I stand here today in support of all of those in Christchurch still waiting for recovery. Five years on and still fighting for your rights. I commend you for your fortitude- for many this has become the battle of a life time.
The physical ‘disaster’ is far from the whole event. It is also made up of those shocking post-disaster events; such as delayed insurance pay-outs, top-down authoritarian decisions, ineptitude of government departments, wide spread corruption in the guise of free enterprise, corrupt professional bodies – and the list goes on.
I have one simple question to ask today – what would happen if last week’s magnitude 5.7 earthquake had been another 6.7 earthquake? Has anything changed in the last five years? What progress have we made? I suggest that we have made very little of the right kind of progress.
Einstein once said that the definition of insanity was to do the same thing over and over again hoping for a different outcome. The outcome of another catastrophe somewhere else in the country or in Christchurch tomorrow would produce the same results unless fundamental change follows. So after five years of ‘organised’ chaos in a city which, I have at times come to loathe, and with levels of dishonesty that make my blood boil, I am left asking – Why is it that nothing has changed? Five years have passed, no legislation has been implemented, no regulation endorsed, and no accountability taken place. Yes, there have been several proposed changes to the Earthquake Commission Act, a cursory and ineffective rewording of the Fair Insurance Code, minimal changes to the Building Code, some discussion on the Building (Earthquake-Prone Buildings) Amendment Bill and a few other minor revisions. Yet I am left thinking: we had all better pray that we do not have another event anytime soon because clearly the nation nor this City is ready for the next adverse event.
Until, and while we as a Nation remain unable to travel the road of self-reflection, nothing will change for the better! One has to ask – is the Nation going to allow CERA and its swollen communications department to be the sole arbiters and editors of the tale of the Canterbury Earthquakes? Over the past five years we have been met by a lack of good faith in dealings with people, people are still living in unacceptable situations, people are facing failed repairs, people have been given cash settlements that do not come anywhere close to enabling them to adequately restore their homes, people living in flood zones left with uncertain futures, people living in the red zones facing uncertain futures, unaffordability of housing issues, unavailability of land issues, a consent process that has all but been side stepped- and the list goes on….
How can we, as a city, possibly adequately recover when so many of our residents still are unable to plan for their futures, and are still hindered by a lack of financial capacity – with little or no access to political power or representation.
This is no longer about an earthquake but about a broken system. And let us not forget, that peoples’ perceptions of the broader economic climate and progress in the area of disaster have a profound influence on whether people decide to stay or go. When these components are seriously out of balance, people will tend to make the choice to leave the City for a new beginning elsewhere.
Democracy actually depends on partisanship. 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. 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.
I cannot stand here today without mentioning the ‘elephant in the room’ – the MBIE Guidelines – which has been an attempt to reduce the cash strapped EQC’s liability. The insurance industry has been quick to jump on the bandwagon. The Government must take accountability for its causative role in what may easily develop into the next big disaster in Canterbury. The depressing reality of this situation is that Government costs will come at the expense of New Zealand taxpayers. We will ultimately end up paying for government negligence: the faulty building methodologies, faulty regulations, and faulty building science, faulty local government practices are here for all to see. That a Government agency could have visited this disaster on the nation’s second largest city, is beyond comprehension. We need accountability and we need remedy and we need them NOW.
This entire experience has awoken in me a renewed sense of citizenship – I hope it has done the same for you. A better understanding of the fact that society functions at its best when we all participate and take responsibility for those things that require action. This can only happen when we all bring our energy and judgment to bear on a situation. When we work together.
You may remember last year the insurance industry criticised a Labour Party proposal for an independent insurance commissioner to oversee the industry, stating that it did not see the value of an independent commissioner – of course, you would expect it to say that! What could be more repugnant than having an ‘outsider’ overseeing your activities when currently you have a seemingly free field? I would argue that the self-imposed ‘self-regulation’ of the insurance industry is farcical and has failed utterly.
If Christchurch is to remain an economically viable city with growth and investment opportunities. The only way this can be achieved, is with Local and Central Government intent and the insurance industry honouring its contracts. If that commitment is not forthcoming the future of the city will remain uncertain – particularly in light of ongoing earthquakes.
My wish for the future of Canterbury and the future of New Zealand is that as a nation we challenge the injustices that many have experienced throughout this process, both as a result of sheer bureaucratic ineptitude and also dishonest vested interest, to ensure that this never happens again. My wish is that as a nation we do not wait until another disaster takes place before starting to make the changes in the way we look at our cities and our ecosystems and their governance. My wish is that the country learns from the Canterbury experience and prepares itself better for the next one. If we do not take heed now, when the next disaster does take place then we will see a repeat of the insurance aftershock and the Christchurch Fiasco.
This challenge will require each of us to be more courageous – to insist on the respect for basic human dignity. To remember that it is the character and quality of our society and how we treat those in need that is all-important. All of our survival is tied to the survival of each one of us.
I do believe that it is not too late for the stakeholders and the community together to create a better working relationship and a shared vision around how to proceed honestly, thereby diminishing some of the past hurt and differences.
This experience and these times are crucial and critical to our futures, we are a people called to do great things – to rebuild a City, to improve income disparity, to constitute a self-aware middle class, to provide educational opportunity, and to reverse the rise of inequality. It is my genuine hope that we can all rise to that challenge.