Labour leader Phil Goff arrived in Christchurch yesterday with an offering pitched to win over quake-hit voters wary of politicians' promises.
But the plan to revamp the Earthquake Commission - which went some way to address the concerns of quake-stricken homeowners - lacked detail, allowing the Government plenty of scope for attack.
Speaking at Seabreeze Crescent, Bexley, one of the areas worst hit by liquefaction during the quakes, Mr Goff announced plans for a universal Earthquake Commission levy individually set at a rate proportionate to the value of the home covered. The levy would be collected by local authorities with rates rather than by private insurers through premium payments as is the case at present.
"Everyone who owns a home will now be insured - eliminating the 'moral hazard' of covering uninsured homeowners, which penalises people who pay for private insurance cover."
Although the EQC's $6 billion Natural Disaster Fund had largely met the challenge of meeting claims from the Christchurch quakes it was depleted, "and it is clear the system needs modernising".
Mr Goff also said a Labour Government would raise the $100,000 cap below which the EQC pays out and above which repair costs are met by private insurers.
The level of that cap would be set after consulting the commission and the insurance industry.
His earthquake recovery spokesman, Clayton Cosgrove, said the cap had to be raised to reflect the steep increases in house values and building costs since it was set in 1993.
National has already said it would treble EQC levies, leaving most home-owners paying $207 a year, but Mr Goff was unable to say whether the average home owner would pay more than that under Labour's plan.
But Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said Labour's proposal "smacks of policy on the hoof" and was poorly thought out.
"Why would anyone be comfortable with the idea you would be paying for the same EQC cover based on the value of your home?"
Under Labour's proposal the owner of a $1 million house on a small section in Auckland would pay more for the same amount of cover as the owner of a house on a large section worth far less in another part of the country, he said.
Mr Goff did not rule out having the EQC cap vary according to the value of the home covered, but again, that was a matter for future negotiation.
Mr Brownlee said Labour's plan would "erode the structure" of the EQC and undermine the co-operation between the commission and private insurance industry, both of which had generally served Christchurch homeowners well.
Although there were very few Bexley residents to hear Mr Goff announce his EQC policy he had a receptive audience in Anglican minister Mike Coleman, who has been helping distressed homeowners through the Wider Earthquake Communities' Action Network.
He was unimpressed with the Government's quake response, particularly the buyout package for Red Zone residents, and gave Mr Goff a list of questions to put to Mr Key in a debate.
After his visit to Bexley, Mr Goff and his Christchurch Central MP, Brendon Burns, were shown around the reopened Cashell St mall by the chairman of the Restart the Heart group, John Suckling.
Mr Goff got a friendly reception from those who recognised him but he gathered no more than a few onlookers when he stopped to chat.
He enjoyed a far bigger audience earlier in the day at Aranui High School, where he attended a ceremony to mark the completion by about 30 students of a pilot programme to prepare them for university study.
He told the assembly of several hundred students and their teachers they and other residents had shown courage and resilience since the quakes and pledged rebuild jobs would go to Christchurch's 10,000 unemployed first after upskilling and retraining programmes under a Labour Government.
* A universal Earthquake Commission levy individually set at a rate proportionate to the value of the home covered.
* This is to be collected by local authorities with rates rather than by private insurers.
* Raise the $100,000 cap below which the EQC pays out and above which repair costs are met by private insurers. The cap level still to be decided.
* Rebuild jobs would go to Christchurch's 10,000 unemployed first after upskilling and retraining.