English down­plays Brown­lee’s crit­i­cism

The Press - - Port Hill Fires - SAM SACHDEVA

Prime Min­is­ter Bill English has down­played Civil De­fence Min­is­ter Gerry Brown­lee’s sting­ing crit­i­cism of the emer­gency re­sponse to the Christchurch fires, say­ing ‘‘bu­reau­cratic pro­cesses’’ can be dealt with later.

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel has con­ceded there could have been bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween of­fi­cials, but has stuck by the tim­ing of the state of emer­gency – de­spite Brown­lee say­ing it should have hap­pened much sooner.

On Wed­nes­day, Brown­lee slammed as­pects of the emer­gency re­sponse to the Port Hills fires and said he was ‘‘not at all happy’’ about the de­lay in declar­ing a lo­cal state of emer­gency and com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween of­fi­cials.

English vis­ited the Christchurch command cen­tre yes­ter­day, say­ing he was con­fi­dent in the per­for­mance of of­fi­cials and fire­fight­ers who were do­ing their best to con­trol the blaze.

‘‘I just can’t com­ment on the se­quence of events, who did what when, but . . . the in­di­ca­tion I’ve had from peo­ple who’ve been fight­ing the fire is there’s been no doubt about con­trol, about the pro­fes­sion­al­ism.’’

Asked why he felt un­able to com­ment when Brown­lee had al­ready voiced his con­cerns, English said: ‘‘Well look, Gerry’s very ex­pe­ri­enced at this, he’s done it for five or six years now, very reg­u­larly. He has a very clear opin­ion about it and that’ll be worked into any re­view of the process.’’

The fo­cus needed to re­main on con­tain­ing the fire and pro­vid­ing sup­port to those af­fected, rather than look­ing at what had gone wrong, he said.

Brown­lee said his com­ments were not about crit­i­cis­ing the ef­forts of emer­gency work­ers.

‘‘I don’t want any sug­ges­tion out there from me that they’ve been do­ing any­thing other than an amaz­ing job. Th­ese are very brave peo­ple do­ing a great job, there’s no ques­tion about that.’’

How­ever, he still be­lieved a state of civil emer­gency should have been trig­gered sooner, while there had been short­com­ings in the com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween lo­cal of­fi­cials and the Gov­ern­ment.

‘‘We were get­ting some sit reps [sit­u­a­tion re­ports], but those were very brief one­lin­ers.’’

The prob­lems with re­spond­ing to the fire echoed sim­i­lar is­sues af­ter last year’s Kaik­oura quake, which he planned to ad­dress through work with other po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

‘‘We all un­der­stand that there are some gaps be­tween the ru­ral fire ser­vice and the lo­cal Civil de­fence. Then be­tween the na­tional Civil De­fence and lo­cal Civil De­fence . . . straight­en­ing all that is a task that I’m sure all of us at Par­lia­ment will tackle in the months ahead.’’

Dalziel de­fended her han­dling of the sit­u­a­tion, say­ing it was right to leave the fire re­sponse to ru­ral fire of­fi­cers in Sel­wyn.

The Christchurch and Sel­wyn coun­cils had worked to­gether from the be­gin­ning, and al­ready had enough power to han­dle the blaze with­out declar­ing a state of emer­gency.

‘‘We can be very sat­is­fied . . . that all of the re­sources that could have been brought to bear, were brought to bear un­der the ar­range­ments in place.’’

Dalziel con­ceded there had been ‘‘a bit of a break­down in com­mu­ni­ca­tion’’, which would be ad­dressed once the fire was brought un­der con­trol.

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