Concerns over power new bill gives ministers

By Adam Bennett

Prime Minister John Key said that the Christchurch earthquake - with a repair bill expected to be more than $4 billion - was New Zealand's most costly natural disaster. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister John Key said that the Christchurch earthquake - with a repair bill expected to be more than $4 billion - was New Zealand's most costly natural disaster. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Government's Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill passed into law yesterday as political opposites Act and the Greens both raised concerns over the sweeping powers it gives ministers.

The legislation creates an "Order in Council" mechanism that enables ministers to relax or suspend potentially every other act of Parliament - barring five dealing with constitutional matters - to the extent they may "divert resources away from the effort to efficiently respond to the damage caused by the Canterbury earthquake".

It also creates the Canterbury Earthquake Commission, comprising mayors of the three affected districts and central government representatives. It will advise ministers on what Orders in Council are required to speed up rebuilding efforts. The orders must be signed off by the Cabinet and the Governor-General.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said recovery from last Saturday's earthquake would be one of the most significant events in New Zealand's history, but normal consenting and planning processes could delay rebuilding efforts by years.

"Business as usual won't work ... This bill will be the House's expression of a strong desire to remove bureaucracy that could slow down the very necessary work we now have to do."

The Greens supported the bill to its first reading but put forward amendments including limits to the scope of legislation it could override and shortening the duration for which it would apply.

As originally drafted the bill would have been in effect until 2015 but that was shortened to April 2012 after consultation with Labour.

- NZ Herald

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