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Opinion Piece

14th March 2023

The Freedoms & Rights Coalition Team

As the saying goes, ‘you know who your true friends are in a crisis!’ A month on, for the Hawkes Bay locals, many have been left feeling alone, isolated, hopeless and helpless in their time of crisis. Many are still to hear from authorities as to how they can rebuild. Many are struggling emotionally and mentally.

Yet, our Freedom community and the ManUp organisation are the stuff true friends are made of. The hope and relief we’ve been able to bring to home after home as we show up with manpower to help them muck-in, bringing many hurting Kiwis to tears realising that someone actually does care about them.

All the while the authorities pontificate and procrastinate, we are helping where it really counts...clearing people’s homes, businesses, marae and farms.

Hastings & Napier homeowners have had to fend for themselves and deal with their own silt. In typical bureaucratic fashion, authorities announced earlier on in the relief phase that they would only be assisting farms, orchards and lifestyle blocks to clear silt.

Just imagine for a second how different our disaster response could have been if we had genuine, competent national leaders with compassion. The relief roll-out for Cyclone Gabrielle could have been much further along the recovery track by now.

We put the question to Brian Tamaki, as leader of The Freedoms & Rights Coalition and founder of ManUp, asking what he would have done if he was the leader of the nation?

“If one were the Prime Minister, and a national disaster struck like Cyclone Gabrielle, firstly, wouldn’t you rally the nation to roll-up their sleeves and help their fellow Kiwis out for a day or two over the space of the first couple of weeks? Imagine how quickly we could have stood Hawkes Bay back up with a massive collective effort of manpower muscle. As it was, I saw the need, gauged the gravity of human impact on my fellow Kiwis, and immediately rallied what I could, our ManUp organisation and individuals across the freedom community to help out, and boy what a difference they have made...real-life, tangible boots on the ground taking hope and relief to many homes.”

That’s quite the response!

Our local coordinator on the ground, Michael Ngahuka also tells us, “over the last two weeks, approximately 50% of our volunteers have been from ManUp, 50% have been from our freedom community.”

So far together our teams have cleared 76 homes of silt in the Hawkes Bay region over 27 days with approximately 1,200 volunteers rolling in and out. We're also on to clearing our third orchard. Some volunteers have come for a day or two, some for several weeks. All of this has been done with no funding from the government, the council, Civil Defence, or the Defence Force. Our volunteers have paid their own travel costs, machinery and equipment costs, sacrificed income and more. We’ve accommodated and fed our own volunteers. We’ve had the free use of the Hastings Sports Centre, but apart from that, the most we’ve been given is when an army truck rolled past our workers slaving in the hot sun, and they gave our volunteers a couple tubs of Powerade powder.

The math in all of this seems fairly simple. We know that on average it takes the following resource to clear one family home:

  • 1 x digger

  • 1 x bobcat

  • 2 x tip trucks (all manned)

  • 5 x wheelbarrows

  • 15 x shovels

  • 20+ labourers

Our volunteers have been focused on helping out yellow-stickered properties during our relief efforts. We understand there are approximately 1,669 yellow stickered homes across Hawkes Bay and Tairāwhiti. By our math, a volunteer army of approximately 33,380+ labourers could knock this work out in no time.

How hard would it really be to rally the manpower resource from across the team of 5 million, to help out all of these 1,669 homes immediately if we were privy to the Prime Minister’s press podium and purse?

Chris Hipkins makes big promises of money, but as usual, this is the government of non-delivery. Where is the tangible evidence of this funding on the ground helping Kiwis who have lost everything? So far we know the Government has designated the following funds towards Cyclone Gabrielle's recovery:

  • $55 million is available to the primary sector to help farmers and growers impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle. While that might seem like a lot, it is estimated that 5,500 individual farmers and growers have been the math and that averages out to $10,000 per farmer.

  • $25 million for interim business support

  • $250m ringfenced to top up the National Land Transport Fund’s emergency budget to repair crucial road networks

  • $11.5 million community support package

Is this going to be Deja Vu like the Covid funds, where Labour misappropriates the money and spends it on unrelated pet projects? All the hoopla and hype of a press conference, but zero impact.

Willie Jackson also proudly announced his $15 million Māori cyclone relief package that is supposed to support staffing for marae to undertake response and recovery activities, purchasing equipment needed for the clean-up and so on. Where’s Willie and his wallet when our ManUp crews got stuck in to dig out many of our maraes that were under silt over the past few weeks? Where’s Willie when our ManUp crews were clearing silt from urupa? Where’s Willie when we’re digging silt out of Māori families' homes? Or is Willie going to do what Willie always does, and will he syphon money off into his mate’s pockets, where the money is never to be seen again?

We know that the Red Cross has received $15 million in donations towards Cyclone Gabrielle, yet they’ve only sent $600,000 (4%) so far on the relief effort. ($450k on equipment such as generators, first-aid kits. One month into this disaster, you’d think the Red Cross would have a better handle on where these donations should be diverted to, and they’d be undertaking this with urgency. Yet, here we are still volunteering and self-funding the relief efforts that ManUp, and the freedom family have been undertaking.

The Red Cross would do well to pick up the phone and dial 08001MANUP and offer to pay our workforce of volunteers to help speed up the process.

Not to forget the thousands in mayoral funds, council funds, the Civil Defence with all their resource, and the Defence Force.

Brian Tamaki, ManUp, and our freedom fighters and friends...people with heart...are by far outshining the cash-flush Government, Māori caucus, Red Cross, Defence Force, Civil Defence and councils. Our volunteer efforts are run on the smell of an oily rag, with a whole lot of goodwill and some good ole Kiwi generosity from amongst our networks. Any of the donations we are receiving are immediately going out into the field to help those most affected, they are not being stock-piled up in a bank account for a later date.

Yet, within hours of Brian Tamaki stating on a live video that he was loading up his vehicle and heading to the Hawkes Bay to help out with our volunteers, the media exacted a precise hit-piece on him, designed to propagate nationwide hate on a man whose heart is genuine. Anyone else may have retreated to lick their wounds, but not Brian...he forged ahead on the frontline amongst our volunteers working hard to clear silt out of people’s homes.

The locals on the ground have no issue with Brian Tamaki as they’ve seen him mucking in and his genuine heart to help! Tamaki’s leadership is the type of genuine, common-sense leadership that this nation needs. Not the lacking leadership we’ve currently got.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in the moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

So, never forget the measure of the man who stood with you and for you during the dark days of Covid lockdowns and mandates.

Never forget the measure of the man who even now, still stands and works alongside those worse affected in the Hawkes Bay and Gisborne regions.

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