I have invited you here so I could share with you what has now become “the worst kept secret” since I confidentially explored with Sam Johnson whether he would be my running mate if I decided to run.
I am formally announcing my decision to run for the mayoralty of Christchurch.
Making the decision to run hasn’t been easy, but this is the right decision.
I understand what needs to be done.
At the same time I intend to ask you and everyone else in Christchurch what others have asked of me.
What will you do to ensure that the newest city in the world captures the opportunity that that phrase evokes?
The newest city in the world - what an awesome responsibility. But how exciting.
We can do this and we can do it well.
But to do it well, we cannot leave it to chance – it must be by design. And it must remain future focused.
Because I wanted to understand how other places had recovered from disasters, over the last couple of years I have read everything I could lay my hands on and attended every conference that was going. Some amazing international speakers have come to Christchurch starting with the locally organized TEDx and the International Speaker Series, which was part of the Share an Idea campaign.
They opened up my eyes to the possibility of what we can learn from each other and that we here in Christchurch do not have to reinvent the wheel. The offers to help us on our journey have been heartfelt, which shows how much understanding there is between places that have been struck by disaster.
What I learned early though is that it’s not a paint by numbers exercise and that even with all of the offers of help, the future of Christchurch is one we will create for ourselves.
When I was invited to join the UN Parliamentary Advisory Group on Disaster Risk Reduction, I used the opportunity to visit places that have had their own experience of disaster recovery including San Francisco, New Orleans, Kobe and Queensland. As a result I was invited to attend a couple of international conferences, which have opened my eyes to the connections between disaster risk reduction, resilience, sustainable development and climate change adaptation.
That is why I understand how important it is to remain future focused.
At a conference last year I heard the Mayor of Greensburg, Kansas, speak about their experience after they were hit by a tornado.
He said ‘I’m not a greenie by any means, but if you’re going to build back, why wouldn’t you build back green’.
Every one of that town’s new civic buildings is rated Platinum Green.
But it’s what he said next that gave me pause. He said: ‘never forget that the greenest building is the one that’s already standing’.
His wisdom doesn’t come from years of studying environmental science or engineering. It comes from what is obvious, except to those who won’t let common sense get in the way of a plan no matter what the price or who pays.
We need to seriously think about what we are doing and why.
And we need to keep talking to the generation who will inherit our leadership roles if, and it is a big if, we build the city that makes them want to stay.
That’s why I love what Roger Dennis is talking about with the Sensing City.
That’s why I love what Wil McLellan is doing at EPIC.
That’s why I love what Neville Petrie has reimagined for Science Alive.
Firmly focused on the future – we are building the newest city in the world. And it’s exciting.
But at the same time we must not forget that there are people who are struggling with the daily grind of living in damaged houses on damaged streets, not knowing when or how their homes will be repaired or rebuilt and their lives returned to any kind of normality. We cannot lose sight of them, or we will risk them missing out on being part of the recovery of the city as a whole. If you haven’t got a safe, secure and warm home, how can you get excited about the future?
So how will I make a difference as the mayor?
People have commented on my decision to run independently. As a Labour MP for nearly 23 years I didn’t expect anyone to suggest that I could shake off my Labour Party affiliation in the public eye. And in truth, Labour values will always be my values but this election is about so much more than political affiliations. We need to have the right people with the right skills at the council table from across the political spectrum and that is why I decided to stand independently – to make that bipartisan intention clear. As a successful Minister of Commerce who was able to work collaboratively with business and with the National Minister of Commerce who succeeded me, I have the track record to show I can unite people from across the political divide.
And this is the same response I offer to those who say my relationship with the Minister of Canterbury Earthquake Authority threatens the close collaborative relationship the mayor of this city must have with whomever holds that role. I am clear about my responsibilities to this city and I will always put those interests first.
In fact when I heard what the Minister said in the House during his Budget speech, I felt he may have been addressing his comments to me, when he said:
I would simply say to anybody who is thinking of standing for the council, or taking a major leadership role that they might be elected to, to have a look at the finances—have a look at the finances—and do not be deceived by what you are being told by the people who are presenting those figures.
Whether he was speaking to me or not, let me say, here and now, the message has been received and understood.
We need to work with the government to ensure that the council is ready to take back its role when CERA’s legislation comes to an end in less than 3 years time. I am worried that the present council doesn’t even understand that it has to earn the government’s confidence for this tooccur.
My track record as a Minister means I understand the needs of business, I understand central government and I understand what it takes to get this city back on track.
So what needs to be done?
Every Christchurch resident, every business man and woman needs to know the council is on their side.
First we need a new culture around the council table. We must be unified in every respect.
That doesn’t mean we need to agree about everything. But it does mean we must not stifle debate. Christchurch is legendary for its debates – from the location and design of the Art Gallery to the colours of the Peacock Fountain. Debate is healthy as long as it is respectful and as long as we get things done.
And we need a new culture throughout the whole of the council – every person who works there must be liberated from the chains of business as usual.
No one can criticise the enormous effort of individual council staff. I know many of them are waiting for the chance to change the way things are done, so they can help people rather than just reciting the rules that were written before the earthquakes.
We need to be breaking down every barrier to recovery and that’s what everyone in that council must be tasked to do.
And at the same time we need complete transparency and financial integrity.
It is not acceptable that we read in the papers that we are grossly under-insured.
It is not acceptable that we are taking on debt to 2% short of the maximum allowable ratio, giving us no room to manoeuvre should any calculations fall short of budget. It is fiscally irresponsible.
And although I am relieved to hear that the government will not be sending us the bill for a convention centre, for which we are yet to see a business case, the uncertainty that has been allowed to prevail over who pays for what is holding us back from championing the real investment opportunities that are out there.
When people talk about the $40B it will take to rebuild Christchurch the rest of the country think they are footing the bill. Most of that money is coming from private sector investors, insurers and reinsurers. That is good for Christchurch and good for New Zealand.
We are in unchartered waters, which always requires a different form of leadership than the one that guides us through familiar territory – that’s what auto-pilot’s for. The Failure of leadership in this recovery has meant a default to business as usual.
We needed the elected council to exercise good governance on behalf of the people of Christchurch and a management strategy focused on breaking down the barriers to recovery.
We were let down on both counts.
Let me traverse one of those failures: the building consent debacle.
It is a disgrace and I’m afraid no one can hide. It is a failure of governance and management.
Let me use an analogy.
When we, in government, faced potential massive power cuts due to low lake levels, the Minister of Energy was required to bring an up-to-date report to Cabinet every Monday. It had the latest lake level data, the range of predictions, weather forecasts, consumption levels and anything else that potentially impacted on the degree of risk we faced.
A small group of Cabinet Ministers had the power to act if urgent decisions needed to be taken between cabinet meetings.
No one has actually reported exactly what happened with the IANZ accreditation debacle. But to cut a long story short it would be like the Minister of Energy’s officials not telling him that lake levels were dangerously low and the Minister of Energy not actually realising that lake levels were critical to keeping the power on and not asking.
And before we hear any more excuses about how hard people have worked since the earthquakes, of which there is no doubt, here’s a quote from the IANZ report that no one seems to want us to hear: “It is … important to recognise that when analysing the issues … and the [council’s] responses, these issues have not arisen as a result of the 2011 disaster.”
This represents a complete breakdown in core business at a time when we as a city are utterly dependent on the council getting this right. Was there anything more predictable than an increase in building consent applications after an earthquake? Is there anything that the council does that is more important than this right now?
It isn’t good enough.
This is where my extensive central government experience will make a difference.
I know governance. I sat around the Cabinet table with a range of portfolio responsibilities.
I can tell you that a Chief Executive of mine would have more than a little explaining to do if this had happened under my watch.
And not just about a breach of the no surprises policy by failing to alert elected members of the final notice from IANZ, but that the council actually came within a hair’s breadth of losing its accreditation. Issuing building consents is a core function. What message does it send the government about this council’s capacity to lead the recovery when they cannot even get the basics right?
And it is a failure of governance as well. I would have been demanding weekly reports on progress. The Press reported in November last year that the council could be stripped of its ability to issue building consents, so why weren’t those reports on the mayor’s desk every week.
The warnings were there and no-one noticed.
This is but one example of the entirely unsatisfactory culture that has been allowed to prevail for too long.
The earthquakes have not only served to highlight these shortcomings, they have exposed a history of poor planning as well. Hazards that had been identified in official reports were not even raised in the planning processes. Local knowledge was dismissed.
For example, the older long-term residents of Bexley knew Pacific Park should not have been built, but who will ever be held accountable for that?
The irony is that it was the council that wanted the development to go right down to the river and it was the locals, who pushed back, wanting to develop the wetlands that made it such a great place to live. Hundreds more unsuspecting homeowners could have been affected if the council had got its way.
Local knowledge – guided by science and expert advice – should be an integral part of any planning process.
We all know about teachable moments – something happens that means we can teach children something important. We don’t just say, ‘well we send our kids to school; so it’s the teacher’s job to teach them that’.
We can teach communities about the risks they face and empower them to take on some of the responsibility for mitigating and managing risk. Risk management is a shared responsibility afterall.
We’ve had Christchurch’s undivided attention for nearly three years, but we haven’t treated this as one of those teachable moments.
Instead, we have reinforced that it’s someone else’s job to calculate the risks we face. It’s time we stopped thinking about responsibility for these decisions as belonging to someone else.
Over the last couple of years I have come to learn how we actually build resilience. We start with our strengths or our assets rather than our needs or deficits. We must stop defining communities by their needs, seeking to remedy them from the top down. Strengthening communities from the grassroots up by building on the strengths that are already there is not only empowering it enables communities to become much more self-sufficient.
If you take an area like Aranui and define it by any of the measures that give it a low decile rating you will want to put in health and welfare services. If you define it by the talent, the culture, the art, the performance, the carvings, the music, the sporting prowess, then you would want to establish an innovation academy and a business school to enable these young people to turn their talents into opportunities for themselves and their families.
This is where a strengths based partnership between communities, central and local government can produce real change.
I am not the same person I was on the 4th of September 2010.
I wouldn’t be running for mayor today if I had not come to realise how important resilience and sustainability are to our future and that the answers are not at the Cabinet table. What really matters is local. And the more local the better.
We have a representation review in the coming term, which is our opportunity as citizens of Christchurch to reinvent meaningful democratic participation at the grassroots. We can use this time where we define our communities by ward boundaries for electoral purposes to start thinking about how we define our communities for other purposes.
Soon we will be rebuilding social housing and community facilities. The council is also working on a number of suburban master plans. But they are using the business as usual approach and I think that is a missed opportunity. Let’s make sure we right the wrongs of the lack of urban design so evident in our city
If we adopt a more grassroots approach, people could participate in the planning and rebuilding of their communities in a new way that enables them to learn new skills and have a real say in what their community will be like. I’ve been talking about participatory planning and collaborative decision-making for a while now and this is the chance to put it into practice.
I’d like to see community boards become more like community councils able to partner with neighbourhoods and community groups in their patch and connect back to the council so that there is real integration across the city. One city together is the theme of my campaign.
For those who say that there is too much focus on the city centre, I say it’s not an either/ or; we absolutely need a vibrant heart but we need communities to be connected to each other and connected to the centre. One city together.
So what about you? What will you do? How will you get involved?
And when you think of that question, don’t think of yourself as a ratepayer, a taxpayer, or a consumer of services provided to you, but as a citizen determined to ensure that the interests of the people of Christchurch are at the heart of the decisions that will decide our future – our future as the newest city in the world.
Every time I say it I get excited.
I have talked to some of you about putting your names forward to run for council.
People who have never before stood for public office.
Some have said – why would I do that? No-one knows my name. Why would I put myself out there for everyone to have their piece?
I say because it’s time – time to stand up for this city.
From a personal point of view, it’s time for me to give back to a city that has been so generous to me.
For those who are much younger and are considering answering this call, it’s time to pay it forward.
And for all of us, it’s time to make sure that the people who sit around the council table are the right people for this time.
As Mayor, when I look around the council table, I want to see people who are leaders in their own right, with the range of skills to get the job done, reflecting the diversity that is Christchurch in the 21st Century.
This council election is like no other. We are at a crossroads. It is one of those watershed moments where we can influence the course of history.
Again, I say what an awesome responsibility, but how exciting.
I was describing this the other day as a once in a lifetime opportunity – I was corrected– it’s just a once.
We get to do this once.
And because we get to do this once, we need to get it right.
No-one must under-estimate the enormity of the task that confronts us as a city.
We are building the newest city in the world.
We need central government right alongside us and we need the community with us too. That’s why we need to throw open the council doors to both.
One city, working together.
I want to engage a wider and more diverse range of people in council decisions. I am working on what that will look like, but have already had many offers to engage at that level. It is vital that we harness the diversity, the creativity, the intellect, the energy and the capital of this city. Young people especially need to be brought to the table and have a real say.
The speeches I have given over the past two years, which refer to the tale of two cities as Christchurch’s story, are as true today as they were in the beginning.
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. For us the best of times represent what we as communities did for ourselves and what we did for each other, and that to me must be the foundation of our city’s recovery.
There is significance in coming from the east to the west today. The west came to the east in our hour of need and as I have said before ‘they delivered in spades’.
The arrival of the Student Volunteer Army, the Farmy Army, the faith based groups meant more than shovelling liquefaction. The fact that people volunteered to help us showed that people cared and that gave us hope and inspired us to carry on.
It is that sense of hope coupled with the excitement inspired by a new generation of thinkers and doers, the Ministry of Awesome, Gapfiller, Greening the Rubble, that has brought me here today.
I am grateful that I could come to the University of Canterbury from where I graduated almost 30 years ago. It represents our past, present and future probably better than anywhere else right now. Research, science, engineering, arts, culture and community activism. A university is at once the powerhouse of innovation and the conscience of a free society. A great place to think about what it means to be creating the newest city in the world.
So thank you for coming today. I see it as a turning point; Friday, as you know, was the shortest day.
From now on, the days start to get longer. I’d like to say that means they will get warmer as well, but we have got the rest of winter to get through.
And if I wanted to describe what I am offering in terms of a weather forecast, I would say a lot more sunlight is coming the council’s way – afterall they say that sunlight is the best disinfectant.
Right now, there’s a vacuum where there should be a vision, a void where there should be a voice. We need a vision and we need a voice. A voice that speaks with Christchurch and for Christchurch. A voice at the table. A voice people trust.
One speech won’t create that. And one person can’t create it, either. Not on their own.
That’s why over the next two months I will be talking to everyone who has something to offer. I know what needs to be done but I’m not going to pretend that I have all the answers today.
My final decision to run was made just over two weeks ago. I’m not running as a party candidate and I am not running a ticket. I welcome the endorsements I’ve received and I will work hard to earn the confidence of the people of Christchurch. I have a proven track record that says that I can unite the council and I can unite the city.
But there is much to be done before I formally launch my campaign in spring.
At that time I will present a detailed plan, which will include the imperatives around transparency and financial accountability, as well as some of the exciting ideas about how we unlock the potential this city holds and empower communities to get on with creating their own future.
We are building the newest city in the world. I’m excited and I hope you are too.
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