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Christchurch – recognising emasculation

  • March 10th, 2011

John Key expresses frustration at the idiotic delays in releasing the names of the Christchurch dead, many of them days after media identification. The Police excuse boils down to –  "we will follow our safety first protocols". In this case "safety" though couched as protecting families from the 'horror' of a mistaken identity is no more than "our fear of being accused of a mistake is more important than the feelings of all those waiting, more important than the impatience of the Prime Minister, and more important than any public interest in freedom of speech".

This morning an industry representative says the Sovereign building company collapse is likely to be the first of many because there is not enough work. Not enough work!  When there is a city to rebuild, not to mention $10bn of work repairing leaky homes. Why are they not at work?  Because owners of properties, with all the incentives to get things underway, must wait for soft handed lawyers and 9-5 planning staff and myriad inspectors to wind through their blood-sucking processes before practical people can work. Of course there should be building codes for safety. There should be inspectors to enforce them. But otherwise all this "planning" talk is code for paralysing ordinary people in fearful respect for their effete masters.

I can't think of many planned cities people want to live in anyway. Canberra and Brasilia come to mind. Let the owners of Christchurch land build what they can afford, provided it is safe. We are becoming beggars. It is too late to pretend we can spend years being choosers. At first what people build may be humble. When prosperity returns, in a vibrant city without planning blight the temporary will come down, and edifices will go up, because that is what people do in their prosperity and pride.

On the last day of February, during a trip to Christchurch, I raised with a Minister the plight of a friend who needed his computer server to get his business back on its feet.  He was with a Christchurch business leader. The friend had new premises sorted. The 14 staff were ready. The government was saying it was going to subsidise wages, but they did not need that to forestall redundancy – they needed to know when they could restart work.  

The server was in his car, shut behind a carpark gate within the cordon area. 

Both men were utterly frustrated, having been bounced back and forth between Civil Defence and the Police. They'd offered to put together and pay a specialist team, including engineers and safety experts to go to premises where critical records could be retrieved. They would distract no rescue worker or other official.

No one could give them a decision or even tell them who would make such a decision.

The Minister undertook to enquire, and called back promptly, I was told I could reassure the business people that a plan would be announced that Monday evening that would cover organised access.

Yesterday the friend dropped in to our office in Wellington. He is still not operating. 10 days later his car is still where it was, ready to drive out from the carpark. He has not been allowed to take his own experts in to retrieve the material. You can read about his efforts here and here and here.

Ministers spend what will be hundreds of millions in grants to help employers keep their employees in Christchurch, yet do not have the courage or the drive to insist that ordinary people get access to their own property and capacity to operate.  All are terrified of being held "accountable" should anyone permitted to do so make the wrong personal decision to take a risk in order to get their business going.

This morning we hear that the lords of Christchurch will allow access to a third zone, but not much of the "red zone" of  the central city. No one dares suggest there might be a human rights issue at stake. In words of Boris Johnson I've cited previously  there is a "new divinity that commands the adoration of the governing classes, as nannying and multiple breasted as Diana of Ephesus. Her name is Phobia and sacrifices are being made at her altar"

Am I the only person to find all this strict control evidence of our national weakness and disgrace? Is anyone else sick of stirring tales of the effectiveness of the control of the city, and "the authorities" plans to look after the helpless people, while those who want to help themselves are treated as the problem.

Many of the stories are thinly disguised boasting about having and wielding the power to boss others around. Politicians on our screens every night talk about their plans and their roles. Meanwhile, the people who must do the reinstatement work, who want to get to work, who are willing to absorb the risks or manage them, if they are not to spend their next few years beholden to others, are supposed to feel grateful and respectful to their masters.  

I was sad 10 days ago to see the huge manpower occupied in making the cordon effective. All those able young muscles standing for days and nights just saying "no", when a few diggers and thousands of iron bars and shovels and brooms could have seen a transformation of their immediate neighbourhood. Why are they still necessary? Jane Bowron tells us in her diary articles – because of fear of looters. An army of people employed to stop honest people from getting their own property, out of fear of criminals. Why are the criminals not terrified of the honest, and the law? The answer is simple, the nannies have emasculated the law.

They've also emasculated themselves. They will respond with dramatic gestures – like National States of Emergency, and laws that suspend laws. But they are too scared to do the only thing that will truly restore their manhood – give it back to ordinary people first.


  • Don McKenzie
  • March 10th, 2011
  • 10:35 am

Superbly expressed. Roll on Binding Referendum to give voters a chance and option to disinfect this country of the arrogance the state has become.

  • peterquixote
  • March 10th, 2011
  • 4:39 pm

Stephen says  “   Meanwhile, the people who must do the reinstatement work, who want to get to work, who are willing to absorb the risks or manage them, if they are not to spend their next few years beholden to others, are supposed to feel grateful and respectful to their masters.  " 
und  here we have the little Emperor, a chain of self command around his neck flowing with adrenaline,  an all knowing City Council who used to weep for the  RMA, and never speak to us on matters we need to know,  and major competition for authority, power , and mana.
the Christians, mostly women, from Nelson arrived here at my place with shovels, also Auckland people, and local contractors.  The diggers and front end loaders pushed 25 metres of silt  out onto the road  in three hours and six short truckloads, to the street, where it was blown by the North wind all over and under;
I rang Insurers  Medical Assurance and EQC, to achieve rapid response. If I can get my home habitable quickly, I can then move out to the east to help others before the cruel Christchurch Winter sets in; and then rent my place out to a person who can work in the drains for five years and achieve wealth and strength for his family.
Well, Medical Assurance reluctantly gave me a small budget to repair drainage here, but EQC have changed.   The overseas underwriters are not going to allow EQC to make phone decisions : yes you go ahead with that work, they want to assess later this year, then they insist on bloody Fletchers, well we hate  Fletchers, they gave us leaky homes, and Fletchers will not be working on my property.
 It comes down to a simple fact. I have to shift the trouble in my own home myself.  I have to pay the wages and materials and then give what I can to people I like and who need.

  • AJ
  • March 10th, 2011
  • 7:28 pm

The point about the computer server is interesting.  I'm stunned at how many times I've read this recently. If this is needed to run his business, then surely there is an offsite backup? $100 a month will buy you a cloud based backup service where your data can be accessed from anywhere.
Not saying the safety guys are doing a perfect job, but really when a business owner fails to take even the most basic steps to safeguard his business it's hard to feel very sorry for them.
Never mind earthquakes, what would have happened if his office had burned down or another environmental problem had impacted it?
People in these positions need to man up and do some planning

  • John Schnellenberg
  • March 11th, 2011
  • 11:19 am

The need to rebuild much of the Christchurch city CBD raises some interesting avenues for guesswork, which goes something like this:

Do professions like accountants and lawyers, or business administrations need expensive office space in the heart of the city?
In the age of the internet, can their work be spread outside, even to employees’ or partners’ homes?
Can the reconstructed commercial space then be shrunk to fit the purpose of only occasional meetings or other reasons for people to congregate together?
Would such arrangements hamper the ability of people to bounce ideas off each other as they do now when they gather around the water cooler?
If business of this type disappeared into the suburbs, or to Club Med, what would be the prospects for retailers, and cafes, and bakeries, and pubs, and taxis, and all the other trades which depend on a busy town centre to make their livings?

Can such change, if it happens, be planned for? I have my doubts about this, because no-one can foretell the future in such detail. So, if it can’t be planned then how will it come to pass?

I feel those words, which have largely disappeared from the New Zealand vocabulary, “market forces” coming on! That'll sort the bureaucrats out!

  • OTGO
  • March 15th, 2011
  • 4:29 pm

Love your work Stephen. The rampant safety overkill can be seen in any town on any day when something as trivial as a manhole inspection can involve 15 transport safety specialists in bright orange safety vests setting out 100's of orange witches hats while 2 equally clad drainage experts look down a dark manhole. It is completely foreign to the human race to have all situational risk removed. Humans will create risk where there is none because we crave the adrenaline rush that beating risk gives us.

  • D
  • March 17th, 2011
  • 11:21 am

I was in the CBD during the quake.  I had about a fifteen minute window to recover about 200 hours of work (partially backed up) plus luggage and personal items.  I decided to follow procedure and waited.  What a mistake.  No communication, no insurance (can't verify whether its damaged) and now attempting to redevelop vital resources.
Should have just gone in.  Next time…

  • D
  • March 17th, 2011
  • 11:23 am

I should note:  I judged it as safe at the time and was correct.  I followed procedure out of the need to 'be good'.

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