Rebuilding Christchurch, Fiji opens up to Russia and Samoa’s most senior female politician.
There was a time after the devastating 2011 earthquake when some wondered whether Christchurch would survive at all. With 185 people dead and the central business district destroyed, the heart had seemingly been ripped out of the city. But five years on, New Zealand’s third-largest city isn’t just functioning, it’s blooming. “There’s a sense that anything is possible,” says Vicki Buck, the city’s deputy mayor.
Perhaps most important is the nz$635m (€385m) insurance settlement that has given the Christchurch City Council the funds to continue its recovery. Then there was the exit of the state-run Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera). In charge of the city’s rebuild since a month after the earthquake, Cera increasingly fell out of favour with locals frustrated by its top-down decision-making process. It has now been replaced by Regenerate Christchurch; jointly funded by the central government and the council, it puts more decision-making back into local hands. “If you were going to do things differently it might have been getting rid of Cera earlier,” says Buck. “It’s the people who need to be involved.”
The list of projects to either be completed or initiated in 2016 is intimidating. A new music centre, The Piano, is due to be unveiled in July, while the first stages of mixed retail and commercial developments by the name of the bnz Centre and The Terrace are due before the year’s end. There are also plans for a new convention centre. Elsewhere the council is keen to initiate the development of a new cruise-ship terminal at Lyttelton Harbour.
But the recovery is also about reinvention. In March speed limits in the centre of the city were reduced to 30km/h, with nz$65m (€40m) to be spent over the next three years on cycle paths that will extend to the suburbs. Meanwhile, a burgeoning entrepreneurial spirit has the city repositioning itself as a centre for innovation.
Australia’s fast-track visa system, meant to incentivise the wealthy to head down under and invest, is paying dividends. High-net-worth individuals are flocking to Sydney and Melbourne in droves, with a recent New World Wealth report showing that the two cities have the highest number of annual millionaire inflow in the world. While the economic benefits are obvious, prioritising the wealthy further highlights the country’s poor track record when it comes to taking in refugees. As some other nations unveil fast-track systems to welcome Syrian refugees, Australia has rolled out a feature film, Journey, in war-torn nations to deter asylum-seekers.
Not so long ago, Fiji saw Australia and New Zealand as its most important allies. But that all changed in 2006 when Canberra and Wellington imposed sanctions on the island nation after its military coup, which meant that Fiji was left searching for new diplomatic partners. One country endeavouring to fill the void is Russia. In January, Moscow donated 20 containers of weapons to Fiji, ostensibly to upgrade the country’s small peacekeeping force in the Middle East. However, there’s a lingering question about what Russia wants in return. Auckland-based defence analyst Paul Buchanan says, “The suspicion is that the quid pro quo could be a future base for the Russian Pacific fleet.” Watch this space.
The recently appointed – and first female – deputy prime minister of Samoa is passionate about encouraging other women to follow in her footsteps.
Why has it taken this long for Samoa to get a female deputy prime minister?
There have never been many women in our parliament. Just like in many other parts of the world, it has traditionally been perceived as an area for men – but that is changing.
What do you think your appointment will mean for women in the Pacific?
Being a role model is important. I hope women can see that there is no office that they cannot aspire to. It takes a lot of confidence for women to enter politics and our society needs to encourage that. In 2013 my party [the centre-right Human Rights Protection party] introduced a special measure to ensure a minimum of five parliamentary seats went to women. The election in March was the first time that we’ve used this new legislation and we’re very pleased with the results.
As the new deputy prime minister, what will be the most important issues on your agenda?
The priority is driving our economy, particularly through tourism and agriculture. We are committed to developing infrastructure in rural areas – transport, utilities, electricity, water – and we have put a lot of work into mitigating the consequences of natural disasters caused by climate change.