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MICHAEL BASSETT: CYCLONES AND POLITICS


In February-March 1988 when Cyclone Bola hit the eastern North Island I was Minister of Civil Defence. I remember flying crab-wise into a howling gale to a closed Gisborne airport in a small Air Force plane in order to get an immediate handle on the crisis that was unfolding. I met with local officials and put them in touch with the Beehive national emergency team. Prime Minister David Lange followed a day or two later by helicopter, dropping in on isolated farms and settlements with bottles of water and assurances that the government was doing what was needed to help the recovery.



Cyclone Gabrielle’s devastation far exceeds Bola’s. Some of the TV images of landslips, and mud-invaded homes, farms, and orchards, are heart-breaking. My wife and I quickly gave a donation to the Red Cross relief effort. But a great deal more than voluntary donations is needed. Jacinda Ardern would have been in her element, hugging the suffering and commiserating with those who had sustained huge personal losses. But not much else. Somehow, Chris Hipkins appears dwarfed by the challenge; tiny, insignificant, almost missing-in-action. This crisis demands mature, decisive leadership. No Prime Minister can restrain the elements, but right now there is need for authority when dealing with their trail of destruction. Immediate aid for the homeless and those without food and water, and assurances to people that roads, bridges and stop banks will be repaired to a higher standard than before; enlarging drainage pipes to cope with what looks like permanently higher downfalls in future. And tackling the forestry industry that has failed to respond to years of criticism of the slash they leave behind when harvesting their trees. Implementation requires strong directives from whoever has overall responsibility. The need for public reassurance is urgent. It is needed NOW. Fluttering about without any discernable plan won’t increase confidence in the government.



Jacinda’s wonderful line when consoling victims of the Christchurch shooting: “They are us” is absolutely relevant to Hawke’s Bay and other hard-hit regions. If we don’t realise it quickly, we soon will. Orchards, vineyards, horticulture, pasture all ruined. One of New Zealand’s “happy places” viciously wrecked. But the eastern North Island is more than that: it is an important provider of our food at the supermarket as well. With food prices already rising steadily, the upward push given these last few days is un-nerving. Expect fruit and vegetable prices to go through the roof. And our export income will be affected for years to come until vineyards and orchards are producing again.



The recovery phase will test this government big time. Its leading lights are all former student politicians who have read little, and who are captives of ancient left-wing dogma about the need to centralize decision-making to keep it out of the hands of capitalists. Note their health reforms which are removing local health boards. And Three Waters where the rule of many competent regional organisations like Auckland’s Watercare is under threat. Current Labour ministers instinctively distrust local government as their proposed reforms to the sector demonstrate. There is an urge in the Beehive these days to over-ride local attitudes when they don’t align with those of a minister. Michael Wood’s “Yellow Brick Road” to Auckland Airport at an estimated cost of $29 billion is still on the books despite city hall’s reluctance to have anything to do with it. Already more than $50 million has been spent on Wood’s rapid rail plans that ultimately won’t go anywhere. The as-yet unspent money is needed for the cyclone rebuild.



The recovery project will only succeed if it is driven locally. Mayors, councils, farmers and local enterprises are better placed to plan road re-alignments, bridge re-building, new stop-banks and drain expansion than the bloated Wellington bureaucracy the Ardern-Hipkins government has constructed. Alone, Wellington revealed a mindset that is out of kilter with the rest of us at the recent local elections when it voted for a far-left green mayor. In the areas destroyed by floods and damaged infrastructure, locals need empowerment and genuine partnership in implementing recovery, not wacky ideology.



So far, much the most sensible response from the politicians visiting the destruction has come from ACT’s David Seymour. Full of praise for the local authority people he’d met in Napier, Seymour declared confidence in their local knowledge:



“An emergency response such as this should be directed from those at the centre of the disaster, with support from Wellington. Not the other way around. The latter will never know enough about the needs and available means on the ground, but they can damage it.”



As of midday Sunday 19 February, neither the government nor the National Party seems to have provided such practical advice on how to respond to the crisis.

4,288 views138 comments

138 Comments


I have just returned from the third power outage in as many months! In the power, phone, internet wilderness for 9 days without communication or electricity - and I don't live in a devastated area! I really feel for those far worse off than me. My neighbours had power but because I'm on a branch line they didn't check to see that the fuses were ok - a relatively simple job. After forcing my way through crowds of workers standing around, doing nothing, and thumping the desk we eventually got serviced and power restored! It shouldn't have to come to that! Where's the management? Thank God they don't brew beer otherwise none of us would get drunk!

What occurred was…

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basilwnz
basilwnz
Feb 22, 2023
Replying to

A bit off to one side, but just on the climate debate - it was interesting how quickly that unfortunate National MP Maureen Pugh was attacked, then cancelled.

Her crime? She had the audacity to put a question to Minister Shaw asking for scientific evidence to back his claim that the Cyclone is an example of how human emissions are causing climate change.

Whatever one might think of her views, it was like she'd dared challenge the Catholic Church in , say, Spain in the 1400's.

She was confessing within hours that she'd been wrong.

Shaw wouldn't answer her question, of course.


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basilwnz
basilwnz
Feb 19, 2023

It sounds as though it has all got well out of hand. That old saying 'There's no honour among thieves' is obviously as true as it always was.

I noticed in David Seymour's report (after a tour through the HB and E Coast) he said that the Defence Minister should invoke Section 9 of the Defence Act - this would allow suitably armed and prepared members of our military to support the Police in restoring law and order.

It's clear that we aren't just talking about a few losers, these offenders are brazen members of known criminal gangs.

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I am a Napier resident of 55 years.

Our useless MP Stuart Nash as Minister of Police has publicly stated that the roaming, armed thugs in the Mongrel Mob who are looting and terrorizing law abiding victims of this catastrophe should “ pull their heads in.”

These rabid , racist, thugs should be tazered, pepper sprayed and handcuffed and brought before the local judge.

Only problem is they will be thourghly wipped by a sodden bus ticket because it would be racist to hold this scum to account as non gang members are.

Labour‘s motto “ Hug a Thug. “

Don't forget both Nash and Hipkins gave these thieving, looting thugs $2.75 Million of OUR money because they were “…

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Al Bourne
Al Bourne
Feb 23, 2023
Replying to

We are so close to becoming a Zinmy that we should all be seriously concerned..

The whole day today was taken up on TV2 with Matakini , this when they have their own channel.

Advertisers if they had any guts at all should never advertise on that channel again..

At least the Rororua council has told them where to go

"The Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) bill sought to ignore the foundational principle of democracy that every vote is worth the same. With 21,700 people in the proposed Māori ward and 55,600 in the proposed general ward each ward would elect three councilors. In effect, the general ward would get a normalised 58% of the representation that the population in…


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ron
ron
Feb 19, 2023

Hipkins is in my view entirely genuine as much as any politician can afford to be, at least in comparison to Ardern, it's just that in much of his thinking he is as arrogantly wrong as she was.

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Replying to

There's no choice Ron, and the idea that at least getting rid of Labour provides some kind of win, is misguided. Sadly, that seems to be the low bar that most are willing to accept. If I wanted to get a set of extremely unpalatable policies implemented (like CBDC's, killing off farming, 15 minute cities etc), I'd make the incumbent government so radical and the currency so bad that everyone will be happy just to see a change in government. The incoming government (controlled opposition) would then implement (with the mandate of the voter) the agenda I was really after. The reality is we now have a uni-party system in NZ so simply voting out Labour for the sake of getting…

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Al Bourne
Al Bourne
Feb 19, 2023

Yes Michael you are absolutely correct Jacinda Ardern would have been in her element, hugging the suffering and commiserating with those who had sustained huge personal losses. I have never in my life seen anyone who demonstrated so clearly the only thing they were clearly sincere about was their insincerity.

Hipkins is dwarfed by life itself .I feel he is only there because they have nobody else with a public face that may attract the young voters. He showed his stupidity when he asked the people listed as missing to get in touch as this would help he police immensely. Yes he said that on TV.

Didn’t he know there wouldn’t be any TV in the Gisborne area.

The crisis…

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