Disaster Recovery – Cyclone Gabrielle and beyond

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“A key lesson from the Christchurch Earthquakes was the importance of local knowledge and input into decision-making. Working along side Mayors and Chairs, these local leads will ensure local voices are heard and acted on.” Prime Minister Chris Hipkins announcing the establishment of the Extreme Weather Recovery Committee: 21 February 2023.

The clear message from Central Government is that it has learnt lessons from the Canterbury experience and recognises the importance of local communities to timely and effective disaster recovery. The challenges created by a more central focus were identified by the Auditor General in her 2017 report on the effectiveness of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA). A disaster recovery framework with greater devolvement to local stakeholders has been adopted as he preferred model for recovery management following Cyclone Gabrielle and the preceding floods.

The Framework of Recovery

The key elements of the recovery framework are in place or have been clearly signalled by Government:

  • Passing of the Severe Weather Emergency Legislation Act
  • Introduction of the Severe Weather Emergency Recovery Bill (SWER)
  • Establishment of Cyclone Gabrielle Recovery Taskforce (Taskforce)
  • Appointment of Chief Executive to Cyclone Recovery Unit to coordinate government agencies

Flexible Legislative Response

The SWER is intended to allow greater flexibility and speed in recovery of affected areas. Much greater use of Orders in Council will be made in order to facilitate a timely response. It allows the Governor General to grant exemptions from, modify or extend all or part of certain existing legislation if otherwise resources would be diverted from an efficient response or minimise of damage, or if they cannot be reasonably capable of being complied with.

A wide ranging suite of legislation is included in the flexible model – it refers to 29 specific Acts in the relevant schedule – but with the power for the Governor General to add additional Acts to the list. It is a major departure from normal legislative processes and the SWER attempts to find a middle ground to give some protection by means of consultation if powers are to be used.


The primary purpose of the Taskforce is to algin locally led recovery plans with the work of government agencies and the primary sector. It is chaired by Sir Brian Roche. The mandate from Central Government is to achieve a locally led recovery. The move from the CERA model (which was a government department during its existence) to a facilitation and liaison model should help ensure that the objective of devolved recovery and better community engagement is achieved.

Greater Involvement of Māori, Community Groups and Local Authorities

Local input and community engagement has been reflected in the framework:

Before exercising powers under the SWER, there must be engagement – including with local Māori and community groups, or with the public generally
A review panel convened by a retired High Court judge will be established to review draft orders and provide advice. That panel will include members with expertise in law (including Māori land tenure), environmental protection, local Māori and community interests in affected areas, emergency response and recovery, and local perspectives of mana whenua, mātauranga Māori, tikanga and te ao Māori
Membership of the Taskforce includes representatives from business, unions, iwi and local government.

The clear signal is that some of the lessons from the Canterbury experience have been learned, and the importance of local voice, engagement and representation has been recognised.

Next Phase will be Critical

As we learned in Canterbury, an initial flush of momentum (the emergency phase) can turn into a protracted recovery phase. Keeping the goodwill and engagement of communities over the medium term is more challenging. We see the following positive signs for recovery with the Central Government Response:

Greater trust placed in Māori with immediate package of $15m
A structural acknowledgement that local input is important – this has been embedded within the frameworks
Creation of a Taskforce charged with being a link between local and central interests rather than a Government Department.


Central government will continue to play a vital role in ensuring input from relevant experts and access to financial and other support beyond the reach of local authorities and communities. Major agencies such as Waka Kotahi will be key stakeholders and decision makers. However effective communication and involvement with the local community is vital to ensure that recovery is timely, resilient and successful.

Thanks to Ayleath Foote and Jonathan Forsey for preparing this article. For further information, please contact Ayleath, Jonathan or a member of our Disaster Recovery Support team.

Disclaimer: The content of this article is general in nature and not intended as a substitute for specific professional advice on any matter and should not be relied upon for that purpose.

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