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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Greens oppose Christchurch earthquake recovery bill

Greens oppose Christchurch earthquake recovery bill

Last updated 14:30 12/04/2011
LATEST: Political agreement on the response to the Christchurch earthquake is over after the Greens said they would oppose a proposed law that gives sweeping powers to reconstruct the city.

The Government will today introduce a bill setting up the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, which will be responsible for rebuilding Christchurch following the devastating February 22 quake.

But Greens co-leader Metiria Turei said her party had major concerns about the bill, including the powers it gave to Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and the authority in areas such as ordering the demolition of buildings.

There were also concerns that local councils and people had been frozen out of decisions about their city and that a panel to oversee CERA decisions was stacked with government appointees.

"We think that the people of Christchurch should have the power to rebuild Christchurch rather than Gerry Brownlee," Turei said.

"We think there should be better engagement with the public around the provisions of this bill. This bill gives Gerry Brownlee extensive powers over a five year period, and it's difficult to see how that can be justified without proper checks and balances."

The Government intends to pass the bill under urgency this week, starting with its first reading this afternoon followed by a rapid select committee stage tonight and tomorrow and the final reading on Thursday.

Turei said the Greens would vote against the first reading and would oppose the bill through all stages if amendments that wound back some of the powers and called for changes to the review panel were not adopted.

It is believed to be the first time the Government has faced opposition in Parliament to a major decision following the quake.

Brownlee will this afternoon introduce the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Bill to Parliament, with a quick-fire process to pass it by Thursday, including select committee hearings from tonight.

There would be ''a number of people'' called to offer opinions on the bill in Wellington tonight and Christchurch tomorrow.

Asked if he was prepared to make changes after the hearings, Brownlee said: ''I'm a very flexible man, you know that.

''We've been making changes consistently since the first draft. The substance of the bill won't change but there are aspects around it that have changed and I suspect will change, but they will be relatively slight.''

The bill would give the new Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) the powers ''to relax, suspend or extend laws and regulations for clearly defined purposes related to earthquake recovery''.

It would enable Cera to requisition land, require information and take over local government bodies, among other powers.

Labour has indicated it wants to see less power vested in Brownlee, the Earthquake Recovery Minister, under the new structure.

Labour leader Phil Goff said the party would support the introduction of the bill but would also put up amendments.

''There are things in the legislation that we disagree with,'' Goff said.

''We hope that those amendments that we put up ... will influence the Government.''

But Brownlee said Government would not budge on the substance of the structure.

''The Government is on the hook here for up to $7 billion and we are not going to push that off to some other entity that is at arm's length from Government. It will be a government department and there will be an accountable minister,'' he said.

''We are quite firm that a Government department is the better way to go.''

There was understanding from all parties that there had to be quick decision-making, he said.

Submitters on the bill had been given ''relatively short notice'' and were still being told about the hearings.

- Stuff

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