Is Christchurch and Canterbury ready to move on from the quakes?


Nearly nine years after that first earthquake came rumbling into the lives of thousands of Cantabrians, questions are being asked about whether Christchurch is ready to finally close the chapter on the Canterbury Earthquakes 2010-11. According to Andrea Vance, a journalist for Stuff, Labour have read the “tea leaves” and believe that Christchurch wants to resume a normal relationship with the Government.

Only when the last person has settled with their insurance company will the job be done – Southern Response, with scores of outstanding insurance claims still to settle is shutting down at the end of 2019, claiming its job is done. Earthquake Commission claims at the end of May 2019 still numbered 2037, which E.Q.C. said was down from 3,529 the previous year whilst acknowledging that there is scope for improvement.

Only when all of the major crown rebuild projects have had their futures finalized  will the job be done Р$3 billion remains to be spent, and numerous projects that had been agreed to are yet to be finished. There is no idea yet when a stadium will be built or what it will look like.  The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament on Barbadoes Street which is one of the finest architectural gems in Christchurch is not going to be saved, which has ensured that there will be a protracted court fight as it is a Class 1 Heritage Building.

Currently under construction is Te Pae, the Christchurch Convention Centre. It is going to be owned by the Crown under the global settlement whose details were released a couple of weeks ago. Te Pae is due for completion in the middle of next year.

Christchurch Cathedral is still in limbo, and its uncertainty is one of the primary causes for a relative lack of development around Cathedral Square in the southwest, southern and northeastern corners. The land that the old Warners Hotel and the Bailies Irish Bar and Restaurant on the ground floor used to occupy is still vacant (Bailies moved to Edgeware in 2012). So is the land in the southwest where various gift shops and a theatre used to be.

Only when all of the above are complete or have a definitive future, will Christchurch be able to fully move on from the dark days of 2010-11. Then we can all turn to face head on the events of the future in the knowledge that when a major disaster next hits a New Zealand city authorities will have a rough idea of what to do (and not to do).

The major problems for Christchurch rate payers are not ones that the Crown has agreed to handle. One consequence of reaching the settlement we have with the Crown is that $800 million is going to have to be found for turning the old civilian red zone into something more useful. Similarly $1.2 billion will need to be found for fixing damage under the road network. These two expenditures combined with a need to concentrate on neglected green spaces that have become weedy and overgrown and a host of smaller issues that have been less of a priority because of the earthquakes is expected to cause Christchurch a few more headaches yet.

Christchurch may be nearly ready to end its special post-quake recovery relationship with the Government, but there are internal scars as well as physical ones that will never recover. Move on we will. Forget we will never.

 

Financial judgement day for Christchurch today


After nearly nine long years since the magnitude 7.1 earthquake that started Christchurch’s seismic odyssey, the city will today have its final financial reckoning. This is the day when Christchurch’s financial future is laid bare for public scrutiny. This is where the final details of the agreement between Christchurch and the Crown over who owns what, who is responsible for what and who still owes what, will become clear.

This is an event that New Zealand should take notice of. When we have big disasters in the future – think Alpine Fault magnitude 8.0+; Auckland Volcanic Field and so forth – and the Crown and the territorial authorities meet to work out a long term recovery plan, this is what the end of that recovery might look like. This is worth noting because it might well be a blue print for how we manage the later stages of the recovery from big disasters in the future.

Has the recovery been perfect, gone totally to plan and involved total co-operation between all agencies from start to finish? Absolutely not. Disputes were had, such as the clash between the Crown and the C.C.C. over the competence of the Christchurch City Council; between the claimants and their insurance companies, some of which are still not resolved nearly nine years later. But with the exception of the Tohoku Earthquake and tsunami with the resulting nuclear meltdown at Fukushima, at the same time there probably has not been such a large scale recovery effort in a first world city, since New Orleans was battered by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The agreement will address what to do with the Christchurch residential red zone, the square kilometres of suburbia in eastern Christchurch that suffered a disastrous mix of liquefaction, ground subsidence and lateral spreading. The subsidence means significant parts are at increased risk of flooding and/or do not drain as well as other land does after flood events, which means it is no longer inhabitable even if the earthquake damage can be fixed. Residents want a mix of ecoparks, forest and flood protection, but no one is quite sure how that will turn out.

It will also look at assets that have been completed such as the Christchurch Convention Centre, currently under construction and due for completion in 2020. It will also look at what happens to ones such as the Christchurch Bus Exchange, which has been completed as well as ones that have yet to be commenced such as the stadium.The stadium has been controversial for the lack of commitment by the biggest probable users in terms of helping to fund it.

The end agreement might be liberating, with Christchurch now finally a free city again, left to finish its recovery from one of the blackest days in New Zealand history. Or it might be a millstone that is contentious in future elections. But come what may, today will be interesting one way or the other.

The challenge of funding sport for females


I was still getting over the Cricket World Cup final loss to England when I noted that the Silver Ferns netball team had lost their last group match at the Netball World Cup to old rivals and reigning world champions Australia by 1 point. Under any other circumstances that might have been an ominous warning. But this was cause for a grin. A rapidly rising New Zealand team that just 13 months ago had been written off as not having a dogs show of reaching the finals

Few had expected them to reach the final. 14 months ago, the team was in disarray having lost to all of its major rivals Australia, England, Jamaica. It had failed to make it onto the dais at the Commonwealth Games, where in the past they had always taken silver or gold. Even relative minnows Malawi had managed a 4 point victory over them. General expectations were that New Zealand would exit at the semi-finals and maybe pick up the bronze medal (which went to England). So, to not only make the final no one was expecting them to, but then defeat Australia, was nothing short of stunning.

But just as stunning despite not being anything new and criminally overlooked following the match by a lot of people was the complete absence of prize money. Until A.N.Z. Bank, a primary sponsor agreed that they should get $25,000 a piece, the Silver Ferns were destined to return home with no monetary compensation for the time taken to become the best in the world. Contrast that to the $3 million distributed among the Black Caps following their Cricket World Cup Final against England where neither regulation play or extra play could find a winner.

In the case of the Silver Ferns, I have to agree with a column that was written a few days ago, which said that they should have said “some financial recognition by way of prize money would be nice”. Maybe for some they were thinking that the dollars are nice, but nothing could beat lifting the crown, which on a personal level might be true. But what is it telling future generations of of females about demanding their worth be recognized? Not much. Oh, and sure netball is not the biggest sport on the planet. Sure it is not like football where the transfer of a star like Ronaldo would likely cost over US$100 million. Sure it is not cricket, where Virat Kohli is worth US$140 million from endorsements. But in the 21st Century, it is time that those who play the elite variation of the game start demanding that their contribution to the sport gets recognized.

Perhaps it is an indictment on the state of the game in New Zealand that financial compensation had not even been contemplated by any one. Perhaps it is telling us that the unfortunate mental messages that netball players are not worthy of just reward have succeeded in doing their unfortunate business. However, it was also telling to hear from the International Federation of Netball Associations that financial compensation for the most elite players has not really been on the agenda.

A few years ago, after much heat from commentators, the players and the public, Rugby New Zealand finally addressed the lack of compensation for the Black Ferns. Apparently until then three consecutive world cup titles was not enough to justify financial reward. Yes, we might be a small player in terms of our financial resources, but the All Blacks are a global brand worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Sure there might not be so much television coverage but if the dollars are not put into making sure people know in the first place, of course they are not going to get much coverage.

Rugby however is going places, despite what I got told by some Americans on the Fox News channel Facebook page when I pointed out that America was at the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cup’s. I know this because rugby is one of the fastest growing sports there. When America defeats the New Zealand 7’s team, you know they know how to play the game. But does America know that America knows how to play the game?

I do not see this happening in netball. The sport needs to start arranging exhibition matches in places like the U.S. where multiple netball associations exist under a fractured organization. Let them see the thrill of an Australia New Zealand exhibition match in progress.

It is a slow work in progress, but I hope when the A.N.Z. prize money comes through the Silver Ferns are made to understand that they really are worth it. And that before too long, I.F.N.A. realizes that the sport will not grow unless they start seriously marketing it in new countries. Like America…

Ministers hiding from the truth?


I have been watching the Chernobyl miniseries, which is based on the 1986 meltdown of Reactor No. 4 at Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine, when it was part of the former U.S.S.R. Constantly coming out of the series is the determination of the Communist government to cover up the disaster even though the scale of it makes that impossible, even though the radioactive cloud drifting across Europe has been detected in multiple countries.

The lack of transparency and the corruption within the Communist system was a major contributor to its eventual downfall in 1989. It took their ineptness at Chernobyl in a rigid system hell bent on preservation at all cost including locking up those who knew too much to start its unravelling.

Midway through its first term in office, the number of inept Ministers in the Labour-led Government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is startling. And as National looks at the 2020 election as a chance to take back the Beehive, we see them shying away from taking questions. We see them ducking behind the public service officials who are meant to keep them up to speed.

Fortunately New Zealand could not be more different from the Cold War era U.S.S.R. It is a nation that enjoys very high ratings with Transparency International, which focuses on the accountability of elected officials, the ability to obtain information and the freedom of the press. Using a scale of 1-100 where 100 is completely transparent, T.I. have graded countries around the world. The current rating is 2. Only Denmark has a higher score. However, both countries have slipped from a ratings a few years ago in the very low 90’s. Last year New Zealand topped the list at 89 and in 2016, 90. Russia and Ukraine by contrast only scored 29 in 2018.

Whilst this is still a very good score for New Zealand and one worth celebrating, at the same time the gradual downwards drift needs correcting. New Zealand continues to maintain a somewhat laissez faire approach to oversight of its authorities and there is room for improvement in terms of having a watchdog overseeing the Privacy Commission and Human Rights Commission, among others who have been dogged in recent years by conduct completely unbecoming of such important bodies.

Recently we have seen the sort of activity that might be behind the gradual downwards drift in our score. At Chernobyl we saw nuclear scientists trying to persuade Communist officials more intent on saving their own skin and the system they worked under about the grave threat Chernobyl posed. They were constantly monitored, threatened and on occasion, even detained. It would lead the chief scientist Valery Legasov to take his own life, rocking the Communist apparatus in a way even the hardliners struggled to ignore.

In New Zealand we have seen Ministers ducking for cover. Phil Twyford is the prime example, as a man who knows Kiwi Build is a failure but instead of being upfront and saying so has retreated from interviews about it. A second example is Shane Jones. What was he doing lobbying Minister of Immigration on behalf of Stan Semenoff and the transport company he owns so they could get accredited employer status and employ Filipino workers? And a third will be the Minister of Immigration himself and the Karl Sroubek snafu where a Czech man wanted by Czech Republic authorities fled to New Zealand, claiming he would die if he went back to the Republic.

So far none of them come close to matching the ineptness of Comrade Dyatlov who had control of Reactor No. 4 on that fatal night. Nor do the consequences involve the threat of getting the KGB involved. But they do involve massive loss of personal reputation. They do raise questions about how in control of her Government Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern really is, and a failure to improve might be the downfall of this Labour-led Government just as Chernobyl probably caused the downfall of Communism.

 

The need to hold China accountable for Tiananmen Square


Who can forget the sight of a lone man standing in front of a column of tanks near Tiananmen Square on the morning of 04 June 1989. The tanks – hundreds of them along with hundreds of armoured personnel carriers (A.P.C.’s)and thousands of troops – were in the late stages of shutting down a massive demonstration that had lasted for weeks in central Beijing. On the night of 03-04 June 1989 the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army was given orders to clear the square by force and impose martial law. Hundreds were known to have died (3,000 is the most widely accepted death toll)and thousands were being made to go missing by the Chinese Government, furious that its ruthless brutality had been caught on video and cassette by media around the world.

Fast forward 30 years since “tank man” bravely stood before those tanks and the Chinese Government is still determined to shut down any and all efforts to commemorate the massacre, and remember those that died in an attempt to gain democracy. To the Chinese Government any mention of Tiananmen Square is taboo – they would much rather the world forgot about it.

But we cannot. And nor should we. There was nothing wrong with what those many brave people were trying to do. They were standing up for their human rights, standing up for their rights to freedom of assembly, of speech, of peaceful protest. To ignore this would be to acknowledge totalitarianism as an acceptable state of governance. When a Government is so scared of the people it is meant to be governing that it has to deploy the military with orders to use live ammunition, there is something fundamentally wrong with that Government.

But it was not just the massacre that made the world recoil in disgust. In the coming weeks thousands – some estimates are as high as 30,000 – of Chinese who were thought to be undesirable or suspected of being complicit in the organization of the protests were made to disappear by their Government. Whilst many were eventually released, some have never been heard from again.

Over the years China has fought to rid itself of the stain of Tiananmen Square. It promised in return for the 2008 Beijing Olympics that it would significantly improve its human rights record which has also included mobile execution squads. Currently a large (on going)crackdown against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province; re-education camps, harassment of human rights activists including indefinite detention and surveillance and a massive dystopian profiling project are in progress.

Many politicians around the world want to promote economic trade with China, but are loathe to acknowledge the cost to human rights, communities and the environment that goes with it. To them the spectre of Tiananmen Square and the ongoing assault on human rights is a nuisance that they try to distance themselves from. Whilst not getting involved militarily China has spent billions of dollars arming regimes in countries with large mineral resources, especially valuable commodities such as oil, gold and rare earth minerals to make electronics with. In return China gets easy access to those resources.

Tank man and the many other brave people who made a statement on that horrible night or in the days before might be people Chinese Government officials desperately want us to forget about and move on from. But we will not. They did not do this for the laughs. They did this for China. For freedom. For humanity. We should remember that.

190531 C2A letter – Tiananmen