Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee says the fires in Christchurch City and the Selwyn District have highlighted the need to streamline New Zealand’s Civil Defence legislation.
On Thursday, Mr Brownlee was scheduled to meet with representatives from all political parties to discuss the Civil Defence response to the Kaikōura earthquake.
He instead travelled to Canterbury to receive updates from the local and regional response teams and survey the blaze from the air.
“In 2016, Parliament passed the Civil Defence Emergency Management Amendment Act. Subsequent to that, the experience of the Kaikōura earthquake, has, in my mind, raised some concerns about the response structures in the Act,” Mr Brownlee says.
“The Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management is working to identify lessons and put corrective actions in place following the November 14 event, as it always does after significant disasters.
“However, there is a need for broader consideration of the legislation. I’m hopeful a cross-party approach will be able to consider any improvements that might be made to the Act.
“The fires this week have strengthened the mandate for change. I want to emphasise that I’m not at all criticising the response of those on the ground in both Christchurch City and Selwyn District.
“It’s the way information is reported up the chain and the time it can take to access up-to-date information that has been of most concern for me.
“Clarifying and simplifying the chain of command will help ensure clear lines of communication and effective decision-making in the immediate aftermath of significant events.
“I do believe that states of local emergencies could have been declared earlier but, at the time, I was not in Christchurch and local authorities knew the situation in more detail than I did.
“No Minister has ever declared a state of local emergency over the top of local authorities.
“When it comes to disasters, Parliament doesn’t divide along party lines. All emergency legislation – in response to the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 and the Kaikōura earthquake last year – was passed unanimously.
“Responding to large-scale natural disasters will always be challenging and I have nothing but admiration for the people who put aside their personal lives to help with the emergency response.
“In a country so prone to natural disasters, it’s in everyone’s best interests to ensure we are as resilient and ready to respond as we can be,” Mr Brownlee says.