NZ earthquake: John Key vows to keep Kaikoura businesses on their feet

  • 16/11/2016
Prime Minister John Key inspects earthquake damage north of Kaikoura from an RNZAF helicopter (Getty)
Prime Minister John Key inspects earthquake damage north of Kaikoura from an RNZAF helicopter (Getty)

A recovery package from the Government is on its way to Kaikoura businesses.

Minister for Business, Innovation and Employment Steven Joyce is expected to announce a business recovery package over the next few days.

Mr Joyce says he spoke to mayor Winston Gray today who is optimistic about the town’s future.

"They are just looking for some support to get them through a tough time," he says.

Mr Joyce says they are still working through the details.

"We have been down this road before, sadly in the case of Christchurch so we are familiar with some of the models and examples."

Prime Minister John Key met with local tourism and hospitality operators, farmers and other businesses at Kaikoura on Wednesday.

One business owner said a clear picture of the Government's support was needed to help assess whether they could remain in Kaikoura.

He said it was unlikely they would make money this summer season and tourism was also low in winter, even when the roads were open.

"So for the next year our businesses are interrupted."

Mr Key said the support would be similar to the Christchurch package, which included paying staff for up to 11 weeks and picking up the tab for those without business continuity insurance.

That meant businesses could keep staff so that when tourists returned there was the capacity to host them.

Tax breaks were also possible. It would be a high-trust model to cut down on the red tape.

"We don't expect you to have to go through miles and miles of paper work.

"In theory, if we can get some connectivity back up again, you might be in a position where obviously your income is going to be down a bit, but if we are helping pay the wages and we can get some of the tourists back - not all of them because there will be some reduction - then we can get through the worst of it and get you out the other side."

He told them while they might have to write off through traffic from the North for a while, the damage to the State Highway to the south was less severe and would at least open the way from Christchurch.

Ian Croucher, owner of South Bay Fishing Charters, told Mr Key most of the industry was based around the ocean.

"A lot of the emphasis is going to have to go into the marine area, getting that up and operational so that we can actually get back and keep people employed and keep staff. So maybe that to us is pretty high priority."

Concerns were raised that boat operators such as Whale Watch would only be able to go out at very high tide. Mr Key said it was possible dredging could fix that.

The Government had not yet considered whether one-off emergency legislation such as that used in Christchurch would be needed for Kaikoura to speed up resource consent processes.

Mr Key said if it was needed, it could be passed very quickly under urgency and he had no doubt it would get broad support in Parliament.

"Put it this way - if we had to do it to get things going quickly we'd do it. That would be our view. If we have to do it we'll do it.

"We don't want to abuse those powers, but if we have to do something to get you guys back in business, I'm sure most people locally at least would agree."

It earned him a round of applause.

Officials at the meeting with Mr Key told the locals the priority had been on ensuring people were safe, getting them out, and restoring basic services, but things were now moving to the recovery stage, which was a longer process. Officials were still taking stock of the problems other than the most obvious - the roads.

Mr Key was also asked to help with messaging to reduce the impact on tourism internationally.

He was told about 80 percent of the tourism in Kaikoura was international, including from China, Australia and the United Kingdom. He warned that could take some doing in some markets.

"The only thing that worries me as Minister of Tourism is just that some markets are quite sensitive to earthquakes, and so they really worry about the fact there's been earthquakes."

He said as soon as the road network was back in place to Christchurch the Government could "throw some money" into an online campaign to advertise it.

There were some lighter moments. There was laughter and a spattering of applause when Mr Key told them they were in the thoughts of US President-elect Donald Trump and he had asked Mr Key to pass on his best wishes.

Mr Key also observed the influx of naval vessels from other countries was putting on quite a tourism show for them.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges said officials were working night and day on clearing an inland route and expected it to be open soon.

He said naval ships were also bringing in fuel and diesel.

After the meeting, Glenn Ormsby said it was helpful but businesses were worried.

"Summer's coming up, and what do we do? It should be our busiest period and what do we do?"