simply can’t afford it. The idiocy of the stadium building arms race was covered comprehensively by John Oliver on Last Week Tonight, and I recommend you watch that.

While I was off-duty last weekend, my friend and some-time contributor to this site Barnaby Bennett wrote a blog about Gerry Brownlee, listing ten good reasons why he should go. After sharing it on Facebook, it led to two City Councillors getting themselves in a spot of bother by passing it around too. One of Barnaby’s main points was this: why are we putting control of the organisation that is tasked with cleaning up the mess in central Christchurch in the hands of the man who was in charge of the organisations that created the mess? That is effectively the situation with Regenerate Christchurch – the CCDU by another name. Barnaby’s blog post documents the miss-steps made by the minister, and argues that any new organisation should not be put in his control.

There could be no clearer demonstration of Brownlee’s unsuitability for the role than this story from yesterday:

Since 2012, Brownlee has hosted drinks in Christchurch the week before the All Blacks play a test in the city, inviting members of the media, business and sports communities. The event was sponsored by Fletcher Construction; the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) managed the invitations.

Just last week, Brownlee announced that Fletcher Residential has won the tender to lead the $800m East Frame project. And yet, Brownlee seems to think that to suggest there was a link between Fletcher hosting a free piss up for him and a group of media and business people, hand-picked by him is some sort of conspiracy theory. We’re not talking about chemtrails or lizard people here. We’ve got the company who has got a bunch of the biggest government contracts regularly throwing a party for the minister who gives out those contracts. Imagine, if you can, the CTU throwing a party for a Labour Minister, who then goes and introduces something akin to a responsible health and safety legislation. The right would blow a gasket.

CERA has given out billions of dollars in contracts, and that’s what they’re meant to do. But due to the Byzantine structure of CERA, and the paucity of investigative journalists* in this city, it is very difficult for anyone to find out anything about how those jobs have been allocated. For Brownlee to throw a tanty about this shows just how unsuited he is for a role that will increasingly require complex negotiations between a series of organisations that don’t necessarily share the same interests. This man is not fit for that role. Or, as MvB put it:

It is simply not a good look to have the party garnering the major slice of rebuild business funding entertainment for the minister that has the most influence over the very decisions that deliver the business in the first place.

Brownlee should hardly be surprised at the turn of events and should not act hurt and indignant just because he has been called out.

If Brownlee insists that he has done nothing wrong, then why did he cancel the party? I guess we’ll never know, as he has gone into his usual sulk and is refusing to answer questions from the media:

A spokesman for Mr Brownlee said he would not be commenting and was not under any “statutory obligation” to answer Radio New Zealand’s questions.

It’s simply unacceptable for a Minister to continue to behave like this.

* I know there are good journalists in this city trying their hardest to get to the bottom of what is happening at CERA. But there just aren’t enough of them. And I’ve talked to some of them in the past who were genuinely psyched to go to this party in previous years. Gerry is the most powerful man in the city, by some distance. It’s like getting an audience with Caligula. So even if they were joking, I was saddened to see tweets like this:


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