Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill — Procedure, First Reading

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I rise on behalf of the ACT Party to speak on the first reading of the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill. First, I thank the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, the Hon Gerry Brownlee, for the work he has done to rapidly identify and respond to the issues facing Cantabrians as a result of this horrific disaster. I also acknowledge the Hon John Carter, the Minister for Civil Defence, for the work that he and his team have done, as well as other Ministers of the Government. I also acknowledge the work that all Canterbury MPs have done in representing their constituents and trying to bring some order to the situation in Christchurch.

On behalf of the ACT caucus I start by saying that our hearts go out to the several hundred thousand residents of Canterbury who have been affected by this earthquake. Although we are incredibly grateful that no lives were lost as a direct result of the earthquake, we are sorely aware that this has been a very trying time for the people and communities of Christchurch and Canterbury, and we in the ACT Party wish them every support on the road to recovery that lies ahead. I acknowledge and commend at this time the tremendous work that has been done and the way that central government and local government staff have responded to this emergency. Staff have worked long hours, worked through the nights, and supported those in need during what has been a very upsetting and stressful time.

Just one example to illustrate this work to the House is the staff from Work and Income working throughout the weekend of the earthquake to ensure that over 10,000 superannuitants and pensioners living alone in Canterbury were contacted by phone, offered support, and advised on safety precautions such as boiling water. Of course, it is not just staff of central government and local government; it is all the volunteers, the members of the police, the army, the St John Ambulance, and the Salvation Army, as we have heard this afternoon.

The ACT Party fully supports the Government’s proposed measures to assist the people of Canterbury with their recovery, and completely agrees with the important need to address the statutory requirements that may divert resources from the recovery. I note the Hon Gerry Brownlee’s comment this afternoon about going back to retrospectively seek approval to demolish buildings that have, of course, already been demolished.

The ACT Party supports this bill. However, we have serious concerns about the trend that this Government appears to be setting towards transferring decision-making powers from Parliament to individual Ministers via the Order in Council process. Examples of this development have been seen in the House recently when we have considered legislation that contained special intervention powers for the upcoming Rugby World Cup, and issues relating to the performance of Environment Canterbury.

In each case, as with the bill we are discussing today, there have been specific and very important reasons for the application of special powers that override normal parliamentary processes. However, ACT has serious concerns about the impact this trend will have on New Zealand’s constitutional principles. Our constitutional system depends on a clear separation of powers between the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. Parliamentary scrutiny is an essential and vital element of our system of government and constitutional framework, both of which are threatened by this developing trend, which will only be reinforced every time the Government enacts legislation that overrides normal parliamentary or local government process.

The enacting of such legislation must not become the norm. The New Zealand regulatory system should have sufficient flexibility and universality to handle exceptional events like the Canterbury earthquake and the Rugby World Cup. ACT does not support the risk that such legislation poses to our constitutional safeguards in relation to the role of Parliament and local government in making decisions that affect our nation’s communities. We support, however, the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill, which will ensure that the earthquake recovery effort is not compromised.

The bill will go a long way to help the communities of Canterbury recover and will provide much-needed assistance in their time of need. It will provide welcome relief for Cantabrians and enhance the considerable and effective support that has already been provided by Government and local government agencies since 4 September—a week ago last Saturday. The needs of the people and communities affected by the earthquake are paramount and the Government is ensuring that those needs are met. I commend this bill to the House