Emergency quake legislation on the way

Damaged railway track across State Highway 1. Photo: Reuters
Damaged railway track across State Highway 1. Photo: Reuters

The Government has met with opposition parties to discuss what emergency legislation could be introduced to skirt usual consenting processes and aid the earthquake recovery.

A spokeswoman for Acting Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee confirmed the approach.

``There was a cross-party meeting this morning to discuss legislative options but it is very early days.''

Labour Party leader Andrew Little, speaking to the Herald from Kaikoura, has indicated his party will support the emergency legislation.

``The Government put up the things they have in mind. All the parties were there. There are more meetings to go before legislation is introduced, which the plan is to be next week.

``We have indicated support, subject to appropriate checks and balances . . . but our people who were [at the meeting] described it as constructive.''

Mr Little said the Government had indicated legislation would cover a variety of areas including civil defence emergency management as well as expediting consent processes to get urgent works underway.

That could relate to work such as clearing roads, Mr Little said.

``It's likely to be two pieces of legislation I think, one dealing with the really urgent stuff next week and then one dealing with longer-term stuff but with an expedited timeframe to get the legislation passed. But that is all subject to discussion at the moment.''

Mr Little said he believed the Government had learned lessons after the introduction of emergency legislation following the Canterbury earthquakes.

``I think it [emergency legislation] is natural in order to get stuff done - particularly now you have a town the size of Kaikoura and its importance to the tourist industry totally isolated at the moment, you do want some expedited powers.

``I think in fairness the Government has learned from the Canterbury earthquakes experience, and my expectation is we will see better-quality legislation than what we saw in Canterbury.''

The road freighting industry has lobbied the Government not to be ``sensitive'' about repairing SH1 and to bulldoze rubble into the sea.

With hundreds of trucks already causing damage to an alternative route, via the Lewis Pass and Murchison, the Road Transport Forum has said legislation to override normal environmental considerations should be considered in order to speed the rebuild of SH1.

However, Green Party primary industries spokesperson Eugenie Sage said today that view was shortsighted.

``Fixing the road and rail links is obviously quite critical and urgent, but dumping thousands of tonnes of rubble into the sea risks killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

``Nature-based tourism, whale-watching, swimming with dolphins and fisheries like the cray and paua fisheries are absolutely critical to Kaikoura's economy.''

Ms Sage said after the Canterbury earthquakes special legislation increased ministerial power, shutting the public out from important decisions.

``We don't want to reestablish the transport link at the expense of a healthy coastal marine environment and healthy fisheries. A lot of the crayfish and paua industry, there are rock outcrops and rock platforms all along that coast.''

Asked about that view yesterday, Mr Bridges said it was too early to make a call on such matters, but the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) was currently working on options to present to Government, ``and we don't want to muck around on that, because we appreciate livelihoods . . . are seriously affected.''

As a direct response to the earthquake, KiwiRail had moved to arrange shipping between Auckland and Lytellton, Mr Bridges said. Those negotiations were now in the final stages.

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