Archives for posts with tag: the Press

Yesterday, we had some rare good news about a heritage building: an independent business case supported the Council’s plan to restore the Town Hall. The numbers add up – in fact, it’s the best value proposition. That didn’t stop the sad but predictable chorus of opposition. Gerry Brownlee doesn’t think it’s a goer – but admits that he hasn’t actually read the report.

“It does have a ring of ‘it is too good to be true’ about it,” said Brownlee, who acknowledged he had not read the Deloitte report.

So the man responsible for the destruction of Christchurch’s built heritage doesn’t think the restoration is a goer, and he is basing that decision on literally nothing, as he’s too lazy to read the report. Why is his uninformed opinion even being quoted then?

But Brownlee’s opinion is uninformed and easy to dismiss. More concerning is the undying resolve of the Press Editorial to have the Town Hall demolished. In this editorial, they again question the decision, and back it up with a series of factual inaccuracies and half-baked agendas. Firstly, they muddy the figures about how much money is or isn’t available.

Under its insurance policy, if the building is repaired the council could get a payout of up to $68.9 million. If the building is not repaired, the payout would only be the indemnity amount of just over $32 million … But something other than full restoration may be possible. Restoring the auditorium and the foyer alone would cost $91 million. Restoring and reconfiguring the James Hay as a venue for symphony orchestra performances and the like would cost $109 million.

So the total cost for repairing the complex is listed at $127m – and yet the Press is advocating for two options which would see only half the building repaired, but cost much more than half of the full complex? This is also seems to be based on the assumption that if you knock down half the building, you get half the insurance money. If we’re generous, and assume that demo’ing the Town Hall but leaving the James Hay, results in a payout halfway between the repair and indemnity values, that puts the insurance payment around $50m (I think this is on the high side, but let’s play along). The council would still have to find $60m to restore the James Hay. Compare that with the difference between the full restoration cost ($127m) and the payout ($69m) and you find a similar sized gap ($60m). So the city ends up demolishing half of it’s best building for no apparent financial reason. This isn’t how the Press sees it:

Both of these lower-cost options would leave more for whatever is left of the idea of the performing arts precinct.

This seems to be the main reason for all these financial gymnastics.

The original plans for the precinct have long since evaporated but the council is still publicly committed to spending $30.5 million there. That is clearly not enough for any theatre or venue of any distinction, and probably would not be enough to lure the Court Theatre back to the centre of town.

So is the main goal of this exercise to “lure the Court Theatre back to the centre of town”? What no-one has sufficiently explained to me about the “Performing Arts Precinct” is why the ratepayer should be stumping up cash – in part generated by knocking down civic buildings – to try and lure a privately-run company to move their business back into town. The Court Theatre and the Symphony Orchestra might be Good Things®, but they are private businesses. Private businesses, which in the case of the Court, are doing very well in their new locations. The people who write the editorials at the Press, as well as the people who lobby for the Court like Felicity Price, don’t seem to think there is anything out of the ordinary about this.

More than anything, this reflects an ambition for those in power to see a privatisation of public space and the advancement of select private interests. The civic functions of the Town Hall complex – which was, on the 22nd of February, hosting two giant PPTA meetings – can be pushed to one side as the Right aim to frame this as an argument about “poorly used performance space”. The social and cultural benefits of a public space are near impossible to monetise, and thus don’t factor into the calculations of a Minister who will dismiss reports without even reading them.

I can only hope that the Council stays strong, and continues with the full restoration of the Town Hall this Thursday. Despite the best attempts of the Minister and the Press to make this a live issue, their arguments don’t stack up. A full restoration makes financial sense, it makes architectural sense, it makes cultural sense. More than that, it makes sense symbolically, in both showing that the Council still has the power to control the direction of this city, and that in the face of so much needless destruction of our built heritage, Christchurch can pull together to restore one of our greatest buildings.


There have been some very good, and very interesting, pieces about the rebuild in the last week or so, which I’ve collected up here. Peter Robb’s Total Rebuild, from the Sydney Morning Herald, gives a necessarily detached look at the rebuild from an Australian perspective. His insights into what happens behind closed doors are illuminating:

Don Miskell, a retired Christchurch landscape designer who is now CERA’s head of design, seemed nonplussed by my questions. He rattled off a summary of replies received in the city council’s “Share An Idea” survey. They showed that people wanted a compact, low-rise and green city – trees and grass, rather than renewable energy – with good public transport, bike paths, arts and sports facilities. He said he’d bought a bike himself a week earlier, and had really enjoyed riding home in the rain the night before.

Slightly closer to home, but again with a little distance, Charlotte Grimshaw writes about visiting the city from Auckland:

Broken-hearted Christchurch: you could certainly say it’s got more interesting. The residential red zone was poignantly beautiful in late summer sun, the wrecked houses by the pretty river weed-choked and overgrown. Past the keeled-over pillars of the Holiday Inn, you could look at whole streets sinking and decaying, returning to the earth. There was something to see here all right: after the natural disaster, a disaster of neglect.

You could only wander through it and marvel. How can those in charge justify this mess? What on earth does the Government think it’s doing?

The Press editorial from Saturday’s paper also weighs in on the growing feeling that there is a lack of vision in the rebuild at the moment:

The city must now combine ambitions and the collective aims expressed through Share an Idea and come up with a simple bold, defining vision. A new small-city vision that makes the most of what we have in our stunning South Island location.

Also from the Saturday paper, Philip Matthews’ has written an excellent summary of where the battle over the Cathedral is at. It ends with a tantalising political prospect, which could see the symbol of the rebuild forced back into the national political discussion where it belongs:

The political equation is quite simple, Anderton says. Whether it is National or Labour that needs Peters in September, a stable government could be purchased for $15m. Anderton’s line indicates just how small the sum is in the greater scheme of things.

“If it can be saved, why wouldn’t you?” he says. “The amount of money is relatively modest.”

Finally, a post that I wrote last Friday when everyone had clocked out for the week.

if New Zealand’s economy is a “rock star”, it is one that has drunk the contents of the minibar, soiled the bed, and thrown the TV through the ranch slider and into the pool. Now the hotel is getting new sheets and some double-glazed windows on insurance, but that isn’t the structural change that it needs.


There is a big feature in the Press this morning about the “new generation” that is taking over Christchurch politics, or something. It’s an astonishingly soft piece of journalism to publish in the middle of an election campaign.

It is being pitched as the old politics versus the new. Or even the Baby Boomers versus Generation Y.

Four names in particular – Raf Manji in Fendalton-Waimairi, Vicki Buck in Riccarton-Wigram, Erin Jackson in Spreydon- Heathcote and Ali Jones in Shirley-Papanui – appear to be the ones to watch if you want to know whether the power has shifted along with the ground in the new Christchurch.

Somehow, the campaigns of three middle-aged, well-to-do people – including Vick Buck, who has spent most of her adult life in local politics – plus the daughter of a former North Canterbury mayor, is “the new” taking on the old. Most of the article is a largely uncritical profile of Manji – if you’re going to dedicate two pages to the guy, would it hurt you to ask a few questions about what he believes in? The second page, at least in the print edition, features a large, not particularly flattering picture of Jackson – despite her almost not featuring in the story at all. No mention is made of mayor-in-waiting Lianne Dalziel, and her links with the various candidates.

I wish Manji the best – I’d certainly rather him than Jamie Gough – but I hope he’s ready for the cut and thrust of the council table. It’s not going to be saccharine puff-pieces like this forever.

A couple of days ago, the Press reported the story about councillors who voted for Marryatt’s pay rise having their hoardings targeted. Jamie Gough was featured in the story, asking for forgiveness. You would have thought that would have been the end of the story. But remarkably, in yesterday’s paper, he was given pride of place, with the first letter to the editor, which he used to grovel. He’s grown as a person, as a councillor. He’s made mistakes. He deserves a second chance etc. It’s extraordinary that a politician running for re-election would be given such a prominent place to put their views, without any editorial interference. It’s the not the first time in recent months that Gough has been given the run of the letters page to use as a soapbox.

The Press seems to be quite a fan of the Gough family. Jamie’s uncle is Anthony Gough, the flamboyant property developer. Because of his prominence, Gough senior features readily in the paper. That’s fine, he’s a big part of the rebuild and thus very newsworthy. But that doesn’t mean they should be giving Gough junior such a soft run. A couple of months ago, I outlined what I believed were conflicts of interest. Before I blogged it here, I talked to a couple of reporters at the Press. They seemed interested, and thought there was a story. However, it was quashed by the senior news team, who didn’t think it was important. I obviously think there is a story there, and while the Press don’t think it’s an issue, would it hurt to run it, then let Gough respond to it? If there is no issue, he could put our minds at ease. That’s what the new, mature Jamie Gough, who believes in transparency and openness would do, right?

Far be it from me to level claims of bias at Christchurch’s only daily newspaper, but it does somewhat mirror a situation unfolding at the Press’s sister paper, the Dominion Post. High profile mayoral candidate and sexist dinosaur John Morrison has made what could politely be described as a series of gaffes, which seem to have been reported by anyone but the Dom. Interestingly, the WCC Watch blog links to a report in the Herald. The two stories I blogged about yesterday – Bob Parker’s bubbly spend up and Marryatt quietly taking the money he said he’d turned down – also came from the Herald. The story about the bubbly doesn’t it make this morning’s Press. I can understand if the newsroom at the Press is stretched, but it does seem odd that wouldn’t even bother to run a story about the Mayor of the city putting booze on the ratepayer’s tab, then obfuscating for over a year to prevent the information getting out.

As I said before, I understand that newsrooms are under a lot of pressure at the moment; I just hope that that is their reason ignoring certain issues, rather than laziness, or worse, taking an editorial line in favour of certain candidates.

Grant Robertson announced a policy to introduce a rent freeze in Christchurch when he was down early in the week. So who do the Press go to to get an opinion? Those even handed, unbiased bank economists, of course.

Christchurch economist Robin Clements of UBS bank said Robertson’s plan was “not a wise idea”, saying it did not work when tried last time. “How is reducing investors’ returns and driving them out going to help the market?

Investors returns? Ah, of course. Silly me. I forgot that these needed to be prioritised over and above the health and welfare of our most vulnerable citizens. Robertson wasn’t actually proposing to cut people’s rents, just to freeze them at the levels they’re at. Investors will still be able to take out the returns that they’ve been able to gouge from the market, with increases of at least 10% a year in rent in the three years since the quakes.

No, this proposal won’t help the market. It’s designed to do the opposite of helping the market. Because in Christchurch, the hands-of, free-market has failed the people who are most in need. This isn’t the perfect solution – but it’s a complex situation, and there probably isn’t a perfect solution. But don’t be surprised that it’s not going to help the market, because it’s far more important than that. It’s designed to help the people

In the opinion section of the Press this morning, these was an article from someone from Ilam who worked in London as an investment banker and dreams about a Brighter Future. No, not John Key, but council candidate Raf Manji. His brighter future for Christchurch is apparently making it a visa-free zone:

Here is my proposal: Offer any young immigrant, subject to specific criteria, an open work visa, which will expire when they hit 30. This means that someone who arrives when they are 20 can stay here for up to 10 years as a resident, at which point they have either earned permanent residency or become a citizen. The goal would be to attract a new class of creative, innovative, smart and young global citizens.

My question would be … why? What is the point of this? Firstly, any aspirational council candidate should know that the council has no ability to change immigration rules. Secondly, where is the problem that this is meant to respond to? Hundred of rebuild workers are flocking to the city already – the number of Brits and Irish, as well as some from the Philippines and other places, have been well documented. Immigration clearly isn’t a problem for them, so what is this meant to resolve?

If it’s to do with “high-skill”, I have met lots of young and relatively young professional people who have come to Christchurch since the quakes, to work in sectors like architecture and planning.  I’ve never heard any of them complaining about immigration. But lets assume that there is a problem here. If there was, then why would we be relaxing immigration rules, when we could be trying to up skill some of the young unemployed people we have in this country, especially young Maori and Pacific Islanders? Lots of these people need a trade, and we can get them down here, teach them on the job and leave them with a skill for life. Many people who come to work a trade for the rebuild might stay 10 years, in which time they may well start a family here, and choose to stay. To me, that’s far more preferable than opening the flood gates. Especially when I’ve seen no evidence of there being an actual problem.

So … what is the point of this?

In summary, we are looking for a whole new class of smart, creative and interesting people, who would love to live in a city like Christchurch. More than that, they are dynamic, entrepreneurial types, who will bring a new attitude to the city, new networks, new ideas and new ways of doing things.

Right. Who exactly is looking for a whole new class of smart, creative and interesting people? Christchurch doesn’t suffer from a lack of smart, creative and interesting people – they are here, but suffering under the weight of bureaucratic incompetence and political disenfranchisement. This whole article just reeks to me of empty, TedX-flavoured Kool-Aid. A branding exercise that takes the English language out for a flogging whilst saying nothing in particular. 

To be frank, I’ve had enough of this city vibrating with new energy.

Overall, the city will vibrate with a new energy that will create a new centre of gravity for a city in desperate need of a new vision and brand.

My first political memory would be from when I was 6 or 7, somewhere in the second term of the 4th Labour government. Things always seemed pretty bleak when I was little, we were always just scraping by. There must of been a story on the tele about job cuts or something. I turned to my parents and said “bring back Muldoon!” My folks – a teacher and social worker – took the time to explain that no matter how bad the current government was, we didn’t want to go back to the Muldoon years.

I don’t usually read the Press editorial, cos y’know, blood pressure etc. I gave it especially wide-berth when I saw they were writing about Russel Norman’s speech in which he compared Key to Muldoon. Other people have covered this already, such as Andrew Geddis who did a great job. However, I did feel the curious urge to read the Press’s take, and wasn’t disappointed by how disappointed I was. 

I have to question the main sentiment that runs through the editorial, i.e. Muldoon was so bad, and nothing compares:

But the memory of the toxic nature of much of what happened under Muldoon is still strong to those who lived through it, and to many who heard of it later. And they know perfectly well that nothing done by the present Government can remotely be compared.

I’d be interested to read back through some of the Press editorials* from the Muldoon period to see whether they look back so scathingly on the era. I can’t imagine that a masthead which is as conservative as this one would have been championing the Springbok protestors. 

While the paper generally maintains a very conservative editorial line, it sometimes manages to let a principled editorial slip through the cracks. This one was titled “Black day for democracy in Canterbury“, and slammed the extension of the ECan dictatorship. These are their words, not mine:

“That the Government has prolonged this system – it is called dictatorship – is deplorable and foolish.”

“But tolerance of Czar Brownlee is now less, as the problems of the rebuild grow and greater input is desired by citizens.”

“Those are the justifications of every tin-pot dictator, echoing the sentiments of Suva.”

Key’s legacy in the city that had the misfortune to birth him doesn’t compare to that of the politician he is on the record as admiring. His government’s simultaneously iron-and-ham fisted rule will leave a wave of mutilation that even Piggy Muldoon would shudder at. With 30 years distance, the editorial team of the Press can see fit to condemn the legacy of Muldoon. I hope it doesn’t take them another 30 years to realise that Key and Brownlee’s dictatorship in Canterbury should have it’s own circle of political hell.

* my grandfather, Norman Macbeth, was editor of the Press in the mid to late 1970’s, so through some of Muldoon’s government. I would have love to have talked to him about what he thought, but he died when I was 10

In his letter to the paper on February 23 G Oudemans says that Labour closed 280 schools in it’s nine years in government. It would be a convenient argument – if only it were true. In response to a written question from Green MP Catherine Delahunty, Hekia Parata said that there were not 281 school closures in that time, but 205. Of these 205, 90 were voluntary closures (a decision made by the Board, not the Minister), which means that only 115 were forced. This works out at around a dozen schools a year. It should also be noted that these closures were spread across the whole country, not focussed in on one city that had just suffered through the most devastating natural disaster in modern New Zealand history. 

This 281 figure was repeated by the Prime Minister, first on his twitter account, and then in the House. It shows that this government’s desire to play fast and loose with the facts around school closures comes right from the top.

I’ve let this blog sit, festering, gathering dust. I’m not good at maintaining regular postings. But it’s still here, and I’m still here, and I’m getting more and more despondent about the way the “rebuild” of Christchurch is going. I’m off work for medical reasons at the moment, so have a bit more time to write and rant. In this week, the lead up the the second anniversary of the February quake, I’m hoping to have a blog post up most days. In my head, I’ll cover schools, the central city, the local body elections and the media – but that could change when I start writing.

I have commended the Press for their reporting in Christchurch since the quakes started. They have done a great job reporting stories on a daily basis, and following that up with more in-depth reporting from the likes of John McCrone and Philip Matthews in the Mainlander section. Their reporting has held the council, EQC, insurance companies and especially the government to account – to the point where Gerry Brownlee called the paper “the enemy of the recovery“. 

“We’re getting into the sort of zone of, frankly, The Press again being the enemy of recovery. Happy for you to put that in the paper because I know a lot of people think it.”

So I was in equal parts surprised and disgusted by Michael Wright’s front page opinion piece on Saturday. He effectively writes what Gerry Brownlee wants him to say, not because it’s true, but because Gerry wishes it to be so.

“Christchurch’s central city red zone will henceforth be known as the ‘rebuild zone’, the minister said, and thus it was so”

There wasn’t any particular evidence to support this bold claim, though Wright insists that “Brownlee got the rhetoric just right”. Perhaps the truest words he writes are that “perception is reality”. Well, yes. And the Press is the main organ for the transmission of that perception. If they are just going to drop any pretence of critical thought and instead regurgitate the government’s talking points without questioning, then we are in for a tough time.

Perhaps the giveaway was in the second sentence: “a captive audience of more than 40 local and international journalists were on hand”. I don’t want our journalists to be captive. I want them to think about, to critically evaluate the statements coming from this man. This man, who has unparalleled powers in modern New Zealand political history. Who has increasingly made Christchurch his personal fiefdom. The one thing we have left to stop him is a free press – and I hope that in the run up to this week’s anniversary, we can trust them to do that.

There are echoes of the government’s attempts to redefine the word “rejuvenate” during the Schools closure announcements last year. This bizarre, Orwellian tendency to mangle the mother tongue has two very different exponents in Hekia Parata and Gerry Brownlee. One attempts to re-appropriate words through utter confusion, the other through flat-bat bullying. There is nothing rejuvenating about closing a school. Similarly, stating that we are now are “rebuild zone” does not actually build buildings; it doesn’t fix toilets or re-house people who have already been without adequate accommodation for two years or more now.

This is a transparent attempt to change the narrative around what has been both a natural and a political disaster in Christchurch, just in time for the PM to parachute in on Friday and steal the plaudits. As someone with huge concerns about the way the decisions in this city are being made, I am alarmed by this development. I want to see action, not cynical attempts at rebranding. I realise that people from outside of Christchurch are tired of what is going on down here, and that they’re probably keen on hearing that we’ve moved on from Red Zone to Rebuild Zone. It’s just a shame that it’s not true.

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.