Archives for category: politics

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.

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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

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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.

CERA

Roger Sutton

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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

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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

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CCDU

Warwick Isaacs

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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

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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

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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.

EQC

Ian Simpson

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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

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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.

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.

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:

This has nothing to do with Christchurch, and is little more than a reckon, masquerading as an observation. I spent the weekend down in Queenstown for a wedding, and came back via the Waitaki Valley. We stopped for lunch and to look at some of the junk shops in Waimate. I think it’s a lovely small town, with beautiful old buildings, mostly sitting unused. Today, there was a story in the paper about the NCEA grades of the students at Waimate High, which have fallen over the last decade. The principal, Janette Packman, tries to explain:

In 2004, the roll was 354, but it was down to 295 in 2014. “This is a reflection of the fewer school-aged children in our community.” The school’s decile has decreased from 5 to 4, indicating a “lowering of the socio-economic backgrounds of our families”.

The large increase in dairying in Waimate had resulted in the aggregation of small farms into large units, and an increase in overseas workers and itinerant families from other regions, she said.

This is just one data point, but it shows a rural community getting both smaller, and poorer – in spite of theoretical benefits of the dairy industry. If you drive around the South Island, the signs of the dairy boom are everywhere. Between Twizel and Omarama, there are pivot irrigators which run along side the road. Using the odometer on the car, I measured a couple of them at 1.3km long. I realise that farming trends will come and go, and that with the current slump in milk prices, we will probably see a slow-down in dairy conversions. But I do wonder what the changes in farming practices – and the increasing aggregation of small farms into what are essentially agri-businesses, rather than farms – is doing to the fabric of our rural communities.

Amongst all the other decisions at Council last week, they also voted down a roading project. A bunch of people are pissed about it – Waimak mayor, the NZTA – so the Press have gone in hard on the issue.

The city councillor responsible for overseeing transport in Christchurch is defending his decision to vote to pull funding for a crucial roading project. Cr Phil Clearwater heads the Christchurch City Council’s infrastructure, transport and environment committee and was one of seven councillors who last week voted to remove funding for the northern arterial extension and Cranford St four-laning from the council’s Long Term Plan (LTP).

The decision shocked both the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) and the Waimakariri District Council, which were expecting the city council to rubber-stamp the $50 million project they had been jointly planning for years.

I think the angle the Press are trying to run here is “this guy is in charge of transport, so why he no moar roads???” It’s nonsensical. Just because Clearwater is the head of the transport committee, that doesn’t mean he has to blindly vote for roading extensions. In fact, his experience as the head of this committee should suggest that he actually has more expertise on the subject, instead of him being singled out.

And singled out he is – though 7 councillors voted against it, he is the only one named. The other six don’t even get a mention in this. Clearly, the Press don’t like the People’s Choice councillors, whether it be their opposition to asset sales, or their defending of the Town Hall. All that said, this seems a remarkable ad hominem attack on one of the councillors who was just doing his job. As the story belatedly mentions at the end, there was public opposition to this project:

The city council received 45 submissions regarding the extension, with 37 expressing opposition.

If only the Press had access to the names of the 37 people who submitted against this, maybe they could do stories about them too?

This week, Christchurch will find out about the governance arrangements and the transfer of power from CERA to someone else. It’s meant to happen on Thursday:

Prime Minister John Key is expected to outline new power arrangements for the control of Canterbury’s quake recovery in a speech to city business people on Thursday. This will likely set the framework for how the Government hopes to run the recovery past April next year.

The first people to know about these proposed changes for how the city will run aren’t going to be the people who live here. Nope. It’s going to be the business people. Yeah, sure, this is just a lunch, and a safe place for Key to announce the changes. But it is so symbolic of the way this recovery is being handled, and in whose interests. If National cared about the people of the city, they could have held a joint announcement alongside the Mayor at the Council building. Or better yet, they could have gone to New Brighton and stood in front of the people who have been most affected by both the quakes, and the government’s handling of the aftermath.

But no, it will be done in front of a bland group of rich white men, who have been the biggest supporters of the government’s direction. I’m not surprised, but that doesn’t mean I’m not disappointed as well.

“Power Lists” are the pre-Buzzfeed listicle that publications fall back on when they don’t have enough news for an actual story. They’re an arbitrary list, comparing people in different professions, walks of life, levels of influence, and giving them a ranking that can’t be justified. Having said all of that, as I watched the council debtate over the Town Hall last week, I couldn’t help but think: Lianne Dalziel is now the most powerful person in the city.

In ordinary circumstances, it might not be a surprise that the Mayor is the most powerful person – but these are no ordinary circumstances. Gerry Brownlee has dominated the political environment in the city since the quakes, completely emasculating the previous mayor, sidelining any opposition MPs, and marginalising his ultimately doomed Chief Executive Roger Sutton. But the decision over the Town Hall may be the point at which we look back and say that the Council took back the power.

Brownlee’s grasp on the city has been waning since before the last election. During the campaign, the Prime Minister announced that CERA was to be brought within his own Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet – a sure sign that Key and English no longer trusted Brownlee’s handling of the recovery. While Sutton departed under a cloud, we’ve also seen a number of other high profile exits – Warwick Isaacs and Reid Stieven have also left CCDU and EQC, respectively. 

Post-election, Brownlee was also given the Defence portfolio, which has been an important but low-profile Ministry for some time. His handling of the deployment to Iraq has been a return to the cartoon buffonery that he was associated with pre-quake. I’d argue that his behaviour in the defence portfolio – arrogant, ignorant, bullying – is no different from his rule over the recovery. The difference seems to be that while he can get away with it in Christchurch, he can’t pull the same tricks in full view of parliament and the Press Gallery.

On the Town Hall, Brownlee has shown the disdain he has previously expressed for heritage buildings. He remarkably dismissed the independent report into the facility, whilst admitting he hadn’t read it. Back at the Council Chambers on Thursday, and Mayor Dalziel cross-examined her own council staff who presented the report, showing that not only did she read it, she understood it. She understood the heritage, the cultural, the environmental, and the financial implications of the decision. She could see that a full restoration of the Town Hall was the right call, in spite of the campaign from the Press, who repeatedly used their editorial and opinion pages to present a very one-sided case against it. Her experience and determination moved the windvanes of knee-jerk reaction – with two former talkback hosts sensing the changing breeze. Concillor Ali Jones voted for restoration, whilst her former NewstalkZB colleague Mike Yardley wrote on Friday that he too had become a convert after watching the Mayor’s performance.

This is but one decision, but bodes well for the campaign to bring control of the city back to the people who live and work in it. At the end of the month, the “transition plan” will come up for discussion. And there may be a transition of another kind; rumours abound that David Carter may be relieved of his terrible reign in the Speaker’s chair. The bad news is that his replacement may be none other than Gerry Brownlee. If this did come to pass – probably not before late this year or early next – then it would be left to Nicky Wagner to turn the lights out at CERA. It is into this void that Dalziel and her council are reaffirming their role as the primary determinants of the broken city’s direction. 

The deadlines for a number of the apparently critical anchor projects were pushed out late last week. If you’ve read this blog, you know what my feelings are on those projects, so I won’t go into them again. However, there was one thing that especially concerned me: the cost. The delays were to three projects – the convention centre, the metro sports facility, and the Margaret Mahy playground. When defending the decision, Gerry Brownlee said that these were a billion dollars of projects and it needed to be done right.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said the three projects would cost about $1 billion between them, and it was important not to rush them.

I don’t disagree with the sentiment, but when did these three projects get to a billion dollars? I’ve looked back through the costs to try and find the original estimates. The playground is budgeted at $20 million. Metro Sports is meant to be around $225 million ($147m CCC + $70m Crown). The convention centre is meant to be around $500 million, with $284m of that being Crown money. Those of you with School C maths will have worked out that those totals come to $750 million, which is a full $250 million short of a billion. We know that the Prime Minister can’t rule out the Convention Centre cost rising – is that what is being signalled here? With the Council under the pump to sell assets or raise rates, it must be incredibly dispiriting to be working with a government that can’t even manage their end of the bargain without the costs blowing out by a third.