Sue Wells – The New Canterbury Tales

March 30, 2011

Gerry Brownlee and the first Tuesday night pot luck dinner. #eqnz

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sue Wells @ 12:45 pm

Yesterday started with a briefing at the Beckenham Service Centre. Minister Gerry Brownlee briefed the Christchurch City Councillors on the new structure for governance post earthquake.

I’ve been very impressed with Mr Brownlee, right since September 4. He’s a man you would do well not to underestimate, and one whom I think suffers more than a little from cartoonists who hone in on his appearance, not his intellect or abilities – they probably don’t get the chance to observe him for long enough to appreciate them.

I’ve watched him closely since September. The first time I had a germ of an idea that my old opinion of him was completely wrong was a quip in response to another MP who referred to himself as being Gerry’s shadow. Minister Brownlee commented idly – “that’s a damned cold place to be standing.”

I’ve watched him again at the numerous briefings we have had. He is an excellent listener, and completely conversant with the material which he has. No easy task that.

There is no doubt in my mind that Gerry Brownlee is committed to making this southern capital rise again. In his words – “we want to fix it – we want to make it better”. Find me someone who doesn’t want that, and I’ll taxi them to the airport myself. It’s what we all want. Nor is there any doubt in my mind that he means it when he says he wants the CCC there with him. He understands that recovery and rebuilding will only happen when you do it with the people and by the people – you can’t do it to the people.

One of our big collective challenges is going to be dealing with the new world of shorter consultation processes. As a community, we are going to have understand and buy into the fact that the norms of political engagement came tumbling down on February 22. We’re going to have to develop new and more effective ways of getting input from people who want to share their views. Social media is going to be essential for that. Different processes does not equal not listening, as the folks who are adding me as their FB friend or following me on twitter already know.

I’ve been actively steering people onto Facebook. It’s such a simple gathering point and gives you direct access to your politicians, if they are there. If they’re not – they’re going to struggle with the nimbleness and agility we will need to rebuild our city together in the months and years ahead. Twitter is a fantastic source of information and interaction. You meet the most amazing people there and in no time flat, you build up easy links into networks which would otherwise have been completely inaccessible. I’ve been using Twitter since February 22 and have been an international messenger – my message goes into enormous networks and through them spreads all over the world. The two messages have been these. “We’re open for business” and “Give us money – here is where you can donate”. I’m adding a third now. “We’re still here – don’t forget us.”

We are going to need all our friends around the country and around the world understanding and supporting the intent of the legislation that is coming up in draft form next week. I’m not going to say at this point I carte blanche accept it, simply because I haven’t read it. When I do – rest assured – you’ll have my thoughts and I’ll be listening as well as helping shape the council’s response. From comments made yesterday, I am sure there will a sharp intake of breath on first reading. I would suggest that when that happens go back to first principles. “We want to fix it – we want to make it better.” It’s only for that purpose that the legislation will be able to be used.

Once I’d come away from the briefing yesterday, I went for a run with Pepper. We did 13km from home through Addington. I’m combining ward watching with training for the St Clair half in May. Legs feeling good today. Head a little murky but clearing.

I threw a pot luck here last night – it was so much fun. How’s this for a cast of suspects? Hugo Manson from the Alexander Turnbull Library. (He failed to bring the fairy bread as instructed but did a nice line in classic kiwi dip and salsa doritos). He was here to do another episode of our audio diaries and so last night’s edition now contains a piece with Barry Corbett (bringer of cheerios and tomato sauce). Sam Johnson was the next to arrive. He did far better lighting my barbeque than he did lighting the eternal flame at the National Memorial Service – no pressure from Prince Willy in the background I suspect.

Richard Tyson, the MacGyver of servers turned up with his ever present toolkit and some kebabs which we failed to notice so they are tonight’s tea (the boys can cook them while I read the council agenda for tomorrow.) Richard’s tools not only rescue high tech computer equipment – he put a new plug on the end of my vaccuum. Nick won’t be pleased that his hero has enabled his chores to recommence.

Mike Thorley, the ever pregnant Briar (Michael – put your wife down) and their children Maddie, Kever and bump also brought Ron the Chinese exchange student and much to Pepper’s glee, Rosie the spoodle. (Ron also speaks Japanese and Korean – he’s taught himself English through cartoons. A smart boy that one.)

Colin and Rachel, my dear dear friends from just a k away – unlike him, Colin drove. They normally arrive in the night on bikes, giggling. The rice cooker and curry meant the four wheeler was a better idea – just this once.

Then there was Melanie – a brave soul indeed. She’d met me once, was coming with Kimmy – who was late, so the poor girl was thrown into the melting pot alone. She coped bravely, especially once a touch of unoaked chardonnay was applied. And then Kimmy arrived looking gorgeous and gazelle like as always, in a beautiful vintage coat from Melanie’s shop in Richmond – will track down that name. I’m so going there!

And Kimmy brought Lee Howden. Lee and I started at CTV on the 17th of June 1991. She was my makeup artist. I was a baby presenter. Over the years, we shared so many things. I’ve missed her terribly, and she’s been down in the beautiful deep south, unable to come up for funeral season. It’s been really hard for her – I think being away is almost the hardest thing of all. It was so good just to hold her and give her a cuddle and share that aroha, that sameness. She knows what I mean when I say “it’s going to be nor’west on Sunday” and we cackle. And no, I’m not going to explain our code. Some things belong to the sisterhood and they are sacred.

So today, I have cleaned up the debris. A few dead marines but the rest easily managed. Chris has been home schooled diligently this morning and I have taken him into college for his sports activities this afternoon. In between, I’ve been on Newstalk ZB with Mike Yardley and Tim Carter (not quite Paul Corbett although we were on in the same hour so our goal is yet to be achieved) and have started processing a “please help” from a resident who bravely lifted the phone and I am so proud that she did.

Later today, Pepper and I will go for a run to see Amanda, voice some ads and quibble about Paul Henry. Chrissie might pop in this afternoon. I have eight hours of council work ahead of me – that will see me wrap up my day around midnight – but before tomorrow, that agenda will be read, digested, and I will be ready for action.

10am at the Beckenham Service Centre if you’re interested. Agenda’s on the council website, it’s open to the public, and at a pinch I might even throw in a free hug. All part of the territory these days.




  1. “He understands that recovery and rebuilding will only happen when you do it with the people and by the people – you can’t do it to the people.” I really, sincerely, hope you are right about that.

    Comment by Paul McMahon — March 30, 2011 @ 12:57 pm | Reply

    • I’m not a Gerry apologist. I’m not politically aligned, and I don’t do “patsy”. I agree with that aspiration – “we will fix it – we will make it better”. Equally, Christchurch has some very strong policy documents our community has agreed to and I won’t abandon those. I will be looking carefully at the legislation, thinking about it in the context of our core values, and also in the context of the disaster from which are together recovering. I chaired the Civil Defence Emergency Management Group for Canterbury when Hurricane Katrina happened – same time we had a big snow in South Canterbury. There is only one way to recover – that is when a community, supported to the highest and most effective level as we have seen so far, recovers for itself. At the briefing yesterday, Minister Brownlee referenced the learnings from Katrina, Cyclone Tracey, the Victoria Bush Fires, the Queensland Floods. He gets it. He really, really gets it. I want us together to build such strong relationships that there is never any doubt about that.

      Comment by Sue Wells — March 30, 2011 @ 9:23 pm | Reply

      • I am politically aligned (and proudly so), but if I agree with something I will support it and, as I think you know, will seek to be constructive wherever I can be. I would rather the government did spectacularly well in their management of the recovery for the sake of the people of Chch than they failed dismally and handed a political victory to the Left.

        I have read the words on the press releases, I have heard people say Gerry gets it, but the CERA proposal, in its current form (or, the one I have seen), amounts to a radical centralisation of power in the hands of Gerry, and undermines the very concept of local government.

        It is not a model of community-led recovery. In its proposed form it only pays what I think is lipservice to lower-order communities determining their own future by making their own decisions. In fact, the implication of the proposal is that they see Christchurch’s local government as an impediment to recovery.

        I would much rather be saying that I think the government got it right, but they haven’t. There needs to be a degree of centralisation and the proper role of the Authority should be coordinate the recovery, but the democratic process needs to be at its core rather than at its periphery.

        Comment by Paul McMahon — March 31, 2011 @ 8:30 am

      • Great response. I view it differently. I can see that decision making happening lower – and I think today’s meeting should give a couple of pointers to that. Firstly the council’s commitment through the annual plan to attempt to consult as best we can given the time frames. Secondly the recognition of community boards as being special and important in that. And then the process loop I made sure we included in the temporary activities schedules – board members will be sent proposals for their feedback prior to decision making.

        But can I ask you – have I fully understood your concern? Or is it that you think the decision making on the expenditure of the government money should be made by other than the government? I value your opinion and I would like to get my head around why there is such genuine concern. It might be I’ve figured out a fix already – or it might be you’ve seen something I haven’t thought about. Got my listening ears on.

        Comment by Sue Wells — March 31, 2011 @ 9:54 pm

  2. From your blog post I learnt several new things, most suprisingly that Minister Brownlee has a very dry sense of humour. “that’s a damned cold place to be standing” is pure Gold.

    Comment by Suzy — March 31, 2011 @ 9:11 pm | Reply

    • It absolutely blew me away. He is very, very funny – takes the mickey out of himself. This is not a man who blows smoke up his own backside. Which is possibly a mental picture I didn’t need to paint for myself just before bed. 🙂

      Comment by Sue Wells — March 31, 2011 @ 9:49 pm | Reply

  3. Thank you for shedding a positive light on the role (and Person) of Gerry Brownlee. I value your opinion and its helped me to look again at a most recently constructed fear. That of the future path ahead and who will hold the reigns correctly and well. Not someone yearning for a legacy that could be comparable to Sir Hillary with a statue to boot. (NB.Statue would need engineered plinth)

    Comment by Dennis Nuberg — April 3, 2011 @ 10:17 am | Reply

  4. Thanks Sue, you seem to have understood my concerns, for the most part, around the role of community boards. However, my concerns are much broader than simply community boards.

    There does need to be a certain amount of centralisation, but if the government doesn’t ensure that commmunities are actively and meaningfully engaged then people will feel powerless and their trauma will be compounded. There are plenty of lessons from the (in my view) failure of CERC to communicate effectively with communities that could be applied, as well as lessons from overseas.

    The Earthquake Minister has too much power (and the risks of one individual having that much power are well-documented): the power for the government to compulsorily acquire land for *any* purpose is ridiculous, for instance. The power for the Minister to step in at any time and intervene in the Plan formation process means he can threaten the CCC if it doesn’t take the sort of course he likes, which undermines the integrity of the process.

    Comment by Paul McMahon — April 4, 2011 @ 8:03 pm | Reply

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