'Outrage' over $1000 a day pay for panel
Christchurch Earthquake 2011
The Government has been accused of double standards by refusing to fund legal representation for earthquake victims' families while increasing pay rates for quake recovery appointees to $1000 a day.
On Monday, The Press revealed the Government has denied 50 grieving families of Christchurch earthquake victims government funding for legal representation at royal commission hearings.
Labour's earthquake recovery spokesman Clayton Cosgrove said the Government's refusal to fund legal representation for earthquake victims was "outrageous" considering it funded legal counsel for the families of the lost Pike River miners at royal commission hearings taking place in Greymouth.
The double standard also applied to revelations that the daily pay rates for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) review panel members, including former National prime minister Jenny Shipley, had risen from a maximum of $415 a day to $1000 a day, he said.
"If it's good enough for the Government to pay 1000 bucks a day to a number of people, taking nothing away from those individuals, then surely it's good enough for the Government to pay for some legal counsel for the many, many families who have lost loved ones in this earthquake tragedy," Cosgrove said.
Documents published on the No Right Turn blogsite this week showed Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee sought approval from Cabinet on April 11 for the appointments of former senior High Court judge Sir John Hansen as chairman of the review panel at $1400 a day, and Shipley, former Ngai Tahu chief executive Anake Goodall and former Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry chief executive Murray Sherwin, at $1000 a day. The usual rates are from $360 to $655 for a chairperson and $270 to $415 for other members.
The review panel's rates were signed off by State Services Minister Tony Ryall.
Sherwin earned $1500 a day for chairing the now defunct Earthquake Recovery Commission, while commissioners Arihia Bennett and David Hopkins earned $900 a day.
Cosgrove said instead of ministerial approval being sought for exceptional pay rates proper process should be followed. "If you're going to tear up the guidelines and set a new level, then rewrite the guidelines."
The review panel assesses all legislative and regulatory changes proposed by Cera and makes recommendations to Brownlee.
Hansen said his pay rate was less than the top legal aid hourly rate.
"I was asked to do a job, I said yes, I didn't ask about the remuneration because I see it as something of a public service," he said. "In the context of the billions of dollars that we're concerned with and the months down the track it does seem to me rather strange because it was a matter of public knowledge at the time of appointment.
"I've found to date, speaking personally, it's taken me hours rather than days to do what's been put in front of us so far."
A spokesman for Attorney-General Chris Finlayson said yesterday that lawyers assisting the royal commission had a public interest role, and were available to meet earthquake victims' family members.
Brownlee said the standard fee range for the review panel was inadequate and the fees reflected the high calibre of panel members.
"Exceptional times require exceptional measures – this is the largest natural disaster New Zealand has ever faced."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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