24 Apr 2017

Brownlee bows out of Christchurch rebuild

9:36 pm on 24 April 2017

Gerry Brownlee's six-year reign as the minister in charge of the $15.4 billion Christchurch rebuild is coming to an end, following today's Cabinet reshuffle.

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee.

Senior minister Gerry Brownlee, who is the MP for Ilam, has been in charge of the Christchurch rebuild since March 2011. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mr Brownlee has been responsible for rebuilding the city since March 2011, when he was made the minister of the now-defunct Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority in the aftermath of the region's devastating earthquakes.

He will now relinquish his portfolio as the Minister Supporting Greater Christchurch Regeneration, to take over the foreign affairs portfolio from Murray McCully.

Mr McCully has resigned ahead of the election later this year, after eight years in the job.

While some see the change as a positive step for the city, others are concerned that Mr Brownlee's replacement, Christchurch Central MP Nicky Wagner, will not have a seat in Cabinet.

RNZ's Guyon Espiner talks with Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee in Christchurch on the fifth anniversary of the 6.4 quake.

RNZ's Guyon Espiner talks with Gerry Brownlee in Christchurch on the fifth anniversary of the 6.4 earthquake. Mr Brownlee was heckled live on air when a rebuild worker driving past slowed down to shout "Gerry Brownlee you suck''. Photo: RNZ / screenshot

From complaining about Christchurch residents, to calling the previous mayor, Sir Bob Parker, a "clown", Mr Brownlee has certainly left an impression on Cantabrians.

Labour's Canterbury issues spokesperson, Megan Woods, said she was worried the government was pushing Christchurch further down its priority list.

"I think it is a slap in the face for Christchurch and Canterbury," she said.

"It is not tenable that the minister for Canterbury will not be sitting at the Cabinet table and taking part in those discussions."

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel disagreed.

"Obviously, one likes to have the influence that you have sitting around the Cabinet table, but I know that, in terms of her approach, Nicky Wagner is really into relationship-building."

National MP Nicky Wagner.

Christchurch Central MP Nicky Wagner will take over Mr Brownlee's portfolio but she will not have a seat in Cabinet. Photo: NATIONAL PARTY

Former Christchurch mayor Garry Moore said the government had shown no confidence in Ms Wagner by keeping her out of Cabinet.

"Nicky is an apologist for the government rather than a reformer," he said.

"Christchurch needs reform and it needs a strong Cabinet minister to actually be able to achieve that."

Mr Moore said the city now had somebody who had to go to Cabinet with a begging bowl.

"I don't think that's very impressive," he said.

The swearing in of new ministers will take place on 2 May.

A timeline of Gerry Brownlee's greatest hits and misses

These are some of the highs and lows of Mr Brownlee's ministerial reign that got people talking in Christchurch over the years:

  • Feb 2011: Magnitude 6.3 earthquake strikes Christchurch causing widespread damage and the death of 185 people. Mr Brownlee was one of the first to recognise a red zone cordon needed to be established around the city.
  • March 2011: Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) established, giving Mr Brownlee unprecedented powers and the authority to determine how the rebuild was to be carried out.
  • November 2011: A park bench in the inner-city has a plaque anonymously attached to it reading: "This park bench is dedicated to the memory of Gerry Brownlee who hates Christchurch and everyone in it."
  • February 2012: Mr Brownlee calls then Christchurch mayor Bob Parker "a clown'', highlighting the animosity between the minister and the Christchurch City Council as it clashed over the rebuild. The hostility between the council and Mr Brownlee would be played out in public for months.
  • July 2012: The Blueprint, which set out the building plan including anchor projects such as the convention centre and the covered stadium, was launched at a $500,000 taxpayer-funded ceremony. A group protested in the rain against the plans.
  • September 2012: Mr Brownlee said he was sick and tired of residents "carping and moaning'' about the zone their land had been designated as. He later apologised for the comments.
  • October 2013: Lianne Dalziel was elected Christchurch's mayor after Mr Parker announced earlier in the year he would not stand again.
  • November 2014: Mr Brownlee was fined $2000 by the Civil Aviation Authority for breaching airport rules after he bypassed security to board a domestic flight in Christchurch in July, along with his two aides.
  • November 2014: Mr Brownlee won re-election in the safe National Party seat of Ilam.
  • November 2014: CERA chief executive Roger Sutton resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment. Mr Brownlee described the preceding investigation by the State Services Commission as "distracting'' for staff.
  • June 2015: The Christchurch City Council and Mr Brownlee clash over whether the city's town hall should be restored, as favoured by the council, or demolished to make way for a large arts precinct, as favoured by Mr Brownlee. The council voted to restore it.
  • July 2015: A popular inner city cafe (C1 Espresso) lampooned the minister by publishing a naked Gerry Brownlee menu.
  • February 2016: A protester throws muck at Mr Brownlee at the fifth anniversary of the earthquake. Hours earlier he had been heckled live on Morning Report as Guyon Espiner interviewed him. A rebuild worker driving past slowed down long enough to shout "Gerry Brownlee you suck''.
  • October 2016: The CERA ministerial portfolio was reconfigured and Mr Brownlee became the Minister Supporting Greater Christchurch Regeneration.
  • November 2016: In his valedictory speech, former prime minister John Key praised Mr Brownlee's work in Christchurch and said the city and the country owed him a debt.
  • February 2017: In his role as Civil Defence Minister, Mr Brownlee criticised the emergency services response to the Port Hills fires and how long it took to declare a state of emergency.
  • April 2017: A report for the State Services Commission found two former CERA staff had a conflict of interest in their private business dealings. It referred their actions to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). Mr Brownlee said it was not a widespread problem.
  • April 2017: Mr Brownlee threatened to pull the council's funding for the Accessible City transport plan. Ms Dalziel told the media it was to distract from the SFO investigation.
  • 24 April 2017: Mr Brownlee takes over the foreign affairs ministerial portfolio, relinquishing his Christchurch regeneration role. In the announcement, Prime Minister Bill English said he particularly wanted to pay tribute to Mr Brownlee for his untiring efforts to put Christchurch back on its feet after the 2011 earthquakes.

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