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The First Victim — Administrative Law and Natural Disasters

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This article examines the place of administrative law principles and processes (broadly understood) in a time of crisis. There appears a generally held assumption that such principles are a luxury which can be dispensed with when disaster strikes. The dominant political narratives that represent these views revolve around the idea that disaster recovery and the response that precedes it require urgent action. In these cases the advantages in doing something quickly is perceived to outweigh the need to do something correctly. In such an environment, the principles of good administrative practice and the processes that exist to deliver it are seen as unnecessary roadblocks in the way of progress and recovery.

This article challenges this traditional approach to the use of public power in disaster management. Using the specific example of the Canterbury earthquakes and the New Zealand government's legislative response, it argues that the concept of emergency and disaster are often conflated. As a result of this, the differences between the concepts are not recognised. This failure to understand the differences between disaster management phases is reflected in a flawed legislative approach. Far from being a simple question of delivering uncontentious goals, disaster recovery involves a set of highly contested political questions. The legislative framework should reflect this through recognition of good administrative process and principles. Without this, disaster recovery risks becoming an arbitrary and potentially inefficient process.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 May 2016

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  • The New Zealand Law Review, published quarterly by the Legal Research Foundation Inc. since 1966, is the premier law journal published in New Zealand. It includes refereed articles by leading New Zealand and international scholars, together with annual and biennial reviews of the major areas of the law, written by specialist contributing editors.
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