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Cyclone Gabrielle: Region in line for share of $1b

Wairarapa is in line for a slice of the government’s latest $1 billion pre-Budget announcement – but just how much remains unclear.

At a media stand-up on Sunday, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced a $1b package to support flood and cyclone-ravaged communities and said cyclone recovery will be a key focus of Thursday’s Budget.

The package includes a $100 million flood protection fund, $275m for road repairs, and $35m for recovery support for farmers and growers in rural communities.

However, the region will remain in the dark, for now, about what it will receive and when, although Wairarapa MP and Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty confirmed the response will remain locally led, with direction on funding requirements provided by councils.

Wairarapa’s district councils welcomed the announcement, with all three confirming rebuilding and repairing the “severely damaged” roading network was a high priority.

Masterton District Council roading services manager Kain Jaquiery said the council has identified close to 40 sites needing urgent action that will cost “tens of millions of dollars” and that “funding support from the central government will be required to ease the financial burden on ratepayers”.

South Wairarapa District Council emphasised that many farmers were continuing to face challenges with fencing, slips, and destroyed track access.

Wairarapa Federated Farmers president David Hayes said, while all support is appreciated, farmers are grappling with future uncertainty.

“What is probably still missing is, ‘where to from here?’” he said.

“Farmers and growers have challenges around insurance – their financial situation is still being understood. We don’t know how the banks will respond.”

In Wairarapa, Hayes said, sheep, hill country, and arable farmers are “still really badly affected” by Gabrielle and remedial work is wrapping up ahead of a predicted “tough winter”.

“They’ve got years ahead of them to get through this.”

With a cyclone-hit orchard in Hawke’s Bay, Hayes appreciates first-hand the difficulty of navigating the next few years.

“It was supposed to be our first year of income; now we’re faced with three to four years of losses, which is going to be huge.

“The support is appreciated but there will need to be more over the coming years, and policy decisions around what
gets fixed, and what doesn’t.”

Wairarapa National Party candidate Mike Butterick said, while the infrastructure investment will be welcome, farmers and growers have been “significantly impacted”, and the resulting economic fallout is becoming clearer.

“The seasonal window for implementing a recovery plan is narrowing daily and it’s critical that the sooner they can have certainty, the sooner they can look to map their recovery,” he said.

Meanwhile, Green Party candidate Celia Wade-Brown commended the support for rail and road connections, and mental health support, while noting the package doesn’t address the “root causes of the recent disasters”.

Wade-Brown said the Greens welcome the inquiry into slash and sediment, and called on the forestry industry to “foot more of the bill”.

McAnulty said the impacts of severe weather are not immediately obvious and gave an assurance that government support will not end with Sunday’s announcement.

“I absolutely acknowledge those affected are desperate for certainty on the next steps,” he said.

“Where we have the answers, we have provided those, and where we don’t yet, we are working as fast as we can to provide clarity.”

McAnulty said Cyclone Gabrielle was New Zealand’s largest-ever weather event and each region has been affected differently.

“Recovery is going to take a long time, and we are committed to the long haul.”

He said climate change is at the forefront of his mind, and policy work on managed retreat and resilience following the extreme weather events had moved quickly toward practical implementation and building resilience.

“There is no point building back from the weather events of recent years in just the same way when we know we will be experiencing more of them,” McAnulty said.

“Rural communities are hit hardest by climate change and we simply cannot leave them to face this alone.”

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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