Helpers at Pukemoimoki Marae

Taupo MP and National’s spokesperson for Social Development and Employment and Social Investment, Louise Upston was in Napier on Tuesday to see the civil defence response in action in the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle.

“I applaud what I’ve been seeing on the ground in terms of people giving up their day jobs and just all hands to the pump … The feedback is that people are ‘feeling it’ out there.”

Upston, along with Katie Nimon, National Party candidate for Napier, who will face off with incumbent Labour MP Stuart Nash later this year, were visiting various welfare hubs yesterday, including Pukemokimoki Marae.

“This is not a time for politics, it’s a time for listening and learning what supporters need on the ground. We’ve met with some of the first responders and also lots who have come in from outside the district to provide assistance, particularly in those areas that we are struggling to make contact with.”

She said while crime has been an issue for the city in the last week – even people providing welfare services had expressed frustration that they are having to deal with security issues and worried whether the food parcels they were providing were making into the rights hands – Upston has been impressed at how the situation has brought out the best in others.

“What is very obvious is that the local community knows their people, who has needs and how to access support. The ability to make those connections quickly is important. A bit of bureaucracy is getting in the way but at the end of the day most people have the right attitude and want to get stuff done.”

Nimon echoed this sentiment and said it had been “incredibly motivating” to see people from all parts of the community and different organisations coming together to volunteer their time.

“People from Kainga Ora, people from the business community, council organisation. And then there’s the people who just walk off the street and offer to help. And they are all coming together with various skills just to help the people. A huge number of people have come in from outside of the region. The biggest work of the Civil Defence is out in those rural communities who can’t reach home yet. Everyone is working really hard to do that. There have been a lot of long hours,” she said.

Upston said feedback she had received from people in the primary sector was that they needed more certainty about the financial assistance that has been offered.

On Monday Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced a $50 million relief package to deliver interim emergency business and primary sector support for regions hit by Cyclone Gabrielle and the January floods.

“From a business perspective – growers and farmers – they don’t know what that looks like. How do they access the $50M, who’s entitled to it, is there a wage subsidy? If you are dealing with all of that stuff you want certainty. Having support is great but actually it’s only great if you know how to access it and you can get it in your bank account, whether it’s paying wages or putting food on the table.”

Upston said the recovery was likely to take years and the National Party wanted to be constructive and work with the government to ensure Hawke’s Bay was best supported over the short and long term.

“I would hope that as local MP or as Minister of Police Stuart Nash is paying attention to the mayor who is pleading for assistance on behalf of her community.”

Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise publicly backed comments made on Friday by her Deputy mayor and Napier city councillor Annette Brosnan who said she expected a “total rethink” of how isolated cities had become in New Zealand.

“There is so much about this disaster that highlights the wrongs with our system,” she said in a Facebook post.

“We have had all bridges in and out down, highlighting the lack of investment in our roading network, we have not had a local central civil defence centre causing our mayor a 5-hour round trip to see them, and we have an electrical sub-station built in 1925 next to a river with limited resilience planning leaving 60+ thousand without power for the best part of a week.”

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

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