The buzz from The Beehive has been barely audible since Christmas, reflecting the time out taken by ministers of the Crown to recharge their batteries, or whatever it is that politicians do to re-energise themselves for this year’s challenges.
But the disaster in Tonga – triggered by an undersea volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami – prompted statements both from Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Opposition leader Chris Luxon.
ACT issued a statement, too, but its focus was on the damage done by the tsunami to boats moored in Northland rather than the plight of the Tongans.
Mahuta said damage assessments were under way and New Zealand has formally offered to provide assistance to Tonga.
An initial $500,000 has been made available to respond to requests from the Government of Tonga. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, NZ Defence Force and other New Zealand agencies are working through air and sea options to provide assistance to Tonga.
A New Zealand Defence Force P3 Orion is on standby to provide aerial surveillance and support the Government of Tonga gain visibility of the impact on the outer islands, as soon as atmospheric conditions allow.
The New Zealand High Commission in Nuku‘alofa is monitoring the situation closely.
But communications links with Tonga have been disrupted, making it difficult for New Zealanders to contact families in Tonga.
In his statement, Luxon said the Opposition shares concerns for the people of Tonga and supports New Zealand standing ready to provide assistance.
“We welcome the Government’s commitment today to providing humanitarian assistance.”
We wonder why ACT couldn’t have issued a statement to say something similar. Perhaps they are bothered by the expenditure.
“I know that there will be many people around New Zealand tonight waiting to hear about their family, friends and loved ones while communication remains unstable, and our thoughts are with them too,” Luxon said.
“National’s Pacific Peoples spokesperson Dr Shane Reti has reached out to local Pacific leaders, the Tongan Consul, and Pacific Peoples Minister Aupito William Sio on behalf of the Opposition to express our sympathy and offer our support.”
Luxon said he hoped the Government was poised and prepared to deliver assistance as quickly as possible including, if appropriate, dispatching the multi-purpose Aotearoa vessel if planes are not able to safely fly over the volcanic ash cloud.
“We must help our Pacific friends and family in any way that we can.”
Luxton struck the right tone with his words, but at Point of Order we did wonder about one aspect of his press release. It carries a picture of him giving a very warm smile.
His publicity team should consider a picture of a Luxon looking more sombre for incorporating in his responses to a disaster of this sort.
On the other hand, we failed to find a statement from ACT leader David Seymour on the disaster, either in our email in-try or on the Scoop site which records parliamentary statements.
We did find a statement from ACT’s Civil Defence Spokesperson James McDowall.
He was vexed by the nature of whatever tsunami alert was sounded in this country, saying:
“Residents in Northland are rightly concerned that neither the Emergency Mobile Alert system nor any Tsunami sirens were activated prior to strong surges that destroyed dozens of boats in the Tutukaka Marina, flooded at least one campground, and put lives at risk as people scrambled to get away from the shore
“We have these systems in place for a reason, to protect lives and property. Kiwis shouldn’t have to rely on proactively checking Minister Kiritapu Allan’s Facebook page for warnings.”
Residents were now picking up the pieces and adding up their losses, well into the millions of dollars. The Marina itself will require extensive repair.
“Those who were living in their boats are thankful that they managed to get out in time, but cannot believe the radio silence after years of receiving mobile alerts and hearing sirens for minor events.
“With the integrity of these systems in question and further surges expected around New Zealand as a result of the devastating effects of Cyclone Cody and the volcanic eruption in Tonga, ACT encourages coastal residents around New Zealand to check Civil Defence’s website (https://www.civildefence.govt.nz) or any changes to warnings.”
The statement was accompanied by a photograph of ACT MP Simon Court helping boaties deal with “the carnage” at Tutukaka marina.
We were left wondering how much electoral support ACT gets from voters of Tongan ethnicity compared with – say – voters who own boats.
Latest from the Beehive
The thoughts of New Zealanders are with the people of Tonga following yesterday’s undersea volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami waves, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta says.