8 years since first Canterbury quake; Insurance still fiddling and farting


530,000 Cantabrians went to sleep on the night of 03-04 September 2010 thinking tomorrow would be just another day. Probably not a single person thought about the fault lines lurking underneath the alluvial gravel plains that Canterbury and Christchurch sit on. But many, many people will remember that freight train like rumble coming through the night, the frantic staggering to the doorway as the house began to shake.

When the shaking stopped about a minute later, it was immediately obvious a major earthquake had hit. The power was out, as was water and sewerage. A steady stream of aftershocks continued bolting through in the remaining hours of darkness and into the day, the days, the weeks and months.

Within days aftershocks of a human kind had started. Completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the disaster that had befallen them, E.Q.C. had the rabbit in a headlight look – frozen, not knowing what to do and completely unable to assist customers. With every big aftershock a new claim would have to be lodged. With each one, new reports and inspections would be needed. New case managers would need to be assigned or reassigned.

Whilst there were initially 240,539 claims needing to be solved, of which 240,021 have been, 8 years of putting ones life on hold whilst waiting for a Government agency to get its act together is quite shocking. But that was the case of one lady in Christchurch on the consumer affairs programme Fair Go last night.

8 years, many more earthquakes later and it is now obvious that E.Q.C. actually DOES know what they are supposed to be doing. They just do not want to. For reasons only understood by their bureaucracy it is somehow not in their interests to wrap up the remaining several thousand Christchurch earthquake claims that should have been wrapped up by my guess not later than the start of 2015.

Imagine that.

Let us be honest. Earthquake Commission, and the major insurance companies have no intention whatsoever of finalizing the remaining claims and New Zealanders should stop deluding themselves into thinking otherwise.

90 days or see you in court, is what I say the Government should tell them. During that time they should prepare the necessary legal documents for the court, and on the 91st, these should be served.

There is no excuse for any of the on going delays. There is only so many times a report can be written without covering material covered in previous reports. There is only so many times an inspection can be done before the inspectors see that they are looking at things they have already sighted. There is only so many times anyone trying to get to the bottom of this should ever have to put up with bureaucracy before they have a case to make against the officials in question.

That time has long since come for E.Q.C. and the insurance companies.

South Island being short changed by Government


“Everybody south of the Bombay Hills” is a common reference to everyone not living in Auckland. It is generally used in the context of political commentary on Government decisions where New Zealanders not living in Auckland are likely to come distant second in Government funding or policy announcements.

The recent announcement by Minister of Transport Phil Twyford that billions of dollars are to be spent on Auckland and other North Island transport projects was a rude jolt for many in the South Island. Whilst an announcement on funding for the Southern Motorway was made for Christchurch, there was precious little else for the South Island to be happy with. It broke a promise that Labour made to spend $100 million on trains for Christchurch. It ignored the West Coast, Otago, Nelson, Marlborough and Southland completely.

But worst of all it sent a message to people south of Cook Strait that they are not important.

Yet people wonder why the South Island is getting so frustrated. Much of the power that is generated in the South Island goes to the North Island This has been the case for years and I am assured by a friend in the know that the Police keep a permanent watch on the Cook Strait cable to make sure no one interferes with it.

I am not so surprised by the resentment. It has been around for years and at times has gotten strong enough as to give rise to small political parties that have the vision of separating the South Island or at least making much more effort to include South Island interests on the Government agenda. It has given rise to internet based groups that have – among other things looked at alternative flag designs for the South Island.

Richard Prosser, former New Zealand First list Member of Parliament might have seemed a lone wolf in the mist when he advocated for South Island separatism before entering Parliament. However he was not the first. Nor the last. In 1999 the South Island Party stood at the General Election and got 2,622 votes. Not many, but the fact that it became a verified party with 500+ paying members suggests that such sentiment is capable of becoming more organized. The South Island Party disbanded and another party that replaced it never got enough paying members to be verified as a legitimate party.

Still, one cannot help but wonder what it would take for South Island nationalism to start creeping back into the fringes of New Zealand politics. How many more policy and budget announcements that short change the 1.1 million New Zealanders south of Cook Strait could be tolerated?

The answer might not be as many as people think.

Queenstown faces economic crunch


Queenstown: urban population 13,500.

When one thinks of Queenstown they think of a year round tourist play ground that thrives in both summer and winter. A play ground with a stunning scenic with lakes, mountains, fast rivers and a rich history of gold mining and more recently tourism. People fly in direct from all over New Zealand and from Sydney in Australia to take advantage of the Lakes District’s many offerings.

But is the same stunning landscape that makes it a magnet in the first place a potential choke? Sadly the answer is yes.

The geography of Queenstown, whilst ensuring its popularity as a scenic spot/holiday town, is also a potential choker on growth. Constrained by Lake Wakatipu on one side and high mountains on the other, Queenstown can only spread along the lake shore and into adjacent valleys.

Vineyards, orchards, gold mining relics are all nearby. There are multiple festivals such as the WInter Festival as well as the bi-annual Warbirds over Wanaka airshow and many others. But if Queenstown is subject to rampant growth for the sake of growth, a whole set of factors are likely to combine to make it no such a great place after all. Let us have a look at them.

Rents are high. For years it has been a place that has been barely affordable for locals, who no longer recognize it as the sleepy place it was 30 years ago. The demand for services, with new buildings springing up all the time, combined with its year round attraction means a continually booming tourist town, but with an under current of socio-economic problems that are not pleasant.

There is exploitation. Non New Zealanders have moved into the town, which is fine – the problem is not whether people come or not, but whether they are willing to comply with New Zealand labour laws. People moving in to make a quick dollar are not necessarily going care about the fact that there is a minimum wage applicable to all workers in New Zealand; 40 hour working week and holiday provisions for those who have to work statutory holidays.

There is a land issue. Queenstown cannot continue spreading endlessly outwards, or it will risk undercutting the businesses on the towns periphery that help to make it and the surrounding area so special. Going vertically up also has its problems. The taller the building, the correspondingly deeper the foundations will need to be and on land that is already at a premium, that might just be some sort of impenetrable ceiling. The geology of the land, relatively close to large faults means shaking intensities are likely to be fairly high in a large earthquake, which will make lateral spreading, landsliding and liquefaction likely.

And then there is the transport issue. The exponential growth of Queenstown and the accelerating growth of Wanaka has put major pressure on the roading network throughout the area. The airport has a plan to increase tourist numbers from 2 million currently arriving per annum to possibly 5 million. These are the only two transport modes in and out of the town. No railways exist – where would you put one even if it was viable? – and catering for 30,000 vehicle movements on peak days – that is about 20 a minute, every minute, all amount to a distinctively unattractive problem.

By all means come to Queenstown. Stay a couple nights. Travel on the T.S.S. Earnslaw up to the end of the lake. Visit the nearby gold mining sites. But don’t be surprised if this place is close to hitting its limits.

Regions need an economic boost


One of the key economic themes at the election was getting New Zealand’s regions moving again. For decades a slow, but steady drift of people to the urban areas has been going on. Some how the regions have soldiered on, wondering what it will take to be noticed in the corridors of power. but with living costs in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch getting expensive pushing people out to smaller centres around the country, what is there to help these places get growing again?

The traditional answers have been “lets get dairy projects going – everyone likes dairying” or “lets get services back into these communities, like banks, and so on”.

However the economic boost should be looking at diversifying the product coming out of the regions, rather than further stoking a select few industries. For too long New Zealand has had a habit of focussing on primary industries, that whilst they have given us huge returns on what we have put in, have also come at significant cost. Also, there is a risk that goes with not having spread the proverbial eggs through sufficient baskets – if one collapses and all of the eggs are in it, there goes the economy. New Zealand has its eggs largely in tourism, dairying and a few others. Neither the Labour-led coalition Government of Prime Minister Helen Clark, nor the National-led coalition Government of Prime Ministers John Key and Bill English made sufficient effort to diversify.

But there are ideas as to what could be done. What needs to happen though is a willingness to look outside the quite enclosed box that severely limits our ability to envisage a long term future.

One idea for example, noting that a Chinese company wants to build a Waste to Energy plant on the West Coast, is explore the feasibility of putting the waste that it would consume on rail. It would serve a two fold purpose. Aside from taking more than the equivalent of trucks of waste off the road, it would help pay the for the cost of helping to keep the Otira railway tunnel open.

In East Cape and around Gisborne I note that provisional plans are being put in place to grow marijuana that could be used for medicine in the event that marijuana be legalized. This, again, would help people who might otherwise spend their lives on the dole, or in and out of jail get some legitimate employment. It would also help decrease drug crime in the communities. A similar project could be launched in Northland too, if the demand exists.

In smaller urban areas, where large or heavy industrial or commercial development might not be so feasible, thought should be given to developing niche industries that are specific to those areas. These could be many and varied, ranging from developing ecological and/or historical sites of interest into tourist attractions, to small localized gold mining businesses – mining does not need to be open cast or done in a tunnel, as opportunities for alluvial gold mining are known to exist in places such as the West Coast.

Dunedin is a unique case. Significantly smaller than Wellington or Christchurch and about as large as the Napier-Hastings metropolitan area, it is possible to sometimes feel forgotten by the Government if one lives in the university town. Built on mining in the 1800’s, made world famous in New Zealand by the movie “Scarfies”, and unique for its strong Scottish heritage, Dunedin’s population has until recently either been static or in slow decline. The loss of the Southerner passenger train in the 1990’s, the closure of the Hillside railway workshops and the Cadbury factory closure all cost Dunedin hundreds of jobs. What would it take to get some of these industries back there?

E.Q.C. report nothing new


Another E.Q.C. report – the same old story: disgruntled claimants, botched repairs and no one being made to take responsibility.

After 7 years of dealing with the consequences of the 04 September 2010 and 22 February 2011 earthquakes the latest E.Q.C. report was not surprising in the least, except perhaps with regards to how scathing it was.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Megan Woods has been in the job for 8 months now. Annette King who was appointed Chairwoman of E.Q.C.’s Board has been instructed by Ms Woods to accept the findings and begin implementing the recommendations immediately.

All well and good so far. But having spent most of a decade waiting for satisfactory resolution to their claims and fair, full and final payouts to match, many will be short on patience. Some of the claimants are in their 80’s and should not need to be still dealing with problems that might have started when they were still in their 70’s. These are the people who should be happily living out their final days enjoying their time with their relatives and friends, doing things they like and not having to worry about what the Earthquake Commission is or is not doing about their property.

The Earthquake Commission for its part needs to play along with Mrs King’s implementation of the findings. No time to delay, no games to play – anyone who begs to differ should be shown the door forthwith..

The report, whilst welcome has some serious issues to overcome, namely:

  • What will be the period in which claims can be settled – open ended settling periods are not acceptable and have been the cause of considerable and well documented angst among claimants
  • Will Cabinet approve the reimbursing of insurance companies if they agree to immediately settle on all over-the-cap claims? Ms Woods says that she will, but given the financial pressure it is likely to add, it remains to be seen if Cabinet will come on board
  • The standard of repairs needs addressing – the repairs should not have been signed off in the manner that they were until someone with neutral oversight could check the standard
  • Hire the necessary staff to do the job and stop pretending everything is under control when it is clearly obvious that it is not
  • Tell E.Q.C. that non-compliance is not an option

It is with guarded optimism that I wait to see what will happen. Having been in Christchurch for all of the magnitude 6.0+ events – 04 September 2011 (7.1); 22 February 2011 (6.3); 13 June 2011 (6.4) and 23 December 2011 (6.0) – as well as nearly all of the aftershocks between magnitude 5.0-5.9 and felt the stress, I can totally understand the frustration and anger. It is long since time to get this mess fixed.