web analytics

The State’s reserve powers & the Christchurch earthquake

Written By: - Date published: 12:32 am, September 11th, 2010 - 12 comments
Categories: Deep stuff, law and "order" - Tags:

I’m not sure I totally agree with Bill’s guest post the other day. He was arguing that the Christchurch CBD cordon was an abuse of State power resulting from people getting too over-excited by imaginings of a Haiti or New Orleans-style breakdown of civil order. I would say that Bob Parker has emphasised restoring the CBD for business over helping the poorer suburbs but I don’t think the cordon was unjustified given the area was regarded as pretty unsafe and so many empty, unsecured buildings would have been a magnet for opportunists.

Nonetheless, Bill’s piece and the reports coming out of Christchurch’s courts do remind you what extraordinary powers the State holds in reserve.

Once a state of emergency is declared, various powers and offences come online. The legal right of the police to throw up the CBD cordon was one of the powers. And the offence of being in a restricted area without permission is one of the offences.

On Wednesday night a man (who had burglary convictions) was caught in the cordon. He hadn’t done anything and there was no evidence that he was going to steal anything other than his being inside the cordon. But that fact alone was enough to convict him under the Civil Defence Emergency Act. And, get this, he was tried and convicted the very next day.

Some will say: ‘the faster the better, justice delayed is justice denied’. The lesser known corollary is that justice rushed, too, is justice denied.

A handful of people have now been tried and convicted of things that you never knew were illegal and wouldn’t be but for the invocation of emergency powers. Things like ‘hindering a constable while a state of emergency is declared’ and ‘being found unlawfully in the yard of a medical centre’.

I’m not saying any of this is necessarily wrong or an abuse of power. It’s just interesting to see what cards the State has up its sleeve.

Of course, the State is like any organic system and will use whatever resources and powers it can to survive in desperate times. During the World Wars, the democratic states became just as authoritarian as their enemies with the economy, social life, food distribution, and information all under strict central control, which was enforced with a heavy hand. Habeas corpus was even suspended in World War 1 (and maybe 2) meaning some people (such as interred Germans) who were being punished or imprisoned by the State had no right for the State to have to prove its case in independent court.

The difference between the democracies and their enemies was they relinquished those extraordinary powers voluntarily when the crisis was past.

Which, I guess what this means that we have to be careful to have good institutions and good people in power so that the powers the State keeps in reserve are only brought out when absolutely necessary and are not abused when they are. The rule of law and, more, people’s belief in it is all that protects us from unbridled State power.

12 comments on “The State’s reserve powers & the Christchurch earthquake ”

  1. tsmithfield 1

    Interesting article.

    Actually living in the earthquake zone, there are several points I could make.

    Firstly, in a normally functioning city the state is controlling behaviour in many ways anyway. For instance, the traffic light system. However, in a natural disaster such as this, many of those systems are not functioning, or have reduced capability. For instance, many of the traffic lights went out across the city.

    Secondly, many people are in a state of shock and are unsure of what they should be doing.

    Thirdly, the various contractors/council workers etc who restore damaged services need to be able to do so without interference if they are to get the job done as quickly as possible.

    Fourthly, there are many hazards that people may be unaware of. For instance, Avonside drive has cracks that are now 1.5m wide in some areas as I understand it. If these hazards were not cordoned off, innocent drivers could easily drive into these cracks.

    So, in these unusual circumstances I have absolutely no problem with the state stepping up its level of control. In fact, most of us would expect it. From what I saw on the news, the suffering in the likes of Haiti may well have been exacerbated because the state did not have the capability to effectively take control in the way that it has happened in Christchurch.

    The proof is in the pudding. The speed at which the city is recovering from this disaster is quite amazing. I think most Cantaberians are blown away with how well the authorities have handled this situation.

    Also, I think previous governments and councils from whatever political persuasion deserve credit for the foresight they have had in developing building codes to cope with this sort of event. Although there has been considerable damage in some areas, much of the city has come through unscathed. Most of our industry is intact and functional to aid the recovery. There have been very few cases of building collapsing on people despite there being damage to a lot of houses.

  2. But that fact alone was enough to convict him under the Civil Defence Emergency Act. And, get this, he was tried and convicted the very next day.

    Some will say: ‘the faster the better, justice delayed is justice denied’. The lesser known corollary is that justice rushed, too, is justice denied.

    He wasn’t tried the very next day. In fact, he wasn’t tried at all.

    He pleaded guilty at the first opportunity; for a minor offence like this, this means you get sentenced that day, unless you ask for it to be delayed.

    The guy who was with him pleaded not guilty and was bailed.

  3. Bill 3

    “He was arguing that the Christchurch CBD cordon was an abuse of State power…”

    I was more concerned with what appeared to me as the possibility that there were “I’ve got a badge of authority!” Drama Queens unnecessarily ‘hamming it up’ by their squeezing of events to fit false preconceived notions of ‘disaster’…there was no breakdown of order in New Orleans or Haiti outside of media rantings. (Oh. The police did use the disaster to commit a series of murders in New Orleans….but that’s another matter)

    Meanwhile. Nobody asked the authorities to justify the calls they were making. Maybe they were actually justified. Or maybe simply shutting off some streets rather than imposing a curfew would have sufficed.

    Call me old fashioned. But authority must be held to account; made to justify and explain it’s actions lest it gets carried away with itself. Or even merely begins, with a developing culture of impunity to act stupidly.

    • Descendant Of Smith 3.1

      And I have no doubt that civil defense officials will provide a comprehensive report about all aspects of the response phase including the use of that power and I have no doubt that you will be able to read it at some point.

      As I said in an earlier post shutting off streets is one power and has to do with safety, the curfew is another power and is about prevention of looting only and neither of those things have anything to do with powers for civil unrest.

      Issues of breakdown in order are simply a red herring that does nothing but obfuscate.

      By all means hold them accountable for powers they exercised but stop trying to hold them accountable for powers they didn’t.

      • Bill 3.1.1

        I want the responsible authority to justify a particular action they actually undertook: The imposition of a curfew.

        I want an explanation as to why that was thought necessary as opposed to simply shutting down streets.

        And as I commented elsewhere, neither the ‘safety’ nor the ‘looter’ justifications stack up.

        I only commented on this thread to clarify a point attributed to me by Eddie and am too busy today to indulge you and your deliberate twisting and misrepresenting of what I have said.

        • Descendant Of Smith

          “But they were deployed to enforce a curfew. A curfew!? Where exactly was the breakdown in civil order that justified such a move? And at what point was it decided that earthquake survivors constituted a threat to civil order and were to be treated as an enemy?”

          I’m not sure how pointing out that you linked a breakdown in civil order to the imposition of a curfew is misrepresenting you but there you go.

          The answers to your questions is that there was no breakdown in civil order and it was never decided that survivors constituted a threat to civil order and that a curfew was never imposed for those reasons.

          Hope you feel better now those questions are answered.

          Now I do feel indulgent.

  4. prism 4

    Radio report says that people are offering their services to people needing house repairs and they may not be legit. Mention was made that a man with no official standing or a logo offered an old lady work on her damaged chimney.

    As someone who works in a clothing op shop I know that we are regularly given shirts with firm’s logos on and are now offering them back to the firm or organisation to prevent the opportunity to masquerade as a legit workman and commit fraud or other crime. Some firms are casual about their gear being out there, unaware of the possible downside, and we will then abandon them to the tip.

    If anyone is connected with or visits a social organisation sellingy/giving clothes please mention to someone responsible that there is this problem and that firms and organisations logoed, monogrammed t-shirts, jackets etc should not be distributed to the general public, whether given or sold. This is particularly important while there are so many vulnerable people in Christchurch and surrounds.

  5. The powers of the state are dedicated to getting companies back in business. SCF bailout and curfews in the commercial centre of ChCh. Concern expressed by John Key etc as to the welfare of ordinary people is directed at making sure they as workers don’t question the legitimacy of the state that openly rescues busnisses in trouble but doesnt rush to their assistance. The concerns of ordinary people that the state is taking too long to help them (i.e. insufficient resources deployed) is no different to their concerns about the normal failures of the health or education system. An earthquake puts more pressure on the system to live up to its promises. Its going to be more than portaloos and compensation. John Key will be expected to prove that his capitalist class doesnt treat workers and their subprime assets as expendable. This is going to be good to watch.

  6. The State’s reserve powers & the Christchurch earthquake

    I’d take issue with that title. As you yourself admit, these powers are defined by statute, and authorised by Parliament. They are therefore not any sort of “reserve power”.

Links to post

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

  • New Public Housing Plan announced
    The Government has released its Public Housing Plan 2021-2024 which outlines the intention of where 8,000 additional public and transitional housing places announced in Budget 2020, will go. “The Government is committed to continuing its public house build programme at pace and scale. The extra 8,000 homes – 6000 public ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    23 hours ago
  • Prime Minister congratulates President Joe Biden on his inauguration
    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has congratulated President Joe Biden on his inauguration as the 46th President of the United States of America. “I look forward to building a close relationship with President Biden and working with him on issues that matter to both our countries,” Jacinda Ardern said. “New Zealand ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 day ago
  • Jobs for Nature funding will create training and employment opportunities
    A major investment to tackle wilding pines in Mt Richmond will create jobs and help protect the area’s unique ecosystems, Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor says. The Mt Richmond Forest Park has unique ecosystems developed on mineral-rich geology, including taonga plant species found nowhere else in the country. “These special plant ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 days ago
  • Pre-departure testing extended to all passengers to New Zealand
    To further protect New Zealand from COVID-19, the Government is extending pre-departure testing to all passengers to New Zealand except from Australia, Antarctica and most Pacific Islands, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said today. “The change will come into force for all flights arriving in New Zealand after 11:59pm (NZT) on Monday ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 days ago
  • Bay Cadets learn skills to protect environment
    Bay Conservation Cadets launched with first intake Supported with $3.5 million grant Part of $1.245b Jobs for Nature programme to accelerate recover from Covid Cadets will learn skills to protect and enhance environment Environment Minister David Parker today welcomed the first intake of cadets at the launch of the Bay ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    4 days ago
  • Cook Islanders to resume travel to New Zealand
    The Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern and the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands Mark Brown have announced passengers from the Cook Islands can resume quarantine-free travel into New Zealand from 21 January, enabling access to essential services such as health. “Following confirmation of the Cook Islands’ COVID ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    7 days ago
  • Supporting communities and landowners to grow employment opportunities
    Jobs for Nature funding is being made available to conservation groups and landowners to employ staff and contractors in a move aimed at boosting local biodiversity-focused projects, Conservation Minister Kiritapu Allan has announced. It is estimated some 400-plus jobs will be created with employment opportunities in ecology, restoration, trapping, ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Border exception for some returning international tertiary students
    The Government has approved an exception class for 1000 international tertiary students, degree level and above, who began their study in New Zealand but were caught offshore when border restrictions began. The exception will allow students to return to New Zealand in stages from April 2021. “Our top priority continues ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Tiwai deal gives time for managed transition
    Today’s deal between Meridian and Rio Tinto for the Tiwai smelter to remain open another four years provides time for a managed transition for Southland. “The deal provides welcome certainty to the Southland community by protecting jobs and incomes as the region plans for the future. The Government is committed ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • New member for APEC Business Advisory Council
    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has appointed Anna Curzon to the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC). The leader of each APEC economy appoints three private sector representatives to ABAC. ABAC provides advice to leaders annually on business priorities. “ABAC helps ensure that APEC’s work programme is informed by business community perspectives ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Govt’s careful economic management recognised
    The Government’s prudent fiscal management and strong policy programme in the face of the COVID-19 global pandemic have been acknowledged by the credit rating agency Fitch. Fitch has today affirmed New Zealand’s local currency rating at AA+ with a stable outlook and foreign currency rating at AA with a positive ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Additional actions to keep COVID-19 out of NZ
    The Government is putting in place a suite of additional actions to protect New Zealand from COVID-19, including new emerging variants, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said today. “Given the high rates of infection in many countries and evidence of the global spread of more transmissible variants, it’s clear that ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • 19 projects will clean up and protect waterways
    $36 million of Government funding alongside councils and others for 19 projects Investment will clean up and protect waterways and create local jobs Boots on the ground expected in Q2 of 2021 Funding part of the Jobs for Nature policy package A package of 19 projects will help clean up ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • New Zealand Government acknowledges 175th anniversary of Battle of Ruapekapeka
    The commemoration of the 175th anniversary of the Battle of Ruapekapeka represents an opportunity for all New Zealanders to reflect on the role these conflicts have had in creating our modern nation, says Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Kiri Allan. “The Battle at Te Ruapekapeka Pā, which took ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Better care for babies with tongue-tie
    Babies born with tongue-tie will be assessed and treated consistently under new guidelines released by the Ministry of Health, Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall announced today. Around 5% to 10% of babies are born with a tongue-tie, or ankyloglossia, in New Zealand each year. At least half can ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago
  • Prisoner disorder event at Waikeria Prison over
    The prisoner disorder event at Waikeria Prison is over, with all remaining prisoners now safely and securely detained, Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis says. The majority of those involved in the event are members of the Mongols and Comancheros. Five of the men are deportees from Australia, with three subject to ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago
  • Pre-departure COVID-19 test for travellers from the UK and the US from 15 January
    Travellers from the United Kingdom or the United States bound for New Zealand will be required to get a negative test result for COVID-19 before departing, and work is underway to extend the requirement to other long haul flights to New Zealand, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed today. “The new PCR test requirement, foreshadowed last ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago