Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Act

By | September 15, 2010

Like many, I’m pretty incensed at the passing of the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Act (CERRA) in the last 24 hours or so.

For those who need context, please read these two posts, one from Idiot/Savant, the other from KiwiPolitico. Basically, the act allows the governor-general (at the request of Gerry Brownlee, a Minister of the National Party) to issue orders-in-council that amend or grant exemptions from any of 22 different New Zealand laws, including several very important ones. Note that in NZ, the Governor-General doesn’t really have the ability to refust such a request. There is effectively no oversight of this, nor any requirement that Mr Brownlee justify his requests, except to listen to the concerns of a commission consisting partially of locally elected mayors, and partially of commissioners appointed by Mr Brownlee. He doesn’t have to address their concerns, simply have regard for them. In sum, he can bypass any of about 22 laws in the name of rebuilding Canterbury.

We can expect that he will bypass these laws for a wide variety of other unstated reasons, such as ‘rationalizing resource management’ (gutting community based resource management), making local government more accountable (to the National Party), and streamlining the reconstruction of local business (doing away with consumer and employee protections).

The act provides these powers for 19 and a half months, and at that time, any exemptions and amendments cease to apply. In theory, at least. You’ll forgive me for being cynical on this. The National party in their continued abuse of urgency powers and flouting of parliamentary regulations have shown virtually no respect for the rule of law, and I expect them to follow the same theme in this.

Anyway. When you’re far from home, there’s little you can do but write. So, I did. Here’s a slightly amended version of what I sent to Lianne Dalziel, MP for Christchurch East (where my family lives):

Ms Dalziel,

I’m writing to register my protest and extreme dismay at the decision of yourself and your party to vote for and the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery in its current form.

This bill lacks oversight and contains massive opportunity for abuse, opportunity that you can be sure the National party will take advantage of.

Why was it necessary that Mr Brownlee be able to amend the Local Government Acts? Have we now decided that the government in Wellington knows better than local governments, who _directly represent those affected by the quake_, how to address their concerns?

What about the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act? Do the citizens of Christchurch and Canterbury no longer need to know whats going on inside local government meetings? Are they deemed too distracted by the quake?

Obviously, some mechanism allowing local government to circumvent the specifics of various land management acts and regulation is indeed necessary if re-building is to happen swiftly. But how is granting this power to the governor general on the advice of the minister in aid of this? What about the commissioners provided for in the act? Shouldn’t they, as a body consisting primarily of local mayors and councilors, be the ones requesting exemptions? Do you really think Mr Brownlee will act in good faith in this? What is there to stop him?

I understand that some legislation was necessary, and that given the present National government, this legislation was inevitably deeply flawed. I understand, but do not agree with, the argument that supporting this act was politically necessary for the Labour party. Now that it is passed, however, will Labour stand by and let Mr Brownlee operate without oversight? Or will it stand for the people it and you represent and fight for these flaws to be closed through members bills, protest and engagement with the media on its flaws. National will undoubtedly put Mr Key in front of a camera and he will smile then assure us that they can be trusted. Your job is to remember that we shouldn’t have to.

I am a constituent of your electorate (in the Burwood area), and voted for you in the last election. At this point, I’m doubtful who I will vote for in 2011. Please re-assure me through your actions.

If you’re a New Zealander, I strongly encourage you to send something similar to your local representatives. This is not how government in NZ works, and we must protest. I’ve edited this very slightly from what I sent as my original version was a little terse; unsurprising given how fired up I was at that point.

Edit: It’s been rightly pointed out that the act actually allows modification to any law, not just those on the list in the act (one of those including, but not limited clauses). More interestingly is the fact that ‘The recommendation of the relevant Minister may not be challenged, reviewed, quashed, or called into question in any court.’ It also states that ‘Subsections (4) and (5) do not limit subsection (1).’ – that is, the bit allowing ‘any provision reasonably necessary or expedient for the purpose of this Act.’ is not limited by the clauses that limit it. Which seems to be either poor drafting, malicious intent.

Basically, the fact that this Act is a gross travesty of democratic procedure is simply strengthened by these additional points. Thanks to the Lew and the anonymous LJ commenter who pointed this out.