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National backs state of emergency, repeats offer to take bipartisan stance on climate adaptation

National Party leader Christopher Luxon

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Christopher Luxon says complex decisions lie ahead on climate adaptation so it is vital political parties work together.
Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

With six regions declaring local states of emergency as they respond to Cyclone Gabrielle’s fury, the government has the party’s full backing, leader Christopher Luxon says.

The Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty signed the declaration just before 8.45am today as the effects of the cyclone became clear.

It is only the third time in New Zealand’s history an event has met the criteria, following the Christchurch earthquake in 2011 and Covid-19.

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McAnulty said the declaration will allow for better co-ordination and efficient allocation of resources as widespread power outages, flooding, slips and damage to properties are experienced across the North Island.

Speaking to reporters ahead of a meeting of National’s MPs this morning, Luxon said the party fully supported the national declaration of a state of emergency.

“When you’ve got six major regions that have actually declared local states of emergency and it actually gives an ability to get comms and resources and communication in place, then it’s entirely appropriate,” he said.

“Our thoughts and prayers are really with people doing it really tough at the moment, and we think about the communities that are very disconnected and have been cut off. We think about people that have been displaced from their homes and we’re also very conscious of people that are fighting for their lives [a reference to two volunteer firefighters caught up in a landslide hitting a house in Muriwai in Auckland overnight].”

National Party MP Gerry Brownlee

Gerry Brownlee.
Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

National’s emergency management spokesperson Gerry Brownlee agreed it was appropriate, and was what people in the affected areas should expect.

“Remember that we’re talking about nearly two thirds of the country’s population being in some way affected by this,” Brownlee said.

“When you get it as widespread as this, there’s clearly a role for government going into a recovery and therefore understanding exactly how your respond at this point.”

Luxon said emergency responders and community groups have been doing an incredible job, and advised people to follow Civil Defence advice and warnings.

The response has been well managed, much better than in the Auckland flooding of a fortnight ago, he said, and there will be a bigger conversation over the years across many governments about building climate adaptataion into key infrastructure.

“Over these last few weeks what have we learned … what we need to be able to do is to continually improve and work on our emergency management response.”

National offering cross-party support on climate adaptation

Luxon said the party was offering cross-party support on a climate adaptation plan.

“These are important issues but they are deeply, deeply complex issues about who pays for it fairly in terms of insurers, individual property owers, taxpayers, ratepayers, is it this generation, future generation … it will be a multi-decade effort and it’s really important that we can work together in a bipartisan way.

“I think it will be part of a review, a good set of questions to ask why over 50 years there’s been houses built in places that maybe aren’t appropriate now and we should be really clear about that, so making sure councils have authority and power to do that will be important.”

He said National was adamant there was a housing crisis and the best way to respond to it was to build more homes, however, the party would be open to “any sensible changes to make sure we can continue to do that in future”.

Luxon said it was easier in hindsight to look back and he did not want to judge the decisions made over the past 50 years or so, but those were the kind of questions councils needed to be asking, and having good knowledge of risk areas.

National has been clear about its position on climate change, he said, and supported the net carbon zero 2050 goals, the NDC commitments for 2030 and emissions reduction budgets.

“We’re fully on board with climate change, be under no illusions about it. We might have slightly different means to deliver those ends but we want to see those ends delivered, big time.”

He said putting Todd Muller in the position as Climate Change spokesperson showed the priority the party has for climate change.

Growth in bureaucrats ‘different scenario’ to Civil Defence

National’s criticism of the growth in bureaucrats in government was a “quite different scenario” compared to Civil Defence capability, Luxon said.

“With respect to Civil Defence we are very very supportive of all the efforts and all the resources that have been deployed. Very important that we build massive amounts of resilience into our systems here in New Zealand – we face a number of threats … we’ve got to make sure we’ve got the right resources in place.”

MPs who were still in their communities should remain there, he said, but about 25 of the party’s MPs were in Wellington. Parliament’s business committee was discussing the likely adjournment of the House for the day.

“Our view very clearly is that we should be here in Parliament doing our job, and with respect to Parliament this week events have superseded it,” he said.

Since Luxon made his comments, it has been decided Parliament will adjourn this afternoon.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins’ decision to stay in Auckland was “up to him but it’s good that he’s there”, he said.

National state of emergency: What you need to know

  • The New Zealand government has declared a National State of Emergency, to assist in the response to Cyclone Gabrielle.
  • The declaration will apply to the six regions that have already declared a local State of Emergency: Northland, Auckland, Tairāwhiti, Bay of Plenty, Waikato, and Hawke’s Bay.
  • A national state of emergency gives the national controller legal authority to apply further resources across the country and set priorities in support of a national level response.

National Emergency Management Agency advice:

  • Put safety first. Don’t take any chances. Act quickly if you see rising water. Floods and flash floods can happen quickly. If you see rising water do not wait for official warnings. Head for higher ground and stay away from floodwater.
  • Stay at home if it is safe to do so. But have an evacuation plan in case your home becomes unsafe to stay in.
  • If you have evacuated, please stay where you are until you are given the all-clear to go home.
  • People should stay up to date with the forecasts from MetService and continue to follow the advice of Civil Defence and emergency services.
  • Do not try to walk, play, swim, or drive in floodwater: even water just 15 centimetres deep can sweep you off your feet, and half a metre of water will carry away most vehicles. Flood water is often contaminated and can make you sick.

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