Earthquake, Kaikōura—Government Response
1. NUK KORAKO (National) to the Minister of Finance: How does New Zealand’s growing economy and the Government’s commitment to responsible fiscal management mean New Zealand is well placed to respond to the Kaikōura earthquake?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): As we have asserted to the House many times, the Government is focused on getting its books back into surplus and maintaining growing surpluses, for exactly the reason that we need to be able to handle economic shocks, including natural disasters. So with a manageable level of public debt, surpluses, and a growing economy, we are well positioned to respond to the Kaikōura earthquake. Treasury has advised that the economy has relatively strong momentum, business and consumer confidence, and with low public debt and strong surplus there is fiscal headroom to support the rebuild and recovery.
Nuk Korako: What market commentary has he seen on the ability of the New Zealand economy to respond to the Kaikōura earthquake?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Market reaction has been relatively limited, which is reassuring, given that the international coverage of the earthquake has tended to emphasise its more dramatic aspects. The New Zealand dollar fell initially, but has largely now reversed that fall. BNZ reports that the hit to GDP will be substantially less than the Christchurch impact, although there will be some significant short-term effects for the regional economy and some pretty dramatic effects on some industries—potentially, the fishing industry. Activity, of course, will be significantly boosted by the rebuilding of infrastructure.
Nuk Korako: What advice has he received from officials on progress in responding to the earthquake, and what indications are there of fiscal implications?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We are fortunate that the main impact has fallen outside highly populated areas, but, of course, the impact on the smaller communities is intense. Officials advise that the most significant impacts are likely to be increased infrastructure expenditure to repair roads and other utilities infrastructure, and decreased tax revenue in the short term as a result of business disruption. No cost estimates are yet available at this stage. The Government’s focus at this point is on immediate response, but, of course, a number of organisations, such as owners of buildings and ports, will be making their own estimates of damage.
Nuk Korako: How does the Government’s ongoing commitment to fiscal responsibility mean that New Zealand remains well placed to respond to future shocks?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As the Government’s books have come into surplus, it was always going to be a challenge to manage rising expectations about what the extra money could be spent on. This week’s earthquake is a sharp reminder of why fiscal restraint will need to be ongoing—that is, having surpluses does not mean that the Government can go spending more money on ineffective public services or infrastructure that may not be needed. We know that there will be economic and natural disaster shocks at some point in the future—we certainly did not predict this one so soon after the Christchurch earthquakes—so it reinforces the need for the Government to stick to its approach, which has been successful.
2. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Has he spoken to relevant Ministers about the lessons learnt from the Canterbury earthquakes to ensure people affected by the recent earthquakes have an easier and faster recovery?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I have had several discussions with Ministers about ensuring that affected communities receive the support they need, both immediately and over coming months. We can take some lessons from Canterbury, but the latest earthquake and aftershocks present some quite different challenges. In particular, I refer to the enormous damage to State Highway 1, which has isolated Kaikōura—I saw the damage again first-hand this morning; it is clear that repairs will be a huge undertaking—and the affected communities in North Canterbury and Marlborough are more rural and spread out than in Christchurch. As I said in the House yesterday, the Government will stand alongside affected communities. That includes providing immediate support and emergency supplies that they need, and evacuating people who need to get out. It includes working to restore vital transport and communication links. Finally, we will ensure that the Government provides the financial support needed for a successful recovery and rebuild.
Andrew Little: Why is Geonet still not funded to be staffed overnight and on weekends?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I simply do not have those details. You would need to put that down, I think, to the civil defence Minister.
Andrew Little: Has he received advice on the number of Earthquake Commission (EQC) claims lodged so far as a result of the recent earthquakes?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Last night the Minister responsible said to me that there had been quite a number of inquiries, but not a lot of lodged claims. One thing I would say is that if you look at Christchurch and both the number of claims that were filed and the repairs that were undertaken, I think it is not correct to say that EQC did not do a good job. I think there was an enormous number of claims—well over 65,000—that were successfully completed to the satisfaction of the homeowners. But it is certainly true that there were some that needed to be done again, and we need to learn some lessons from that.
Andrew Little: Just in light of that answer, then, what steps has the Government taken to prevent a repeat of the situation in which Cantabrians are still, even today, being shunted back and forth between the Earthquake Commission (EQC) and their private insurance company?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There has been consideration given by EQC and insurers to see whether there is potentially a better way of operating and a better model. One of the insurance companies has been trialling, with the blessing of EQC, a different way of potentially handling the full claim, if you like, with recourse back to EQC. That may, ultimately, be a change in the system over time, but the Minister responsible for the Earthquake Commission will need to consider the merits of all of those arguments and, obviously, seek a formal change if that was the way it was to operate.
Andrew Little: Can he confirm that the Ministry of Defence headquarters has been evacuated, and what impact does this have on the Defence Force’s ability to help people following these earthquakes?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In terms of the latter part of the question, I do not think there is any impact that I have been made aware of. I was with the Chief of Defence Force in Kaikōura about an hour or so ago. Yes, I am aware that Defence House has suffered some structural damage. Just how long it will be out of action for I do not know. Like any building though, of course, even when buildings are built to a very high level of code it does not mean that they cannot and do not suffer damage as a result of an earthquake. What it means is that they provide a greater level of safety for those working in the building. It looks, if you consider the number of buildings that have suffered major structural damage, by the looks of things, that the intensity of the earthquake has been particularly strong at one point here in the Wellington CBD. In the end, we will have to look at that. As the member may be aware, there will be discussions with the council and others tonight about the Statistics New Zealand building, and there will be discussions about a number of other Government buildings as well.
Andrew Little: What steps is he taking to respond to the evacuation of Statistics House, the Ministry of Defence headquarters, and now Pipitea House due to the damage from the earthquake that they were supposed to be able to withstand; and just how compromised are Government services, given the number of Public Service buildings that seem to have been evacuated?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am not aware of a major deterioration in the services that can be provided, but clearly people have moved out of buildings, and we need to do that if they are structurally unsafe; we cannot put people back in buildings that are unsafe. There may be some inconvenience and there may be some reduction in service. As I said earlier, it is actually not correct to say that even if a building is built to a strong and a high level of code compliance, it cannot and does not suffer damage as a result of an earthquake. They sometimes do. But, again, people will need to go and have a look at that and get a proper assessment. There is a formal review of all the buildings being taken—or, at least, a formal assessment of the buildings that is being taken—to make sure that they are safe, and people would expect that.
Andrew Little: What measures will be put in place to ensure greater oversight of the quality of building repairs, to ensure that communities do not suffer, or at least do not face the same issues as homeowners have in Christchurch?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot answer that question. The Minister responsible for the Earthquake Commission might be able to give the member some insights. There were learnings that came out of the Christchurch earthquakes, for sure, and they are learnings that EQC has taken on board. The Chairman of EQC, Sir Maarten Wevers, is well-known, both to this Parliament and to New Zealanders, I think, as someone who is of very high quality as a chairman, so he will be making sure that if there are lessons that need to be learnt, they will be followed through with.
Earthquake, Kaikōura—Government Response
3. STUART SMITH (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister of Civil Defence: What update can he provide about the Government’s response to the Kaikōura earthquake?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources) on behalf of the Minister of Civil Defence: This morning I accompanied the Prime Minister on his second visit to Kaikōura since the earthquake. I was able to see first-hand the extensive damage to essential connections and basic infrastructure, which has isolated Kaikōura from the north and also from the south. I can report that agencies from across Government are working together to support Kaikōura and affected areas. Essential supplies continue to be delivered to Kaikōura, and teams on the ground are ensuring that all members of the affected communities are contacted to ensure their well-being. The response stepped up today with the arrival of HMNZS Wellington and HMNZS Canterbury. These vessels will assist in the evacuation operations and will prepare for continued operations with the delivery of supplies. Ministry of Defence helicopters will continue to provide relief supplies to affected people. Can I personally thank everyone who has worked long hours and has helped with this effort to date. As the response continues, the Government is here to support the communities of Kaikōura and affected areas.
Stuart Smith: What additional support is being provided to the disaster response?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I would just like to acknowledge that the New Zealand Government has been offered help from a number of nations that are involved in the International Naval Review, and the New Zealand Defence Force is assessing the best use of these ships and aircraft. The Royal New Zealand Navy has already sent HMNZS Canterbury and HMNZS Wellington to Kaikōura, which arrived this morning. It will also send the frigate HMNZS Te Kaha and the fleet tanker HMNZS Endeavour, which are expected to arrive tomorrow morning. The ships Vancouver, Sampson, and Darwin are currently en route. They are expected to arrive in Kaikōura overnight, and their embarked helicopters will provide, I think, a very significant addition to the humanitarian operation under way. Although the New Zealand Defence Force was well placed to respond to the unfolding situation in Kaikōura and surrounding districts, we are very grateful for the help offered. It is heartening to see overseas partners so willing to alter their plans and to offer assistance.
Earthquake, Kaikōura—Effect on South Island
4. RON MARK (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Can he update the House on the situation in quake-affected areas in the South Island?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Maybe it would be best if I just gave a quick summary of the most recent visit we have had there—a couple of hours ago. What I can say is that, on one hand, I think spirits are actually quite high in the Kaikōura region. There has been significant additional support coming from police, coming from the military, and coming from civil defence. The locals, I think, in that regard, are feeling well supported by this Parliament and by the services that support them. Secondly, what was clear is that there is real concern about the upcoming tourism season and the capacity for tourists to actually get into Kaikōura because of the damage to the road. I think the Government will need to provide a business support package, and the Minister responsible, Steven Joyce, is likely to make that announcement in the next 24 hours, in a package that would be similar in nature, I think, to what took place in Christchurch.
The only other point that is probably worthy of note for the House is that I think it is increasingly possible, if not likely, that the House will have to pass some sort of emergency legislation, and political parties will need to think about that. Just to give you one example: because of the lift in the seabed floor, the advice we got from those running whale-watching was that they would be able to operate for only 2 hours a day. I think that this House knows that to fix that issue would require some dredging, which would require a resource consent process that is likely to be very slow. I told the local business people that I thought this Parliament was unified in its support of the people of Kaikōura and the region, and that I thought that if emergency legislation was required that enough political parties would support that to allow it to take place. I also mentioned it to Mark Solomon from Ngāi Tahu, as a pretty interested stakeholder in what has taken place.
Ron Mark: What specific updates does the Prime Minister have on the situation on small settlements like Hanmer Springs, Cheviot, Parnassus, Rotherham, Culverden, Ward, and Seddon?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think it is fair to say they are each in slightly different places. Some have had electricity and the likes fully restored; some have not. There is an outreach campaign that is happening, so they are going out to all of those individual communities. They are visiting them and they are trying to visit each of the individual farms and isolated houses to make sure that they have got the support that they need. There are, as I understand it, in the wider area 22 farms there that are dairy farms. I met with the representatives of them. They are all Fonterra farms. They are dealing with the situation as best as they possibly can at the moment. So if you want a very detailed answer we can obviously get that from the different departments, but I think they are literally going around and dealing with the variety of issues, which all fit around the same areas: the restoration of electricity, water, telecommunications networks, and roading access.
Ron Mark: Has the Prime Minister received any updates or any information on the percentage of farmers and their families who are isolated and who are yet to be contacted?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I do not have an exact number there but I asked, effectively, that same question when we were in Kaikōura today as we met representatives of each of the different disciplines or areas. They inform me that they have been going literally house by house, community by community. So I think there has been a lot of work happening to make sure that people are being contacted and are getting support. I cannot, hand on heart, say that every single house has been contacted, because they were not able to give me that assurance, but they are certainly working their way through it as rapidly as they can. I got the impression they had covered most of them off.
Ron Mark: Did he receive any briefings this morning as to whether residents in Mt Lyford village had been contacted and asked whether they need assistance, given the reports that are coming out that are saying that people are being “left to fend for themselves”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, and obviously we will follow up on those reports.
Ron Mark: Did the Prime Minister have an opportunity to speak with Waiau fire chief Hugh Wells this morning, who was quoted in a British newspaper story posted at midday as saying “It has been very frustrating watching all the reporters flying around taking pictures but not landing to help us or seeing if we are OK.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: From memory, no, he was not there, but the fire service absolutely was there and regionally represented. They gave us an update of the number of fire service personnel and the work that they were doing. With respect, the journalists are having to rely for the most part on the military capability to get in and out of the areas, so that, in the first instance, has been going to Kaikōura because of the logistics of the number of people who are there. Again, we will follow up on those issues but communities are being dealt with as rapidly as they can be, and certainly from the review that we got from the various different services, there is contact being made as best there can be.
Ron Mark: Could the Prime Minister give the House an assurance that he will personally ensure that the 200 residents in Waiau who are camping out on grass and saying that they feel like they have been forgotten, having not had any contact or assistance up until now, are so contacted and that their circumstances are given some attention?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, we will follow up on the matter.
Prime Minister—Government Policies
5. JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Is he committed to all his Government’s policies?
James Shaw: Is he committed to cutting New Zealand’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions despite US President-elect Donald Trump’s stated commitment to withdrawing from the Paris Agreement and to investing heavily in coal?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, and I think that is one of the things that the Government has been saying for a long period of time: that we have got a plan when it comes to climate change. I think we have been very consistent about implementing that plan. I think it is consistent with best practice in the world, except that the Government has always said that it wants to be a fast follower, not a leader. But we are committed to the commitments we made in Paris, and we do not have any intention to change them.
James Shaw: Would he be prepared to re-evaluate his position, of New Zealand as a fast follower on climate change, given the calls for greater leadership at the Marrakech climate change conference, which wraps up on Friday?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, the Minister is there—Paula Bennett is representing the Government. I do not think there is a need for New Zealand to change what it is doing. I think that in areas where we really can be a leader, which I think have always been agricultural emissions and scientific work, we really are doing good work there. I think that in terms of our emissions trading scheme, as I have so often said, others may claim to have one but very few seem to have one that is across most sectors and operating pretty well. The Government is on track to be 90 percent renewable, from an energy perspective, by 2025. I think that by most measures we have been quite consistent in our view when it comes to climate change. Some countries, if you think about it over the last 8 years, have made soaring comments in both directions. I think we have plotted a middle path, and it is probably proving to be about right.
James Shaw: Would he be prepared to join Ban Ki-moon and Francois Hollande and call on Mr Trump to drop his campaign pledge to cancel the Paris climate agreement?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think a better way to phrase that would be—having had a conversation with the President-elect this morning, we expressed an interest, at an appropriate point after he is sworn in, to have a more broad discussion about a range of issues, including trade, and climate change would be one of those. I personally hope that the United States will actually honour the commitments that were made in Paris, because if you look—as I have argued so often to this House—the issue of climate change is a global issue, but we really need those huge emitters to be part of the solution. That includes the United States, China, and, of course, India. The genesis of the work that President Obama took to Paris was really a bipartisan agreement reached with Xi Jinping from China. So the risk, of course, is that if the United States is not actively engaged, other big emitters might not be as well. Given the very strong scientific evidence about the rate of global warming that is taking place, I think that that would be very dangerous for the planet and for countries, so we will certainly be raising the issue of climate change, along with a number of others, when we talk to the President-elect when he becomes President of the United States.
James Shaw: Given the probable loss of US leadership on climate change, will New Zealand demonstrate greater leadership by, for example, ending deep-sea oil exploration in our oceans?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, and I think the reason for that is that, as we have often said, there is no question that the world is going to move towards fewer fossil fuels and more efficiency over time. But I genuinely believe that if New Zealand stopped drilling for deep-sea oil, or for oil in general, then that oil would just be found from another source supplied by another country. I do not think that it would actually achieve anything.
Earthquake, Kaikōura—Mental Health Services
6. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by his statement that following the Valentine’s Day earthquake this year in Canterbury, “it was timely to review whether any additional mental health and wellbeing support was needed”; if so, will he consider reviewing whether any additional support is needed for Canterbury and Nelson-Marlborough district health boards as a result of the recent earthquakes?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Yes, and yes. Officials have been in constant contact with the district health boards (DHBs) since Monday’s earthquake, and the Government will be doing everything that is required to ensure that people have access to the services they need. As with earlier earthquakes, we are always monitoring the levels of resourcing required. Services come first for the people of Kaikōura, great support is being provided, and we will continue to follow matters closely.
Hon Annette King: Can he provide reassurance that Canterbury District Health Board will be able to provide additional mental health services to the people affected by the recent earthquake in light of its projected $37 million end-of-year deficit, mainly due to previous earthquake-related costs?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Yes, it will, and do not forget that the Government covers that deficit and has each year. Since the earthquakes, there has been a total of $106 million extra support provided to the Canterbury DHB to cover the impact of those earthquakes. Specifically with regard to mental health, the spend there has gone up from $123 million 8 years ago to $155 million in the past year. That has been an increase of 25 percent.
Hon Annette King: If Healthline is answering, at their peak, 150 percent more calls than usual, as he said yesterday, will he consider securing additional resources for it to cover the additional costs of staff etc., and not only it but the two Healthlines that are responding to people affected by the earthquake?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Thank you for that question. There have been extra resources put in place. An extra two mental health workers and 20 hours of nursing time have been provided. The calls peaked on day one at 150 percent of normal volume, but the advice is that they have tapered off in the meantime.
Hon Annette King: What travel and accommodation assistance, if any, will be made available to people from the Kaikōura region who are required to travel to Christchurch for mental health services arising from the recent earthquake?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: We have not got details on that at this point, but people have not so far travelled to Christchurch specifically for that purpose, but officials are keeping us updated on the resources that are needed along the way.
Hon Annette King: Is there the potential for burn-out of mental health and addiction staff at Canterbury District Health Board given the number of vacancies amongst senior medical officers and the crisis resolution team?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Obviously, they are working in an area of the health service that comes with quite a burden in terms of stress on workers, and it is something that the Canterbury District Health Board will have to look out for and take appropriate action on as a good employer, to make sure that those risks are mitigated.
Earthquake, Kaikōura—Transport Infrastructure
7. JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the Minister of Transport: What updates has he received on damage to transport infrastructure following the Kaikōura earthquake?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): This morning the MP for Kaikōura, Stuart Smith, and I joined the Prime Minister for a briefing and fly-over of the widespread devastation caused by the Kaikōura earthquake in the early hours of Monday morning. It is clear that there has been incredibly significant damage to local roads and State Highway 1 between Picton and Christchurch. Crews are working hard to repair roads where it is possible and safe to do so, and although alternative access routes are being established, it is now very clear that it may be many months before roads are fully operational, especially given what is now likely to be an unprecedented level of damage to the State highway network. I just want to thank all those who are working around the clock to clear and repair the State highways and local roads.
Jacqui Dean: What progress has been made on repairing and restoring transport infrastructure and services?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: As the Prime Minister has said, it is clear that there has been widespread devastation and that the transport links with some towns have been cut—Kaikōura being the biggest example of that. I just want to reassure those who are currently cut off that our absolute priority at the moment is to restore transport to them. Crews are working around the clock in the upper South Island and in and around Wellington to repair transport infrastructure and to get services back up and running. The current priority is to open the inland road to Kaikōura so that people can get in and out by vehicle and so that we can get more supplies into the town. It is hoped that we will have this inland road open by this weekend, and, as I say, people are working around the clock to ensure that. The Transport Agency is also working closely with local authorities and local contractors to understand the extent of damage to local roads and to reopen links where it is possible and safe to do so.
Denis O’Rourke: Will the Government fund new roll-on, roll-off facilities and a passenger terminal at Lyttelton to enable KiwiRail and other ferry operators to ship freight and passengers to and from Wellington?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I think it is far too early to make those kinds of predictions. We are doing the work, and I think the member can rest assured, in terms of the underlying issues of getting freight in and around the South Island—the Mainland—that we will make sure that happens.
Denis O’Rourke: Will the Government carry out a comprehensive inquiry into a possible new road and rail connection along the Awatere Valley and the Molesworth Road from Seddon to Hanmer Springs, including a tunnel at Wards Pass if necessary, as a means of providing faster high-capacity and resilient road and rail routes to Christchurch and the rest of the South Island in the longer term?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Our absolute commitment is to have a safe, resilient, and very efficient network for transport in the South Island, including road and rail. The member, it is important to note, should recall that State Highway 7 is open. That is getting freight through from Canterbury to Picton and vice versa. Of course, we are also, as I said yesterday, actively exploring other options to, as I say, make this the strongest, most resilient network it can possibly be.
James Shaw: Given the future risk to State Highway 1 and to the rail line from climate-related storm surges and rising seas, would he be willing to do a full evaluation of alternative inland routes as an option alongside the business cost ratio for the full rebuild of the existing route?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I think the member can rest assured that we will be doing thorough work in relation to the roading network, and the State highway network in particular. I think there are good reasons, though, why State Highway 1 is, broadly speaking, where it is. But as I have said now and in the media a number of times in the last 24 hours, the exact route where it is may require realignment, and I think there will be—to ensure that safe, resilient network that he and I both want—some necessity for improvement and change on what is there.
Pay Equity—Minister’s Response to Joint Working Group on Pay Equity Principles
8. JAN LOGIE (Green) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: What is his response to yesterday’s call from members of the Joint Working Group on Pay Equity Principles for the Government to “immediately right this historic wrong and implement the JWG principles”?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety): I presume the member’s question refers to correspondence to the Prime Minister dated 15 November and copied to Minister Bennett and me. That correspondence was from the trade union members of the joint working group, not the working group overall. Nevertheless, the Government will be in a position to respond to all of the members of the joint working group in the near future. As I have said before, the Government acknowledges that this is a significant issue, and we are fully committed to finding a clear and workable solution for all parties involved.
Jan Logie: Give that he told me 3 months ago in this House that we could expect a response in the “not too distant future”, can he please be more specific on when women will know—are we talking days, weeks, months, years?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I can confirm we are much closer to the distant future that I described in August, the last time, so I would call it the near future.
Jan Logie: Is it acceptable that the women who 18 months ago put aside their legal claims for equal pay so that this work could be done are still waiting for a response from this Government?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: The process has been a very long one. They put aside those claims in order to seek a resolution with the Ministry of Health. I understand that work is also continuing. But I think everybody would accept that these are complex issues—indeed, that is what the joint working group told me and Minister Bennett when it wrote with its recommendations to me in June. I maintain that it is important that we get it right rather than get it early, and that is what we will do.
Jan Logie: Is it not true that if the joint working group had not been set up, the court would probably have already established the principles?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Well, that is purely speculation, and, indeed, the Government is not a party to those court processes. But if I were a betting man, I would be betting on the answer to that question being “absolutely not”.
Jan Logie: As the Minister responsible for addressing pay equity, is he satisfied that, as of yesterday, the average woman in this country is, effectively, working for nothing because women are paid 13 percent less than men and his Government is delaying the essential work to change this?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: In respect of the first part of the question, I am the Minister responsible for administering the legal framework regarding employment relations and equal pay, and that is what I will do diligently. In respect of the second question, no, I do not agree.
Earthquake, Kaikōura —Support for Small Businesses
9. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister for Economic Development: When is he likely to announce a recovery or support package for small businesses in earthquake-affected areas?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): Work is progressing at the moment on a business support package for businesses in the area most affected by the Kaikōura earthquakes. I am not able to give the member the exact time of when an announcement might be made, but I would hope that I will be able to provide more details in the next day or so.
Jacinda Ardern: Has he or his officials worked with small business owners at all in the design of a small business assistance package, as was done in Christchurch?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: In the time available, we have not worked with a significant number of small business owners themselves, but my officials have been talking to, for example, the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce. I myself have been talking with Winston Gray, the Kaikōura mayor, and my colleague Stuart Smith, the MP for Kaikōura, has also been having input on behalf of his constituents.
Jacinda Ardern: Will the criteria for small business support be similar to past packages, or will he build in criteria that recognise that some businesses may not experience physical damage but will suffer significantly due to a drop in demand for their services?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: We are working on those details at the moment. I think the member raises an interesting point. The nature of the impact in Kaikōura is a bit different, in some ways, to what we have seen in past incidents, and it is more affected by the relative isolation caused by the closure of State Highway 1 in both north and south directions. That will be one of the considerations, obviously, in terms of this package.
Jacinda Ardern: At this stage, is he looking to develop both a short-term package of relief but also a medium-term package of support to cater for the needs of businesses that count on a tourism high season to carry them through the year?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am not in a position to give the exact details of the package today, but, obviously, one of the considerations is for what period of time that businesses will be in a position of not being able to have their normal tourism season. Unfortunately, we do not have that knowledge to date, although I would point out that the New Zealand Transport Agency—and I have had discussions with my colleague Minister Bridges—is talking in months rather than weeks in terms of the return of that road in both directions to a serviceable level.
Jacinda Ardern: What work, if any, is he aware of being done to improve the communication links for small businesses in the area, where mobile communications, for instance, are reportedly failing frequently?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: There is a range of work being done. Some of it has been in the public domain. But in terms of the attempt to use different additional networks for telecommunications to back up the loss of fibre-optic cable down the main trunk line, I am pleased to report to the member that I was talking to the mayor earlier today and he said that telecommunications in the area have improved dramatically today. We will be getting further updates as to the likely reliability of that, in the coming days. But we are seeing services, not just telecommunications, steadily resume and I think that is a tribute to all the people working on those infrastructure services for the people of Kaikōura and the surrounding districts.
Earthquake, Kaikōura—New Zealand Police
10. KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) to the Minister of Police: What are New Zealand Police doing to support the Kaikōura community?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Police): The New Zealand Police is working extremely closely with Civil Defence, the New Zealand Defence Force, fire, and other emergency services, community partners, and iwi, particularly at Takahanga Marae. Seven local Kaikōura police officers have been on the ground since the initial earthquake, working to provide immediate emergency response and to support the safety and well-being of the community. I would like to acknowledge the total professionalism and commitment of these local police staff who, like others in Kaikōura, have suffered personally but continue to look after their community. The New Zealand Police has also sent a further 19 sworn officers and approximately 10 non-sworn staff to Kaikōura. I am advised that there are plenty of sworn police staff on the ground in Kaikōura to meet any and all needs for service. So if help is needed, people are urged to make contact.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: What reports has she had about the Police focus in Kaikōura today?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The Police Commissioner, Mike Bush, has travelled to Kaikōura today. He has advised me that the current focus of the Police is on coordinating the evacuation of approximately a thousand people from Kaikōura. I have been advised that the Police are also prioritising Community Reach Out, which is, essentially, doorknocking, with Civil Defence volunteers and Defence, in and around Kaikōura today, to ensure that residents are getting the support that they need. They are also reaching all areas of the community, utilising air support from Defence to get to remote areas. I would like also to acknowledge and thank Sir Mark Solomon for his leadership of Ngāi Tahu, who have been outstanding in their support. I know the Police is very grateful for the support of Sir Mark and Ngāi Tahu.
Earthquake, Kaikōura—Impact on Secondary School Exams
11. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: When did she first discuss the potential impact of Monday’s 7.5 earthquake on NCEA and Scholarship exams with the New Zealand Qualifications Authority?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Although my first direct contact with the Chief Executive of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) was at approximately 8 a.m., I was in continuous contact, from approximately 6 a.m., with the Acting Secretary for Education on the status of schools, including the likely impact on examinations. I was concerned to ensure one source of coordination, to minimise operational distraction in what was a very fluid situation.
Chris Hipkins: Why did she not ask the New Zealand Qualifications Authority to postpone all of Monday’s exams, at first light that day, when it was clear that there was extensive but unquantified damage, that serious aftershocks were continuing, that many students had had little sleep, and that thousands were anxious for their relatives’ safety?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I was relying on the technical expertise of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority and their experience through the Christchurch earthquakes. The advice I received from them was that 48,500 students were sitting NCEA that day, of which, in the areas directly affected by the earthquakes, something like just over 13,500 students could have or might have been affected. Their concern, which I share, was that although three-quarters of students were not in the areas directly affected by the earthquakes, they too would not be put at a disadvantage by the examinations being cancelled for all of them when there was a process to deal with those who might be.
Chris Hipkins: Does she think it is fair that students who had studied hard for an exam because they needed a good result in order to get NCEA for their future study and employment are either denied the opportunity to sit or have to sit when they are sleep deprived and are still being shaken by aftershocks?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The emergency derived grade process, which was the one that was used in the greater Christchurch area and is used for exceptional emergency situations, relies on the school using the assessments throughout the year to make the case.
Hon Trevor Mallard: There were no quakes during the NCEA in Christchurch. That’s just not true—just not true.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: It is true that that is the process that is used and that is the process that is being applied here.
Chris Hipkins: Why is she claiming that the derived grade process was used following the Christchurch earthquakes, which were in September and February, when there were no NCEA exams?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I am not claiming it; I am stating it on the advice of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. Where students’ academic record might be affected by an emergency or exceptional circumstances, this is the process that is in place and was used during the greater Christchurch earthquakes.
Chris Hipkins: Is she aware that the derived grade process will penalise those students whose internal assessments through the year do not necessarily reflect their true abilities because they may not have been as prepared and they may have been relying on their exams to get them through their NCEA?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: In this situation, we are weighing up the fact that three-quarters of students were not in the areas directly affected by earthquakes. Secondly, we know that schools are interested in the best results for their students and will be making cases based on that.
Chris Hipkins: Will she commit to ensuring that those students who had to sit NCEA exams on Monday, during the aftershocks, and that those unable to sit the exams that they had been scheduled to set on Monday will be given an opportunity to sit a fresh exam before the end of the year; if not, why not?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: No, because that is not the advice I have received from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, which is the expert on this. It is not a matter of political intervention to determine the academic results of students. That is why we have an independent qualifications authority that operates with integrity and that is respected for that, and it will ensure, along with the schools of these students, that it does the best by them.
Chris Hipkins: Will the completed examination papers of the students who completed scholarship exams on Monday that had already been cancelled be marked, as NZQA has advised on Twitter; if so, how will those results be fairly compared with those of students who will be sitting a different exam at a later date?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: This is an area that I have asked for advice on from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, and I am expecting to receive that advice.
Chris Hipkins: How is it fair to set different exams for different students at different times, given that the results of scholarship exams determine the allocation of awards that can be worth tens of thousands of dollars to each student?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I imagine that the irony of the member promoting exactly that course for the NCEA exams now opposing it for the scholarship exams has not been lost on this House. Again, I will reiterate that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority takes its role extremely seriously and will ensure, in discussions with schools, that they arrive at the best result in what has been an unanticipated, exceptional emergency situation.
Earthquake, Kaikōura—Impact on Primary Sector
12. IAN McKELVIE (National—Rangitīkei) to the Minister for Primary Industries: What recent reports has he received on the impact of the recent earthquakes on the primary sector?
Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister for Primary Industries): The earthquakes and following disruption have had a major impact on the wider primary sector around North Canterbury and the top of the South Island. My sympathies go to everyone who has been affected. There has been widespread and extensive damage to farmland and buildings. In some cases, stock has been isolated and water supplies damaged. Many farmers are still busy assessing the damage on their own individual farms to get a full picture, but the big challenge ahead will be repairing infrastructure. All dairy cows in the affected areas are now being milked; however, some dairy farms cannot get their milk collected due to road closures and are having to spread milk back on pasture in a controlled way.
Ian McKelvie: What other primary sector industries have been affected?
Hon NATHAN GUY: The Ministry for Primary Industries is working closely with the Kaikōura community to analyse the impact of the earthquake, in particular on local fisheries. The seabed has lifted several metres out of the water in places along the coastline, exposing pāua and crayfish habitats. As a result, there may need to be some areas closed to fishing in the short term, once this has been discussed with local groups. Some wineries in Marlborough have suffered damage to storage tanks and lost some wine. Engineers are checking the damage, and early indications are that this has been a more significant impact than the 2013 earthquake. Overall, this is a real blow to North Canterbury, given it is an area that has been suffering through a drought for nearly 3 years; however, there is a whole-of-Government response under way and the community is pulling together.
Richard Prosser: Can he assure farmers and other primary producers that undertaking necessary emergency remedial actions due to circumstances beyond their control will not lead to an unreasonable response from some authorities, as has happened on occasion during and after natural disasters in the past?
Hon NATHAN GUY: My understanding, in particular, is that Environment Canterbury is taking a very pragmatic response in dealing with local farmers, and that it understands the issues that they are facing.