Brownlee must learn to curb his tongue
The reputation of the Minister for Earthquake Recovery, Gerry Brownlee, for a certain rough-hewn bluntness of expression, even abrasiveness, has often been regarded as a virtue as he has taken a swipe at people, entities and institutions whose actions, or sometimes inaction, in the recovery have displeased him.
The Mayor of Christchurch, Bob Parker, insurance companies, Housing New Zealand, the Earthquake Commission and others have all been the target of some tart reflections on their performance by the minister. In most, if not all, cases Brownlee's intervention has been welcomed by Christchurch people struggling to find some way forward after the earthquakes.
Brownlee's caustic reflections this week on an opinion poll purporting to show widespread disgruntlement among owners of land zoned technical category 3 with the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, insurers, EQC, the Christchurch City Council - just about everybody in fact - have not been so well received.
Asked to comment on the poll results, Brownlee said he was "sick and tired" of TC3 people continually "carping and moaning" about their situation.
He added, with some truth, that the poll sample was self-selected (in other words, it was less than a rigorously random sample that would have made it worthwhile as an accurate gauge of opinion), although he was possibly a little more provocative than he needed to be when he suggested the sample consisted of those who had access to the internet and the time to "buggerise around on Facebook all day".
After all, however skewed it may have been, it was some reflection of opinion in Christchurch.
It should be said in fairness to Brownlee that his remarks, made in response to a question from a reporter from The Press as he went from a session in the House to an official engagement, were made more in a tone of detached resignation than exasperation or anger.
It may be that they were sharper in cold print than the minister intended them to be. Whatever the case, they caught many people on the raw and the response, on Facebook, press.co.nz and elsewhere, was heated. Brownlee was right, after considering his comments for a day or so and seeing the reaction to them, to apologise for them.
The apology was not unequivocal, however, for although Brownlee insisted that he "sympathised and empathised" with residents grappling with TC3 delays, he still resented the suggestion that the Government was not caring or doing anything for them.
As unpalatable as it may be for some to hear it, he has a point.
The problems created by the earthquake are enormous and the solutions to them must be robust. No-one would be grateful to a government that allowed a rebuild that left the city vulnerable to future disasters. As frustrating as it may be, that inevitably takes time and some patience is required. Prodigious efforts are being made to get the work done and unfocused grizzling will not make it any faster.
For all that, Brownlee for his part should, as a simple matter of proper respect for vulnerable and worried property owners, learn to curb his tongue and to concentrate any acerbity he feels like giving voice to on those whose actions he is supervising and can control.
After all, there is little most property owners can do to alter their situation but wait. Brownlee should be directing his energy towards making that wait as short as possible.