Wanganui Chronicle

Columns
Wednesday, November 23, 2016

JUST after midnight on Monday, November 14, New Zealand was struck by another severe earthquake. Initially recorded as a 7.5, it turned out to be magnitude 7.8. At 16 kilometres deep and centred near Hanmer Springs, it was felt throughout much of the country, including here in Whanganui and the Rangitikei.

Two people lost their lives, and I know the thoughts of all New Zealanders are with their family and friends.

The damage to land, buildings, road, rail and infrastructure is extensive. The message from the Government to those communities worst affected is that the rest of New Zealand is standing alongside you to provide whatever support you need in the coming days, weeks, months and even years.

The Government's first priority was to ensure people in the worst affected areas, including in and around Kaikoura, received the immediate support and emergency supplies they needed; and that people who needed to get out were evacuated.

Our second priority is working to restore vital transport and communications links. Though the huge scale of the damage means it will take some time to restore all of the rail and road routes.

Finally, we will ensure the Government provides the financial support needed for a successful recovery and rebuild. New Zealand is well placed to respond - and we are well practised.

In terms of immediate support, the Government has acted quickly, announcing a wage subsidy package as an initial step to help small businesses in and around Kaikoura, including Cheviot, Waiau, Rotherham, Mount Lyford and Ward. The subsidy is modelled on previous support packages for small businesses following the Christchurch earthquakes. It is designed to give employers who experience a sudden big and sustained drop in revenue the confidence to retain their permanent staff.

At the same time, to support the Kaikoura District Council in responding to the earthquake, the Cabinet resolved to make an advance payment to it of $1 million. This will help the council cover some of the immediate costs of feeding and sheltering people.

Last Monday's earthquake, and the ongoing aftershocks and recovery will obviously have a significant effect on the many agricultural businesses and rural communities throughout the region. The Government has announced a $5m support package for the primary sector in the upper South Island, which includes funding to help with the repair of non-insurable assets like tracks and some on-farm bridges.

As a country, we are known for our strength of community, our generosity, our commitment and our willingness to pick ourselves up and carry on even in the most trying of times.

It was indeed heartening to see foreign naval vessels who were here for the New Zealand Navy's 75-year celebration join in the relief effort following the earthquake. Warships from Australia, Canada, Japan, Singapore and the US went to Kaikoura last week to help. The co-operation and camaraderie demonstrated by their willingness to be there demonstrated the spirit of our foreign relations.

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. We have the financial capacity to fix our broken infrastructure and to support our affected businesses and communities.