Urgent debate on Gastro crisis in Parliament today

By Victoria White -
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DEBATE:  Labour MP for Ikaroa-Rawhiti Meka Whaitiri addresses Parliament this afternoon during an urgent debate on the gastro bug outbreak in Havelock North. 1
DEBATE: Labour MP for Ikaroa-Rawhiti Meka Whaitiri addresses Parliament this afternoon during an urgent debate on the gastro bug outbreak in Havelock North. 1

Criticism has been levelled at central government over the Havelock North gastro outbreak during an urgent debate held in parliament this afternoon.

Labour deputy leader Annette King requested an urgent debate on the situation, and criticised the response of Hastings District Council and government to the outbreak.

She said despite people reportedly feeling ill on Tuesday, action was not taken by the council and the Hawke's Bay District Health Board until Friday - when they had decided to chlorinate the water because of an abnormal indicator and patterns of illness.

It was only today that an outreach programme was implemented, she said.

"Why have we waited so long?" she said, adding the people of Havelock North were left "on their own" because government reaction had been so slow.

Citing Napier MP Stuart Nash's suggestion yesterday that bottled water companies distribute some to affected residents, Ms King asked why residents were now buying clean drinking water, when they already did so through their rates.

"I say to the government, how about putting your hand up and say there will be help for those people who are buying bottled water. I say to the government how about showing some leadership."

Ms King said the acting minister of health, Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, should have taken the lead on the issue, and asked where the leadership had been from Tukituki MP Craig Foss.

An animated Mr Foss said people could go after him, the government, or the council, but now was the time to be supporting those affected by the outbreak.

He said it was not good enough in 2016 for people anywhere in New Zealand to not be able to rely on good quality drinking water, or good enough for the people of Havelock North to be frazzled and frustrated, about an issue which no one yet knew the cause of.

It was not acceptable the residents of Havelock North were left to wonder if they had been informed early enough, he said, adding there seemed to be some serious gaps in information across the community.

Mr Lotu-Iiga said it was important to show concern for the people affected, rather than playing politics.

He said the council, HBDHB, Ministry of Health, and other government agencies were doing their best to address the situation.

"Now is not the time for recrimination, or [pointing] the finger. Now is the time to say, 'what can we do to assist those that need help, that need healthcare services', and that is what is being done in...Hawke's Bay today."

An independent inquiry would be held by the council, and Mr Lotu-Iiga said the ministry of health had reassured him they would work alongside the council to ask the right questions, figure out what went wrong, and how to fix the issue.

Ikaroa-Rāwhiti MP Meka Whaitiri said the council had taken responsibility for the situation, but the issue now was that the people of Havelock North had been "left high and dry".

She asked, if the situation was a natural disaster, would "we still be sitting on our hands days after...".

"We need a government of action, not platitudes," she said, adding this was what the people of Havelock North had needed most. "They absolutely needed leadership. And they never got it."

Napier MP Stuart Nash said the situation was a "third world problem".

"People in New Zealand don't get sick from drinking water. We don't go to hospital from drinking water out of our taps."

He said it was a wakeup call that the issue of water quality, and water security needed to be taken very seriously.

"This is not the time to...point fingers but it should be a time when central and local actually come together..to come up with solutions, under urgency, and to address the issue."

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