English downplays Brownlee’s criticism
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.