27 Nov 2018

Quake gathering politicised attempt to rewrite history - Brownlee

4:19 pm on 27 November 2018

A second attempt at a symposium aimed at learning from the Canterbury earthquakes has been labelled an attempt to re-write history.

Gerry Brownlee

Former Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister, Gerry Brownlee. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The earthquake symposium has a troubled past, after being cancelled by the previous government two months after it was announced, and after over $150,000 had been spent on preparations.

The new government says the new two-day symposium, which got underway on Wednesday, is a chance to collaborate at a national level on lessons learned.

The line-up of speakers at the 2017 symposium included former Earthquake Commission boss Ian Simpson, Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce head Peter Townsend and the former chief science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman.

This time around the event will hear from Dame Sylvia Cartwright, new head of the inquiry into EQC and from Megan Woods, the new Minister for Greater Christchurch Regeneration, among others.

However, there was a shortage of civic leaders who were on the ground grappling with the aftermath of the disaster - including no sign of Mayor Bob Parker, Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority head Roger Sutton, Central City rebuild manager Warwick Isaacs, or Peter Townsend.

Former Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister, Gerry Brownlee - who also wasn't invited to speak - said the event had become highly politicised.

"I do hope that they have some of the very senior civil servants and ex-civil servants who were part of the decision-making process," he said.

"To at least put a concept of what it was like at the moment. It is too easy to look back and say we should have done this or should have done that. Every one of us would have things we would have wanted to do differently. "

Mr Brownlee said some people wanted to re-write history, but had no appreciation of what it was like in Christchurch at the time.

Evan Smith, a long-time advocate for people who lived in the areas that were red-zoned, and now the programme manager for advocacy group, Eastern Vision, had been given a ticket for the event but probably won't attend.

"I must admit that along with a lot of people from the community I don't have much faith or confidence in the process to deliver anything meaningful," he said.

"So, many people have withdrawn from the process and from the symposium generally. "

Mr Smith said he and others had contributed to many other lessons learnt activities, only for the information to sit on the shelves gathering dust.

He said the problem was that the process for designing the symposium had been driven by local and central government and its agencies, not by the local community.

The event is a joint venture between the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Christchurch City Council.

No one from the event was available to comment on how the speakers had been selected, or how much the event would cost.

One of the speakers who will be at the event Kathleen Liberty, an associate professor in the School of Health Science at the University of Canterbury, is also the leader of two projects looking at children's mental health in the wake of the Canterbury earthquakes.

She has been looking at how to protect the mental health of children and families in the wake of disasters, and will presented her latest findings at the symposium.

"We actually have some very strong positive results, improvements in children's learning, and we're very thrilled about the results," she said

The two-day symposium is just a taster for a bigger event in 2021 planned to mark the 10th anniversary of the quakes.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs