Brownlee can't win whatever he announces
By John Armstrong
5:30 AM Thursday Jun 23, 2011
Whether or not today lives up to the expectations of thousands of Christchurch homeowners afflicted by earthquake damage, Gerry Brownlee can be pretty sure of one thing.
In some parts of the city, the Earthquake Recovery Minister's reputation is already the colour of the stuff that bubbled out of the ground after the big shakes.
For many residents, there has been too much delay and too little information regarding progress towards resolving questions about which land can or cannot be used for rebuilding.
So Brownlee will not get much thanks even if the contents of this afternoon's announcement are widely perceived as a job well done. He will cop even more blame if the package is viewed as a job done badly.
He seemed fatalistic about that when speaking to Parliament's finance and expenditure committee yesterday.
"[Today's] announcement will be useful for some people. For others they will find it very frustrating. And there is nothing we can do about that."
What he meant was that there was nothing the Government could do right now because it still did not have definitive answers in all cases.
"You just can't win here. It might do us [National] some political damage. But I can't sleep at night if we make a decision for a political reason which ultimately costs people what has often been a lifetime accumulation of equity."
In other words, remedying Christchurch woes is a task whose sheer size extends way beyond day-to-day politics.
Yet it always intrudes - as evidenced by the snowballing pressure on the Government to say something about the damaged suburbs.
Amid the increasing clamour for information, Brownlee had seemed like a bear with a sore head. He had repeatedly refused to name the day when the Government would start the announcements.
Public pressure having effectively named the day for him, Brownlee perversely seemed far more relaxed yesterday. He joked about being stuck in a Beehive lift for more than half an hour with five of his officials on their way to the select committee meeting.
When Brownlee finally arrived, Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove fired questions at him with the clear intention of provoking him to say something he would later regret.
Cosgrove zeroed in on the lack of communication, saying the silence had "stressed people out". "The people of Canterbury can handle bad news. Please don't keep them in the dark."
You can normally bet your house on Brownlee repeatedly muttering "for goodness' sake" when faced with a persistent line of questioning of the kind Cosgrove was using.
For the record, only one passed Brownlee's lips. And it came late in proceedings and after much provocation on Cosgrove's part.
With his personal Judgment Day looming, the bear was clearly not of a mood to be bothered by such trifles as Labour's baiting.