National | Budget

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins unveils $1b funding support for cyclone recovery

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins announced a $1b funding support for cyclone recovery.  File Photo / Robert Kitchin / Stuff

By Bridie Witton, Stuff

The Government has earmarked $1 billion in this week’s Budget to rebuild roads, rail, schools, invest in child mental health support in Hawkes Bay and Tairāwhiti, and flood defences, as the regions look to recover after Cyclone Gabrielle.

Cyclone Gabrielle swept across the North Island in February, killing 11 people. Treasury estimated the damage from Cyclone Gabrielle and the Auckland Floods could range from $9 billion to $14.5 billion, second behind only the Canterbury earthquakes. Of this, $5 to $7.5 billion related to public infrastructure.

“This is about doing the basics - repairing and rebuilding what has been damaged and making smart investments, including $100 million of protection funding to ensure future events don’t cause the same devastation,” Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said.

“Cyclone Recovery is a core focus of this year’s Budget, and today’s package adds to the $890 million already provided in a rolling maul of repair works and business support.”

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the costs don’t include all the immediate and ongoing support for communities and businesses.

“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.

“Earlier this week, I announced that $4 billion worth of reprioritisations and savings had been identified through the Budget process to go towards more pressing priorities, like the Cyclone recovery.

Road repairs

More than $275 million is earmarked for Waka Kotahi and local councils to repair affected roads and get essential transport network operating again. This is on top of the $250 million the Government announced immediately after Cyclone Gabrielle, Transport Minister Michael Wood said.

“We’re also investing to repair the North Island rail to restore this crucial transport connection for people and freight, with a $200 million funding injection.

“This will get our rail network back in action by investing to repair the rail tracks, sleepers, bridges, and other structures that were damaged, and to clear debris from the tracks caused by slips and washouts.

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.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the costs don’t include all the immediate and ongoing support for communities and businesses. Abigail Dougherty / Stuff

Flood protection

As much as $100m will go towards practical flood protection infrastructure like stopbanks.

The Government will work with council to make a plan to protect against future flooding. This was on top of the 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.

The Government is also investing $35.4m to support the safety and wellbeing of farmers and growers, and stock in cyclone damaged areas by scaling up on-farm technical, scientific and financial advice. From this, $5.4 m will help operate rural community hubs, and ensure ongoing access to reliable telecommunications including satellite connectivity.

Employment and cost of living support

An extra $6 million will go towards the Food Secure Communities programme to support community food providers, such as food banks and food rescue organisations.

The recovery package also includes $5 million for Extending Community Support Funds, establishes a new Jobs and Skills Hub in Gisborne, and provides a further $1 million towards Enhanced Taskforce Green, who are still supporting Councils with clean-up work.

Extra health funding

The Government has also outlined $10 million for community-led wellbeing initiatives, including expanding the Mana Ake programme to Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti primary and intermediate schools. It will also give $6.1m in extra funding to GPs to allow for health workforce relief and more access to virtual GP and health consultations.

Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said Mana Ake works by providing support to schools and whānau when children are experiencing issues affecting their mental wellbeing. This move will expand the programme from the existing six areas (Canterbury and Kaikōura, Northland, Counties Manukau, Lakes, Bay of Plenty and the West Coast).

The GP funding provides for workforce relief for locum GP, pharmacy and nursing staff, an increase in funding for air ambulance for an additional six months and improved access to online GP, community health, mental health and addiction, and registered nurse consultations.

“I have heard from local GPs and community providers in the affected areas about what they need in this recovery. We are acting on those requests which is why this Budget also provides $6.1 million to cover community, primary and residential care,” she said.

There is also $8.9 million for front-line health providers supporting isolated communities in Northland, Tairāwhiti and Hawke’s Bay.

An additional $1.7 million in funding will go towards leasing suitable vehicles to provide access to services, and diesel generators for health services needing to be repaired.

“Finally, $8.3 million is being provided for the Hauora Māori disaster response. This is for urgent services that support whānau wellbeing and the community to recover from the impacts of North Island Weather Events,” she said.

“The health reforms are supporting the regional and national support systems that kick in during a state of emergency.”

Rebuilding schools

The Government has promised $31 million to cover the immediate costs of repairing more than 500 schools damaged by the severe weather. This includes repairs to roofs, plumbing, carpentry, tree removal and emergency cleaning.

A further $85m has been earmarked for the ongoing work required to return schools to their pre-weather-event state. In some cases, this may require redevelopment or relocation, Education Minister Jan Tinetti said.

“It was very concerning to see the damage done to some schools. Our concern went well beyond the physical damage to buildings and grounds. 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,” Tinetti said.

Another $700,000 over two years will go to schools for Special Reasons Staffing funding, with $315,000 of that available immediately.

“This funding can be used to employ relief staff, provide teaching/principal release time, support students with engagement and wellbeing, or employ additional teachers for those schools that have experienced increased enrolment due to enrolling students from weather-affected areas,” she said.

“We also increased existing ‘Counselling in Schools’ contracts to provide additional support to students, deployed Traumatic Incident Team support, extended Employee Assistance Program support for school, kura and early learning staff and offered a range of other wellbeing and funding supports,” Tinetti said.

A further $782,000 has been provided for the replacement of school library collections and related library resources lost due to the North Island Weather Events that cannot be replaced by other funding.