Kaikoura District in danger of implosion

Kaikoura District is struggling to stay afloat. As the new decade begins, New Zealand smallest district in terms of rate payer base is facing rate increases of up to 50% in the current council term, or about 16-17% per annum.

This problem is not new, and nor are the calls for amalgamating with Marlborough District Council. In October 2019 a report came out that said if Kaikoura District Council maintained its current funding model it would run the real risk of imploding within a matter of years.

It is true that Kaikoura District Council has some huge – and largely unresolvable – matters not necessarily of its making. The earthquake of 14 November 2016 caused $2 billion in damage around the district, most of it being to State Highway 1, the railway line, council infrastructure such as the water supply, community amenities. There was also widespread damage to private premises.

The natural effects of such a large earthquake also made themselves known. the harbour and South Bay marina were effectively left high and dry within a couple of minutes as hundreds of square kilometres of sea floor was uplifted from Cloudy Bay near Blenheim as far south as Oaro. Paua beds were left high and dry as well, causing a large amount of paua to go to waste.

And there were the inevitable economic effects. On top of the repair bill, which the then Government said it would foot since it involved infrastructure of national importance, there was several billion dollars in lost revenue. The closure of the road and railway by a combination of rock falls, displacement by rupturing faults and uplift virtually crippled Kaikoura. Even when the road and railway reopened, constant closures have afflicted them both. Ongoing repairs are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Also affected was Kaikoura’s world famous Whale Watch operation, which takes tourists out on boats to see sperm whales taking advantage of a deep sea canyon that comes in to within a few kilometres of the coast.

As Kaikoura has struggled back to its feet its District Council has faced some tough economic decisions. It cannot afford to just lump rate rise upon rate rise simply because it suits. Aside from locals having limited finances, the population in a District that extends from Oaro to Kekerengu in the north and is dominated by Kaikoura with little communities dotted along the coast, is a tiny 4,030.

Faced with these huge hurdles, no one should be too surprised that there are suggestions it should amalgamate with the Marlborough District Council. Historically this is a logical suggestion as the coastal communities north of the Clarence River typically identify with, Marlborough rather than Canterbury. They might have amalgamated earlier with Hurunui District Council, to the south, but for the rejection of the proposal by the Local Government Authority in 2009.

Rather than saddle Kaikoura with rate rises that might push the local rate payer base into an untenable position, I support investigating whether K.D.C. can actually change its funding model. If it cannot, the Council should approach the L.G.A. and ask for permission to hold a referendum on merging. At the end of the day, things are coming to a financial head that no one really wants, but the risk of implosion if the Council cannot change is very real.

Brownlee a hypocrite on Kaikoura legislation

For the second time in his career as a Minister of the Crown, Gerry Brownlee is in the midst of passing legislation to enable a Government response to a significant emergency caused by an act of nature. For the second time in his career doing this, he is under scrutiny for how he perceives – in his own words – “respectful process” in passing the enabling legislation. Given his record, one cannot help but note the smell of hypocrisy wafting by.

To understand where I am coming from, one needs to know the history of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011 and how it came into force. Shortly after the Christchurch earthquake of 22 February 2011, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act was pushed through Parliament under urgency. This meant that the legislation was not subject to the scrutiny of a select committee as is case when legislation is passed in New Zealand under normal. It also meant that Parliament sat extra hours and normal business of Parliament was suspended whilst the legislation was passing through.

An unfortunate side effect of the earthquakes was that political parties across the spectrum were too horrified by the earthquake, its consequences and the long term implications for Christchurch to want to appear in resistance to the legislation being pushed through. Neither Labour or the Greens mounted any significant challenge in the House of Representatives in relation to the lack of scrutiny being applied. The result was that a highly controversial Act of Parliament went into force on 18 April 2011 and expired on 18 April 2016, which had invested powers in the authorities that ran contrary to the democratic principles of New Zealand. The Act initially was not going to have a “sunset” clause to ensure that when its useful life ended, so did the legislation that enabled it.

To be fair there was a major need to take control of the situation. It was one that had no precedent in New Zealand both in terms of the damage, but also the long term ramifications. It is also true that some unfortunate things had already happened, such as cowboy contractors knocking buildings down that were damaged without filing the appropriate paper work and ignoring Civil Defence orders that were actually enforceable law due to the declared state of emergency that Christchurch was under.

It is rather rich of Mr Brownlee to say that the cross bench of Members of Parliament is trying to strike a balance between the acceleration of works and proper legislative procedure. Whilst National have been in power, they took just 2 years to use “urgency” more times than the previous Labour Government did in 9. This particular piece of legislation is being accelerated through Parliament and there is a risk that like it has done with other pieces of legislation where other parties have shown concerns – however valid, and in many cases quite valid – the Government M.P.’s have simply ignored them.

Thus whilst Mr Brownlee and his fellow Government M.P.’s might say they are committed to making sure the legislation now making its way through Parliament is done respectfully, history shows the Opposition concerns to be a valid point.