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Saturday, 24 September 2011

Scrutinising Labour's policy

All political parties and policies deserve to be given close scrutiny, and critiqued as required. Some political policies have titles as strident, and meaningless, as headlines in the tabloid news. What lies behind them needs to be teased out. In doing this a balanced and informed approach is essential. One item in particular in Wednesday's Press showed little enthusiasm for the latter part of this approach.

In the Perspective section of the Press (page A19), there is a piece prominently headed Stinging criticism of Labour's generous Christchurch offer. In it the writer looks dismissively at Labour's proposals to intervene in the property market and make land available at "affordable" prices. He is similarly dismissive of the proposal to intervene in the insurance industry. The overall supposition is that the policy is broadly interventionist, would exploit almost war-like powers, likely to become messy if Labour were given the chance to implement it, and likely to annoy those unaffected by the earthquakes.

While the article is in the nature of a comment, rather than insightful analysis and perspective, that is no excuse for inadequacy. The arguments put forward in discussing or dismissing the proposals demonstrate no understanding of either the past or the present.

The Past

Nothing in Labour's Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Plan is unprecedented in New Zealand. Perhaps it is now unknown that New Zealand (and the Labour Party) has a rich, if not always glorious, history of government participation in the areas of land, housing and insurance. Much of the intervention of the past has been in the face of strong political and vested-interest opposition, and yet has worked when the chance was available.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Building a better city - Christchurch Methodist Mission

The Christchurch Methodist Mission is producing information sheets on various social issues, with a view to using the rebuilding of the city as an opportunity to make changes. These issues are important now and, for better or worse, will have a significant influence on what our new city will be like in the future.

Currently there are information sheets available on:
  • Poverty
  • Gambling
  • Age-friendliness
  • Affordable Housing
  • Alcohol
  • Food Security
with additional sheets covering employment, the community sector and social inequalities available soon.

The CMM information sheets are here.

Gambling machine and brothel bylaw changes

The Council has announced that it is looking at the bylaws covering gambling machines and brothels.

Whatever comes out of these reviews, and any temporary permissions that may be issued, will influence the way the new city and greater Christchurch will operate at both a business and social level.

Gaming Venues Policy 2009

The CCC is considering a review of the bylaws regarding gambling machines, as there have been approaches from those who run these businesses for favourable consideration to allow them to relocate from damaged premises (currently not permitted under council bylaws).
The Council’s Gambling Venues Policy was last reviewed in 2009 and is a “sinking lid” policy.  It aims to progressively reduce the opportunities for class 4 gambling (Gambling on Non-Casino Gaming (pokie) Machines (NCGM) is class 4 gambling) in Christchurch by attrition.  It does not allow any increase in class 4 venues or class 4 machine numbers, except in a specific circumstance where two or more corporate societies are merging.
The Policy was due to be reviewed by the end of August 2012;  however, with the closure of 30 gambling venues and following a discussion with stakeholders, the Council decided to look at the possible actions it might take in relation to the current Gambling Venues Policy.
The September 2010 and February 2011 earthquakes affected 36 gambling venues in the city.  Eleven of these were destroyed and 19 badly damaged.  Six venues have reopened. Fourteen separate trusts are involved in the operations of these affected venues.
A number of venue operators had indicated they were interested in relocating, where venues have been seriously damaged by the earthquakes.  The current Policy does not allow venues or machines to be relocated.
The Council has agreed that the current Gambling Venue Policy should remain in place until it has been reviewed. Staff are to review the Policy and report back on the review to Council by the end of February 2012.

Currently there is a sinking lid policy on licensed gambling premises and it is intended this remain until the review is carried out in February 2012. Even with the involuntary reduction of gambling machines as a result of earthquake damage, Christchurch still has the highest number of machines per thousand head of population aged 15 and over.

There is no indication of the extent, if any, of public consultation to be carried out. The media release is here.


Brothel bylaws do not provide the CCC with sufficient control over larger brothels that may wish to relocate temporarily or permanently into the suburbs. Consequently the council is looking at a new bylaw to give it more control.
Christchurch City Council is proposing the development of a new bylaw to address any potential issues with the possible re-location of brothels and accompanying signage advertising commercial sexual services.
Developing a bylaw to regulate the location of brothels would provide more controls on where brothels can set up business and help address signage that may cause a nuisance or serious offence to members of the public; or is incompatible with the existing character or use of the area in which the land is situated
Formal consultation with the community is expected to begin in the New Year. See here.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Labour's Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Plan - issues of detail regarding insurance problems

Labour's Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Plan, like all policy documents, has the big picture but no detail.

Of particular concern is the absence of timing for each of the proposals. When will a specific policy be initiated? What priority will it be given in the whole raft of post-election policies the incoming government would bring with it?

Some proposals are more time sensitive than others and, despite the good intentions, there is a risk that without proper planning many will not happen in time to be useful. Of these time-critical issues the following two in particular come to mind:
  • Funding test cases against insurance companies
  • Establish an Independent Insurance Commissioner

Funding test cases

Funding test cases against insurance companies is critically time sensitive in Red Zone areas because of the reducing amount of time available to accept the government's offer (closing in May 2012). By then significant insurance related legal questions will need to have been resolved (e.g. the situation of an insurance company opting for a rebuild on Red Zone land). Anyone intent on taking Option 2 (insurance company for the building) will have little time to establish what pitfalls there might be, and only until April 2013 to resolve them with their insurance company.

Even assuming some mechanism could be set up within a few months, the eternity of the due process of law could see all but the most hardy give up. Unless additional judges are made available to handle the cases, and a common sense of urgency agreed (as with the recent case between EQC and insurance companies), there would be little capacity and commitment to getting the issues resolved. As a consequence the May 2012 and April 2013 deadlines (and the threat of using compulsory acquisition) would coerce homeowners into giving up.

Independent Insurance Commissioner

Setting up an independent insurance commissioner will take time, and protracted negotiations can be expected as insurers take whatever steps they can to ensure their interests are protected. Chances are only those who live in the Green Zone, and face a wait of years before their insurance company does anything to help them, will have an opportunity to benefit from this proposal.

Time and feasibility

Clearly time is crucial, and the pressure comes from the deadlines set by current government policy.

The ongoing delays in rezoning Orange areas is making the decision deadline of the end of May 2012 more threatening as each month goes by. With some areas facing a wait until early next year the much vaunted "nine months to decide" (see the CERA Time Guide to your settlement here) is increasingly hollow.

Would a Labour Government suspend or extend the current deadlines for deciding on the government offer, and vacating Red Zone properties? If this was on the agenda then suddenly everything becomes feasible.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Lloyd's of London are well positioned

Lloyd's of London are okay.

According to a Lloyd's media release:
Lloyd's Chief Executive Richard Ward has confirmed that Lloyd's is well positioned to handle the difficulties facing the insurance industry in what is likely to be the second most expensive year ever for insurers.
His statement follows today's announcement that Lloyd's made an interim loss before tax of £697m for the six-month period ending 30 June 2011.
The figure reflects an unprecedented level of natural catastrophes in recent months including devastating floods in New Zealand and Australia, the earthquake in Japan and tornadoes in the US.
Announcing the results, Dr Ward said: "Despite incurring £6.7bn in claims from the costliest first half year on record, Lloyd’s entered the second half of the year with £57bn in net assets to support our business and pay claims." He added that with volatile equity markets and low interest rates, Lloyd's "cannot rely on investment income to subsidise our underwriting" and "must decline under-priced risks".
Must be quake-brain, I can't remember where the New Zealand floods were, although the writing on the wall in the last sentence of the fourth paragraph is quite clear.

More cheerful, if possibly slightly inaccurate, Lloyd's news here.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Action for Christchurch East update

Action for Christchurch East have decided to add no further posts to their website (here).

A new network has been created and Action for Christchurch East will be part of its development. The new network is called Otautahi Solidarity Network and you can find them here.

Lianne Dalziel - update newsletter

An update for Lianne Dalziel's electorate was released earlier today. It can be found here.

Labour's earthquake recovery policy

The Labour Party have information on their earthquake recovery policy available on the website here. The full policy document can be downloaded from here.

The key points of the policy (taken from the policy document) are:
  • Intervene to Give Homeowners Choice
  • Resolve the Insurance Gridlock
  • Make Community Engagement a Priority
  • Use Youth Unemployment to Fill the Skills Gap
  • Establish an Independent Insurance Commissioner
  • Labour will Fund Test Cases (NOTE - these are court cases where residents appear to have been unfairly treated, and to set legal precedents on some major issues)
  • Education in Canterbury
  • Ensuring the Return of Activity to Christchurch CBD
  • Review of the Earthquake Commission
The document also covers the fiscal implications of the policy and the impact on business. There is a total of 11 pages of summary and detail so, if you find some of the above items are missing from media or political commentary, check out the document for yourself (here). There is another policy document due out soon relating to Labour's policy to strengthen New Zealand's response to natural disasters.

The response of the government will be interesting. Everyone will have anticipated the "open chequebook" attack, along with horror stories of budget blow-outs, damage to the market etc. The most intriguing part for me will be the role played by Bill English.

Bill English, as Minister of Finance, will have many looking to him for a reasoned analysis and critique of the implementation costs and efficiencies, or inefficiencies, arising from the policy. In the past he has been forthright to the point of stridency with these things.

Bill English is also the Minister in Charge of the Earthquake Commission (EQC). A comparison of the strength of his commentary on the the Labour recovery policy, with his silence on the performance of the EQC (for which he has ministerial responsibility) will be an interesting measure of his conduct as a senior Minister of the Crown.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Communicating through crisis: a University of Canterbury earthquake study

The University of Canterbury is conducting a survey COMMUNICATING THROUGH CRISIS: CHRISTCHURCH EARTHQUAKE STUDY.

The survey is aimed at people 18+ and:
Anyone who has resided in the Canterbury region at any time during the period of September 2010 to September 2011, and is aged over 18, is invited to participate in this research project by completing the following survey. The aim of this project is to learn about the usefulness and availability of different types of communication by asking about the media usage and communication methods of Cantabrians over the last year. This survey should take between 15 and 25 minutes, and all data collected will remain anonymous.
You can find out more about the survey, and take part, by going here.

If you were in  an area where the power, phone, water, or sewerage went off this is a good study to take part in. At the very end there is an bit of an opportunity for comments. I spent around 20 minutes doing the survey last night and found it time well spent.

Waimakariri Red/Green Zoners Rally

The following is from the event organisers:

Sunday 25th September, 2pm, Band Rotunda on Charles Street, Kaiapoi.
 Come hear Rev Mike Coleman and other guest speakers.
      • Full replacement polices should be honoured for those homes to be demolished in the Red Zone
      • Want transparency when it comes to why our homes have been zoned Green or Red?
      • Is Rateable Value a fair deal for your Red Zoned land? Do you want to be rezoned
      • How are you coping, this maybe one of the largest decisions you make in your life.
      • Improve availability of land in this area
We will get change by
working together
Email or call if you would like to support or assist with this rally..thank you
Brent and Shirley Cairns - 327-0066  email -

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Avonside Girls High School - demolition underway

Demolition has now started at AGHS, beginning with the newer of the two damaged buildings. The photographs show a day's work from yesterday.

Saturday morning, just after 9.00 ...

Saturday afternoon around 5.30 ...