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Q+A: Interview with Bob Parker

Published: 2:56PM Sunday October 10, 2010 Source: Q+A


GUYON         Bob Parker, firstly, congratulations on your result.

(Christchurch Mayor)
            Thanks, Guyon.

GUYON         Do you acknowledge that your mandate is almost exclusively based on the leadership performance in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake?

            Yes, I think you're right.  I think there's a huge component of what's happened for me over the past few weeks as a result of being able to be seen doing my job in the middle of the earthquake and, you know, I think that leadership is something that does need to be seen to be demonstrated from time to time, and that we as a council and as a community performed well has helped me.

GUYON         What is your top priority now, Mayor, in terms of rebuilding the city?

            Well, the short-term priority is that we've still got hundreds of people with a very uncertain future at the moment.  We've had a report from EQC says most of the land that was suffering from liquefaction can be remediated and rebuilt on.  But people still don't know about time frames, or if they're one of the properties that maybe can't be rebuilt.  So there's an awful lot of detail that we need from EQC and central government.  We've got to get that, implement it, and ensure that our community have some options in front of them for a very difficult period for the next year.

GUYON         What are you gonna do about the people who were uninsured?  Are you going to use that mayoral fund to help those people?

            No, I think that we can't replace insurance.  We have to be really clear about that, and the money that we've got in that fund, we've said that's for people, not for property.  We're using that money to help citizens, help families that are in difficult times, and that's going to be needed for a long time ahead, Guyon, we're going to need that for another 18 months or so as we work through these problems.  I don't think we can solve all of the problems for everybody if you don't have insurance.  Really, that's the decision you've made.  There will be some cases of hardship, and we are the kind of community that will try to help, and work with people to solve those problems.

GUYON         The government announced recently that it would extend the wage subsidy for another month to help people who've lost their jobs in the wake of the earthquake.  Is that enough, or are you worried about rising unemployment in Christchurch as a result of this?

            No, I'm not long-term or medium-term worried about rising unemployment.  In fact, I think we'll have the opposite.  We're already looking at something around $5 billion or $6 billion of reinvestment into the city over the next 18 months, 2 � years.  That's gonna create a lot of jobs.  So we're in for a very positive time, economically, in the city.  But there is a short-term effect.  Now, the government has said that they will continue to review that support scheme.  I think it's very important, it's helped a lot of people.  We're going to need to hold hands with central government for a few months yet, but I think we're on a self-starting economy.

GUYON         So are you suggesting there that we might be able to extend this out a little further, that you're expecting the government may have to extend that wage-subsidy scheme further than what we've seen already?

            Well, my first hope would be that our businesses, which are getting up and running and starting to pick up already - I think 90% of our businesses are back in action - my first hope is that that's the natural course.  But I think the government's expressed a very clear will to support the city, support the people.  They will re-evaluate as necessary.  Based on the information we have at the moment, I think they may need to consider extending it a little further.

GUYON         How much further?

            Difficult to say, but my view is that as we get closer to Christmas, we're going to start seeing the effect of some of that insurance money flowing back into the community.  We've also got the South Canterbury Finance $1.6 billion in the province now.  So economically I think we're going to move out of the recession much faster than any other city in New Zealand.  I think we're looking at a very strong economic opportunity because there's $5 billion or $6 billion coming into the system.

GUYON         How do you ensure that that work stays and benefits the people of Christchurch, and isn't taken up by builders and other contractors from outside your city?  Is that something you've turned your mind to?

            Well, we expect the need to use additional tradespeople from outside of the city, but our preference obviously, and the most economically viable path is for local businesses to do local jobs.  But equally, we need our city back up and running at 100%.  It's going pretty well at the moment.  We're certainly not some kind of levelled structure here.  People have an impression that everything is gone.  Far from the truth.  But we will need other people to help us, but that helps as well, because they come and live here, they're going to buy products in the local shops, they're going to be part of the community.  I think that Christchurch is, in a sense, out of this dark patch has a great silver lining - that's the upside of the economy as we recover.

GUYON         Just a quick final question.  Other than the earthquake, what is your top priority as mayor?

            Well, I think we've achieved on a couple of strong areas of getting crime down in the city.  We're now, as of this week, actually, officially the safest metropolitan city in New Zealand, which has been a major goal.  We want to keep on at that.  Our young people and their driving issues is something which is centre for us, pushing forward with the sustainability projects that we have, a number of major transport projects in the city which we are working on, which are probably 20 or 30 years late but they're underway now.  Keeping the rates low and making sure that we don't lose the great spirit that we've rediscovered in ourselves over the past month in Christchurch and in Canterbury.

GUYON         All right.  A lot to get on with, we better leave it there.  Thank you very much for joining us, Bob Parker, and congratulations on your result.

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