Earthquake, Kaikōura—Government Priorities
1. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: What are the priorities for the Government in assisting communities affected by yesterday’s earthquake?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): The Government has a number of priorities to help those communities over the short, medium, and long term. First, we are ensuring that people in the worst-affected areas, including in and around Kaikōura, receive the immediate support and emergency supplies they need, and we are evacuating people who need to get out. Second, we are working to restore vital transport and communication links. We expect to restore local road access between Kaikōura and Christchurch in a matter of days, but the huge scale of other damage means that it will take some time to restore all rail and road routes. Finally, we have ensured that the Government provides the financial support needed for a successful recovery and rebuild. The overall cost is unclear at this stage, but Treasury’s early assessment is that our strong economic and fiscal position leaves us in a resilient position to provide that support.
Andrew Little: Will he ensure that civil defence, which has done an outstanding job so far, has all the resources it needs to help affected communities in the recovery?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, and I think one of the things to reflect on is that, as time goes on, physical exhaustion is always an issue for those on the ground, as well as the fact that we should not underestimate the impact on people’s mental state because of the ongoing aftershocks and the impact that has on them and their families. I think, as we both witnessed yesterday, it is a small community, it is doing extremely well, but it will need more support physically on the ground.
Andrew Little: How far developed are the Government’s plans for a possible business continuity assistance package for tourist-dependent Kaikōura?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Minister for business and innovation has asked his ministry to put together a plan and to give that to me, as Prime Minister, and the Minister of Finance to review. I am not entirely sure how long it will take to have that, but, obviously, we would hope to get some information pretty quickly. At some point I would like to get back to Kaikōura, if I can, and speak to the business community there. It will not solely be Kaikōura that will be affected. I think there is certainly likely to be other businesses up and down that coast that will have had some impact as well. So we just need to give some consideration to what would be appropriate, taking into consideration the precedent we set in Christchurch and, also, what would be realistic for future natural disasters. We will work our way through that, but we should have some information relatively quickly.
Andrew Little: Does he anticipate a dedicated recovery agency will be needed after the earthquake?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have not had any discussions with senior Ministers about that. I think that is less likely. I think the component parts of this earthquake are reasonably easy to identify. They are clearly around transport issues, communications, and the like. There will be some issues around economic and business issues but, unlike Christchurch—where you were dealing with the red zone and the issues around that; you were in the CBD of the second-largest city with some very complicated issues around insurance; and just the sheer scale of it—I think it is less likely that we would require that.
Earthquake, Kaikōura—Economic Impact
2. MATT DOOCEY (National—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: What advice has he received about the economic impact of the Kaikōura earthquake?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): At this point, the priority is on getting assistance to those who need it, and restoring services to affected areas. There is no funding constraint on that; the job just simply has to be done. Treasury has provided some preliminary advice, which is that the Kaikōura quake is significant, but it is going to be quite difficult to get a clear picture of overall cost.
Matt Doocey: What steps is the Government taking to respond to the earthquake?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The shorter-term steps have been outlined by the Prime Minister, and the Minister in charge of earthquakes—[Earthquake]
Hon David Parker: It’s working.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is working. So we know that repairing roads and other utilities is a costly and long-term solution, which is likely to have an impact on Government expenditure and will have some impact on tax revenue.
Matt Doocey: How well placed is New Zealand to deal with the consequences of the earthquake?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: This time I will be more careful with what I say. Ha, ha! The economy is generally in good shape. Government debt is relatively low. We have budget surpluses. We are in about as good a shape as we could be to deal with this natural disaster.
Matt Doocey: What financing options does the Government have to respond to the Kaikōura earthquake?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There is a range of pretty straightforward options. The Government has capacity to borrow, to the extent that we do not actually have cash surpluses, and we want to make sure that financing is not an impediment to the rapid recovery, particularly for the vital transport links that have been so affected by the quakes.
Transport Sector—Response to Earthquake Damage
3. EUGENIE SAGE (Green) to the Minister of Transport: What updates can he give on the transport sector’s response to earthquake damage to State Highway 1 and the rail line between Seddon and Cheviot?
It is widely reported that there has been significant damage to transport infrastructure in the Kaikōura region. In addition to buckling and crackling in the road and the rail infrastructure, major landslides have taken out State Highway 1 and the main trunk line at multiple locations across the coast between Seddon and Cheviot. Alternative routes are being established, and this is where the focus of the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) and KiwiRail’s efforts are directed right at the moment. Due to the sheer scale of the slips, it is expected that State Highway 1 and the main trunk line between Seddon and Cheviot will remain out of action for months—probably several months—rather than weeks.
The transport sector is responding in a very coordinated fashion. This does not just require a land transport response; options are also being explored as to how we can utilise shipping to ensure freight flows are restored as we head into the busy freight period. KiwiRail, the NZTA, and Maritime New Zealand, in particular, are working very closely together.
Eugenie Sage: Are any alternative medium- to longer- term transport options between Picton and Christchurch being investigated in response to the earthquake damage?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Yes, I can confirm they actively are. I think the important thing to note in terms of freight but also people flow is that State Highway 7 is now up and running. It is fit for purpose for both light and heavy vehicles, so that does mean that we have got a connection, and that is very important. I accept, I think, the premise of the member’s question, which is that we also need to make sure that we are looking at alternative options to ensure we have a strong resilience in the system at this time. I can confirm that that includes looking at a number of shipping options. The Ministry of Transport is coordinating this quite concerted effort amongst the transport agencies.
Eugenie Sage: Do the shipping options being examined include an investigation of an additional ferry service and whether that could be established between a North Island port and Lyttelton to transport freight?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: In short, yes, it includes the coastal shipping options. I think the truth there is that a number of coastal shippers are continuing to work. Possibly there is a question of capacity around that, but we are looking at that actively. There are international shipping options; there is, of course, KiwiRail’s fleet; and there is also Bluebridge’s fleet as well. As I say, I think we need to take a coordinated approach that acts in New Zealand’s overall interests, without any worries or concerns about interest and the competition between these players.
Eugenie Sage: Is the Government open to considering additional funding for KiwiRail to help the company investigate the feasibility of additional ferry services?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I think, in short, yes. I mean, we need to look at our options. If there are options that require funding, we will do that. I think, in general terms, if we make a comment across the transport issues that we are seeing as a result of the earthquakes, the question is not one of cash flow or, indeed, funding generally. Through the variety of funds that KiwiRail has and that the Transport Agency has, they are well fit to deal with what they need to in the short and possibly, I think, medium term, as well. It is much more about coordinating practically on the ground and getting people in to do the work and to make things happen.
Eugenie Sage: Is the Minister aware of any road alignments that could be developed as an alternative to the coastal section of State Highway 1 near Kaikōura?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: In the short term I think we are doing the best we can to allow access for communities. So that does mean State Highway 7, effectively up through Murchison to the north, has been opened. That is heavy-vehicle enabled and is taking freight and passenger vehicles at this current time through to Hanmer—it is important to get access there. State Highway 7A is now open, albeit with, effectively, a curfew in the evenings for safety issues. We are working as fast as we can to get people there right at the moment to do work on old State Highway 70, as it is called, from Canterbury up through Culverden and into Kaikōura. The news there to the member, I think, is that it is a matter of days rather than weeks or months to get that vital connectivity for Kaikōura going. More broadly speaking, can I say State Highway 1, as I say, is badly damaged. The emphasis there will be on fixing that, but also improving it. If that involves some realignments to do that and to make it a more resilient, stronger network, we obviously want to look to do that.
Eugenie Sage: Is he aware of and is any work being done on investigating alternative rail alignments to the coastal section of the South Island main trunk near Kaikōura?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The position there is that if we look between Seddon and Cheviot there is, obviously, very bad damage to several bridges, several slips, and a number of really massive—mother Nature – made, if you like—realignments. Rail is very close there to road, and I think what we will be looking to do is form a very strong collaboration between KiwiRail and the Transport Agency alliance—a bit like we did in Canterbury—to make sure we are providing the best road and rail solutions there together.
Earthquake, Kaikōura—Economic Impact and Budget Allocations
4. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance: What is his initial assessment of the fiscal impact of yesterday morning’s earthquake and what, if any, new or changed Budget allocations is he considering in response to the earthquake?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): In answer to the first question, we do not yet have a detailed assessment. And in answer to the second, I expect that there will probably be categories of funding similar to Christchurch, although this is yet to be considered. The initial recovery costs are welfare costs, business continuity, and infrastructure support to the local council—in this case a very small council—the roading contingencies are clearly not going to be enough. And there will likely have to be some contribution to KiwiRail, which is likely to have significant disruption to its income.
Grant Robertson: Is it his assessment that Crown guarantee, under section 16 of the Earthquake Commission Act, will be needed to meet the cost of claims from yesterday’s quake, in light of the remaining resources in the Natural Disaster Fund being required for the settlement of outstanding claims in Canterbury?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Quite possibly.
Grant Robertson: How does he intend to finance the cost of infrastructure repairs to roads and rail, in particular; will this be different from operational spending?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The process followed in Christchurch was to discuss pretty intensively with the council what share it could feasibly take, given that it has got a relatively small, low-income rating base. With regard to roading, some of that would come from the National Land Transport Fund, but that may need to be supplemented by the Government. So we will just work it through on a case by case basis, but it will probably be similar to Christchurch.
Grant Robertson: Is he giving any consideration to establishing a specific infrastructure fund to meet the large scale of the cost that will arise from rebuilding critical networks?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Most likely the largest need is for road and rail. Certainly, funding for that will be fully transparent, because people need to know whether it is being paid for by the taxpayer or, in this case, by road users. But we are open-minded about a mechanism that gets the funding properly targeted and in a transparent way.
Earthquake, Kaikōura—Government Support
5. PAUL FOSTER-BELL (National) to the Minister of Civil Defence: How is the Government supporting people affected by the Kaikōura earthquake?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Acting Minister of Civil Defence): Shortly after the quake happened, the civil defence system was activated. Scientists began assessing the quake, and the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management began assessing its likely impact and the response that would be needed. At the same, local civil defence teams on the ground began implementing their local plans, which were built around the specific needs and local circumstances. The civil defence system in New Zealand is based on local authorities carrying out the initial response on the ground, with national coordination where necessary. The National Crisis Management Centre was activated yesterday at 12:34 a.m. after that 7.5 earthquake event. From around that time I witnessed a wide range of personnel from multiple agencies, including police, defence, and other Government agencies, working together to help support those in need. I would like to thank everyone who has worked long hours since the event to help those people. This effort will need to continue for some days to come.
Paul Foster-Bell: How are Government agencies working together in the disaster response?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I think they are working together extremely well. Yesterday the Prime Minister and I, accompanied by the Leader of the Opposition, saw first hand the extensive damage to essential connections and basic infrastructure that has isolated Kaikōura from the north and south. The widespread destruction caused by the earthquake and subsequent aftershocks will take considerable time to repair. Government agencies are on the ground in Kaikōura, working to support the local community and stranded visitors. The immediate priority is ensuring delivery of clean water, food, and other essentials to the residents of Kaikōura and the estimated 1,200 tourists in the town. The New Zealand Defence Force is delivering the essential items, and an NH90 helicopter fleet has begun airlifting tourists and locals, who have been prioritised for evacuation. This will continue for a number of days, and so far they expect to evacuate 100 people today. Additional civil defence and emergency staff from outside Kaikōura are also going in to assist, and as the State highway remains closed between Seddon and Cheviot, the New Zealand Transport Agency, as the Minister of Transport said this afternoon, is assessing damage and is working with local authorities to establish alternative roads if possible. I would like to congratulate the Kaikōura community on pulling together and looking after each other and the thousands of visitors in their town at this time.
Civil Defence—Disaster Preparedness
6. RON MARK (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Civil Defence: Can the Government assure New Zealanders on our level of preparedness for all natural disasters?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Acting Minister of Civil Defence): Yes, I think the way that civil defence has responded so far indicates that, although they would say that there is always more to learn and that each circumstances gives them that opportunity to improve. In New Zealand our approach is, generally, to act locally, coordinate regionally, and support nationally. I think that, keeping those three things in mind as basic principles, the civil defence organisation in New Zealand is able to respond appropriately in the first instance. The longer-term recovery is something that all of us will need to think about.
Ron Mark: Does he have any concerns about reports of the 111 phone line and civil defence site crashing; if so, what does he have in mind to address that problem?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I think the Government as a whole has a concern about how that happened. The situation is that it was off for about 30 minutes, largely because, like any other structure, the 111 system is inside a building that was considered to be unsafe, and they were asked to evacuate. Normally, there would be a switchover to another site; in this case, there was, I understand, some mistake and the switchover did not occur, but when it was picked up, it immediately happened. It is concerning, but I can tell you that it is of even greater concern to the staff of the centre, who are dedicated people and who do a great job in normal circumstances. I am sure that they will want to ensure that this does not happen again.
Ron Mark: Has he been advised on the number of buildings in Wellington that are owned or occupied by Government agencies and emergency services that do not meet earthquake-strengthening requirements, and how is that work progressing?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: As the Acting Minister of Civil Defence, I have not been briefed on that at this point, because the assessment post – yesterday morning is still continuing. Some of the buildings have been cleared for occupation, as being safe for the purpose that they are intended; others are still under assessment, and I would hope that by, at the latest, the latter part of next week, we will have a very comprehensive understanding of those situations. But, of course, the safety of people in buildings is not confined just to civil servants; it is to everybody who works in the Wellington area in a commercial establishment. It is going to take a while to get through all of that.
Ron Mark: Does he believe the tsunami threat was adequately and consistently communicated to the public in the affected areas?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: In the event, I think it was. There have been some concerns expressed about the speed with which sirens were turned on in some areas. But, in the end, the decision about that does lie with local authorities. I think that if I were to pinpoint why there might have been a set of different decisions made, it would be because of the lack of clarity of the information that came out in the first place. When you look at the information that came out, for those who were issuing it, it seemed perfectly clear. But given that this was a relatively new experience for New Zealand on this scale, I think we have got to learn from those experiences and ensure that next time it is treated appropriately. Can I say that the response that we got from people was extraordinary. People did the right thing. They were inconvenienced in a number of cases because of traffic jams, etc., but we would not want to get to a point where people become so blasé about a warning that they do not engage in some of the activity that, ultimately, causes them that inconvenience.
Ron Mark: Has the Government had discussions with KiwiRail and Bluebridge about rerouting Cook Strait ferries to Lyttelton until such time as State Highway 1 and the Picton-Christchurch rail link are re-established?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Minister of Transport has answered a question in the House indicating that a wide range of options are being considered by operators and the Government to ensure that freight continuity.
Ron Mark: What preparations is the Government looking at to use young people who are not in employment or in education, and other unemployed New Zealanders, in the recovery and rebuild phase for this and any future natural disaster?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: There were very successful programmes put in place in Christchurch for young people, and we are now a country that has very high levels of employment. Those people who are unemployed may well find opportunities that come out of a disaster like this. It is a little hard to pinpoint it specifically, because at this point the extent of damage to buildings in Wellington is not known, and other areas where there are smaller communities may well have the capacity to effect those repairs without any particular new labour force being brought in. So there is still some consideration needed in order to find exactly the extent of the problem that is faced, and then decisions can be made after that.
Earthquake, Kaikōura—Transport Infrastructure Status and Restoration
7. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister of Transport: What roads and public transport services are currently not operational following damage from the earthquake yesterday and when is it expected access and services will be restored?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): As has been widely reported, there has been significant damage to transport infrastructure in the Kaikōura region. In addition to buckled and cracked road and rail infrastructure, major landslides have closed State Highway 1 and the main trunk line at multiple locations along the coast between Seddon and Cheviot. I think, in terms of the member’s question, that is absolutely the prime and by far the largest, most significant example. Effectively, what we are trying to do, for the member’s benefit, is find alternative routes to establish, and that is the focus of the New Zealand Transport Agency and KiwiRail’s efforts right at the moment. Due to the sheer scale of the slips, it is expected that State Highway 1 and the main trunk line between Seddon and Cheviot will remain out of action for—as I have said in answer to earlier questions—several months. Finally, public transport services in and around Wellington are coming back on, following checks to roads and rail lines, but severe weather events, particularly flooding unrelated to the earthquakes, are also significantly impacting services.
Sue Moroney: What steps has the Government taken to ensure that access to isolated communities is restored as soon as possible?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Comprehensive actions, I think. Effectively, our top priority is access for communities, and what that means is going around and systematically checking and inspecting the roads. I mentioned State Highway 7 earlier today, and 7A into Hanmer, and, really, the prime and most important example at the moment to get that access for freight and for people into Kaikōura is old State Highway 70. I am personally meeting with transport agency officials across all of the agencies both in the mornings and the evenings to make sure we have a concerted, comprehensive set of actions to do everything we can for the people of the South Island.
Sue Moroney: What are the capacity issues he referred to in question No. 3 today, in relation to the increased role for coastal shipping to ensure the movement of people and freight in the wake of the recent earthquakes?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Broadly speaking, in relation to capacity, I would simply say that we are coming into peak season, with a significant population in Canterbury wanting goods and services connectivity. So that makes this a significant issue. In relation to coastal shipping, I would not claim to have expertise in this; it is something that KiwiRail is working through. My point was simply that, of the number of coastal ships in New Zealand, we have to go through and check which ones are available and have capacity to do the freight tasks that, clearly, in New Zealand’s interests we need to see.
Sue Moroney: What extra resourcing will be allocated from the National Land Transport Fund to assist affected communities to rebuild their transport links?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: In the conventional National Land Transport Fund there is a broad, in approximate terms, half a billion dollars that can be brought to bear to an emergency such as this—local State highway funding. I think we have also heard, of course, from the Minister of Finance that this is not, effectively, a question of funding. We are in a good place over and above that, should we need to act. I would also say to the member that we have got a number of examples, even in my relatively brief time as Minister of Transport, where outside of the conventional classes, if you like, of the fund, we have come to the party to help, with Whanganui and the floods there last year being but one example.
Earthquake, Kaikōura—Damage to Transport Infrastructure and Government Response
8. BRETT HUDSON (National) to the Minister of Transport: What action is the Government taking to repair damaged transport infrastructure following the Kaikōura earthquake?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): Government agencies and contractors are working very hard to assess the damaged transport infrastructure following the devastating earthquake and its aftershocks in the early hours of two mornings ago. There has been significant damage to the State highway network, particularly State Highway 1 between Picton and Christchurch. Crews are working hard to clear roads where it is possible and safe to do so, but in some cases it may take many months, really, before roads are fully operational—I think that realism is required. We are also working hard to establish alternative routes where there is significant damage, but in some cases it may take some time before roads are fully operational. I want to thank all those who continue working hard to clear and repair the roading and rail networks.
Brett Hudson: What efforts are being made by the Government to reconnect towns and communities that are isolated following the earthquakes?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, I think, if there is one message that I would like to give, it is that I want to reassure those who are currently cut off that our priority at the moment—our absolute priority—is access for them and their communities. The State highway network in and out of Kaikōura has been badly damaged, but, as I have said, I am pleased to advise the House that the latest information I have received from the New Zealand Transport Agency is that it hopes to have a road link via State Highway 70 restored in the coming days. Effectively, that involves bridge work on two or three bridges there, but, as I say, I can assure those people affected that it is working night and day, making this its absolute priority.
Media—Support for Media and Radio New Zealand Funding
9. GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Minister of Broadcasting: Will she join with me to acknowledge the work of all media in New Zealand, which is so important in times of natural disaster and crisis; if so, will she consider increasing our public broadcaster Radio New Zealand’s funding in Budget 2017?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Minister of Broadcasting: Yes, I do agree with the member. The media has done an excellent job of the vital task of keeping the public informed about what they should do at a time of stress. In terms of Radio New Zealand’s (RNZ’s) funding—and, of course, Radio New Zealand, uniquely among media organisations, has a guarantee of revenue for future years, something that many media organisations would regard with envy. However, any bids will be considered in due course as part of the usual Budget process.
Gareth Hughes: How long does the Minister think our only public broadcaster, Radio New Zealand, can continue to provide the high standard of broadcasting we have seen in the past few days, when its funding has not been increased for 8 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, clearly up until now it has done a very good job. I have not seen any noticeable deterioration, in fact, I have seen some improvements in the broadcasting of Radio New Zealand on the guaranteed funding that it has, which, as I said, makes it unique among media organisations, a number of which are fighting simply to stay alive.
Gareth Hughes: Given the Minister’s comments around the ability to lodge a Budget bid, is the Minister concerned Radio New Zealand did not put in a funding bid in the last Budget round, with the chairman describing it as: “pointless beating your head against a brick wall of reality.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I was not disappointed at all. I know for public organisations it can be a sort of automatic reflex that they bid for more money just because they had some last year and think can do more good next year. In the case of RNZ though, over a number of years it has changed with the times. I am particularly complimentary of its website development. It sees itself now less as an owner of a broadcasting system and more as a content provider. I am sure that the wider media sees benefit in broadcasting content of the quality of RNZ’s.
Gareth Hughes: Given the excellent work that Radio New Zealand has done in the last few days despite a real-term funding cut of $4 million since this Government came to office, would the Minister encourage Radio New Zealand to put in a Budget bid for the next funding round?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, not on that basis. I mean, we do not give a public organisation more money just because it has demonstrated its ability to use the money it has. If there is a greater need for the long-term sustainability of the organisation then I am sure the board and executive of Radio New Zealand will see merit in putting up a bid. Equally, we also try not to give money to organisations where their services habitually fail, because that would also be rewarding organisations, rather than just applying money to obvious need.
Civil Defence, Disaster Preparedness—Legislation
10. CLAYTON MITCHELL (NZ First) to the Minister of Civil Defence: What progress has been made, if any, on new civil defence legislation which focuses on large and significant events such as the Christchurch and Kaikōura earthquakes?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Acting Minister of Civil Defence): I am pleased to confirm that last Thursday the House passed the third reading, with unanimous support, of a Civil Defence Emergency Management Amendment Bill. That new legislation focuses on a smoother transition from the response phase to the recovery stage. However, I have to say, though, that the legislation has a very long enactment date. So from the time that it receives assent it is 180 days before it comes into effect. I think, given the events of the last couple of days, there may be a need to look at bringing that commencement date further forward. It is my intention to have discussions with all parties in the House with a view to perhaps moving in that direction.
Clayton Mitchell: Why did it take 12 months to put through the Civil Defence Emergency Management Amendment Bill, focusing on part one of the Christchurch earthquake review, when it was fully supported across the House and should have been read under urgency?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: There are not too many parties that would argue for bills of that size and importance to be passed under urgency. I understand, too, that the member’s own party has a particular aversion to urgency—and urgent matters—being taken to pass bills in the House.
Clayton Mitchell: Is the Minister aware that New Zealand First would be supportive of the Government bringing part two of the Christchurch earthquake review, which addresses large-scale emergencies, before the House without any further delay?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: As Acting Minister of Civil Defence, no.
Clayton Mitchell: When can we expect legislation that addresses large-scale emergencies, such as earthquakes and tsunamis, to be brought before the House, and will this legislation be put through under urgency?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I think the important thing to recognise here is a definitional one, around what is a large-scale emergency. Although I agree with Andrew Little that the events of the last couple of days affect the whole of New Zealand—they are very much concentrated in a large chunk of the country, but they do not affect the majority of New Zealanders in the direct way that the legislation is designed to relieve, if you like. So I would argue, and continue to—as we did during the process of the passing of the bill last week—that the new legislation does allow an appropriate level of response. But I would have to say that Parliament should also always reserve its right to pass special legislation if there is an event of such a size that it is needed. That was the case in Christchurch. I think the discussions I would like to have with parties over the next few days, or beyond, around the use of this legislation may be to change some of our consideration about what is a large-scale event.
Earthquake, Kaikōura—Government Response and Health Services
11. ALASTAIR SCOTT (National—Wairarapa) to the Minister of Health: What updates has he received on the Government’s health response to the Kaikōura earthquake?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): I am receiving regular updates, and the advice is that health systems are responding well across all affected regions. Our focus continues to be primarily on Kaikōura, and the brand-new health centre facility is coping well with increased demand. I am advised that 12 patients have now been air-lifted from Kaikōura to Christchurch as a result of a range of injuries. The Ministry of Health is working well with the Canterbury District Health Board to ensure that local staffing requirements in Kaikōura are met, including the provision from Christchurch of a clinical psychologist, emergency management staff, and a health protection officer who will assist with assessments of local water, sewerage, and other public health issues. I would like to acknowledge the outstanding response of the health workforce under trying circumstances, and thank them for their work.
Alastair Scott: What other health support and advice is available for anyone affected by yesterday’s earthquake?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The earthquake support line and Healthline are available 24/7 to provide support to distressed and anxious people, as well as to give advice on the appropriate management of any other health issues or injuries. There has been an increase in calls to both these services. As at 10 o’clock this morning, they had answered 2,690 calls, and at the peak yesterday they answered 150 percent more calls than would be normal. We know that this is an anxious time for many, and to help respond to the increased demand, Healthline has rostered on an additional 20 hours of nursing staff today and has staff on call, should they be needed, as well as two additional mental health professionals, who are now on duty.
Hon Annette King: In light of evidence showing an increased demand for mental health services following a disaster, will he consider increasing mental health funding to districts that have been seriously affected?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The focus will be on making sure that people in those affected districts have all the resources they need.
Hon Annette King: Can I take from the Minister’s answer that he has said that if increased resources for mental health services are needed, they will be provided in a timely fashion?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I think I have already said that we are making sure that that happens.
Earthquake, Kaikōura—Civil Defence Response
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Start the question again.
12. CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) to the Minister of Civil Defence: What actions have been taken by Civil Defence to ensure those people in the areas worst hit by the earthquake have enough food, clothing, water, and shelter?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Acting Minister of Civil Defence): In earlier answers today I have outlined the work that the various agencies of Government are undertaking to ensure that that happens. The immediate priority is to get water, food, and other necessities into those communities, and to evacuate people who have found themselves stranded there when they have commitments, particularly to overseas flights, etc. All of that is in train. Those flights have been taking place today. There have been, I understand, deliveries of water and food supplies in train. And we of course have the Canterbury on its way down from Auckland. It was to participate in the 75th Navy celebrations as part of the review this week, but it is re-tasked to come down, along with the offshore patrol vessel Wellington. They will both be in Kaikōura in the next couple of days. They will have supplies and they will be doing supply runs, as well as doing evacuation runs. In addition to that, you have heard the Minister of Transport today talking about the huge focus that will go on to improving, as quickly as possible, those lifeline links. I can say that the Minister for Communications has also had discussions with the telecommunications companies about getting the place reconnected, and the Minister of Finance has outlined the Government’s commitment to financing the recovery.
Clare Curran: What additional resources will he allocate to help Civil Defence in its role in the recovery stage, which was identified as a weakness by Civil Defence’s latest internal review?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Yes, I have been able to observe some of that weakness first hand, and of course we will work with Civil Defence, recognising that it is, firstly, a local response that the law requires, and then fill the gaps as they are seen.
Clare Curran: As Acting Minister of Civil Defence, will he be undertaking a review of the Civil Defence response to these events?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Civil Defence always reviews its response, no matter whether it is a small, local response or a very large response across the country. So, yes, of course there will be some review of this.
Clare Curran: Will extra personnel be brought into rural and isolated communities, if needed?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: There already have been a number of extra personnel put into Kaikōura District. Other districts are being assessed and, as the need is identified, it will be filled.
Point of Order—Oral Questions
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House): Anyone who is a regular observer of question time here in this Parliament may have found today a little quiet and may have found today a little overly constructive. But, as Leader of the House, I just want to acknowledge the various parties that have asked questions in the House today. They have been asked from a very genuine point of view and do express the widest support that this House can give to those who are facing difficult times at the moment.