In September last year, in response to the first Canterbury earthquake, Parliament passed the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Act 2010. The Act elevated Gerry Brownlee to a virtual dictator, able to amend or repeal almost any law with a flick of his pen. While the powers have not yet been abused, the Act was still a constitutional outrage. In a democracy no man should have so much power with so little oversight.
Today, the government's response to the second Canterbury earthquake, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Bill, passed its first reading. The bill is even more outrageous and undemocratic than the original. The least objectionable parts are those relating to the development of a recovery strategy and plans. No-one disputes the need for this sort of planning, but the Act puts it in the hands of CERA. Which means that the big decisions around the future of Christchurch will be decided not by its people, but by Gerry Brownlee. Who while he is a Christchurch MP, isn't exactly in the same position of democratic accountability as the elected representatives of the Christchurch City Council.
And after that it's all downhill. CERA has the power to demand any information about anything from anyone. No warrant, no oversight, no safeguards. This is more power than the Serious Fraud Office, and with fewer checks and balances.
CERA, which means the Minister, also has wide powers to "assist" the rebuilding of Christchurch. They can:
- Overturn any planning decision;
- revoke or amend any resource consent;
- force councils to allow any resource consent;
- compulsarily acquire property without any public interest test;
- demolish your house even if it is undamaged;
- dissolve elected local bodies if they fail to do what Brownlee says.
And all of this without any effective rights of appeal and with only limited rights of compensation.
And to cap it all off, there's the same dictatorial power to amend laws by regulation originally seen in CERRA v1.0.
This is too much power, in too few hands, with too few checks and balances to be safe. Democracies don't do this sort of thing. But then, as we saw with ECan and with the original CERRA, National's first response to any problem is dictatorship.
I would like very much to submit on this bill. But I can't. Its being rammed through under urgency, with only a limited select committee process (basically, the Local Government and Environment Committee will be hearing from selected insiders tomorrow; ordinary concerned citizens are shut out of the process). And it'll be law by Friday. I'm just glad I don't live in Christchurch...