The interim package will go towards immediate relief as the national state of emergency is extended seven days and Grant Robertson is announced as Cyclone Recovery Minister

The Government has announced a $250 million support package for roads and $50 million for businesses hit by Cyclone Gabrielle

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and Finance Minister Grant Robertson spoke after this week’s Cabinet meeting, as the full extent of the cyclone damage is becoming clearer.

The $250 million is to help Waka Kotahi and local councils assess and fix roads and the $50 million will go towards delivering interim emergency business and primary sector support.

“Ministers will finalise the distribution of this funding in the coming week, but this will include support to businesses to meet immediate costs and further assist with clean-up. We will coordinate the allocation of this funding with local business groups, iwi and local government in the affected regions,” Robertson said.

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“The Government recognises the weather events are having an impact on people and businesses meeting their tax obligations, so we are taking a range of tax relief measures as well.”

Tens of millions of dollars have already been put into cyclone recovery and support, including into Mayoral Relief Funds, Civil Defence payments, and a package for NGOs and community support groups, he said.

“I want to be very clear, this is an interim package and more support will follow as we get a better picture of the scale, cost and needs in the wake of this disaster,” Hipkins said, “I would note that in responding to previous major disasters a rolling maul approach has had to be taken and this situation is no different.”

An additional $250 million has been ringfenced to top up the National Land Transport Fund’s emergency budget to repair crucial road networks.

An exemption from the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act requirements has also been extended to Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay and Tararua – allowing banks and other lenders to quickly provide credit up to $10,000.

“While the full impacts of the cyclone continue to be assessed, it’s clear that the damage is significant and on a scale not seen in New Zealand for at least a generation,” Hipkins said.

“The required investment to reconnect our communities and future-proof our nation’s infrastructure is going to be significant and it will require hard decisions and an all-of-government approach.

“We won’t shy away from those hard decisions and are working on a suite of measures to support New Zealanders by building back better, building back safer, and building back smarter.”

Ministers also agreed to extend the national state of emergency for another seven days.

“The declaration continues to apply to seven regions: Northland, Auckland Tai Rāwhiti, Bay of Plenty, Waikato, Hawke’s Bay and Tararua … meaning that they’ll get all of the support on offer from a nationally supported recovery,” Hipkins said.

A lead minister will be appointed for each of the affected regions.

“I’ll finalise a list of lead ministers tonight and I’ll be tasking them with reporting back, working with their communities within a week on the local recovery approach that’s best going to meet the needs of their regions,” Hipkins said.

A new cyclone recovery taskforce headed by Sir Brian Roche and with regional groups, modelled partly on a Queensland taskforce established after their floods, will be set up. Terms of reference for the taskforce will be made public in coming days.

A new Cabinet committee will be established to take decisions relevant to the recovery, chaired by Grant Robertson, who will also take on the new role of Cyclone Recovery Minister, with Barbara Edmonds appointed as an associate minister.

Meanwhile, the number of people whose deaths have been officially linked to Cyclone Gabrielle has risen to 11, with Prime Minister Chris Hipkins warning more fatalities remain possible.

Hipkins has also flagged a significant reprioritisation of the Government’s work programme in light of the devastation caused by the storm, saying tough calls will need to be made.

In a statement on Sunday, police said a person who passed away in their Onekawa, Napier home on Thursday is “believed to have died in circumstances related to Cyclone Gabrielle”.

The news was soon followed by confirmation of another death in the Hastings suburb of Crownthorpe, again believed to be linked to the storm, with both deaths referred to the Coroner.

Hipkins said more than 6000 people had been reported to be uncontactable, with 3216 now found to be safe. Police staff were working hard to find the remaining individuals, but it was possible the death toll would rise further.

He said 28,000 homes, mainly in Napier and Hastings, were still without power by Sunday afternoon. Road access remained restricted but was slowly opening up, while the rail line had been badly damaged and would take time to repair.

Gisborne’s main water treatment plant was now back in operation, but Hipkins said water use restrictions were still in place, while West Auckland communities had received some water via a tanker delivery overnight.

State Highway 2 between Gisborne and Wairoa was now open to traffic 24 hours a day and SH38 from Wairoa to the Bay of Plenty was open to utility vehicles under special conditions.

HMNZS Canterbury would arrive off the eastern district on Monday with five Bailey bridges, among other supplies.

“If we’re going to build back better and if we’re going to build back quickly, some tough calls will need to be made, and I’m absolutely committed to doing that.”
– Prime Minister Chris Hipkins

The Government had accepted an offer of support from Fiji’s government, with 10 defence force personnel, four fire authority crew, and four disaster management officials set to arrive in the coming days.

The United States and Australia had been providing “crucial” satellite images of the affected areas. The Government was also close to accepting an offer from the Australian government to provide a C-130 transport aircraft, with teams to move freight and environmental health staff to help assess health risks.

On business support, Hipkins said Finance Minister Grant Robertson had visited Hawkes Bay on Sunday and spoken to business people and growers, some of whom were in “pretty perilous situations”.

Cabinet would consider some potential support measures on Monday, although any initial package would be just the start as further needs were identified and addressed.

The prime minister said it was too early to say whether support measures from the Covid-19 pandemic, such as the wage subsidy scheme, could be revived and put to use for the cyclone recovery.

However, it was clear the Government would have to further reprioritise its spending and work programme to deal with the recovery, with some initiatives either scrapped or put on longer timelines.

“If we’re going to build back better and if we’re going to build back quickly, some tough calls will need to be made, and I’m absolutely committed to doing that.”

The window to change May’s Budget was narrowing, and repair work would have a significant impact on its overall shape and size.

Hipkins said he was still considering how best to structure the government response, given it spanned a wide area of the North Island and would need to include the private sector as well as community groups.

It was likely some laws would need to be changed to help with the recovery, although legislative gaps were still in the process of being identified.

The Government would continue to work on managed retreat policy as part of Climate Change Minister James Shaw’s climate adaptation agenda. While Cyclone Gabrielle had brought that work into sharper focus, Hipkins said it was important to make any long-term decisions fairly and without being “overly arbitrary”.

No looting curfew advice – PM

More than 100 extra officers have been drafted into the Eastern District, including to areas that were cut off from Cyclone Gabrielle.

It follows a spate of looting across Hawkes Bay where police have arrested five people so far. In one town, Puketapu, residents have set up roadblocks to guard against looters after a group were found raiding a damaged home, the New Zealand Herald reported.

The Eagle police helicopter has been brought in to help track and locate offenders or vehicles of interest.

As of yesterday evening, police had logged almost 1500 jobs throughout the Eastern District, including public reassurance, patrols and vehicle stops.

Eastern District Commander Superintendent Jeanette Park said targeting people in a crisis was abhorrent and it would not be tolerated, while Hipkins said he had not received any advice suggesting a curfew was necessary.

With tensions understandably high, particularly in areas still without electricity and communications networks, it was important to look after the health and welfare of Kiwis who could struggle to cope with the pressure.

“We’ll be making sure that we’re trying to get support to those people who need that additional support, because it is human nature that when you’re faced with these extraordinary circumstances, it can put people under a huge amount of stress.”

Hipkins also announced he would no longer attend a special Pacific Islands Forum retreat in Fiji this week given the need to oversee response efforts, instead sending Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni in his place.

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