I asked Cr Raf Manji to join me in his role as the head of our finance standing committee, as I thought it might be worthwhile to have him participate in the Q&A after breakfast. I am also delighted that our acting Chief Executive Jane Parfitt is here. Jane has one of the hardest jobs in town at the moment. She has been in the acting role since July and will continue to do so until we hire our new Chief Executive. The fact that she is here says that she understands how important the business community is to our city's future.
The first thing that I will say is that for a vision and strategy for the rebuild to be meaningful it must be one that is shared – central and local government working hand in hand with business and the wider community. I don't have a sense that we as a brand new Council have inherited a shared vision, nor do I believe that the recovery strategy has modelled what would be described as best practice post disaster.
The Press headline on Thursday 31 October announcing the Accessible City, the new transport plan for the CBD, had a sub-heading "The Government wants our city to look like this. Can we do it?" Did anyone else think there was something wrong about that headline? It is not the government's job to determine what our city looks like, nor does it make sense that there is this disconnect between the CBD and the rest of the city. I am not being critical of the government when I say this. They had no choice but to step in and take over when the Council failed to step up to the mark after the September earthquake. But it cannot remain like this. It's not healthy for the city and it's not right for the rest of New Zealand. This new Council is ready, willing and able to assume our rightful role in the city's recovery. We know that this means we need to build strong relationships with our strategic partners and engage in a meaningful way with all of the diverse communities that make up our city of Christchurch. We are entering a time of transition and this will mean challenges for everyone. We cannot expect the government to simply hand over the role. We know we need to earn our stripes. The government has made a multi-million dollar commitment to the rebuild of Christchurch, and they are not going to step back without having the reassurance that we are capable of providing the leadership the city needs.
So what needs to happen? First we need to propose to government the how and when of the transition. We do not need to wait until the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act sunset provisions take effect. But first we need to get our own act in order. There has been a complete failure to explain in plain language what the previous Council has committed to and what that means to Christchurch ratepayers. I, along with every other councillor, campaigned on a promise of transparency and accountability. I said that I would promote an "opening of the books" exercise. And that's what we are doing. We have just engaged Korda Mentha to provide us with the initial analysis so that we, as a new Council, can appreciate exactly what is involved. I have personally driven the selection of Korda Mentha for this role. I took soundings before the election and people agreed that they had the skill set we require. They will take a hard look at the Council's true situation.
This is as important for residential ratepayers as it is for business. Both require certainty. But at the moment I am not confident that either group has any real appreciation of the nature of the agreement that the last council signed with central government – the cost-sharing agreement – and the implications of making such a deal regardless of the outcome of our insurance negotiations. I am worried that there seems to be an assumption that the people of Christchurch would foot the bill if all else fails. We cannot allow that mentality to prevail. I hope that you agree that the Council's decision to go down this track is evidence of the change in governance that has been so desperately needed in our Council. But governance is what remains lacking in the recovery structure the government chose. It may have been appropriate in the initial stages, but a government department controlled by a single Minister cannot deliver what this city needs going forward. We are at a turning point and we need to offer the government a credible and realistic alternative. In the five weeks since we have been elected, we have established a series of Standing Committees, which includes a Committee of the Whole. That Committee is designed to match the government's Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Cabinet Committee. Although the primary relationship is with the Minister of Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, it is vital that we are connected with the other Ministers involved in the recovery.
I often refer to the Auditor-General's baseline report on the recovery, because this myriad of reporting lines and accountabilities creates an unnecessary layer of complexity on an already stressed environment. We need to move away from this series of silos as we transition back to our leadership role. The new Council will be setting its priorities over the coming weeks. Getting our own house in order is core critical to this. The loss of accreditation earlier this year was symbolic of an organisation that had failed to respond to the challenges of the recovery effort and the most significant building programme any city in New Zealand has ever faced. As I have said on so many occasions, business as usual is anathema to recovery. Another priority is housing. We have established a separate housing committee and they are setting a work programme which will ensure that our Council can partner with central government, social housing agencies and the private sector to ensure that the myriad of housing needs can be met.
I believe we have lost a lot of ground by failing to act sooner, but that is not an excuse for not lifting our game. We have a special council meeting on Thursday, where we will be discussing in public our council's response to the government's proposal to provide for housing intensification around the key activity centres of the city in the Land Use Recovery Plan. The proposal also calls for the inclusion of a comprehensive development mechanism to allow more intensification in our District Plan Review. I think you can see that we have our work cut out for us. At the same time we need to play a leadership role for the wider community. A big part of that is to ensure that there is timely and accurate communication. I remember after the September earthquake talking to CERA's Chief Executive, Roger Sutton, when he was the head of Orion. He was providing daily updates showing the increasing percentage of households with power – 60%, 70%, 80% - a fantastic story of a truly resilient organisation that served our city incredibly well. I said to him you are ignoring the east – the city may be 80% with power but the east is 80% without power. So he changed the message – still the good news with the 80% headline for the city, but then he would give the total number of houses still without power, their location and anticipated timeframes for restoring power.
If I have learned anything from this event it is the importance of communication. People need to know they are being heard and that everyone who can influence the resolution of their situation is actively working to do just that. I attended a flooding meeting a couple of weeks ago and the last question of the night framed a sense of despair into a simple question. The question related to all the different players involved in determining the myriad of issues that affect those in flood zones, who are told they have to repair their house even though they cannot mitigate an increased flood risk with higher finished floor levels. She ended her list of the players – EQC, insurers, the council, MBIE, CERA – with this simple question: Who is on my side? More than three years from the first earthquake, this single question represents a failure that is hidden in the completion statistics and, to our newly elected Council it is a collective call to action. People don't want spin.
They don't want to be told that this is unprecedented or that the issues are complex. They know that. And they don't want to know what has been done for others. They want to be told where, when, how and why it will be done for them. And we have a collective responsibility to provide these answers in a straightforward and timely fashion. The Council is stepping up its role in ensuring this happens. We need to be clear that when we talk about community engagement we are not describing a meeting with members of the community to explain decisions and answer questions. Genuine community engagement is a part of the decision-making process - a meaningful exchange where ideas flow both ways before decisions are made. The failure of community engagement in the recovery has led to a breakdown in trust, which has to be re-earned. At the same time, as a new Council we are committed to building capacity within communities to take up a stronger role in decision-making. I called it participatory democracy during the campaign. Is this important to the business community?
I believe it is. It is about developing the social capital that is needed to rebuild communities. In my valedictory speech to Parliament just two months ago I said that I had been on a journey of discovery since that wake-up call on 4th September 2010 at 4.35am. Although I had begun my time in Parliament when the government was dismantling the underpinnings of the welfare state, I left in the firm belief that the answer to that is not to continue to reinstate what cannot survive the turning of a political tide. It is debilitating to any government to have to spend its first term in office fixing what has been done.
The solution I said is to build a resilient nation. A nation of communities that are resilient to the ebb and flow of political change by becoming more self-reliant and self-sufficient, but also resilient to the emergent challenges we can no longer predict with any certainty. From welfare state to resilient nation is how I described my journey of discovery. I now know the true meaning of words like community, leadership and resilience. Community is not the co-location of houses – that is a suburb. It's the relationship between the people in those houses and their relationship as a group with decisionmakers – that's community. Leadership is not a position you hold – it is a mark of your character. And resilience is not strength in the face of adversity – that's stoicism. It is the capacity to plan and prepare for, absorb, recover from and adapt to the consequences of an adverse event. It is also about the capacity to co-create a new normal. I said that if the people of Christchurch elected me as their Mayor, I would commit 100% of my energy to building strong relationships with the government, the other councils, ECan, the CDHB, Ngai Tahu, business & the diverse communities that make up the city where I was born & have lived all my life.
They not only elected me, they elected a Council just as passionate as I am and utterly unified in their determination to make a real difference. We spent a day discussing our values and goals, but finding the one-liner that summed it up only happened when I turned on my council computer and I found these words as the screen-saver: One team making it happen with integrity and passion. The challenges are enormous, but the rewards are great. We can do this together. We are building the newest city in the world.