I came across the article entitled ‘Assignment’ on the Christchurch Press Stuff site. (See http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff-nation/assignments/13874510/Feb-22-How-are-you-feeling-five-years-on). The assignment requests that you let them (the Press) know how you’re feeling five years on from the earthquakes. Be sure to have your say too!
Here are my thoughts. Well, yes I have a resolved insurance claim which took five years to settle! But that’s only part of the story…. I still live in a city where truths so often don’t make it through the gridlocked gauntlet of publishing. I live in a city where so much of what should be being discussed is not being discussed. I live in a city where the politicians who are supposed to be speaking for the people seem to have lost their voices. I live in a city where many are still suffering while most sit back and watch. I still feel anger, disappointment and frustration that after five years the government is silent, the media is silent, the regulators are silent and in the main so is the affected population.
I watch and wait as ‘Christchurch’ has become the on-going saga about an unprecedented catastrophe, with an affected population largely left to wallow in its own misery. After years of being involved in Christchurch what emerges is a story of a very sorry state of affairs, a story of incompetence, dishonesty, professional vested interests, cynical corporate greed and government complicity and self-service.
On top of that we have an insurance industry left to its own devices, an industry in dire need of reform. The industry has done and continues to do all it can to maximise its profits by delaying settlement of claims, causing policyholder abuse in the process. While insurance companies are in the business of making money, they cannot be considered ‘just normal businesses’. They have special fiduciary duties requiring them to protect their customers both in statute and case law. Paramount amongst those duties are the duties to act fairly and in good faith. The regulators in New Zealand have chosen to be deaf, dumb and blind to the events taking place here. And simply because the government entered into an agreement as part of its negotiations with insurers it should not be the population of Canterbury that pays the price for its own failures.
There are those who would have us believe that political collaboration is a necessary foundation for dealing with a natural disaster, but the experience over the last five years has shown that a ‘bipartisan’ approach does not work!
It was the former opposition Labour Leader, David Shearer who said “I do believe we need to look at a way we can have a bipartisan approach on this. We do need a government/opposition united approach” [and] “as a result of that, I think we do need to be sitting down with the Government and looking at a bipartisan approach to the rebuild in Christchurch and its recovery.” (See http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10779345).
And while on the face of it, it is not hard to understand the appeal of bipartisanship as it sounds very mature and enlightened with a suggestion of the joint, harmonious pursuit of quick and beneficial solutions to a set of difficult circumstances. It seems an obvious choice in the case of external threat, such as war, yet there is little evidence that solutions to big internal problems are to be found through bipartisanship and there are plenty of examples throughout history that would suggest that they are not. When it comes to ‘crisis’ events, this is particularly the case.
Democracy actually depends on the opposite – partisanship – in the form of 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, if the mechanism to take these views into account exists outside of a general election situation. It not only creates a system of checks and balances in the political arena but it also forces parties to take criticism and suggested alternatives politically seriously. That was clearly not the case, or even on the cards for the citizens of Christchurch.
Instead, bipartisanship has the potential and the ability to ‘cloak’ corruption, obscure chasms between politicians and the people they serve, and agree to invest single individuals with absurd, almost dictatorial powers, or simply indicate that the leadership and direction of both parties has become a closed club, (often with an agenda). In principle and in practice, a serious partisan political structure is fundamental to a healthy democracy and partisan ideas are crucial for liberty. In this respect the Labour opposition party, or any of the opposition political parties for that matter, have missed a huge opportunity in Christchurch and they have failed and continue to fail to protect the interests of the population in so doing.
Is it too late? I don’t think so, the insurance aftershock and Christchurch fiasco is still an unfolding drama and far from over. There is a gaping great hole waiting for one or more of the opposition parties to step in. A deliberately established (by the media? Government?) invisibility of the true Christchurch situation in the rest of the country makes it difficult to enlist popular support for any other political party to exploit. If the rest of New Zealand really was aware of what has taken place in the second largest city, things might be different.
Any system of disaster recovery must have and obey rules and regulations and operate within a legal framework. The seriousness of the circumstances in Christchurch post-earthquakes deserved and required a better balance between the marketplace and the government, based on the premise that the State has the best interests of the people as its mandate. In a neo-capitalist society and modern economy, the government still sets and enforces the rules of the game. In the absence of government support, the extent to which a population can recover post disaster is severely challenged. In that respect “Christchurch” was and is still severely challenged!