Obviously Blind: The Earthquake Recovery Minister, Gerry Brownlee, to whom aggrieved Cantabrians have turned for information and assistance does not appear to perceive the degree to which he and the Government have failed to meet the reasonable expectations of the people of Christchurch - and New Zealand. What we need is the fullest exertion of national will. What we've got is National ineptitude.
WATCHING HELPLESSLY as Cantabrians stoically retrace their steps through the stations of their city’s seismic crucifixion, the rest of New Zealand is demanding to know: “Who’s in charge?” and “Where’s the plan?”
Gerry Brownlee is the Minister in Charge of Re-building Christchurch. Bob Parker is the Mayor of Christchurch. Roger Sutton is the CEO of the Christchurch Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) and Ian Simpson is head of the Earthquake Commission (EQC).
And onto a stage already crowded with people in charge, we note that the insurance and reinsurance companies; local and national politicians; the news media; and what remains of Canterbury civil society (employers, unions, heritage activists, architects, retailers, etc) have also invited themselves.
Viewed from a distance, Christchurch appears to be represented by a cross-talking, often bickering gaggle of increasingly irritable spokespeople. No one appears to have a plan, or, if they do, it’s a plan no one else is allowed to see.
Meanwhile, the quakes keep coming.
With mounting frustration, New Zealanders are watching their fellow citizens struggle through these bleak June days sans power, sans water, sans toilets – sans everything.
And you know what, Christchurch? The rest of New Zealand is getting bloody angry.
THE FIRST QUESTION we’d like answered is: “Is Christchurch caught up in one seismic event or many?”
It’s time the seismologists and earth-scientists came clean on this one. Because one thing is very clear: what’s happening in and around Christchurch is no ordinary seismic event.
If you doubt that, then just take a look at what’s happening in Japan. After experiencing one of the most devastating seismic shocks in recorded human history, Japan is well on the way to recovery. Sure, there have been aftershocks, but of lesser force, and they are dwindling.
That’s the typical seismic sequence after a major quake. But it does not appear to be what’s happening in Christchurch.
After millennia of stasis, the earth’s crust around Christchurch is on the move. Vast amounts of energy are being released as tectonic pressure realigns and redistributes itself. More than one seismologist has suggested that the process could take years, even decades. That may be a mere blink of the eye in geological time; but it’s an interminable wait for human-beings desperate to re-start their lives.
Surely it’s not beyond the resources of our government to summon this country’s own – and the world’s – leading seismologists to a scientific conference dedicated to making sense of what’s going on beneath Cantabrians’ feet? This country has some of the world’s best CGI animators; could they not be commissioned to represent graphically the best scientific consensus of what’s happening ten, twenty, thirty kilometres down?
All of us – but particularly the people of Christchurch – need to know what we’re living through.
THE SECOND QUESTION goes to the very heart of the dithering and inaction plaguing Christchurch’s recovery: “Has New Zealand forgotten how to exercise its national will?”
Are we no longer sufficiently generous as a nation to formulate a clear and resolute response to a disaster of this magnitude?
Have our leaders become too disdainful of their own people to ask them for the sort of courage and sacrifice the Michael Joseph Savage and Peter Fraser asked of New Zealanders during the six long years of the Second World War?
Where are the swingeing increases in personal and corporate taxation that funded New Zealand’s war effort? Where are the drives for Christchurch Recovery Bonds? Where are the marshalled forces of the unemployed? The special training facilities dedicated to turning out carpenters, electricians, plumbers – all the trades required to rebuild a shattered city?
One of my very best friends is a richly qualified engineer and town- planner: why are his extraordinary skills un-needed; his visionary ideas un-heeded?
What in God’s name is wrong with our leaders?
Do they really believe that if they transgress against the “Holy Free Market” the ghost of Adam Smith (or, more appropriately, Ayn Rand) will strike them dead?
Do they not understand that the only “invisible hand” at work in New Zealand right now is the one that’s smashing Christchurch to pieces?
THE THIRD QUESTION follows naturally from the second: “Are we being held hostage by the institutions upon which our insurers’ reinsurers ultimately rely to meet their obligations – the international banks?”
Unwilling to ask their own people for the resources to rebuild the nation’s second city and, therefore, dependent upon the insurance industry (and its reinsurers) for the cash to commence Christchurch’s reconstruction, is the Government unwilling to release any recovery plans to which their finance-sector masters have not given prior approval?
BECAUSE if that really is the situation, then the Prime Minister would be better advised to organise a mass exodus of all quake-affected Cantabrians to Australia.
They’d be better paid, better housed, and altogether better off – across the Tasman.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 21 June 2011.