By Peter Wilson
Parliament tonight passed a bill giving ministers wide-ranging powers to override laws which could hold up reconstruction in Canterbury.
The Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill, which became law on a unanimous vote, allows the Government to suspend provisions in 22 different Acts and will stay in force until April 2012.
The Acts listed in the bill include the Building Act, the Land Transport Act, the Local Government Act and the Commerce Act.
"The task ahead is enormous," cabinet minister Gerry Brownlee told MPs when he launched the debate on the bill.
"It's going to take a long time and we're going to need the rest of New Zealand to lend a hand."
Mr Brownlee, a Christchurch MP who is in charge of the reconstruction, said under routine procedures it would take months or even years before work could start.
"Business as usual won't work," he said.
"We need to be able to adapt, we need to be able to remove bureaucracy that would slow it up."
The bill does not define the suspensions or exemptions from existing legislation and orders will be made as problems that need fixing are identified.
Ministers will act through Orders in Council, which have to be signed by the Governor-General.
The bill also establishes a Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Commission, which will include the mayors of the three districts affected by the earthquake, three government appointees and an independent chairman.
The commission will advise ministers on which orders need to be made and will be a contact point between central and local government.
Labour leader Phil Goff said his party was supporting the bill.
"There's no room for partisan squabbling, we understand this isn't business as usual," he said.
Mr Goff said that as reconstruction work began it was essential homeowners were protected from "cowboy operators" and Labour would carefully watch the situation.
Environment Minister Nick Smith said the earthquake had released energy equivalent to 1000 Hiroshima atomic bombs.
"Engineers measure earthquakes by ground horizontal acceleration levels because it is these which actually cause damage to buildings," he said.
"The Canterbury earthquake recorded accelerations of 1.26 times gravity -- it's like tipping up a building like this Parliament on its end and then putting it back again."
Dr Smith said those levels were the highest recorded in New Zealand and only very few of that size had been recorded globally.
The Greens supported the bill despite having serious concerns about some of its provisions.
They were worried about the extent of the powers in the bill and that ministerial decisions can't be challenged in court.
"It accords enormous power and protection from legal liabilities," said MP Kennedy Graham.
"It allows the Government to suspend just about any piece of legislation...we don't have to suspend virtually the entire statute book to rebuild a city."
Dr Graham said Parliament might be losing its sense of proportion, but the Greens would vote for the bill in the interests of national unity.
The Government didn't need to put Parliament into urgency because all the parties agreed to take the bill through all its stages in one day.