Who Is Gerry Brownlee’s Handmaiden?

- John Minto

The Government’s new legislation for Christchurch – the Greater Christchurch Regeneration Bill – was introduced to Parliament in October 2015 and has a familiar ring – the people of Christchurch and their democracy are to be side-lined again while “business interests” override community and democracy. The Bill is designed to take over the work of CERA (Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority), which was set up after the earthquake with wide autocratic powers to usurp local democracy and remake the city in business interests – disaster capitalism New Zealand style.

CERA has reached the end of its sunset clause and so the latest proposals were put forward. Despite people in the city being “submissioned out” (the endless requests for submissions which are readily ignored) the Government received 2,810 submissions from the people of Canterbury on its proposals. The Star (23/10/15)summed it up like this: “The draft plan was put forward for feedback in July, and 2,810 submissions were received. The majority of people who made submissions said the proposal would not create the ‘step change’ needed to address the challenges in the central city. Most were not against the new entities being created, but wanted them to be run locally rather than by Government. But most strategic partners and key business organisations supported the Government plan”.

And who won out? No surprises that the pugnacious face of big business, Gerry Brownlee, gave the public the fingers and sided with corporate Christchurch. Under Brownlee’s legislation a new joint Crown-Council entity called Regenerate Christchurch would have an “independent” board – with members appointed by both the City Council and Crown – and would become a Council-controlled organisation only after another five years. Gerry Brownlee will appoint the first person to chair the organisation till 2019 and the Council will appoint the chair from 2019 to 2021.

Sound familiar? This is the same model the Government imposed on Christchurch when it abolished the democratically-elected board of ECan (Environment Canterbury, the regional council) in 2010 after corporate farming interests complained they couldn’t get easy access to the irrigation water they wanted. Earlier in 2015 the Government announced it was replacing its own ECan Commissioners with a “mixed governance model” where seven members would be elected across Canterbury at the local elections in October 2016 and six appointed by Government.

In the case of ECan and CERA the Government acted to back corporate business interests where those interests could not get their way through a democratic process. In both cases the Government appointees will make way for democracy only after they have cemented in place corporate-friendly strategies and plans that will be unable to be undone by elected representatives. It was good to see local Labour MP Megan Woods challenge Brownlee’s plans but where were our Mayor and Councillors?

Astonishingly Mayor Lianne Dalziel welcomed the Government’s plans and said she looks forward to working with the Crown. This former Labour MP has not come very far from promoting corporate interests in Parliament as Minister of Commerce to promoting corporate interests as Mayor of Christchurch. She is more Gerry Brownlee’s handmaiden than a Mayor representing the interests of the people of Christchurch. The city deserves better.


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