PM department to absorb Cera

STACEY KIRK AND TIM FULTON
Last updated 16:41 02/09/2014
Prime Minister John Key
PRIME MINISTER: John Key.

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Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel has welcomed plans to wrap the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) into the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC).

Prime Minister John Key revealed the plans to the Canterbury Chamber of commerce in Christhchurch today.

Key said Earthquake Minister Gerry Brownlee presented a paper to Cabinet that would make Cera a departmental agency within the DPMC next February.

Dalziel said the announcement was a significant step towards transitioning the city.

''I think what it does is signal the message we've been getting from central government for a while now which is an increasing level of confidence in the council.

"It really does show they are seeing us as a partner in the recovery and moving very firmly in the direction of transition," she said.

''It's welcome news for Christchurch and coming just a couple of days before the fourth anniversary of the first earthquake it is timely.''

Having Cera as a departmental agency within the DPMC was a more appropriate structure for transition because it enabled a cross-agency perspective, Dalziel said.

She welcomed the establishment of an advisory group and the commitment from the Government to include community representatives within that group.

''It is a signal of a much more engaged process going forward. I  think that is what the people of Christchurch are looking for."

The move would allow Cera's functions to be wound back gradually. Cera was set up in 2011, under legislation that also granted special powers to both the authority and the Minister to ensure the recovery remained on track.

Special powers were legislated for because of the magnitude of the recovery task Christchurch faced.

Those powers currently expire in April 2016, though Cera does not automatically wind up at that time. 

Brownlee said Christchurch's recovery remained a priority for the Government. "But as the recovery evolves, so, too, will the role of Cera, and we need to plan for transition and longer term governance.

"A programme of review and adjustment with four elements to support the long term recovery will soon get under way."

Those elements included Cera becoming a part of the DPMC, an advisory group to develop a transition plan to hand over responsibility and powers from Cera to local government, other agencies, a stocktake to remove or scale back some of the legislation's no-longer required powers.

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"This is most certainly not a winding down of the Government's commitment to the recovery," Brownlee said.

"It's recognition that with large parts of the recovery programme well underway, and with some, such as the EQC-managed repair programme almost complete, we need to ensure we're focusing our efforts appropriately, and working on how and when some governance arrangements will transition to longer term oversight."

Key said to ensure there was no "loss of momentum", a central agency needed to lead the transition.

"Many people will not know that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet also now houses the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management.

"We are keen that Cera and the ministry work closely together so the lessons learnt from both the initial response and the recovery phases of the Canterbury earthquakes are adopted permanently and shared widely.

"Hosting Cera and the ministry together within DPMC will ensure this happens."

Labour leader David Cunliffe said the government was "admitting defeat" with its Christchurch rebuild plans.

"The Government is tired and has run out of steam. It has no fresh ideas. Having sat on its hands over the Canterbury recovery and allowed the rebuild to slide, the Government is now forced to adopt Labour's progressive positive policies," Cunliffe said.

"Downgrading Cera on its own will do little to help Canterbury. Just changing the location of the organisation and putting a new name plate on a new door is not going to kickstart the rebuild.

"It will just mean more bureaucrats in Wellington. And it won't build one more house."

He said the announcement raised several questions over how the advisory group would be selected and whether it would include local representation.

CCC 'embraces' report

The Cameron Partners report on Christchurch City Council liabilities was enough to convince Brownlee to act on the structure of his powerful agency.

The Cameron report includes recommendations for council asset sales to reduce an estimated $900m post-quake financial shortfall.

Brownlee said the report quantified the council's financial difficulties but also gave a seven-year timeframe for the worst effects of the debt if CCC "do nothing". CCC had "embraced" that report in a "courageous" way, he said.

"The council working to make those decisions led to me thinking this was the optimum time (to put Cera within the Prime Ministers department)."

Brownlee said given an election was looming, it always seemed right to tell the people of Christchurch what the Government was thinking. He said a review of Crown and council horizontal infrastructure and precinct costs had also been a factor in his timing.

The Crown had "got its bit underway" with Anchor Projects "and that had to be encouraging for the council".

CCC had examined its financial options in light of the Cameron report and knew what it should do next, Brownlee suggested.

"I just think that the councillors and the new CCC chief executive are quite comfortable in the new direction they're travelling in. And once you can see that confidence, from our (Crown) perspective, you want to encourage that."

The Government had reached a point where it could confidently say "this was the right thing to do", Brownlee said.

Cera chief executive Roger Sutton would stay under the proposed new Prime Minister's department umbrella, Key said earlier.

Any Cera chief executive would still report to the earthquake recovery minister, although the CEO of the Prime Minister's department would now also have a direct hand in earthquake recovery policy and planning, Key said.

- Stuff

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