Building Canterbury’s new future

By David Shearer


Every six weeks, I hold a town hall meeting in Canterbury.

It’s a chance for me to hear first hand from people how they are getting on, the issues they’re facing and what I can do to give support.

I’m also in close contact with our local MPs: Lianne, Ruth, Clayton, Megan and Rino. Like everyone else here they’ve been touched by the quakes. I feel lucky to have colleagues who are so dedicated to this city.

We are really worried about the Government’s top-down approach to the Canterbury recovery.

Before politics, I worked for 20 years in disaster recovery for the United Nations, heading relief operations in Sri Lanka, the Balkans and Iraq. I know what global best practice in a disaster zone looks like.

It always begins with a top-down command structure when emergency services and relief agencies arrive to help. But during the following weeks and months, there needs to be a fundamental shift – to bottom-up leadership.

We know Christchurch communities are strong. Just look at what was achieved by Cancern, Wecan, the Farmy Army, the Student Volunteer Army, Gap Filler, Greening the Rubble, Rebuild Christchurch and the many others who shared energy and hope in the early days.

The question is how central government engages.

At the end of last year we delivered a questionnaire to every household in Christchurch – 130,000 went out – asking you how you thought the recovery was going. Nearly 90 percent of respondents wanted more consultation from this Government. Your message was clear; you can’t rebuild Canterbury from the top floor of the Beehive.

As Prime Minister I will approach decision making differently. Cantabrians will be front and centre of the process and political parties will need to put their differences aside and collaborate for as long as it takes to revitalise the city – realistically, a generation.

We will collaborate with the people of Christchurch before we make decisions – not after.

Through this approach I see the chance not just for a rebuild, but for a revitalised economy. Canterbury can be the model the rest of New Zealand follows; a high value, job rich, diversified economy that builds on the high-tech expertise of Tait, Hamilton Jet and other outstanding local examples.

I want to make it easier for businesses to flourish in New Zealand.

A procurement policy is a necessity. Kiwi businesses should always be at the front of the queue when the government is considering a big purchase. Taxpayer money should never be spent on overseas products that could be made here by Kiwi businesses for a fair price.

Secondly, we need to create a deep pool of investment that businesses can draw on to expand and export to the world, upping our national income. A universal KiwiSaver will provide this.

If we implement a capital gains tax, people will be encouraged to invest in productive New Zealand businesses rather than speculating on property (this capital gains tax will of course exclude the family home).

We want to give tax breaks to businesses that invest in research and development, encouraging innovative and new ideas and products that we can take to the rest of the world.

We’ll pay the equivalent of the dole to every tradesperson willing to train a young apprentice. Our young people are central to our plans, and we must make sure they’re all in work, education or training. The New Zealand of the future will require an energetic high-skills workforce.

We will also not stand by and let the high dollar strangle our vital export businesses. Instead, we’ll overhaul the Reserve Bank Act to give proper weight to important economic considerations such as jobs and the exchange rate, not solely to inflation.

For Canterbury specifically, we’ll make sure decisions are made from the grassroots up, not the beehive down.

This means establishing a CERA board so that local, independent and respected voices are heard.

We will call fresh elections for ECan in 2015. We’ll establish an independent insurance commissioner for those stuck in battles with their insurance company.

We’ll look at ways to rebuild the city while preserving as much of its heritage as possible.

Too many Cantabrians have been forced to put their lives on hold while they search for a new home. Our KiwiBuild policy will put 100,000 families into their first home over 10 years.

We’re looking into zero energy buildings for Canterbury, efficient public transport, and generous green spaces.

The people of Canterbury can lead the way.

David Shearer is the MP for Mt Albert and leader of the Labour Party.

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