Government announces emergency legislation for Kaikoura earthquake recovery
New earthquake laws will allow Civil Defence officials to demand earthquake assessments from private property owners, Acting Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee says.
The three pieces of legislation, which Prime Minister John Key earlier signalled would be put forward by the Government, will go before Parliament this week, with some passing into law faster than normal to help with the recovery.
Brownlee said the new legislation was an acknowledgement of the "extraordinary situation" faced by earthquake-affected communities, particularly in Kaikoura and Hurunui.
"This is about Parliament ensuring the law is adaptable and best able to respond to this significant natural disaster."
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The first bill, the Civil Defence Emergency Management Amendment Act 2016 Amendment Bill, would pass under urgency on Tuesday and bring forward the start date of most parts of the recently enacted Civil Defence legislation.
It would also allow a Civil Defence controller or recovery manager to make a building owner undertake engineering assessments of their properties after an earthquake.
"Let's be clear, most private landlords are extremely responsible and do the right thing, it's just not clear what their obligations are, so the law in this case will make that clear," Brownlee said.
He did not know of any private landlords refusing to check their properties, but said the law change was a "bit of a belt and braces exercise" to add to owners' existing health and safety duties.
Wellington Mayor Justin Lester welcomed the law change, and said he would use the new powers in any future earthquakes.
"After an earthquake like the ones we have just had, Wellingtonians want to know that urgent steps are being taken to get their buildings checked as quickly as possible.
"Right now, the responsibility lies solely with the building owner. That's not good enough and I'm pleased to see the Government giving councils more powers to make sure these checks are done."
BALANCE BETWEEN ENVIRONMENT AND ECONOMY
The second piece of legislation, the Hurunui/Kaikoura Earthquakes Recovery (Emergency Relief) Bill 2016, would increase the consenting timeframes for emergency works, give farmers more leeway with emergency work on their properties, and make law changes to allowing the restoration of Kaikoura's harbours.
Brownlee acknowledged there were some environmental considerations relating to dredging the harbour, but said the lack of harbour access was also a significant issue.
"The question is, what's the environmental effect of not putting that opportunity back for people work and for people to come into the district? That's one of the balances that you try and strike."
The local marine life seemed to have handled the earthquake relatively well, he said.
"You've had one of the biggest possible upsets to the ecosystem, where the whole floor of the ocean has come up quite some distance.
"The whales are back, the seals are back, the dolphins are back, and we're told the paua is showing very early signs of recovering from the trauma...you'd have to say that nature is extremely adaptable in these circumstances."
The third bill, the Hurunui/Kaikoura Earthquakes Recovery Bill 2016, would allow plans and bylaws to be amended by an Order in Council.
Brownlee said the bills were developed by officials using the experience of the Canterbury earthquakes, with a cross-party group of MPs also overseeing the drafting "to strike a balance between accelerating works and respectful process".
"Look, we've all got different political perspectives, but I think it would be fair to say that the Parliament of New Zealand has a great deal of concern for New Zealanders, and the goodwill therefore has been at very high levels."