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Yesterday's jolt a reminder to work smart together in ongoing crisis

When news of yesterday's latest big Christchurch earthquake came through, I was writing about how, like many Kiwis, I have been already enjoying the company of family returned from overseas for Christmas.

Our family can afford to stump up an airfare or two for those studying elsewhere. Unlike many others, with pressing financial commitments making it difficult to pay for their families to return to New Zealand each year for a fantastic holiday, we are able to put money aside for this purpose.

But like many Kiwis, I also ache for the day when our young talented people - including my own son who is in the final stage of a science doctorate - feel confident they can build a world-class career from New Zealand rather than having to decamp permanently overseas for greater opportunity.


This is why David Shearer's first speech as Labour leader in Parliament this week resonated when we discussed it around the breakfast table on Thursday.

Shearer said that a beautiful place isn't enough to hold our young here. "That won't bring the most talented to live here - just to visit. We need innovation, exciting businesses and real opportunities."

Shearer pointed to a New Zealand known the world over for smart thinking and really smart businesses taking the world by storm.

A New Zealand that is compassionate towards those who need a hand up, that is independent and makes up its own mind on global issues based on its own values.

This is just the kind of visionary message that New Zealanders need to hear - that Labour, under its new leadership, is not going to simply focus on class warfare and the politics of envy; that it does want to grow the economic pie and not simply slice it up into ever diminishing pieces; and that when it does ultimately make it back to Government, it will have a plan.

In the meantime, Shearer was happy to support innovative Government policies and work in a bi-partisan fashion on stuff that matters.

I'm sure John Key and his Government also wish they had the luxury of being able to focus on New Zealand's long-term future.

When I talked with Key informally at the press gallery's annual party this week, he was looking forward to drawing a line under an exhausting 2011 and being free to move confidently ahead with National's economic agenda next year. He plans to step up the tempo; he has accepted Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's invitation to a joint Cabinet meeting in Melbourne in late January and will also lead a number of missions in 2012 to open new markets for New Zealand businesses.

The Global Financial Crisis has not disappeared. Key's Government will have to be very flexible in its response to the eurozone fallout to maintain the confidence of New Zealand's international creditors.

But yesterday's 5.8 shake underlines that Key's second-term as Prime Minister looks likely to continue to be defined by crisis. You do have to feel for Key and his Cabinet Ministers. Particularly Gerry Brownlee, Minister for the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, and Finance Minister Bill English, who has to manage New Zealand's finances against a very uncertain backdrop.

All three politicians are bone-tired. All have been looking forward to spending some quality time with their families this coming weekend. But yesterday's trembler means they are not going to be able to switch off in the way those of us who live elsewhere in New Zealand, or who don't have family in Christchurch, will try to do.

For Cantabrians, yet again Mother Nature has shown she can be a pretty cruel bitch.

Thankfully, the initial reports suggest physical damage was moderate. But Cantabrians' confidence will be eroded. Those thinking about moving out of Christchurch will find that decision easier to make.

It's too early to say whether this latest shock will delay the major Christchurch rebuild due to swing into gear mid-year. When I talked to Brownlee and English earlier this week, they were confident an end was in sight for the insurance problems that have delayed the major rebuild and that the "decay curve" showed the massive seismic disruption was starting to diminish.

Who really knows?

Speaking for myself, I would be more confident about New Zealand's future if Shearer and Key could put aside some of their political differences and institute across Parliament measures to assist Christchurch.

This is no time for divisiveness.