Speech in the House General Debate following the North Canterbury Earthquakes
Sunday night was a bit like déjà vu for those of us who live in Christchurch or Canterbury. It was a shocking and a rude awakening and such a long earthquake, but this time we knew what to do. I would like to start off by saying a huge thankyou to all the emergency responders: those who leapt out of bed, snapped to attention—they did a great job. Our thoughts are also with the families, the friends, and the communities that were affected by the earthquakes, especially those who are new to earthquakes. Our sympathies are with those who are injured and particularly those who have lost a loved one.
The National-led Government is no stranger to the difficulties of seismic activity. Over the past 6 years we have had half a dozen major earthquakes and tens of thousands of smaller ones. The response to this most recent 7.5 earthquake has shown that we know what to do and we are here to get on with the job.
It is a really tough job being a first responder. You have to adapt, you have to improvise, and you have to overcome new and challenging situations. Making decisions is particularly difficult in such fluid situations, and I think the Prime Minister and Minister Brownlee have done an outstanding job in reassuring those affected by the earthquakes that they are committed to supporting those communities. I would also like to thank local MP Stuart Smith who has been working so hard in the area. We need to remember that the situations of a disaster are always different. There is no one single correct method of dealing with it. Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches, and that is exactly what our communities are doing. They are looking after each other, they are supporting each other, and they are making sure that everybody is moving in the right direction.
Shortly after the earthquakes on Monday morning, I went to the Linwood College welfare centre in Christchurch. There were over 400 people there and they were mostly evacuated due to tsunami danger. Thankfully, of course, Christchurch was not hit by the tsunami but there were 2-metre waves recorded in Kaikōura and a 1-metre wave recorded in Wellington. At the Linwood centre everything was really calm, very well organised and professional, and the volunteers knew exactly what to do. Mostly people came, they set down, they waited it out, and they had a cup of tea. The minor emergencies were dealt with quickly and pragmatically. Everybody could be useful, and I actually ended up with a job of driving a man with very high blood pressure to the hospital and then relocating his car.
I want to thank everybody who was involved at Linwood, because that is a really good job. I know that right across the country, right across the affected area, that sort of thing is happening in communities everywhere. I suppose if there is one thing that is consistent about these difficult times, it is that that is when the Kiwi spirit comes out. Somehow disasters seem to bring out the best in all of us. Neighbours talk to each other, they check on each other, and they support each other. And I think that is something that is really heartening to know—that when things get tough Kiwis come out and support each other in our time of need.
The same thing can be said with our international partners. In Christchurch we were very appreciative of the offers of international support that we received. It felt like the rest of the world was there, standing beside us and working with us. This week is no different. Countries from around the world have offered their assistance this time, and we have accepted offers from the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, and Singapore—and this time they are bringing their ships and their helicopters. It is humbling to see our overseas partners prepared to work with us, and it certainly strengthens our international ties.
Finally, I think international experience and our own local experience tells us that recovery takes time. But just as our Government was there to support us in Canterbury and was committed for the long term, it will be here also for Kaikōura, and for anyone else and their communities that have been impacted by these earthquakes. Kia ora.