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Feb 19 2023

Hipkins prepared to make tough calls to ‘build back better’

PM Chris Hipkins fronts a press conference (Photo by MARTY MELVILLE/AFP via Getty Images)

In his first briefing since Friday, prime minister Chris Hipkins confirmed the death toll from Cyclone Gabrielle now stood at 11. He was joined by the acting director of the National Emergency Management Agency, Stefan Weir. 

6451 people have been reported to police as unaccounted for, while 3,216 people have registered themselves as safe. 

28,000 people are still without power, with the bulk in Napier and Hastings and fresh water is still in short supply. Fuel is available but spending limits are in place.

Earlier this morning finance minister Grant Robertson told Q&A that the cost of recovery will be in the billions, saying he expects the total cost to be similar to the Canterbury earthquakes, “in the $13b region.”

Hipkins said the government “will have to once again reprioritise and refocus our efforts and our resources.” 

“We will build back better, but we will also need to build back more resilient than before. For far too long as a country we’ve underinvested in infrastructure and resilience and that has to change.”

“We’re going to build back better and if we’re going to build back quickly, some tough calls will need to be made and I’m absolutely committed to doing it,” he said.

The government has now accepted an offer of assistance from Fiji. 18 personnel, including 10 from the Fijian Defence Forces will arrive to assist with the recovery. Australian emergency responders are helping Fire and Emergency New Zealand with a 27 person team and 25 personnel are already on the ground in Hawke’s Bay. Hipkins said there have been a dozen or so offers of assistance from overseas governments. The United States and Australian defence forces have assisted in providing satellite imaging equipment.

The Pacific Island Forum is due to take place in Fiji this week and Hipkins confirmed he would not attend. Deputy prime minister Carmel Sepuloni will attend instead. 

Hipkins said a decision on whether or not to delay the census, which is scheduled to take place on March 7, will need to be made in the “next week or so.”

Hipkins called for calm amid reports of opportunistic looting and burglary. He also noted the strain on people impacted saying “none of us should underestimate the psychological toll this is taking on Kiwis.”

“Our resilience is being tested like never before,” he said.