Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on the new rules for Christchurch’s Earthquake Recovery

April 1st, 2011

Illustration by Tim Denee –

Last year, Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee was endowed with god-like powers to over-ride existing law by the legislation passed in response to the September quake. At the time, there was widespread concern about the unilateral powers central government had assumed, and the length of time ( until 2012!) they would be allowed to wield them, virtually unopposed. Already, Canterbury residents had good reason to feel sensitive about such matters, given the abolition of its democratically elected Environment Canterbury and its replacement by a panel of central government appointees.

Now, those earthquake recovery powers are being expanded further in every direction and for longer – with Brownlee being empowered to rule Canterbury by decree until 2016. Interestingly, the virtually unlimited powers of land confiscation by officialdom will go hand in hand with limited rights of compensation for the citizens affected. More on that later. After the February 22 quake, the option existed to merely amend last year’s already draconian earthquake recovery legislation. Instead, central government chose to pass a new law that will – among other things – install a new panel of central government appointees to run the process. As the recently issued background papers to the new legislation put it, a new legislative unbrella seemed appropriate : “Due to the significant amount of new material to be included in the Act” it would mean that it resembled new legislation rather than an amended Act; “

The new material? Instead of expiring in 2012, Brownlee’s powers to over-ride existing laws has been kicked out for five years. The powers of confiscation, as No Right Turn has already pointed out, include being able to confiscate and demolish a home or perfectly sound business premises for a new commercial development :

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, September, 2010 (Image: Rory McKinnon, Scoop).

The new legislation will set out powers for CERA to acquire land or an interest in land (including fixtures such as buildings), compulsorily if necessary and to demolish buildings, rebuild or change the use of an area….Acquisition of land powers are considered to be necessary in order to facilitate the recovery of Christchurch. It may be necessary for CERA to demolish a building (that is otherwise sound), or rebuild on a site, or otherwise take control of land and use it in a new way (such as to form part of a new commercial centre, or a park, or for remediation).

The key phrase there being “such as to form part of a new commercial centre.” So if a developer wants a particular building bowled or land seized or re-zoned to build a mall or a supermarket parking lot, they will be able to make a case to the new, central government appointed Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) that their commercial enterprise “ will facilitate the recovery of Christchurch” – and if they don’t get satisfaction there, the developer can ask Brownlee to simply over-ride CERA’s decision.

Compensation ? Not so much :

Compensation would be payable at the market value at the date of taking control, and would also reflect the extent to which property was undamaged and avoid paying compensation for loss that was or ought to have been insured.

So, lets assume the building was damaged last September, and damaged further in February. (Even so, keep in mind that the owner is still paying the same mortgage as when they first bought the property.) Just in case we didn’t understand the chilling line about “compensation being payable at the market value at the date of taking control” the briefing papers repeat the line again : “Compensation would be assessed from the date of taking control.” In other words, the compensation for seizure or demolition will be payable at the post- double earthquake discount value, and before reconstruction begins ie, at the lowest point of the cycle, when the owner is at their most severely stretched.

Working hand in hand with central government, developers will thus be able to buy or bowl properties where the qualifying rate of compensation has been diminished by the impact of two earthquakes. So….while the new legislation expands central government’s ability to confiscate, demolish and re-zone (and extends the suspension of normal processes of appeal and compensation) it also limits the liability for compensation. Too bad if you weren’t insured adequately. Too bad if you’re still paying a mortgage at pre-earthquake rates on a building now assessed at post-earthquake values. Too bad if the police cordon served to interrupt or damage your business. Since limiting access to your business premises was in the “wider interests of the community” any loss you suffered is to be treated under this new law as being your problem, entirely.

For example, we consider there should be no compensation for government actions that result in:

losses that were, or ought to have been, insured e.g. business interruption or a building that has already been destroyed and has no value (to avoid double- dipping or because that was the owners’ choice); or economic or consequential loss e.g. the inability due to the cordon to obtain access to carry on a business or fulfil a lucrative order (because such a decision is taken in the wider interests of the community);

claims by insurers (because they have chosen to bear the risks);

losses of personal property worth more than $20,000 which is the threshold in the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act (because more valuable property may or could have been insured); and unwarranted and unjustified claims, with clear authority being given to reject such claims (because a residual discretion is necessary to deal with unforeseeable claims).

Tough luck, mate. Beyond the compassionate talk and the photo opportunities, this is the Darwinian reality of the new Christchurch.


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    1. 10 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on the new rules for Christchurch’s Earthquake Recovery”

    2. By Joe on Apr 1, 2011 | Reply

      Sounds bad, but is there not also now the ability to challenge decisions in the High Court? I guess the court can only follow the legislation.

    3. By Wimpie on Apr 3, 2011 | Reply

      I’ve been following Gordon Campbell’s “analyses” for a while and I have discovered his MO.
      The (National)Government makes a decision or an announcement, and Mr Campbell will – through deep study and intricate argumentation – arrive at the conclusion that they were wrong. Yet again.
      The issues and their merits don’t matter all that much; it’s the principle that counts. No need to read his articles; the conclusions are predictable and predetermined.
      What an analyst!!!

    4. By Jonathan on Apr 3, 2011 | Reply

      In response to Wimpie – the proof will be in the pudding. CERA will require enabling legislation, and this will have to pass through the parliamentary process – whether the standard process involving public submissions or the cheats route via urgency. The fact of the matter is that it’s powers will be written down, and this document will be freely available. This means that Gordon Campbell’s remarks are testable. If he happens to be right, than Christchurch will be in for a miserable time. National, with it’s behaviour towards the elected regional council, has already shown a tendency to treat democracy as something to be over-ridden at will – now will they attack property rights?
      All of this will be answered when the CERA legislation becomes available.

    5. By Peter on Apr 3, 2011 | Reply

      Gerry Brownlee is an evil man, never trust a fat man.

    6. By Margaret on Apr 3, 2011 | Reply

      “John Key is the tiller man, tilling the soil to plant the seeds of the next generation of discontent in New Zealand”

      John Key can be as moral as he wants to be in his private life but to be sucessful as a money trader morals must be left at home. John Key knows no other way to operate, That is why he and his cabinet can shit upon the poeople of New Zealand all the while expecting those same people to make this country the way they want it so they can enjoy their lifestyle choices.

    7. By Jimbo on Apr 4, 2011 | Reply

      @ Wimpie

      The fact that Gordon can make a pretty damning case against the National government based purely on quoting the text of their own legislation verbatim doesn’t really require any kind of analysis, spin or agenda on his part.

      The facts speak plainly for themselves and Mr Campbell is simply highlighting them and sharing them.

      The fact is that this government is a smiling and waving bunch of media whores in front of the cameras and, apparently, a bunch of scheming conniving bloodsuckers when it comes to policy and legislation.

    8. By Elyse on Apr 4, 2011 | Reply


      Have been waiting for you to write a piece re: National playing fast and loose with our money. With this:

      in the Herald today (the spin at the time was that we would get most of it back after they sold the “assets”?), and the recent 40 million bailout of Steven Joyce’s favourite, Mediaworks, owned by Australia-based Ironbridge.
      If we are going to have privately-owned finance companies and media should they not be self sufficient? More CORPORATE WELFARE while they’re sneering at and making life hard for regular people. If it was Labour or the Greens doing this kind of mega spending there would be outrage. I’m seriously concerned about the state of out country with these buffoons in charge.
      What say you, Gordon?

    9. By nznative on Apr 5, 2011 | Reply

      I rate Gordon Campbell as one of the best reporters in this country.

      Our mainstream press and its ‘reporters’ seem to be little more than ‘repeaters’ for the Governments spin and press releases.

      That is to say the mainstream media repeats the governments bullshit and most of the country does not have a clue about whats really happening.

      Lets make no mistake, christchurch is in a very bad way.

      The Governments actions which are driven by their right wing view of the world will be hard and mean.

      Before long I expect to see greedy John and his Nats start blaming the people of christchurch for not having jobs etc.

      I also expect to see greedy John and the Nats start selling things all New Zealanders own, probably to the rich people who have done so very well out of the tax cuts to the high earners.

      Christchurch will be the excuse.

    10. By Wimpie on Apr 6, 2011 | Reply

      @ Jimbo

      I notice that you apply the same sophisticated approach as many of your like-minded friends.

      You strengthen your arguments by using terms like “media whores” and “scheming conniving bloodsuckers”.

      That’s an intelligent and deeply intellectual approach. Well done! Very persuasive!

    11. By Wimpie on Apr 6, 2011 | Reply

      @ Peter

      I fully agree with you. Never trust a fat man.

      And what’s more, have you noticed that he has “Brown’ in his name? Never trust anyone with brown in his name.

      Oh, how I love all these astute comments and this website, where they seem to prevail. So enriching!

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