In the saturation coverage of the latest earthquake this week, the biggest news coverage for Labour was Trevor Mallard's car getting impaled by a rising bollard on Parliament's perimeter.

Mallard didn't drive fast enough over the new hazardous security feature and when the bollard punctured his car's undercarriage, right next to Parliament's press gallery offices, it was instant news and a little light relief to stories of terror.

Such is the nature of disaster politics, when the Opposition is expected to shut up and allow the Government get on with it in the early stages of disaster response.

New Zealand First breached all the unwritten rules of disaster politics and has kept up an unrelenting flow of complaining press statements.


It reached absurd depths when it zeroed in on visitors to Kaikoura who had stayed on rather than being evacuated and had stayed up all night partying.
So might many if they had just cheated death.

Labour, as an alternative Government, has behaved more like one, offering support where it could.

That hasn't meant complete silence. But it has to pick its battles and tone more carefully.

The fact is, crass as it sounds, that good disaster management gives governments a natural advantage, even an unfair advantage you say in the lead-up to an election.

Labour cannot be seen as wanting the Government to fail.

It has weighed in on issues that have clearly concerned the public such as the uneven response to NCEA exams, and concerns over the tsunami warning system.

The bipartisanship was acknowledged in the House this week by Gerry Brownlee, who has had a massive week as Acting Civil Defence Minister, Defence Minister and Leader of the House.

His and John Key's experience in dealing with the Christchurch earthquakes shows, in a personal and bureaucratic sense.

Key's day on Wednesday involved taking a call from Donald Trump, then flying over to Kaikoura for a second inspection of the area, meeting with tourism operators, flying back to Parliament for question time, then going over the plans for the business assistance package with Steven Joyce.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet now has a unit to co-ordinate the cross-agency approach to the Christchurch rebuild and that expertise could be used in a whole-of-Government approach to this latest event.

Labour has learned its own lessons from Christchurch and it will be asking for more from the Government for bipartisanship.


Labour leader Andrew Little who postponed a trip to India and Pakistan after Monday's earthquake has written to Key asking for better consultation and involvement.

If Labour is going to be asked to support emergency legislation it wants more input than to be handed a bill as a fait accompli.

Little's office had to ask for a place in Key's helicopter on Tuesday, and Key congratulated himself for allowing it to happen.

Neither should have happened. It should have come naturally.

The disaster not only upturned lives, it also disrupted history.

What was to have been the first entrance by a United States warship to the Waitemata in 33 years for the Navy's 75th birthday was abandoned when the ship diverted to the disaster zone.

It denied New Zealand's defence hawks a celebration: it denied many on the left and in the anti-nuclear movement their own moment of celebration in the knowledge that the US Navy had returned on New Zealand's terms; and it denied the ultra left and anti-Americans what almost certainly would have been a relatively small protest flotilla.

But it was good call and a powerful example of disaster diplomacy.

That one decision may have done more to restore the standing of the US Navy in the eyes of New Zealanders than 20 port visits.

The visit to Auckland had been announced by Vice-President Joe Biden in a visit in July when he stressed shared values, a sense of partnership and what the two countries could do together.

Part of his Pacific tour had included a visit to a US aircraft carrier in the South China Sea.

The admiral who gave the orders for the USS Sampson to head to Kaikoura is not unfamiliar with New Zealand.

Harry B Harris Junior worked on the HMNZS Hawea patrol vessel as an exchange midshipman in 1977 and he honeymooned in the South Island.

That one decision may have done more to restore the standing of the US Navy in the eyes of New Zealanders than 20 port visits.


"Friends help friends," he said with prescience in an interview here three years ago to observe a disaster exercise.

Born in Japan, the son of a US naval chief petty officer and Japanese mother, he was raised in America and went on to train as a naval flight officer and flew in the Gulf War in 1991.

He has served as Commander,Guantanamo Bay and is now, aged 60, Commander, US Pacific Command at Pearl Harbour in Honolulu.

He represents a new generation of naval leaders who were not involved in New Zealand's suspension from the three-way Anzus alliance in 1986 and its treatment as a pariah for the next 20 years.

As a former military adviser to Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State, Harris is also finely attuned to the geopolitics of the Asia Pacific and the potential for tensions in the South China Sea to escalate.

The next US ship visit is not scheduled. And it is not even known whether the US wants to make regular ship visits to New Zealand, and if it did, whether New Zealand would become a more active partner in the region.

Coincidentally, Australia this week has been engaged in a debate about the Anzus alliance in the wake of Donald Trump's election as US President.

Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said that while Labor remained committed to the alliance, she wanted a more independent foreign policy.

She said Australia's values stood in contrast to some of those espoused by Trump in his campaign.

Australia's warship the Darwin and Canada's Vancouver joined the relief effort with the USS Sampson off Kaikoura, having also been in New Zealand for the birthday party.

It is not often that New Zealand has had the experience of receiving some of what it gives, usually to friends in the Pacific, most recently as Fiji.

It feels good.​