QUAKES have made us stronger, but are we any wiser?
It's around two months since the Kaikoura Earthquake, magnitude 7.8, hit.
Strong to severe shaking was felt throughout New Zealand and lasted for more than two minutes in some places with hundreds of aftershocks since and the predicted seismic activity has been a reality for us in the holidays.
Sadly, two people lost their lives and there was widespread damage in the upper South Island. Road and rail links to Kaikoura have been affected, reminding everyone everywhere of how vulnerable any area can be.
The main quake also damaged buildings around Wellington so there are closures of streets and buildings and demolition work has begun in the capital. Remember, this serious damage occurred a long way from the quake's epicentre.
Fortunately, the Whanganui/ South Taranaki area wasn't badly affected.
However, it's a timely reminder of the need to be prepared for any other big shake.
The Government acted quickly with immediate support to affected regions: for struggling businesses we introduced a wage subsidy package in Kaikoura and surrounding districts and in Wellington, followed up with a primary sector support package and tax measures to help those affected by the earthquakes.
Parliament has also passed laws to aid the recovery.
Civil Defence Emergency Management legislation allows a smoother, more effective transition from the response phase to recover after an emergency.
That flexibility can also deal with temporary housing, accommodation supplements, streamlining planning processes and geotechnical assessment.
The financial cost of the quakes will be significant but we will bear that.
We have a strong, growing economy, our books are in order and our debt levels low, so we have the capacity to fix our broken infrastructure and to support our affected businesses and communities.
We have been here before and have risen above these challenges, stronger this time around, and we will do the same this time.
But are we also learning from these incidents?
Ask any Kaikoura resident who had to queue up outside the local supermarket. It makes you think.
They were looking in through the windows on a shambles with goods strewn all over the store. Some stock was broken and unsaleable. They had to wait while staff went among the debris and salvaged what they asked for.
And here's the kicker: In the days immediately after the quakes the number of items you could purchase was limited to prevent panic buying at a time when the major roads were still blocked.
Before you shop this week, give some thought to, say, just 10 items you would buy if that's all you were allowed to purchase, or if certain essentials were simply not available.
Take Eftpos and cellphones away for a week and life could be quite basic.
So it behoves all of us to plan to have at least a week's food in stock, including sufficient water and any essentials on hand such as medications.
Devising a household plan should include agreeing how and where everyone in your home would meet up after a disaster.
When an earthquake occurs, make sure you drop, cover and hold (it's not just a slogan on a television commercial; we need to put it into practice) and if you happen to be near the coast and feel a long or strong quake, head to higher ground immediately.
Do not wait for any official warning, as media or warning systems could be out for hours.
The earthquake itself is the natural warning to take action.
New Zealanders are resourceful people.
The simple steps for surviving the first few days of a major disaster are easy, and we should all have a visit to civildefence.govt.nz/get-ready on New Year resolutions lists.
New Zealand is on the right track. It’s a great place to live, work and raise a family.
We’re making good progress at a time when many other countries are grappling with big economic challenges and deep-seated political uncertainty.
This puts us in a position to achieve things we wouldn’t have thought possible eight years ago.
The recent South Island earthquakes are the latest challenges to come our way. But working together, we’ll overcome them – just as we have with a number of others in recent years.
They’re a fresh reminder that we need to stay on track under the strong leadership of Bill English and Paula Bennett and an energetic team of ministers and MPs.
Our economy is growing – supporting tens of thousands of new jobs and helping reduce unemployment. We’re back in surplus and getting better results from important public services like hospitals, schools and social programmes.
Households and businesses across the country remain upbeat, confident in the knowledge they’re backed by the Government’s clear plan for New Zealand’s future.
The strong economy is delivering real benefits. For example, 250,000 extra jobs have been created over the past three years and the average annual wage is now $58,400 – up $12,000 since we were elected in 2008 and more than double the rate of inflation.
Wages are growing faster than inflation, leaving more money in people’s pockets, and interest rates are at 50-year lows.
We’re in New Zealand’s biggest building boom – in the past five years, annual residential building consents have more than doubled. In Auckland, they have almost tripled.
Despite lower dairy prices in recent years, other sectors are growing strongly, such as tourism, ICT, construction, and high-tech manufacturing.
The dividends of growth really matter for Kiwi families.
They’re the result of New Zealanders’ hard work, alongside the National-led Government’s careful and responsible economic management.
Our growing economy and surpluses provide us with choices into the future.
But in a turbulent world, we can’t rest on our laurels. We need to press on if we’re to build on the good momentum we’re now seeing in communities around New Zealand.
That’s why Government ministers and MPs are heading into 2017 and what will be a hard-fought election energised and with a busy agenda for the next few years. Over coming months, we’ll announce the next steps in that agenda.
Every year over the summer holiday period, friends and family gather across New Zealand to celebrate, reflect on the past year, and set goals for the year ahead.
As we turn to driving to our holiday destinations, or swimming in our beaches, rivers, and lakes, it is important to remember to be safe this summer.
Making New Zealand roads safer, and reducing the number of people injured and killed in crashes, is a key priority for the National-led Government.
Throughout the year, we’ve announced a number of initiatives that aim to significantly reduce deaths and serious injuries on our roads.
In June, we announced a $600 million road safety package which will see safety improvements made to around 1700km of New Zealand’s rural road network.
The package includes safety improvements to more than 50 projects on high risk rural state highway corridors and intersections across the country.
In August, we announced alcohol interlocks will become mandatory for drivers convicted of two or more drink-driving offences within five years, and for first-time offenders caught driving more than 3.2 times over the legal limit.
Consultation to changes on the Speed Management Guide will also begin in early 2017. The changes may include altering road design, lowering speed limits, or in certain circumstances, raising them.
Summer is a busy time on the road. Please drive to the conditions, take regular breaks, and make sure you have a sober driver during this festive season. Keep an eye on family and friends who are at risk on our roads.
When we all take care out there the road toll is lower and so is the social cost to our families, friends and communities
New Zealanders love the outdoors, and swimming, boating, jet skiing, fishing, and boogie-boarding are part of many Kiwi holidays.
Our beaches, lakes, and rivers are beautiful but can be dangerous. Make sure you prep your boat, check your gear and know the weather conditions before you get on the water. Always swim between the flags, watch your kids in the water, and wear a lifejacket if you’re out in a boat, kayak, or on a jet ski.
Of course, don’t forget to be sun-smart – Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap when outdoors.
I wish you and your family a happy festive season and safe holiday. Please stay safe these holidays, whether it is on the roads, under the sun, or in the water.