Police have opted to allow some criminals to stay in Kaikoura following the earthquakes.

Deputy commissioner Mike Clement was part of a media briefing at Parliament's civil defence bunker today and said the disaster and fallout meant police had taken "something of an unusual approach" in quake-hit communities.

"As far as I'm aware the only arrests have been for warrants - in other words, people who haven't appeared in court for whatever reason. And actually, to be honest with you, we are probably taking something of an unusual approach to those," Clement said.

"Unless there has been life-threatening types of issues and we had grave concerns about the types of people who were subject of a warrant, we are looking for ways to make sure we can keep them in the community, keep them focused on looking after themselves and safe as opposed to whistling them off to jail.


"It is case by case ... if someone was going to be a danger to themselves or the community then out they would go, but if it was a matter of not having paid a fine we would be pretty relaxed about it I think."

Last week three Kaikoura men were arrested and charged with looting a freight train stranded between slips north of Kaikoura after the earthquake.

New Zealand First has called for a law change imposing tougher sentences on looters, saying they should be given hard labour.

Meanwhile, on a tour of the upper South Island today, Prime Minister John Key and Acting Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee said emergency legislation being discussed with other parties would help get the region back on its feet faster.

Brownlee said one piece of legislation would have some similarities to that passed after the Canterbury earthquakes.

"But we are not setting up a CERA or anything like that. It is just setting up some tools that are available to the local councils and agencies to be able to get things done."

That would include fast-track resource consents, tax law, and health measures, Brownlee said. Labour leader Andrew Little yesterday indicated his party would support the legislation.

Key said people were "in for a long haul" in the area, and Kaikoura would see "very reduced" activity in the coming summer season.

Experts were confident about reestablishing road and rail links south of Kaikoura, Key said.

"I think the issue really is north of Kaikoura - it is not a huge amount of distance, but it is extremely, severely damaged. So whether there is some workaround or fix on that bit, it is very uncertain at this point."