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Christchurch rebuild poses policy dilemmas

Monday 28th February 2011 1 Comment

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The rebuilding of Christchurch after the magnitude 6.3 earthquake on Tuesday poses many questions for policymakers, and lessons from disasters elsewhere are mixed.

It took the Japanese city of Kobe ten years to recover from a magnitude 6.8 earthquake in 1995 and its economy never fully recovered, David Edgington, an associate professor at the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia, and author of Reconstructing Kobe: The Geography of Crisis and Opportunity said recently.

Kobe was the fourth biggest port in the world but within two years the shipping had gone elsewhere because it took time to fix the port.

The Japanese government worked with business leaders to build new industries and revive tourism. They chose to focus on developing a bio-technology industry with mixed success.

The recovery from the Christchurch earthquake would have to be a national project, Prof Edgington said.

With early estimates of costs of between $10 billion and $16 billion, Prime Minister John Key has not ruled out an Australian-style disaster levy.

But BNZ economists said today that they expected the cost to be largely funded from the public disaster fund and private insurers.

"There might also need to be further direct funds from the Government, although nothing to necessitate tapping the economy through taxes or levies, as we understand it."

The private sector stands ready and its leaders met with government this week. Businesses were quick this week to provide food and water and other goods to Christchurch.

"We have services on hand to help should you or your family need them," Nick Miller, managing director of Fulton Hogan told staff this week. "Please use them. This is not a time to be macho."

The Christchurch-based civil contracting company, which employs 5000 people in Australasia, said it was already working with government at all levels planning for the next phase.

"The job ahead is massive, and so will be the expectations on us to return our city to its original splendour. With your support and that of the entire Fulton Hogan team, backed by our 78 years' experience, we will play a leading role in this work," Miller said.

The reconstruction of Christchurch comes at a time when the Government wants to reduce its size and has just taken advice on how to restructure the welfare system.

Business leader Roderick Deane told a retreat of the Business Roundtable on February 17, just days before the earthquake, that New Zealand government outlays are 45% of gross domestic product compared to 35% in Australia.

One in five children are in benefit-dependent families, and in the past decade invalids benefits rose by 70% when the population rose by 12%.

Dr Deane said New Zealand has failed to address policy changes, particularly in social welfare, health and education and the private sector has been crowded out.



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Comments from our readers

On 28 February 2011 at 3:54 pm Baddie Joneee said:
Why not issue govt guaranteed municipal bonds to finance the Christchurch infrastructure rebuilds? The bonds would have low interest payments to investors but would be tax exempt from interest received? Such bonds could be traded on NZX's debt market.
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