Flight bill soars for Canty quake bureaucrats

CHANGE NEEDED: Gerry Brownlee should either move necessary officials to Christchurch or employ Cantabrians, says Clayton Cosgrove.
CHANGE NEEDED: Gerry Brownlee should either move necessary officials to Christchurch or employ Cantabrians, says Clayton Cosgrove.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) staff have flown between Christchurch and Wellington more than 7200 times since 2011, spending more than $1.8 million on flights.

Figures provided to The Press by Labour Earthquake Commission spokesman Clayton Cosgrove show that, on average, 202 flights between Christchurch and the capital have been bought by Cera every month since it was established in March 2011.

Cosgrove said Cera officials needed to travel to Wellington sometimes. However, a total of 7286 flights resulted in an "excessive airlines bill for an organisation based entirely in one region".

He said Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee should either move the necessary officials to Christchurch permanently or employ Cantabrians to do these jobs instead of "flying bureaucrats with their clipboards around the country using up taxpayer dollars".

He said Cera was established to facilitate the recovery of Christchurch but too much work was being done outside the city.

Brownlee last week offered his resignation to Prime Minister John Key after he skipped security at Christchurch Airport with two of his staff members because he did not want to miss his flight to Wellington.

"There's no wonder he thinks he can flout the law with Air New Zealand and airlines given that his department are arguably one of their best customers," Cosgrove said.

Brownlee told The Press at the weekend that he blamed a "complete brain fade" for his actions at the airport on Thursday morning.

He told the airport security attendant at the exit door that he was in a hurry to get on the flight and asked if he could come through. It was not until he was in his Beehive office that an adviser asked him if he had flown from Christchurch without going through airport security.

"I thought 's...'," he said.

He insisted he had not used his position to gain special treatment.

"Look, as I say I'm at a loss to say what was going on in my head . . . But I have never ever liked that preferment stuff. It's aggravating and it's personally disappointing, to be viewed in that sort of light. But it is what it is, unfortunately."

Speaking about Cera's travel expenses, Brownlee yesterday said he was "not overly concerned with the expenditure".

He said Cera was the "co-ordinator of Government activity" in Christchurch but the city's recovery involved support from many other Government agencies based in Wellington. Cera could not expect staff from other departments to always travel to Christchurch, he said.

"We do do a lot in Christchurch but the reality is that moving other departments to accommodate Mr Cosgrove is not an option . . . and it would be far more expensive to do that."

The Press