• The Human Wrecking Ball

    Our Minister for Earthquake Recovery, Gerry Brownlee, has an unenviable reputation for putting his foot in his mouth.

    The latest instance is his intemperate attack on Finland, which has – not surprisingly – aroused the ire of the Finns, both because it was so outrageous and because it was also completely misdirected. He apparently had not realised that the Finns might be listening and could understand English.

    Mr Brownlee, of course, has what the crime writers describe as “form”. Even in his role as Earthquake Recovery Minister, he was roundly criticised for saying that the best thing to do with damaged heritage buildings was to bowl the lot of them – and more recently, he asserted confidently that “the market should decide” the future of those whose homes were damaged.

    But there is another side to Mr Brownlee – an untold story that would certainly show him in a better and more unaccustomed light. Winston Peters may have insulted all woodwork teachers by describing him as “an illiterate woodwork teacher”, but he has other qualities that have enabled him to make an extraordinary (and unsung) contribution to earthquake recovery.

    As most people will know, the Christchurch reconstruction cannot be started until a huge demolition task is completed. Demolition contractors have been working flat out against a tight timetable to get the job done.

    Mr Brownlee’s enthusiasm for demolition is well known. But what may not be known is that he has found a way of converting that enthusiasm into positive action.

    Whenever he can get to Christchurch, and once his working day is over, Gerry Brownlee meets in secret with the demolition contractors and spends several hours through the evening providing his services as a human wrecking ball.

    The demolition contractors are delighted with what Mr Brownlee is able to achieve. One said admiringly that it was a great example of how a community-minded citizen could turn his natural assets to the general advantage.

    “The Minister may be criticised at times for some of the things he does and says in his day job, but he has made up for any intellectual deficiency by his willingness to use his physical attributes to help achieve the huge task of knocking Christchurch down.”

    “He may or may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he is certainly an improvement in that respect over your average wrecking-ball,” said another. “It is a huge advantage to be able to communicate, even while it is in mid-air, with your wrecking-ball – something that just isn’t possible with your average lump of metal.”

    Interviewed as he was about to don his crash helmet and have his ankles tied to together for attachment to the crane, Mr Brownlee was suitably modest about his contribution. “It’s no big deal,” he said. “I don’t want to receive plaudits for just doing what anyone would do. In any case, you could describe it as a labour of love – it’s something I enjoy doing and is the most useful thing I can do as Minister to get Christchurch back on its feet.”

    Mr Brownlee dismissed suggestions that the work was dangerous and that repeated blows to the head might mean that he would pay a heavy price for his public-spirited actions.

    “I can assure you that I have noticed no ill effects and my intellectual skills are as sharp as they ever were. I find it a kind of light relief from having to grapple with the difficult problems thrown up in my daytime work as Minister. And the skills required in my demolition work are just as intellectually demanding. I have to guide the crane driver as to where I should hit next.”

    The Prime Minister said, when asked to comment on Mr Brownlee’s unusual activity, that it was news to him but that what Ministers did in their spare time was up to them. “This is not a matter for the government – nothing ever is,” he said, “but I’m sure that the citizens of Christchurch will hugely appreciate the Minister’s take on how best to do his job.”

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