17 Feb 2017

Civil Defence stung by minister's criticism

8:56 am on 17 February 2017

Hearing the Civil Defence Minister criticise the response to the Port Hills fire "does nothing for the engagement of volunteers", Canterbury's civil defence controller says.

The minister, Gerry Brownlee, has criticised how long it took for the Christchurch and Selwyn mayors to declare an emergency and said the fire highlighted the need to review and improve civil defence.

Media conference in the bunker at Parliament. Gerry Brownlee speaks to media.

Gerry Brownlee Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

This morning, Mr Brownlee issued a statement saying he was hopeful a cross-party approach would be able to consider any improvements that might be made to legislation.

Christchurch civil defence controller John Mackie said it would not have made any difference to resourcing or firefighting if an emergency had been declared earlier than Wednesday.

"It did give more powers to the police to enforce evacuations but from the point of view of getting resources it would have made no difference."

Mr Mackie said calls for a look at legislation covering civil defence and rural firefighting were not new - it had been discussed since the Canterbury earthquake of 2010.

But criticism coming at this stage was not helpful for civil defence workers, he said.

"It does nothing for the engagement of volunteers working in civil defence who have put in some incredible hours over the past four or five days.

Mr Brownlee said his criticism was that if a state of emergency was called earlier people would have treated the situation with more urgency.

"When you're asking people to evacuate, you're asking them to evacuate on a voluntary basis, that's one thing. When you've got a state of civil emergency and you ask people to evacuate they have to do it."

He told Morning Report a state of emergency allowed for compulsory evacuations and triggered higher awareness from other districts to move urgently if they were asked for help.

Most of the fire ended up in the Christchurch district but was being fought from a headquarters in Selwyn district, he said.

Civil defence volunteers and fire service workers did a brilliant job, he said.

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel told Morning Report that declaring a state of emergency earlier wouldn't have made a difference. Ms Dalziel said as soon as the evacuation notice went out, the state of emergency was declared.

Prime Minister Bill English, centre, and Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee at  emergency services headquarters.

Prime Minister Bill English, centre, and Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee at the emergency services command centre yesterday. Photo: RNZ / Logan Church

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