Cyclone Gabrielle: State of national emergency extended, Grant Robertson becomes Cyclone Recovery Minister, millions for business, roads

The Government is extending the Cyclone Gabrielle state of national emergency for another seven days while appointing Grant Robertson as the new Cyclone Recovery Minister.

The state of national emergency was first declared last Tuesday morning after Cyclone Gabrielle tore across the North Island and led to the deaths of at least 11. The extension will allow the National Emergency Management Agency to have central oversight while local authorities transition into a recovery mode. 

This is for Northland, Auckland, Tairāwhiti, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Hawke's Bay and Tararua.

A taskforce led by Sir Brian Roche is being set up to help with recovery. Ministers from affected regions will help inform this panel. These will be chosen by the Prime Minister on Monday night.

Robertson will be the Cyclone Recovery Minister and chair a new Cabinet committee to make decisions relevant to the recovery. This will include each of the ministers leading regional efforts. Barbara Edmonds will be the associate minister in this new portfolio.  

"Recovering from Cyclone Gabrielle will be one of the major areas of focus for the Government in the coming weeks and months," said Prime Minister Chris Hipkins.

"We are committed to working in partnership with business and the community while we do this.

"Our overall approach to recovery will be informed by lessons learned from past Government responses to events such as the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes."

The Government's also establishing a $50 million fund to provide relief to workers, businesses and primary industries. This will include flood recovery, business assistance and mental well-being support. Tax relief measures, like interest write-offs and filing date waivers, will be in place for affected regions.

"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," Robertson said. "We will coordinate the allocation of this funding with local business groups, iwi and local government in the affected regions."

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Getty Images.

There will also be a $250 million injection into an emergency National Land Transport Fund to help assess and re-establish critical infrastructure, like cyclone-damaged roads. This will be for local roads and state highways. 

"Immediate short-term funding is required to help Waka Kotahi and financially constrained local authorities get New Zealand’s essential transport network operating again," said Transport Minister Michael Wood.

"Our primary focus is on getting lifeline roads open and reconnecting isolated communities. Over the last week contractors have worked tirelessly in very challenging conditions to clear slips, remove debris and carry out vital geotechnical safety inspections at dozens of affected sites. To these contractors we say thank you."

The minister said the Government has a "large job ahead to determine the extent of which State and local roads can be rebuilt and which cannot or should not be replaced".

"This medium and long-term work will take time and require additional funding over and above that announced today."

Prime Minister Hipkins said it is clear "the damage is significant and on a scale not seen in New Zealand for at least a generation".

"The required investment to reconnect our communities and future-proof our nation's infrastructure is going to be significant, and requires hard decisions, and a whole of government approach," he said.

"We will not 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."

Robertson, who visited Hawke's Bay on Sunday, said more support will follow as the Government gets a better understanding of the costs and needs. He said the Government will consider wage subsidies, but he's heard a need for more targeted support.

"As Finance Minister I have been clear that we have the fiscal headroom to support our people and we will do that as we have done through all the other disasters we have guided this country though," Robertson said. 

"Today's announcement is a further step in our response to provide support as we get a clearer picture of the damage and the costs to each region."

The Government's also confirmed it is looking at immigration settings to ensure there is the labour to help with the rebuild. Hipkins has also not ruled out some "custom legislation" once the situation is better understood.

The announcements on Monday come on top of $3.35 million dispersed to mayoral relief funds across Tairāwhiti, Hawke’s Bay, Thames-Coromandel and Auckland regions. More than $28.4 million in Civil Defence payments has been made to about 57,000 people. About $4 million has been made available to farmers and growers affected by the weather event.