Cunliffe's recovery criticism 'ridiculous'

Gerry Brownlee.
Gerry Brownlee.

A war of words has broken out between Labour's leader and the man in charge of the $40 billion earthquake recovery.

Labour leader David Cunliffe said he was "staggered" and angry at the slow pace of the Christchurch recovery and he believed next year's election would be a referendum on the rebuild.

He fired a broadside at Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee's handling of the recovery, slamming the "bloated bureaucracy" at the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) and the "shocking stories" he was hearing about insurance companies.

DAVID CUNLIFFE: The Labour leader said Pike's report into the mine explosion found systemic failures by several government departments.
DAVID CUNLIFFE: The Labour leader said Pike's report into the mine explosion found systemic failures by several government departments.

But Brownlee hit back, calling Cunliffe's remarks "ridiculous", and "the comments of an embattled man under huge pressure in a by-election".

Cunliffe, who plans to visit the city regularly in the lead- up to the Christchurch East by-election on November 30, said he was using his time here to learn more about the city and its issues.

"Already, I don't like what I see."

It was not just the earthquakes that had hurt people but the way the Government was handling the recovery, he said.

"You have a minister who has the power of God, who is a human wrecking ball cutting a swathe through the centre of the city."

He was visibly gobsmacked when he looked at the central business district and could see little progress three years after the earthquakes first struck the city.

Cunliffe also took a swipe at construction companies - "there are a lot of answered questions about clipping the ticket" - and ongoing delays with settling insurance claims while Cera was run by a chief executive who has no board to report to "but at the whim of a bully of a minister".

The earthquakes were nobody's fault but there are "real design flaws for all to see" all over the city that are hampering recovery, he said.

Cera was too big, the Earthquake Commission (EQC) was "a disaster area" and insurance companies were being unfair to thousands.

"I'm putting the Government on notice. I will be asking a hell of a lot of questions about the Christchurch recovery."

Cunliffe said the lack of performance from the Government made it clear the 2014 election would be a referendum on the recovery.

"We really want to get away from people in Wellington telling Christchurch what to do."

But Brownlee said his remarks showed how little he knew about the recovery.

"Time and again, we're told the pace of the recovery is remarkable and to have a strongly growing economy and population so soon after the events which caused the damage is frankly unheard of."

Brownlee said people should compare National's response to the earthquake to what Cunliffe is signalling he would do if in government.

National has made the city's recovery one of its four key priorities "and we've thrown everything we can at the task."

But Labour's earthquake recovery spokeswoman, Port Hills MP Ruth Dyson, was ranked at 28 and would sit outside Cabinet.

"That says it all about Mr Cunliffe's commitment to Christchurch."

The Press