1 Feb 2023

Luxon 'keen' for non-partisan emergency management reform

12:44 pm on 1 February 2023
Christopher Luxon

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

National Party leader Christopher Luxon is "keen" to support non-partisan solutions for improving New Zealand's emergency response management.

Auckland has been dealing with the aftermath of downpours from Friday night, causing slips and flooding across New Zealand's biggest city, leading to four deaths and widespread damage to property.

The situation was made worse by continued heavy rains in many areas in the following days - particularly overnight and this morning.

Luxon told Morning Report the communications from the authorities were improved.

"It feels much better coordinated and much better comm[unications] in place which I think is fantastic, and obviously we're learning which is a good thing."

Much of the criticism since the initial downpours has fallen on authorities' poor and insufficient communication - particularly from the city council and Mayor Wayne Brown, but also government agencies like Waka Kotahi.

Luxon was one of those who publicly urged the mayor to declare an emergency as the hours dragged on. He was unaware a state of emergency had actually been signed off by the time he made that plea because it had not been communicated to the public or the media.

He refused, however, to directly criticise the mayor when it was put to him today.

"Look, I think there's a really good chance as I said right from day one to do a proper review of what's actually happened, what's worked well, what hasn't worked well, how the central agencies have worked with the local government agencies and their interactions.

"At the moment our immediate focus is still - and even with the events overnight - it will be the same people that got hammered on the weekend getting hammered again, so we need to make sure they've got the emergency accommodation they need, we need to make sure we're getting all the support to them that they desperately need."

Luxon has been helping with the clean up, including visiting emergency centres, a school, and was pictured helping a community group rip up carpet in a flooded home.

"I mean, the reality in Auckland is that there are some areas as I've seen over the last few days that have been absolutely hammered - some amazing work, you see New Zealanders absolutely at their best with community responses," he said.

"Then there are other parts of Auckland that have been largely unaffected and have been able to carry on pretty much as normal."

He said work needed to be done to improve New Zealand's emergency response systems.

"All I'm saying is, look, when I lived in the US for a long period of time when you get a hurricane alert or you get a snowstorm or extreme weather event, often you get a state of emergency declared six, eight hours before the event even hits.

"People have time to prepare, think about their evacuation plans, get in touch with neighbours, get all that support in place."

Luxon was asked if he would take a bipartisan approach on such a move.

"Very keen to work with the government on all of that, this is a New Zealand issue, it's not a political issue, so from my perspective it's really making sure that we just look at ways which we can improve our processes.

"In the US, Hurricane Katrina led to a whole catalysing of much better emergency management and response and you can see that a decade later or more that's what has happened."

The government has confirmed it plans to expand on emergency management legislation that's been in the works since late 2021, allowing central government to intervene if local authorities failed to act.

Luxon and his party has been focusing much of its criticism of the government on projects to centralise decision-making, but asked if under upcoming legislation he wanted to see central government given the power to step in, he said it "may well be the case".

"But I think we need a really dispassionate after-action review," he said.

A Minister for Auckland

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins yesterday revealed his reshuffled Cabinet, which he said would be more tightly focused on economic management and reining in inflation.

It also included a new role for Transport and Immigration Minister Michael Wood, as Minister for Auckland.

Luxon's own reshuffle - overshadowed in the media somewhat by Jacinda Ardern's resignation announcement later that afternoon - included a similar role of Auckland Issues spokesperson for Simeon Brown.

"Same idea, I think the government's stolen it which is great when they take good ideas from the opposition," he told Morning Report.

"My rationale ... was to recognise that we've got a city of 1.7 million people, we've got some major challenges around infrastructure and making sure that Auckland is set up for success."

He said it was about making sure there was good connection and alignment between local and central government.

"What we've got to get over in New Zealand is our infrastructure gets turned off, turned on, depending upon personalities, governments, players, and we've really got to lock in and say 'right, these are the 10 big projects that make the most difference to people living in this town or anywhere else, and we've got to lock and load them and keep going.

"We just can't lose years having lots of discussion and debate but just not getting things done ... we should be able to agree about 80 percent of the projects, lock and load them."

He agreed the disconnect between the government's Auckland light rail project and the mayor's opposition to it was a good example.

National too has been highly critical of the project and has promised to scrap it if elected.

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