Deborah Coddington

Deborah Coddington is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Deborah Coddington: Government department the last thing Chch needs

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The people of Sumner got tired of waiting for Government help. Photo / Getty Images
The people of Sumner got tired of waiting for Government help. Photo / Getty Images

Why can't governments realise they are not the solution, they are the problem?

We do not need a government department for the recovery of Christchurch. A government department will create more headaches than it will solve.

Here's my take on the government department's action plan before embarking on the Christchurch recovery programme: Fit out offices and appoint staff. Have a meeting. Print stationery and business cards. Have a meeting. Join the Koru Club if based in Wellington. Have a meeting. Consult kaumatua. Have a meeting. Hold a media briefing - by now June/July.

Compare this with the citizens of Sumner, one of the quake's worst-hit areas, who this week, in the words of Marnie Kent, co-chairperson of the Sumner Residents Association, decided to "take the bull by the horns" and become self-sufficient rather than wait for council to rebuild their community.

Kent says they are resilient people with energy and drive and they will work with the council but never again do they wish to depend on authorities.

For instance, they've waited for years for a tsunami siren and now it's urgent for this seaside community, they're hassling until one is installed. They've organised a conservation group to repair their parks, a group dedicated to rebuilding the community gardens, and another group of business people supporting each other back on the road to prosperity.

A government department, I fear, will just get in their way.

There are silver linings in every dark cloud, and more will surely come from the hell hole we saw in soundless video of the wrecked Garden City played at last week's memorial service.

Take the Budget. Here's a golden opportunity for the Government to say, emphatically Yes! We will forge ahead with the Puhoi-Wellsford highway, the Waikato Expressway, the Auckland rail electrification, Wellington's transmission gully, which in total cost around $5 billion; plus Auckland's $2 billion rail loop.

But how can the country pay for that when we're borrowing $5 billion for Christchurch?

The way much of the Western world finances road and rail infrastructure these days - through public/private partnerships. The public own them. Private companies finance, design and build them. Tolls pay for the capital cost (just like the Auckland Harbour Bridge) and the tolls are removed when the capital is repaid in full and private involvement ends.

So long as the arrangement is reasonable (tolls not too high, an alternative non-tolled route, and the contract is finite) public/private partnerships can save public money, create jobs, and boost the economy. It is not - as loonie lefties insist - privatisation by stealth. It is having your cake and eating it too.

At least John Key continues to rule out a special tax promoted by Greens co-leader Russel Norman on anyone earning more than $48,000.

It's just downright insulting to order New Zealanders to donate. The spontaneous benevolence of Kiwis in the quake's aftermath has been outstanding.

If our Martinborough community is an example, then Norman should be ashamed of his dictatorial order to give. With a few friends, last Saturday we organised a mini-market, with baking, garden produce, recycled clothing, and Devonshire teas. This small town raised $7000 for Red Cross.

New Zealanders hate feeling useless. We can't all be in Christchurch, but we still retain the right to raise money to send to its people. When the Government commandeers the role of welfare, as it has done in so many aspects of our lives, people shrug their shoulders and cease to give.

This week I met someone from America who was visiting Christchurch with his wife when the quake struck. One month on he continued to marvel at the way New Zealanders' kindness instantly snapped into action. An elderly couple helped his terrified wife away from the Cathedral. The taxi driver wouldn't take his money and invited him to stay. These stories about our people will be with this international family for ever.

I think people are intrinsically good when not bossed around by the state.

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