Leaders fail community recovery test

20:38, Apr 14 2013
Gerard Direen
DO THEY GET IT? Linwood Avenue School principal Gerard Direen asks if Cabinet ministers understand the leadership that is required of them in an unprecedented time in New Zealand.

School principal Gerard Direen questions whether Government leaders recognise the unprecedented challenge Christchurch faces recovering from the earthquakes.

It was never going to be easy to recover from more than 10,000 earthquakes.

The impacts weren't evenly spread. The recovery phase is complex, protracted and diverse but many positive steps have been taken.

However, there are some important needs that are not being addressed well.

Local and central government leaders were always going to be in the spotlight. In my view, there is compelling evidence that they are showing inadequate leadership of the social and community aspects of recovery.

The physical recovery - the rebuild of roads, buildings and infrastructure - is generally going well. There seems to be a good level of planning in place, some clear communication and lines of accountability.

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But it's much harder to see a strategic approach to social and community recovery.

Cera (Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority) has some broad and difficult-to-measure goals in its Christchurch recovery plan, regarding community and social recovery. Central Government tells us the Christchurch recovery is one of its top four priorities.

But there is a complexity of recoveries to be monitored within that overall priority.

Who is doing that? How do they measure success?

The Canterbury District Health Board, Cera and the prime minister's chief science adviser have all produced reports related to the human, psychological and community aspects of recovery in post- disaster settings. It is hard to see where a cohesive and systematic approach has been taken in light of these reports.

These are extraordinary times, and they demand extraordinary leadership and responsiveness. There is limited evidence that leaders are meeting the challenge - the biggest that all Cabinet ministers will face in their careers. It needs collective and proactive Cabinet responsibility.

I wrote to Minister Responsible for Novopay Steven Joyce two months ago, asking about special consideration for Christchurch schools with regard to Novopay. Not a whisper in reply.

I complained to Health Minister Tony Ryall about the reallocation of public health nurses from primary schools.

He doesn't seem to have an opinion. I have also raised concerns about the Child Youth and Family response to the care and protection of a child at our school with the relevant minister. She isn't getting involved.

Does Cabinet recognise an unprecedented moment in New Zealand and the leadership that is required from them? Government leaders are, at the least, missing in action. Consider the appalling insurance and Earthquake Commission experiences some citizens have suffered. How effectively have our leaders advocated for their citizens in this regard? Do they recognise the human cost to the elderly and those in financial hardship?

Compare a media release from the minister for the Canterbury earthquake recovery regarding the 2012 Cera wellbeing survey with the contents of that report.

Positive statements in the media release compare poorly with the extent of concerns and needs identified in the report. What was the purpose of the media release?

Many families in my school's community are struggling to achieve normality and wellbeing for their children and themselves. The recently launched Red Cross fund for school children is a beacon.

We have had damaged footpaths in front of our school's main entrance for more than two years. I've asked repeatedly for them to be repaired. Hundreds of children and adults move around the area each day.

The message to Linwood kids and families is "get over it!" If Cera or Christchurch City Council leadership prioritised schools and children, then this lack of response wouldn't happen.

The health board is to pull public health nurses from city primary schools for an immunisation campaign for secondary-age children in coming months.

In a post-disaster setting, our leaders chose not to increase resourcing but to rob Peter to pay Paul.

The Ministry of Education unleashed a dog of a payroll system on all schools.

No consideration seems to have crossed anyone's mind regarding the impact this ill- prepared system would have on those in Christchurch, already coping with extraordinary demands. Did the ministers who signed off on it not consider they had a duty of care for Christchurch citizens? Then the minister of education delivered a poorly prepared plan to reorganise Christchurch schools.

This was characterised by factual errors, poor communication and illegal action. It led to the Ombudsman's office condemning the ministry's actions. Were unnecessary disruption and flawed decision-making part of Cabinet's strategic approach to supporting citizens and vulnerable communities?

Another equally poor performance was leadership not recognising the vital role of physical activity for children and failing to have sports fields available.

Where were the priorities that Cera, the city council or the minister should have been ensuring? If leaders had physical activity for children at the forefront of their thinking, then sport facilities would be ready every week, especially in communities with reduced public facilities.

What about the CanCERN recycling project of items from the residential red zone? How well are leaders recognising and supporting a community self-help project?

Do they not see links to supporting human recovery across the city? Their initial reaction suggests not.

Not all recoveries are created equal. The social and community recoveries seem to be far less strategically led, planned, monitored and evaluated. When was the last time the minister for the Canterbury earthquake recovery or the prime minister made a speech regarding Government's expectations and assessment of Christchurch's social recovery? When did Cabinet last evaluate its performance in providing leadership in this aspect of recovery?

It's time they did.

Gerard Direen is principal of Linwood Avenue Primary School, directly involved in the Government's 2012 plans for Christchurch schools. His school has faced various challenges from the Novopay system. In addition, his wife battled business insurance matters for 18 months after losing her business following the earthquakes, and they have also had various battles with EQC.

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