Budget 2023: Government's $1 billion Cyclone Gabrielle and Auckland Anniversary floods package unveiled

The Government has announced a massive $1 billion new package of support for flood and cyclone-ravaged communities, including an additional $275 million to repair roads, a $100 million flood protection fund, and a commitment to return all schools to their pre-weather state.

The Budget 2023 announcement made on Sunday is about responding to the "immediate recovery needs" and investing in "greater resilience for tomorrow", Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said. 

"This is about doing the basics - repairing and rebuilding what has been damaged and making smart investments," he said. 

"This recovery package will get roads, rail and schools back to where they were before the extreme weather hit this year so communities can get back to normal as soon as possible."

The 'North Island Weather Events Response and Recovery Package' is made up of $941 million in total operating allowance and $195 million in capital. This is on top of the already nearly $900 million allocated through a rolling maul of announcements in the aftermath of the events. 

Treasury has estimated the damage from the Auckland Anniversary Weekend floods and Cyclone Gabrielle in February to cost between $9 billion and $14.5 billion. Of this, about $5 billion to $7.5 billion is estimated to relate to central and local government infrastructure.

"These costs relate to damage, and don't include all of the immediate and ongoing support for communities and businesses provided by the Government in our programme of rolling support," Finance Minister Grant Robertson said.

"Cyclone Gabrielle hit the country when the Budget 2023 process was relatively advanced. As a result, we made the call that the response would be prioritised over other initiatives which were in the draft Budget package at the time."

Robertson said while this package is "significant" it's not the end of the support the Government will provide to regions affected by the weather.

The Prime Minister's previously said the cyclone recovery would be funded through usual annual operating and capital allowances, as well as savings, reprioritisations and by taking on more debt. The Finance Minister this week announced Budget 2023 includes $4 billion in savings.

Flood protection

Through Budget 2023, the Government is pumping $100 million into a flood protection fund that regions impacted by the weather events can apply for funding from.

The money will go towards practical flood protection infrastructure like stopbanks and other measures that can protect communities from flooding. 

"Flooding and debris has destroyed homes and businesses, cut off communities and caused widespread damage, particularly to industries like horticulture," Kieran McAnulty, the Local Government Minister and lead cyclone recovery minister for Hawke's Bay, Tararua and Wairarapa, said.

"We've also seen floodbanks protect communities from devastation. For example, the Taradale stopbank, which was strengthened ahead of Gabrielle through the Government's infrastructure programme, held during the Cyclone."

McAnulty said the Government would work closely with affected councils, from the Far North down to the Wairarapa, on interventions tailored for each region and their vulnerability to future flooding. Decisions on the funding will also be tied to work on the future of land-use to ensure streamlined decisions are made, he said.

"This $100 million is on top of the standard support the Government provides to councils to repair and rebuild following a disaster – this includes covering 60 percent of costs of damaged essential infrastructure owned by councils."

Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty and Prime Minister Chris Hipkins.
Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty and Prime Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Newshub.

More money for broken roads and rail

The $1 billion package includes an additional $275 million to top up the National Land Transport Fund to help support the immediate response and recovery costs for state highways and local roads affected by the weather. 

Work that needs to be done includes clearing sites, providing temporary fixes (like bailey bridges) and restoring access to communities.

This is on top of the $250 million allocated to fix roads in the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle, Transport Minister Michael Wood said.

Through this funding, Waka Kotahi will also be able to consider requests from regions that need direct financial support to rebuild the local roads that they are responsible for.

"With cost of living pressures affecting many families across the country, we are acutely aware that the significant cost to rebuild local roads could lead to unmanageable rates increases," he said.

"So we're stepping in to cover more of the costs of clearance and rebuild so Councils can get on with the work without having to rely on increasing rates."

Transport Minister Michael Wood
Transport Minister Michael Wood Photo credit: Newshub.

The Budget 2023 package also includes $200 million to repair North Island rail. Wood said the weather events damaged some trackers, sleepers, bridges and other structures. 

"Repair work will be focussed on the North Auckland Line and the Palmerston North to Gisborne Line, as well as the Auckland metropolitan network, the North Island Main Trunk and the East Coast Main Trunk."

Repairing and rebuilding damaged schools

The Government is making a commitment to returning all schools impacted by both the Auckland flooding and Cyclone Gabrielle to their pre-weather state.

Education Minister Jan Tinetti said more than 500 schools were damaged across the North Island.

"Budget 2023 provides $31 million to cover the immediate costs associated with returning affected schools to working order following the extreme North Island Weather events," Tinetti said.

"This includes repairs to roofs, plumbing infrastructure, carpentry, tree removal, and emergency cleaning.

"A further $85 million funding has been allocated for the ongoing work required to return schools to their pre-weather-event state. In some cases, this may require redevelopment or relocation."

The Government's provided a table highlighting how many schools are affected per region. For example, in Auckland, there are 258 schools identified as requiring immediate response funding.

Budget 2023: Government's $1 billion Cyclone Gabrielle and Auckland Anniversary floods package unveiled

But Tinetti said the impact of the weather goes beyond the physical damage.

"The impact on students and staff was very much front of mind. Schools are often a hub for local communities and so the effects were felt widely," she said.

To support staff, Budget 2023 includes $700,000 over two years for Special Reasons Staffing Funding, with $315,000 available immediately. This can be used to employ relief staff for support, provide more teaching or principal release time, and support students' wellbeing.

Schools that have seen a jump in enrolment due to enrolling students from weather-affected regions could also use funding to employ more teachers.

"The funding announced today is on top of the immediate Government response after the weather events to assist to schools in the affected areas. In the immediate aftermath of the weather events we transferred significant existing resources in response to the urgent needs of schools and kura." 

What else?

There are a number of other initiatives allocated funding through the Budget 2023 package, including:

  • $10 million to fund community-based mental wellbeing support, including $3.7 million to expand the Mana Wke programme into Hawke's bay and Tairāwhiti
  • $8.85 million to fund air and road transport to ensure isolated communities receive healthcare, fund alternative provision of acute healthcare, and repair hospital facilities
  • $35.4 million to support farmers and growers by allowing access to expert advice to inform decisions on health and safety and animal welfare, urgent maintenance, and to help with the transport of essential supplies
  • $35.2 million towards employment programmes and services to help Kiwis affected by the weather
  • $782,000 for the replacement of school library resources
  • $12.6 million to plan and rebuild biodiversity, heritage, visitor and other conservation sites damaged in the weather