4 Sep 2023

National Party leader Christopher Luxon announces policy on the campaign trail

1:29 pm on 4 September 2023

National is promising its approach to cyclone and flood recovery would be "fairer and faster" than Labour's, with plans to cut regulations and set up a specific ombudsman.

National's new policy said it would:

  • Set up a cyclone and flood recovery ombudsman
  • Prioritise infrastructure projects that connect communities and regions
  • Expedite consenting processes and remove red tape
  • Unblock the EQC assessment pipeline

It expected this to cost $7m over two years, coming out of the National Resilience Fund.

The party said the new ombudsman would have the power to review government decisions and issue rulings and recommendations when they believed property owners had not been treated fairly.

"With climate related weather events expected to increase, National expects this model to serve as a template for the future," the policy document said.

The priority infrastructure projects would include more lanes for Hawke's Bay Expressway, a new bypass Brynderwyn Hills, upgrading State Highway 5 between Napier and Taupō, and restoring SH2 between Napier and Gisborne.

They would use Orders in Council under emergency legislation measures to speed up consent processes, private and community projects.

Changes to Toka Tū Ake / EQC would require the organisation to prioritise land value assessments, and set performance targets to deliver them faster and reduce backlogs.

Speaking from Napier's Esk Valley, Luxon said his first visit to Hawke's Bay after the cyclone stuck with him, and the images on TV were some that "none of us thought we would see in New Zealand".

"The way that this community in particular came together in the Esk Valley when there wasn't the support initially, was really quite inspiring to me."

He says there has been some progress but it's not fast enough.

"I know that things are tough all over New Zealand at the moment but I know they're even tougher here in Hawke's Bay.

"What happens after a crisis or the event that we saw is that there's lots of immediate attention from the media and from the country and from others, and then time moves on and actually you're left here trying pick up the pieces and work out how you can go forward from here. And so I just want to say it can feel pretty lonely ... and the longer it goes on the more expensive it gets to fix.

"I want to say to you you need decisions around schools, you want decisions around homes and local and regional infrastructure, that's what's going to enable you to move forward in the way that we want you to. I can tell you there's an election coming up in 40 days, and it's not really about the electioneering or the politicking, this issue ... I've tried really hard from day one to be bipartisan with the government.

"But I know how harrowing this event has been."

He says he makes two commitments: firstly that the commitments that have already been made by the current Labour government on this matter will be fully honoured, secondly that "we need to get this region growing again ... this is a really important part of our economic engine, this region".

"This limbo place is not a good place for us all to be."

Luxon is joined by the party's Cyclone Recovery Spokesperson Chris Penk, Tukituki candidate Catherine Wedd and Napier candidate Katie Nimon.

In a statement, Penk said everything around the recovery was taking too long.

"People need their homes, businesses and roading infrastructure fixed quickly. National will enable the fast-tracking of consent procedures and substantially reduce the timeframes for private and community projects, therefore speeding up overall recovery efforts," he said.

"The key elements of our recovery effort include confirming as quickly as possible to displaced residents whether they will be able to remain living in the same community, giving them a voice when they feel decisions have been unfair, and fast-tracking essential infrastructure for rebuild or replacement."

"Because certainty and continuity are paramount, a National government will honour commitments made by the current government, but we will go further and faster."

This afternoon, Penk said it's been clear from the stories from local residents they want certainty and continuity through the election, but some people do not fit comfortably into the government's three categories for buyouts and repairs to properties - such as where there is a mix between commercial and residential.

"What's the basis of the buyout, what's the market value, all these really specific difficult questions are going to need to be nutted out ... for those who are in danger of slipping between those cracks we need a mechanism to have independent from council, to have a second opinion."

He says the new ombudsman would be tasked with quickly resolving claims where there is a lack of certainty, to "ensure people can have their expectations met if we can do that safely".

"We'll say to that ombudsman 'well, look if it's possible to mitigate the danger such that they can safely live there, and they don't need to be a category three, then they'll be able to stay in that place after all.

"To reiterate, no one will be worse off by the mechanism of having this additional safety net."

He says EQC has limited standing resources, and additional qualified technical experts from Australia and across the world should be brought to New Zealand to help get the job done.

It comes after the party launched its campaign in Auckland on Sunday, unveiling an election year pledge card, listing eight of its priority promises.

Luxon said the pledge card was his personal guarantee of the commitments a National government would deliver.

They range from economic promises around inflation and growth, infrastructure, law and order, education, health, seniors and climate change.

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