Just over a week on my thoughts constantly turn to the people of Christchurch. I am thinking particularly of those who have lost loved ones. For many this is a time of unbearable heartache as they wait for news, any news, of their nearest and dearest, knowing all the while their likely fate. I have been close to two of these situations in the last week and it is truly testing the friends and families to endure the hurt, frustration and uncertainty. I also think of those who are homeless, or in wrecked homes or in streets, especially those in the eastern suburbs still without power, water and sewerage.
The people of Christchurch and their well-being is the chief concern of all in politics right now, whatever party we are from. In this past week we have all tried to pull together, as communities all around New Zealand have, to do our best for them. Government Ministers are working incredibly hard, as are local MPs of all parties and I want to acknowledge them all for that.
Part of the passing days is that discussion inevitably turn to matters that are more political. We had our first taste of that with the story about Bill English refusing to rule out cuts to Working for Families and changes to the interest free student loan scheme. John Key followed up today saying there was an ‘opportunity’ to look again at these policies. Phil Goff has responded saying that cutting incomes for families and increasing costs for students and graduates like this is not the correct response, and that there are other choices the government can make.
The mere fact of this debate has caused anguish for some. I accept that this is a sensitive area. As I said there are many people still waiting to learn the fate of their family members, and thousands of people doing it really tough every day. But the discussion about the future of Christchurch and what will be done is now in the public arena as likely costs are released by the government, and questions asked by the media and others. It does not, and should not stop the focus on rescue, recovery and ensuring the immediate health and safety of residents.
In fact it is important for our democracy that the debate is held. These are important decisions about the future of our whole country, especially Christchurch, but for all of us in the end. The choices that are made, and the priorities accorded to future spending need to be the subject of debate. There is need to hold the government to account, and to oppose and propose where necessary. This is not disrespectful to the people of Christchurch, it is in fact to support them and take further steps to recovery.
We must strive to work together for the people of Christchurch. We must be sensitive to an emotionally charged situation. But there will be debate and disagreement. That is a healthy part of our democracy. That is part of politics. And politics need not be a dirty word. It should be the mechanism by which we go about about finding the best outcome for the people and the future of Christchurch and the rest of our great country.