As one of those living at the epicentre of the destruction (we live on the Paroa Road inland from Tolaga Bay), l am able to give an accurate account at what happened immediately after and since the storm decimated a good portion of our rural community.
I am pleased to report that the local Civil Defence effort throughout the region was as good, if not better, than l have ever seen. They no doubt saved lives with their swift response across the board. They all deserve medals.
However, the Government’s response has so far, been non existent - throwing a few hundred thousand dollars at us and offering to send a bus load of “Taskforce Green” people who can do little more than watch from the sidelines as the heavy machinery and related contractors deal with the carnage.
This response is insulting in comparison to what they have offered other regions before. You might wonder if it is politically motivated.
So, let’s examine the timeline of this and past similar events in order to better help readers understand the relative importance of how we are coping on the battlefield with or without the help we need.
It isn’t pretty and will take years to repair. We need meaningful help now and government cash grants (probably hundreds of millions) is the only way to make it happen.
Murray Robertson’s well researched and informative front page story in Thursday’s edition of the Gisborne Herald setting out the parameters for a discussion on the post Cyclone Hale recovery is a welcome contribution to the conversations with Government that will inevitably follow. Thankfully, there are precedents to these discussions which need to be taken into account when deciding how best to help.
However, on its own, it will not be enough in support of our well qualified Federated Farmers leaders (Toby Williams and Co) who will once again battle on our behalf against the Ministers who have responsibility for the portfolios that will feature in future cabinet discussions on this region’s desperate position.
It is worth reflecting on recent discussions with these same ministers regarding the government’s plans to selectively tax our industry in response to our livestock GHG emissions.
Not only were we exposed to a bunch of ideologues driven by a commitment to the IPCC’s climate change mantra but we also got an indication of how non negotiable the government’s position on a number of other issues has become.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t bode well for our representatives’ ability to gain a fair hearing when they sit down with the ministers who control the money we need to fund our recovery from Cyclone Hale.
But, ironically, and being an eternal optimist, there is some reason why we could expect things to be different this time.
I would like to think that one of our ace cards is in the form of our resident cabinet minister, the Hon. Kiri Allan who has shown a refreshing willingness to go in to bat on our behalf when she feels she occupies the moral and fact supported high ground.
Having viewed the damage first hand with visits to the most devastated areas, Kiri will no doubt be able to make her own personal representations to cabinet.
That should help a lot.
But the key to achieving a cabinet response that provides meaningful types of financial and physical support will be based on our team (presumably including Kiri) being able to persuade cabinet that the funds (mainly cash grants) are urgently and justifiably needed.
Based on precedents that have already been set (ironically by 2 previous Labour Governments) during previous times of national crisis, it is reasonable to expect a relatively similar type of rescue package being offered when the talking is over.
I hope that cabinet will match their predecessors enlightened thinking when deciding how best to help our recovery.
Having survived both Cyclone Bola (which in comparative terms was much more destructive than Cyclone Hale) and the Covid pandemic, I regard myself as someone who can offer a bit of advice on what worked and what won’t when trying to restore the region to something approaching its pre Cyclone productive capacity.
Unsurprisingly, the do’s are the things that proved successful in the recoveries after Cyclone Bola and the Covid lockdown.
In both cases the following ingredients were crucial to the success of the recovery packages.
1) Governments set up a system that allowed access to government cash grants that would help pay for contractors who are best able to fix infrastructure,(in this case, fences, dams, tracks etc) and also the replacement of capital livestock and the reimbursement for crop losses.
2) it is also important to recognise all forms of need. Infrastructure repairs is only one of them although the most common.
In some cases the individual farmer may require help that only qualified medical practitioners can provide. Crisis like these have a habit of being the breaking point for individual mental well being. Unfortunately money can’t do much about these real issues but governments can make it easier for patients to get access to that type of help if they require it.
3) governments can persuade banks to be compassionate when dealing with clients who may need an extension of seasonal overdraft facilities or more acceptable mortgage repayment terms.
4) at the time of writing, government is offering about $300,000 in immediate cash grants which will go nowhere towards even making a dent on the damage that is so wide spread up here on the East Coast.
Their additional offer is to mobilise the Taskforce Green contingent who will be sent to pick grass off fence lines which unfortunately, in this instance, is all they are qualified to do.
Unfortunately, their efforts (no matter how well intended) will make little difference either.
As with the response to the Covid lockdown, businesses (this time farmers in particular) desperately need access to cash grants in order to maintain their operations. If that was good enough for the post Covid lockdown response when billions were spent propping up businesses, then surely the Cyclone Hale Survivors deserve as much in relative terms.
The current offer is insulting and stinks of political motivation.
The government needs to really show that they want to “be kind to all citizens” - not just the chosen few.
5) viewers of the TV coverage of the Cyclone damage will have noticed the reappearance of forestry slash in rivers less than a kilometre from our front gate - most of it will end up on the Tolaga Bay beaches, having smashed its way through properties and crops on its way to the sea.
Surely, this sort of recurring destruction can’t be allowed to continue.
The answer is to limit all forestry plantings to class 6 and 7 marginal hill country and plant the gullies within those forests with permanent natives or appropriate species that will act as barriers to the slash getting into the waterways. They will never be harvested.
And the forestry owners that are responsible for this slash, who are creaming it as a result of their investment in the carbon economy, must be forced to pay for the whole cleanup. Although they will once again try to absolve themselves from responsibility for this carnage, the evidence has their fingerprints all over it. “If it looks like forestry slash, acts like forestry slash does in flood waters, then it must be forestry slash.”
They need to own the problem!
While that might go some way in spelling the end of the carbon economy, it will automatically have the effect of returning our best grazing land to those who can make it work as part of the national livestock industry - a long awaited correction of something that should never have been allowed in the first place. These cowboys have had their time in the sun and will have to be satisfied with operating on country where their industry is the best use of the land they own and in doing so, be forced to introduce the environmental friendly practices that their licenses insist are essential.
Finally we can all help by giving our local support to those farmers and their supportive communities who really do need a change of scenery - mainly in a humanitarian sense.
They need to feel they are valued members of our regional community- nor the self serving leeches that some people have portrayed them as.
“ Let’s do it !”
Clive Bibby is a commentator, consultant, farmer and community leader, who lives in Tolaga Bay.