This year is another election year in New Zealand and my heart sinks at the prospect. It leads me to ask some serious questions though, particularly about what we, as Cantabrians, can expect from ‘our’ political parties.
After three and a half years of waiting for the National Government to assist in the plight of Canterbury we clearly must ask of the other political parties – what can you do for us? Over the past three years we have seen the National Government only exacerbate and delay the problems in Canterbury and we have also seen them responsible for much of the trauma that the people have suffered in the form of EQC and Southern Response (the AMI substitute) – both government operations. The way these operations have conducted themselves and the disinterest of National to give the people a fair deal does not bode well for continuation of a National government – whatever the press polls tell us. The National Government has also shown itself to be pro-corporate in every sense of the word and has arguably facilitated the insurance corporate dishonesty and deliberate delay we have experienced. So naturally, I would like to see some other solution, some other option which will provide better outcomes for Christchurch and the Nation.
So what is Labour’s current stance on the issue of Canterbury? Do they have a stated position? Or is it more of the same? Let us not forget that Christchurch is New Zealand’s second largest city. In March 2013, David Shearer stated while speaking at a breakfast meeting of the New Zealand Manufacturers and Exporters Association in Christchurch that Cantabrians deserved the right to drive the rebuild. He said that Labour, if it was returned to power, would do the following:
– Commit to establishing a Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority board so that local independent voices were heard;
– Call for fresh elections for Environment Canterbury in 2015;
– Establish an independent insurance commissioner to help residents resolve disputes;
– Commit to funding some test insurance cases that Cantabrians have been forced to take (incredibly expensively) themselves;
“Labour will put Cantabrians back at the centre of their recovery,” he said. (See http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/business/the-rebuild/8382264/Labour-will-put-Cantabs-at-centre-of-recovery). These were David Shearer’s promises – now Labour has a new leader, David Cunnliffe. What does he portend to offer us? We need to know. Soon!
In November 2013, David Cunnliffe promised that a Labour-led government would instruct New Zealand Post to expand its fledgling insurance business to offer general insurance to compete with an industry currently dominated by foreign ownership. ( See http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/labour-pledges-kiwibank-style-local-insurer-combat-foreign-dominance-bd-148045). He proposes to call the organization KiwiAssure and claims that it will give everyone a choice for better service, competitive premiums and local ownership that keeps profits here.” KiwiAssure would be a sister company to Kiwi Bank and evolve out of the existing Kiwi Insurance Ltd, which currently offers life insurance.
Unfortunately in light of the dismal performance of the Earthquake Commission and the Government-run Southern Response, (the insurer left with the task of sorting out the mess left by the undercapitalised insurer, AMI), his suggestion provides policyholders with little comfort, much fear and does little to protect their futures. (See https://thechristchurchfiasco.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/labours-kiwiassure-raises-some-questions-too/). With the effects of climate change likely to become a reality, another small insurer in the mix is likely to make little difference at all to the dismal insurance landscape in this country. I suggest Labour return to the drawing board and rethink its policy.
What we should be doing is re-establishing one large, well-controlled, national insurer where the profits stay on shore and are reinvested into our capacity to respond effectively to disaster. (See https://thechristchurchfiasco.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/introducing-kiwisure/). It also needs to be established in a manner that makes another EQC/Southern Response-type farce, impossible to occur. The people are not stupid.
Note that not a word has been said about the bipartisan agreement in place between National and Labour as a result of the earthquakes – how long is this going to continue? One thing is for sure – it did not and does not work in the interests of the affected population. It has been a brilliant way to ensure that the National Government has had no opposition or pressure to deal with from the other political players. “Democracy actually depends on partisanship – strong, critical advocacy that opens public debate- forcing the parties to explain their ideas which in turn clarifies choices for voters. Partisan causes are often bold ideas and though these ideas can be divisive, they can offer citizens a genuinely new path forward“. (See https://thechristchurchfiasco.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/why-a-bipartisan-approach-to-disaster-recovery-is-not-working-for-christchurch/).
Then there’s the Greens. In February of this year Russel Norman (co leader) stated that New Zealanders could face insurance premium hikes if the National Government continued to sit on its hands over competition in the sector. I couldn’t agree with him more. But we don’t need a prophet to predict what is already happening in the insurance industry. (See https://www.greens.org.nz/press-releases/government-needs-ensure-competition-and-fair-prices-insurance-industry). Let’s watch closely to see whether IAG gets away with purchasing more of the Insurance Market share. The premium hikes have been deliberate and astronomical. Change the name to ‘fixed sum insurance’ and it seems that insurers can get away with anything. It now costs a fortune to just establish your policy, never mind the premium! People, please don’t imagine that the introduction of this system is going to be the end of your problems – during the next disaster, getting money/settlement out of your insurer will not be any smoother. Further than this I have heard little else from the Greens in relation to insurance, National disaster management or Canterbury. We don’t really have a clear picture as to what extent they have the political drive to help bring about a fair and sustainable solution to Christchurch and its surrounds.
Winston Peter’s New Zealand First Party – in October 2013, Winston called for a wide ranging inquiry into the finance industry while accusing foreign-owned insurance companies of rorting Kiwis and of holding up the Christchurch rebuild. That wasn’t an understatement. Proof abounds. He stated that “The government should have stepped in“. He went on to say that consideration should be given to a new state owned insurance company, saying the same circumstances existed now which had necessitated the formation of State Insurance in the 1940s. Meanwhile foreign-owned players should be issued a clear warning. He went on to say that he wanted a full inquiry into the insurance sector. But that was back in October 2013 – little has been heard on the matter since.
I’m not even going to bother dissecting the Act Party and its position, if it even has one. John Banks or/and Richard Prebble for that matter (See http://tvnz.co.nz/politics-news/richard-prebble-makes-political-return-5847032), wouldn’t be able to remember where or when they left their helicopters, never mind whether or not they actually flew them. (See http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10803057). Act is the party of abject greed and Prebble has been there before…..
And how about Collin Craig’s Conservative Party? Does he believe, along with the conspiracy theorists among you, that the Christchurch earthquake was a man made event? (See http://uncensored.co.nz/2011/03/04/was-the-christchurch-earthquake-a-terrible-natural-disaster-or-was-it-a-terrible-man-made-disaster/). Perhaps he’s still undecided. He shouldn’t be – as the population of Christchurch would like to see some real political commitment from Mr.Craig’s regarding the ongoing struggles of many local businesses and homeowners. Anyway, one thing is clear – he’s now our Prime Minister’s new best friend. (See http://www.3news.co.nz/Colin-Craig-admires-Sarah-Palin/tabid/1607/articleID/323089/Default.aspx).
Perhaps after all, benign alien world domination is our only hope. Though our Prime Minister, even though he speaks with a forked tongue asserts he is not one of them. His department says that ‘there’s no way to know’, but it’s not a denial, is it? Personally I am not convinced! (See http://www.3news.co.nz/Is-John-Key-an-alien/tabid/1607/articleID/331828/Default.aspx and http://www.3news.co.nz/John-Key-Im-not-a-reptile/tabid/1607/articleID/331979/Default.aspx.
So in light of all of this, perhaps our fortunes do lie with Mr. Dot Com after all. Could it be that he’s the man to save us? Thus far he has not addressed how he perceives our current plight or how he envisions the Christchurch recovery should proceed. It is, apparently not an issue high on his agenda. It may not need to be as it is likely that the National Party will have ensured his extradition back to the USA by the time the election comes round. (See http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/06/kim-dotcom-could-be-safe-from-extradition-by-us-authorities-until-2014/). The overall impression I get is that on the national level the ongoing earthquake woes of the Cantabrians are minimized, while the economic benefits of the Christchurch rebuild are nationally maximized. Economically speaking “Christchurch” is the national/National lifesaver because of the billions of dollars being pumped into the construction industry. It overrides any political concern with those in Christchurch still struggling with their insurers………’they will get sorted in time, no matter the time it takes’. So nationally speaking political parties do not want to be too explicit about their views with regard to the people in Christchurch. The insurers’ money keeps rolling in and the national economy is booming like never before.
What of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) and Tsar Gerry Brownlee. CERA’s Uberfeurer? Brownlee still has the authority to do the following:
- Require councils to act as directed, and or to provide information on request
- Amend or revoke Resource Management Act documents and city plans
- Close or otherwise restrict access to roads and other geographical areas
- Demolish buildings, or otherwise enter and deal with people’s land and property (with notice, in the case of Marae and dwelling-houses)
- Require compliance of any person with a direction made under the Act. (See https://www.buddlefindlay.com/article/2011/05/04/summary-and-analysis-of-the-canterbury-earthquake-recovery-act-2011).
In principal his powers are due to expire in 2016, but I was intrigued to hear Mastermind Mr. Brownlee recently assert that even though his “local” organisation, CERA, will cease to hold its current status in 2016 – it’s mandate in Christchurch will no doubt continue. Watch out Christchurch! (See http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/9777929/Brownlee-fires-salvo). Clearly Mr. Brownlee likes his new found powers! (See http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/brownlee-uses-special-cera-powers-again-ch-139788). Unfortunately many of us here in Christchurch are seriously un-impressed. (See http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/praise-gerry-brownlee-hates-christchurch-plaque-5719440).
And then there’s the ‘good boy’- Mr. Roger Sutton (though apparently now not such a good boy http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/better-business/63259777/Cera-boss-Roger-Sutton-resigns-over-sexual-harassment-claims ), for whom so many Cantabrians had so much hope – yet who seems to have contributed little or nothing to the City’s stranglehold and simply stood rather quietly in Gerry Brownlee’s rather large shadow and usually said ‘what fits’.
Can we expect more from the newly elected Christchurch City Council with Lianne Dalziel at the helm? They inherited a big mess from the previous council which has yet to be unravelled. “Dreamtime” is over. National, regional and local government need to realign their responsibilities. It looks as though the Mayor’s honeymoon phase with Gerry Brownlee is well and truly over. Are we going to see real change, or more doffing of caps to CERA and Brownlee? The Council is chosen by the people of Christchurch to represent their best interests and it will be the people’s responsibility to support the Council in its efforts to keep CERA in check. Is this Council prepared to get some satisfaction from the insurance corporates? We will soon know; the proof of the pudding will be in the eating thereof.
So who holds the balance of power these days? Is it Brownlee, the City Council, or the Mayor? Or are, in fact, the corporates dictating the recovery agenda? In my reckoning the population of Christchurch have had little or no power in the decision making process, their calls for help and distress have been largely ignored. Perhaps they would not have been ignored had they been more vocal and would have taken to the streets in the earlier phases of the process. Do we have only ourselves to blame?
Yet the people of Canterbury, who will have a major role to play in the next national election, want to know what each of these political players is going to contribute to this region’s recovery.
Make no mistake – if nothing is done by the political party or the coalition in power, then the current situation will linger for another four years or more and our position of ‘last’ in the international disaster recovery stakes will have been well earned!! We need to hear a clear political message to the contrary. If not, the present balance of powers will allow the insurance industry to get total control of disaster management in New Zealand, while companies like IAG will most likely own even more than 50% of the market…….
Is that what we want to have happen?
~ Future Proofing for a sustainable, participatory, democratic society.