Ombudsman report – significant breaches by Oranga Tamariki ‘uplifting’ babies

Following revelations by Newsroom in June 2019 the Ombudsman investigated the Oranga Tamariki (Ministry for Children), and in a report to Parliament “the ministry used its most extreme powers as a routine way to remove babies” from mothers.

Newsroom: An orchestrated litany of uplifts

The inquiry, by the Office of the Ombudsman, is the fourth following Newsroom’s revelations in June last year of an attempted ‘uplift’ by Oranga Tamariki of a newborn boy at Hawke’s Bay Hospital.

It looked back two years before that June 2019 case and in 74 of the 74 cases of baby removals it inspected, the ministry had applied to the Family Court for the draconian ‘without notice’ orders to take babies from parents. 

All 74 cases.

The ‘without notice’ provision is supposed to be the final option in cases of urgency where a baby is at serious risk and all other options have been tried.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier’s report presents a litany of failure by Oranga Tamariki, saying in three quarters of the cases the ministry had more than 60 days to prepare for the baby’s arrival, hold meetings with whānau and iwi, seek ministry legal officer input, consult with hospitals and hold Family Group Conferences but did not do so.

He accepts applications were made because ministry staff had serious concerns for pēpi (babies), but it was essential staff understood and followed the law. Instead, OT failed its obligations under New Zealand and international law.

Boshier flatly declares the Oranga Tamariki decision making practices in the two years covered by his inquiry to be “unreasonable”.

“The evidence I have considered did not demonstrate that the ministry consistently met the objects and principles of the Act and the obligations under international law.”

From the report Foreword:

In May 2019, approximately halfway through the Ministry’s five-year transformation programme, Newsroom published a story about an attempt by the Ministry to remove a newborn pēpi from their young mother. The video documentary that later accompanied the original written article gave rise to public dismay and a questioning of the Ministry’s policies and practices.

The Government expressed confidence in the actions of the Ministry, yet media reports of further examples continued.

That confidence appears to have been misplaced.

My investigation found that the Ministry was usually aware of the pregnancy and reported concerns for a significant period before the birth of pēpi. In 77 percent of the cases I examined, the Ministry had 60 working days or more to assess and explore options, and to develop plans to ensure the safety of pēpi. However, the Ministry did not consistently utilise the available tools and mechanisms, such as hui ā-whānau and FGCs, to engage early with parents and whānau.

The Ministry also did not use that window of opportunity to plan early with professionals and external parties. In most of the cases, the Ministry did not meet the formal timeframe for completing its assessments. I also found variable use of the key checks and balances, such as referrals to Care and Protection Resource Panels, use of the Child and Family Consult, professionals meetings, completion of the Ministry’s assessment tool (Tuituia) and professional supervision.

The outcome is that in many cases decisions were being made late and without expert advice or independent scrutiny, and, most concerningly, without whānau involvement.

Key findings:

  • I found that urgency was created through the Ministry’s inaction and lack of capacity to follow processes in a timely and effective way. As a consequence, parents were disadvantaged—first, by not having an opportunity to respond to the allegations or challenge the information relied upon by the Ministry before their pēpi were removed, and second, by having to challenge orders after they were made, and when the parents were vulnerable because they were either heavily pregnant or had just given birth.
  • I found that the rights of disabled parents were not visible in either policy or practice. All the cases I reviewed required a disability rights-based response from the Ministry but this did not occur. That is a significant breach of the Disability Convention.
  • In terms of the Ministry’s practices relating to the physical removal of newborn pēpi, my investigation also found there was late or limited planning and engagement with parents and whānau and other external professionals.
  • I also found limited support was offered to mothers who wished to breastfeed.
  • Finally, I am not satisfied that, when the removal was executed by the Ministry, it provided parents and whānau with the opportunity for ngākau maharatanga me te ngākau aroha; a period of ‘quality time’ that reflects consideration, empathy, sympathy and love.
  • In addition, the Ministry did not ensure that the parents and whānau had their support people present. Nor did it provide them with clear information on next steps. There was also no support offered to parents and whānau to deal with the trauma and grief of child removal, or to help their healing.

This is strong criticism of Oranga Tamariki – Newsroom says the report is ‘scathing’ and is a ‘damning inquiry’.

In a Beehive media release Minister for Children – Subsequent children legislation to change – Tracey Martin downplayed the problems.

“There are times when children need to go into care for their safety – the safety and care of children must always be paramount,” Minister Martin said. “But we all know that the best thing for children is that they are safe and loved at home. Interpretation of the current law has meant that some children may have been unnecessarily traumatised and kept apart from their parents.”

Minister Martin said the Government will remove the provisions covering cases where a parent had a previous child permanently taken into care but will retain those for subsequent children where a parent has a conviction for the murder, manslaughter or infanticide of a child in their care.

Martin didn’t specifically mention the Ombudsman report, which I think is a remarkable avoidance, but did refer to “a review of the provisions this year found that they are not always effective, and can have a negative impact on children, parents and whānau.”

“The review showed that change to the law is needed,” the Minister said.

Amended operational policy and guidance will ensure robust assessments of safety and wellbeing when younger siblings come to the notice of Oranga Tamariki. New monitoring and reporting for subsequent children will also support better oversight of social work practice and monitor changes over time. Interim guidance will also be developed to support social work practice between now and when the partial repeal takes effect.

“Oranga Tamariki will also do further work on developing supports for parents and whānau who have had a child permanently removed from their care,” Minister Martin said.

This will be focused on reducing the risk of possible future children requiring care or protection, maintaining the best possible relationship with their children in care and supporting them with the associated grief, loss and trauma.

The timing of changes to operational policy and practice, monitoring and reporting, and potential changes to support for parents and whānau, will be aligned with the passing of an Amendment Bill to partially repeal the subsequent children provisions. The work to support this is being done now so that the Amendment Bill can be introduced to the House next year, and once passed, the changes can be implemented together.

This from Stuff seems to have pre-empted the report, in part making excuses and downplaying the problems – Tracey Martin on uplift controversy: Oranga Tamariki ‘believed the child was in danger’:

Oranga Tamariki minister Tracey Martin is to scrap Children’s Teams, small task forces set up to stop at-risk children from falling into state care.

The move comes as the Government tries to wrestle back control of the narrative in an explosive debate over the number of Māori children taken into care.

Hundreds of protesters rallied at Parliament on Tuesday, calling for a halt to Government uplifts of Māori babies. Protests were also held in other cities.

Martin said the “emotive” language used by organisers Hands off our Tamariki wasn’t helpful.

I hope she finds the report from the Ombudsman a lot more helpful.

The full report from the Ombudsman:

A Matter of Urgency:

Investigation Report into policies, practices and procedures for the removal of newborn pēpi by Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children

Questionable Provincial Growth Fund job claims

Minister of Regional Economic Development  Shane Jones has been questioned for some time about how many jobs have been created by the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF). He has now come up with a number, but that is a bit dubious.

RNZ: Shane Jones’ 10,000 job creation claim under scrutiny

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones is crowing over cracking the target of creating more than 10,000 jobs through the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF).

He said a detailed stocktake has found 13,217 people have been employed so far following PGF investments.

But Jones has dismissed as unimportant details like how long they had been employed for, and how many were full time or part time.

Jones said the PGF outstripping the job numbers it hoped to achieve “speaks volumes about the fund’s success”.

“So just at the level of the human face of the PGF, this figure is not only handsome it’s an affirmation of everything we set out to do,” Jones said.

Until now, the Provincial Development Unit only collected data about the number of workers employed on a given project over the last month.

For example, figures for May show a total of 2727.

But with growing demands from both journalists and the opposition for more details Jones got MBIE officials to ring every fund recipient to find out how many people they had employed.

To head off what he calls “doubting Thomas types” Jones had the stocktake reviewed by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research.

However, it highlighted some shortcomings, most notably – that the figure was a count of people working on projects, not the number of jobs created.

Jones said he was not being disingenuous claiming the 10,000 jobs milestone.

“I’m not too hung up on looking at this purely through the font of an FTE (full-time equivalent). It is going to endow and it has endowed regions with new infrastructure which leads to productivity and in that journey the lives of 13,000 people have been positively touched in an economic way,” Jones said.

It seems typical of Jones not to get hung up details that give a true picture of success of the huge fund.

But National’s Michael Woodhouse said Jones was “gilding the lily”.

“They have no idea how many jobs have been created and the reason is they didn’t ask the applicants, so I think it’s disingenuous to say that many jobs have been created and they’re doing random surveys to pluck any sort of job number out of the air to make it look as if they’ve achieved an arbitrary goal,” Woodhouse said.

Woodhouse said while $2.7 billion of the fund had been committed, only $339 million had actually made it out the door.

Actual delivery is an issue\.

Greymouth Mayor Tania Gibson said the fund had been great for her region.

The West Coast has been allocated just under $180m and has so far had 518 jobs.

Gibson said the planned $18m Pounamu Pathway and visitor centre was a spark of hope for businesses in the CBD.

But she said red tape had stopped projects from starting yet.

“Well that’s the thing, we still have to get those projects off the ground to do the job creation … so we’ve got a lot of work to do now to make that happen. It’s not always as easy as it sounds,” she said.

So the jobs have not actually been created yet apart from being on paper proposals.

Wairoa Mayor Craig Little also believed the PGF had been a success.

Wairoa got just $6.1m to help rebuild the town centre and $9m to better digital connections for business as well as roading and skills and employment initiatives.

Little could not say exactly how many jobs had been created but said the fund was about more than that.

“Social, economic, cultural and environmental that we’re able to tick off and it makes Wairoa a much better place to live.

“So even if your jobs haven’t been as many as they thought, but I believe Wairoa has been really successful, it’s just people feeling a little bit better about themselves about getting things done,” Little said.

It’s not surprising to see a mayor being enthusiastic about being given large amounts of money by the Government, regardless of whether the money is achieving what was promised or not.

Jones has claimed “this figure is not only handsome it’s an affirmation of everything we set out to do”.

From the original PGF Cabinet Paper (December 2017) – key design features of the fund are:

Objectives of the Fund: The overall objective of the Fund is to lift the productivity potential in the regions. The following specific objectives are proposed – jobs and sustainable economic development; social inclusion and participation; Māori development; climate change and environmental sustainability; and resilience (infrastructure and economic).

To support our overall goal of productive, sustainable and inclusive growth, and to achieve the lift in productivity potential in the regions, I propose that investments must contribute to most of the following objectives, with a particular focus on the first objective:

a. Increased jobs and sustainable economic development: investments support increased jobs (with a focus on high quality jobs) and sustainable economic development over the long term, particularly in regions and sub-regions where unemployment is high and there are significant social challenges;

– Authorised for lodgement
Hon Shane Jones
Minister for Regional Economic Development

Jones’ claims fall well short of demonstrating that the PGF is substantially increasing high quality jobs and sustainable economic development – and says nothing about how cost effective his handouts have been.

Government puts hold on Covid fund

Government hs put a hold on the Covid fund, saying “it is not there to be used for any old project in the never-never. It is to provide support and stimulus to recover and rebuild from COVID-19”.

Sounds like this has some connection to the election and policy announcements.

Govt sets aside remaining $14bn in COVID Fund

The remainder of the COVID Response and Recovery Fund is being set aside to make sure New Zealand is in a strong position to fight whatever COVID-19 throws at the economy, Finance Minister Grant Robertson says.

“When we set up the COVID Response and Recovery Fund, the Government was clear that it was to be used for our response to keep New Zealanders safe and for immediate support to help the economic recovery.

“We are sticking to our word on this. We are investing money where it is needed to respond to COVID-19, and we are setting aside a significant sum of money to be used as needed in the future. This is the fiscally and socially responsible thing to do.

“As we look around the world, it is clear that this global pandemic is continuing to grow. In the face of this, and on-going uncertainty, now is the time to be cautious and keep our powder dry. Keeping debt under control, and supporting jobs and businesses are both important. We are committed to getting the balance right, to give New Zealand options,” Grant Robertson said.

At Budget 2020, there was $20.2 billion remaining in the Fund to be allocated. The Government has since announced a number of important investments from the Fund, including $570 million for the COVID Income Relief Payment, an extra $700 million for the wage subsidy extension, and more than $300 million to keep supporting our health response including the $150 million for extra PPE announced at the end of June. There was just over $17 billion in the Fund at the start of July.

“Cabinet has agreed that further support for ongoing health, border and economic response measures will require about $3.2 billion, with announcements to be made before the House rises. This amount includes the $760 million already announced for Three-Waters reform.

“This will leave $14 billion in the COVID Response and Recovery Fund, which is now being set aside in the event, for example, New Zealand experiences a second wave.

“We are doing everything we can to keep COVID-19 at our border – nobody wants a second wave. The responsible course of action is to make sure we are prepared for the worst – to give confidence to New Zealanders that we will be able to continue to act swiftly and decisively in our ongoing fight against this virus.”

“The Fund is not there to be used for any old project in the never-never. It is to provide support and stimulus to recover and rebuild from COVID-19.”

Greens in particular have been suggesting a variety of uses for the Covid Fund (to fund their preferred policies). National have also used the Fund in costings for their infrastructure policy.

Not clear here is whether there will be a hold also put on the Provincial Growth Fund, which has been used to address Covid problems.

Where’s the plan for Southland post-smelter?

Grant Robertson on the shutdown of Tiwai Point and loss of thousands of jobs – ‘too bad, move on’.

Jacinda Ardern on the shutdown:

While Tinto have just announced they will close their Tiwai Point aluminium smelter next year this was a well signalled possibility. The Government response (acceptance of the decision) suggested they were well aware this announcement was coming.

Grant Robertson said Government will support the people and economy of Southland:

The Government will support the Southland economy in the wake of multinational mining company Rio Tinto’s decision to follow through with its long signalled closure of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.

“This day has unfortunately been on the cards for some time now, but nevertheless the final decision is a blow to Southland and all those who work at the smelter,” Grant Robertson said.

Stuff: Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt ‘absolutely shattered’ by news of Tiwai Aluminium Smelter closure

Labour list MP Liz Craig, who is based in Invercargill also said she was devastated by the closure news and said her thoughts were with the workers, families, and businesses affected.

Craig acknowledged it will have a huge impact on the Southland economy.

She spoke with prime minister Jacinda Ardern this morning about the impact this will have on Southland.

“I am pleased that [Finance Minister] Grant Robertson has already signalled the Government will support the Southland community in our transition, in areas such as agriculture, aquaculture and manufacturing.’’

Craig has invited Adern and Robertson to visit in Invercargill to discuss how the Government might help support those affected, grow local jobs, and create a sustainable Southland economy.

Ardern visited the smelter when they reopened a fourth potline in December 2018 – that was good news. Will she frobt up when the news is bad? So far she has left it to Robertson, who seems quite relaxed about.

Bernard Hickey: Newsroom: Why is Labour letting Tiwai Pt shut now?

Finance Minister Grant Robertson seemed much more philosophical and accepting of the news when he spoke a couple of hours later. It became clear that both the Government and Rio Tinto had called each others’ bluffs, leaving Southlanders incredulous.

“This is a blow for the people of Southland and I feel for them, but we need to look to the future,” Robertson said.

“There is a certain sense of inevitability about today’s announcement. Rio Tinto have been trying to sell Tiwai Point for about 10 years now,” he said.

The Government is spending $62b to cushion the impact of Covid-19 on the rest of the economy, including handing out over $12 billion to small to medium enterprises to keep often near-minimum wage jobs going for a few weeks.

But it appears unwilling to consider spending a few tens of millions to keep at least 2,600 highly paid jobs going in a region with few other alternatives for such high-wage jobs.

Robertson talked airily on Thursday about the prospects for agriculture and aquaculture, but in reality those jobs will be much lower wage and have yet to be invented.

He has talked repeatedly about his personal desire to avoid the mistakes made during the 1990-91 recession when manufacturing jobs were gutted in the regions and little was done to soften the blow.

The risk for the Government and those remaining high-wage jobs in the regions in the next three months is that the announcement of closures of Tiwai Point (2,600 jobs), Marsden Point (3,500 jobs) and the Glenbrook Steel Mill (3,900 jobs) could potentially all come in the next six months.

The worst recession since 1990-91 could easily be just as damaging for the regions as that one.

So far the Government response has basically been ‘too bad, move on’.

ODT editorial: Post-smelter plan must be readied

Southland does not need woolly promises of help and platitudinous pep talks. It needs a concrete plan to meet and then beat the economic and social destruction left when New Zealand Aluminium Smelters’ closes Tiwai Point.

The looming costs are hinted at in the figures most often pitched as reasons to move heaven and earth to keep the smelter online. Previous estimates suggest it accounts for more than 6% of the region’s GDP, and well over $400million to the region’s economy.

That cash keeps people in work and businesses in profit. It helps people pay their mortgages and their grocery bills, helps them support local schools and pay their sports club subscriptions, and keeps them working in and contributing to the South.

These people, families and communities do not have long to consider the effect of losing the smelter. NZAS will terminate its electricity contract with Meridian Energy in August 2021, when the wind-down is complete.

They have little time to decide what to do next and an uncertain time in which to do it. They need no reminding we face a prolonged pandemic-induced recession, and that finding good work and a strong income may be difficult.

But there has been plenty of time to prepare for the inevitability that Tiwai would be shut down.

There is little time to prepare for a post-smelter future but successive Governments have had the best part of a decade to ensure there was a plan to cope with, and then fill the gap left when Rio Tinto pulled the plug on its regionally and nationally significant operation at Tiwai Point.

Treasury, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and Ministry of Social Development officials have had plenty of time, regardless of which parties were in Government, to forge all manner of strategies for a post-smelter future. They, and a succession of politicians, have had years to prepare for the inevitable.

As such, Southlanders have every right to expect Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson to outline robust, detailed plans when they take up Labour Invercargill List MP Liz Craig’s invitation to visit Invercargill and ‘‘discuss how the Government might help us support those affected, grow local jobs and create a sustainable future for the Southland economy’’.

If not, Southlanders have every right to feel let down by a multi-national company and by the governments that saw this coming.

Robertson seems untroubled by the problems faced by Southland.

What about Ardern? I can’t find any response from her on the shutdown announcement. Nothing since her good news PR money handout announcement on Thursday – NZ Herald: Government to bail out councils with $761m water services investment:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a $761 million investment to help councils upgrade “run down” water services across the country.

In a politically charged piece of symbolism, Ardern and Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta chose the site of the water bore found to be the source of the fatal Havelock North campylobacter outbreak in 2016 to make the announcement on Wednesday.

“Investing in water infrastructure is about investing in the health of New Zealanders.”

Southlanders are New Zealanders. They received very bad news this week. Ardern was nowhere to be seen.

 

Official Government website used for campaigning

There is supposed to be, or should be, a clear demarcation between Government operations and party promotions and campaigning. Ministers frequently push boundaries this with self promotion and party promotion littering official Ministerial releases.

But I think that including a Labour Partyongress speech launching their election campaign is an abuse of intent and purpose, given that the beehive.govt.nz website is The Official website of the New Zealand Government.

Some of it is subtle, like this from last week:  PGF top-up for QE Health in Rotorua

The Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) is investing $1.5 million to ensure QE Health in Rotorua can proceed with its world class health service and save 75 existing jobs, Under Secretary for Regional Economic Development, Fletcher Tabuteau announced today.

“This announcement today provides an additional much needed economic boost to the regional economy and complements all the positive investments this Coalition Government has made in this region of late, including last week’s announcements with the Deputy Prime Minister the Rt Hon Winston Peters,  and this week’s infrastructure announcements made by Ministers Grant Robertson and Shane Jones,” Fletcher Tabuteau said.

That managed to name drop for four NZ First MPs. Another from the same day:PGF funds tourism boost in Northland

The Provincial Growth Fund is investing more than $7.5 million in Northland ventures to combat the economic impact of the COVID-19 virus, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones have announced.

Why did Peters need to be mentioned in that other than for self promotion?

Similar in New investment creates over 2000 jobs to clean up waterways:

A package of 23 projects across the country will clean up waterways and deliver over 2000 jobs Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Environment Minister David Parker announced today.

It’s common to take subtle swipes at opponents, as in Keeping ACC levies steady until 2022:

“The previous Government increased levies during the global financial crisis only to find they were too high in following years. We are taking a cautious approach and ensuring we do not add to pressure on businesses and New Zealanders where it’s not necessary.

It’s hard to see why three party leaders are used to promote except to promote the three parties in government: Jobs budget to get economy moving again

Investments to both save and create jobs in Budget 2020 mean unemployment can be back to pre COVID-19 levels within two years and could see the economy growing again as early as next year.

The centrepiece of Budget 2020, Rebuilding Together, is the establishment of a $50 billion COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund which will target stimulus investment at protecting existing jobs, creating new ones and provide support for workers to retrain and for business to survive as well as targeting support to those sectors most affected by the virus.

“The Government’s decision to go hard and early to defeat the virus means we are now in a strong position to quickly get our economy moving again,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

“New Zealanders have made incredible sacrifices and suffered incredible loss in our collective battle against COVID-19. It is vital that Budget 2020 builds on restoring independence in every sense, to every day New Zealanders by creating jobs for those who have had them stripped away by this viral invasion,” Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said.

The Coalition Government is using every tool it has to meet the immediate needs of New Zealanders post-lockdown, while balancing the long-term goal of a vibrant future economy.

“This Budget will support the people most affected by the global downturn,” Green Party Co-leader James Shaw said.

Labour have frequently promoted a sledge of National with the meme “nine years of neglect” – their are 266 Google hits of the phrase on the Beehive website. Some date back to 2002, showing that the Clark Government used the same term about the previous National Government, but ten hits are from the last 12 months and 27 since the current Government took over.

Over the last 12 months:

  • Labour Party mentioned 58 times
  • New Zealand First mentioned 48 times
  • Green party mentioned 43 times

The Government website includes speeches made by Ministers, which if relevant to their portfolios and responsibilities is fair enough.

But I think it’s taking things too far including Ardern’s speech to the Labour Party congress/conference in the weekend: Speech to Labour Party Congress 2020

This speech was made to Labour Party members at a Labour Party event, and launched the Labour Party election campaign. It closed with Labour’s election slogan “Let’s keep moving”.

This is not Government business and I think it is an abuse of the intent of an official Government website to be used to specifically promote one party that happens to be in power.

What changed to prompt David Clark’s resignation now?

David Clark offered his resignation as Minister of Health in April, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern because of the Covid-19 pandemic it was necessary to retain him in the role.Clark said yesterday:

You will recall that I offered my resignation during the Level Four lockdown in response to mistakes I made in a personal capacity.

The Prime Minister made it clear at the time – that under normal circumstances – she would have accepted that resignation, but she did not want significant disruption to the health system in the middle of the emergency response.

As recently as last Friday she said Clark would stay on as Minister until the election. Clark had also said he would stay on.

But yesterday Clark resigned. What changed to prompt this?

There have been conflicting claims by Clark and Ardern.

Newshub: PM Jacinda Ardern was pushing David Clark out as Health Minister while publicly saying he’d stay until election

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was pushing David Clark out as Health Minister while publicly saying he would stay on until the September election. 

Dr Clark resigned as Health Minister on Thursday saying he had “made the call that it is best for me to stand aside” because he had become a “distraction”.

“He reached the conclusion his ongoing presence in the health role was causing too much distraction to the Government’s response to COVID-1 – an assessment I agree with,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

My guess is that internal polls indicated that Clark staying on was detrimental to Labour’s re-election chances.

The distractions have been abundant. The lockdown breaches: moving house, the drive to the beach with his family, and that mountain bike ride – prompting Dr Clark’s first resignation offer in April.

“It was bloody obvious to me at that point I felt like a complete dick,” he told The AM Show at the time.

The Prime Minister responded with a threat to Dr Clark’s job.

“Under normal circumstances I would sack the minister,” she said at the time.

With those eight words, the Prime Minister delivered Dr Clark a fate worse than sacking – stripping him of the authority to do his job.

Clark already didn’t seem to be acting authoritatively, and this emphasised that.

After that Clark seemed determined to stay on in the job.

“I am certainly very keen to get on with this,” he told Newshub Nation in June.

The Prime Minister doubled down in Queenstown last Friday when asked if Dr Clark would hold onto his job until the election at least.

“Of course, that is what I’ve continued to say.”

But we now know that around that same time late last week the Prime Minister was edging Dr Clark out.

That would mean that Ardern was deliberately misleading the public.

Newshub asked the Prime Minister if she in any way insinuated or suggested to Dr Clark that she wanted him to offer his resignation.

“No, it was a very open conversation,” she said.

And in that “very open conversation” the Prime Minister gave him the kiss of death – making it clear he was becoming a distraction so close to an election.

Ardern was asked if she had raised with Dr Clark that he was becoming a distraction.

“We had a general discussion around what was needed to put the country first and our COVID response first,” she said.

As for why she didn’t just sack Dr Clark, Ardern said: “My focus has been COVID all the way through – our response to COVID. Those early days, continuity was the most important thing.”

In yesterday’s prepared speech announcing “This morning I have formally tendered my resignation as Minister of Health” Clark defended his performance, praised his performance and electioneered.

The Prime Minister made it clear at the time – that under normal circumstances – she would have accepted that resignation, but she did not want significant disruption to the health system in the middle of the emergency response.

We still have a health emergency, and him resigning is still a significant disruption.

But it has not always been plain sailing and I wish to put on record again that I take full responsibility for the decisions made and taken during my time as Minister of Health.

It’s on the record that he didn’t take full responsibility, and again here he carefully avoids taking direct responsibility – “the decisions made and taken during my time as Minister of Health” implies decisions made by others, there is no personal ownership of his decisions and actions – and just as critical, his lack of decision making and oversight of his ministry.

I’ve always taken the view that the interests of the team must come first, and New Zealand’s COVID response is simply too important, so I have made the call that it is best for me to stand aside.

Now is the right time to hand over the reins, and move forward with new leadership.

The time is now right to hand over to another Minister …

So an already very busy minister and Leader of the House, Chris Hipkins, has taken over as Minister of Health, one of the biggest jobs in Government at any time and especially during a pandemic.

Loading Hipkins with even more responsibilities has been deemed preferable to leaving Clark in the role.

Was Clark that inadequate? Perhaps he was.

But it seems that in saying “the interests of the team must come first” Clark may be referring to the Labour team, not the team of 5 million that Ardern keeps referring to.

It probably makes little difference whether Clark jumped or was dumped, but the explanations from him and Ardern have not been convincing.

Ardern’s ability to make tough decisions regarding poorly performing ministers is also not convincing.

 

NZ First and fishing boat camera delays

Newshub has agitated Winston Peters with their reporting of ongoing delays at fitting cameras on fishing boats to monitor catches and protection of protected bird and sea mammal species.

Peters has been connected with fishing company interests for years, Shane Jones is former chair of both Te Ohu Kaimoana and Sealord, and fishing companies have donated to NZ First and to the NZ First trust (and also to national and Labour candidates).

The installation of cameras on fishing boats seems to have been contentious. National planned to require it when they were in Government, and the Green Party, Greenpeace and NZ Forest and Bird strongly supports it.

RNZ (February 2018): Govt considering ditching fishing boat camera plans

Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash said many in the fishing industry were unhappy with the camera proposal and all options were on the table – including dumping it entirely.

One of Mr Nash’s first moves when he became the Fisheries Minister was to put the brakes on the rollout of electronic monitoring of the commercial fishing fleet.

The former National government came up with the plan last year, saying it would protect the sustainability of fish stocks and act as a deterrent against illegal activity, like fish dumping.

But Mr Nash said National forced it upon the sector, and he was getting advice from officials on what should be done.

“There are certainly concerns in the industry that there hasn’t been a proper process followed and a complete and utter lack of consultation.

“That does seem to be the prevailing attitude but we haven’t made any final decision on that,” he said.

Mr Nash said ditching the programme entirely was one of the options being considered.

“We could continue the project as it is, we could delay it – at the extreme we could dump it.”

National Party fisheries spokesman Gerry Brownlee said the rollout of cameras was needed to deal with well-publicised problems in the sector.

“Our step to put cameras on board was not rejected by the industry, it was the speed with which they were required to comply and they felt they needed more time,” he said.

Mr Brownlee said to move away from cameras would be ignoring problems, such as commercial fisheries catching non-quota species, as well as seabirds and sea mammals.

Forest and Bird chief executive Kevin Hague said the fishing industry could not be trusted and cameras on boats was the only way to keep it honest.

Seafood New Zealand chief executive Tim Pankhurst said Forest and Bird had an anti-commercial fishing agenda, and that the camera proposal was simplistic, unreasonably costly and inadequate.

Stuff (January 2019): Cameras on fishing boats delayed, angering Greens and Greenpeace

The Government has again delayed the rollout of mandatory cameras on fishing boats.

The change to the regulation was “gazetted” on Wednesday and gives companies until August 2019 to get their boats ready.

This follows another delay caused as the policy, supported by the previous Government, made its way through Cabinet.

Both the Green Party and Greenpeace have expressed disappointment at the delay.

“We don’t agree with this delay which is putting our fisheries and natural environment at risk”, Green Party animal welfare spokesperson Gareth Hughes said.

Despite being a part of the Government, the Greens are free to disagree with it on issues its MPs have no ministerial discretion over.

Former Green Party co-leader and Greenpeace executive director Russel Norman was also angered by the delay.

“There was a disturbing level of malpractice exposed by the original trials of the cameras back in 2012,” Norman said.

Norman alleged NZ First MP and Regional Development Minister Shane Jones was behind the move. NZ First have interfered in several other fishing policy decisions in recent months, and Jones received thousands of dollars in donations from fishing companies.

“If Shane Jones is now the de facto Minister of Fishing and has a policy agenda to help fishing companies destroy the environment, then the Government should just come clean about it rather than quietly delaying any action to protect our oceans,” Norman said.

Jones vigorously defended himself against Norman, saying the Greenpeace leader had left politics so should stay out of it.

Newsroom last month (June 2020): Why the delay to get cameras on boats?

The deadline for having cameras installed on commercial fishing boats was pushed back again last week with technology being pegged as one reason for the delay.

Newsroom’s enquiries have not been able to establish the nature of those technology issues, finding only that a step to define which technology solutions are required hasn’t yet happened.

Since cameras on boats were first proposed by the National-led government following concern over illegal fish-dumping, the rollout date has shifted several times from the original date of October 2018.

A new date of October 2021 added to legislation last week is not a firm line in the sand. Nash said it’s a holding date, “not a planned date for either beginning or completing any implementation”.

Stuff reported Nash raised cost as an issue last week as well as technical complications saying: “The technology at this point is just not available to allow us to equip the whole fleet with cameras.”

However, enquiries to Fisheries NZ reveal there’s a process step required before technical decisions are made and costs are known.

Asked what the technical issues causing the delay were, Fisheries NZ’s deputy director-general Dan Bolger said a public consultation would be needed.

Public consultation will take time, but it’s not clear why it is needed at this stage.

The delays have frustrated conservationists. Greenpeace’s ocean campaigner Jessica Desmond said the ongoing stalling wasn’t good enough.

“There’s been a long pattern of delaying this legislation implementation. There’s been OIAs showing the industry oppose this legislation, there’s been all kinds of excuses about money and technicalities.”

Fishing industry opposition was made clear in a letter sent in 2018 to Nash signed by Sealord, Talley’s, New Zealand Federation of Commercial Fishermen and Te Ohu Kai Moana:

“The purpose of this letter is to dismiss any suggestion that the New Zealand seafood industry supports the current proposal, is in any way split in its opposition to it or that our industry has anything less than overwhelming opposition to your Ministry’s current proposal for cameras.”

New Zealand First’s Shane Jones denied being involved with the delay despite his past ties to the fishing industry as a former chair of both Te Ohu Kaimoana and Sealord, pro-industry stance, and history of receiving donations from Talley’s.

The NZ First Foundation received $26,950 from Talley’s and managing director Sir Peter Talley between 2017 and 2019. In 2017, Talley’s donated $10,000 to Jones.

The company also made a donation of $2000 to one other NZ First candidate, and donations of $5000 to seven National candidates and one Labour candidate in 2017.

Timeline:

2012 to 2013 – Video-monitoring pilot programme shows some monitored boats illegally discarding unwanted fish.

May 2016 – A report by an MPI investigator is leaked which called for prosecutions to be pursued. MPI announces an inquiry by former Solicitor General into the lack of prosecutions.

May 2017 – $30.5 million boost to fisheries management announced by then-Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy. It includes funding for GPS monitoring, electronic logbooks and was to be “followed by cameras on every vessel phased in from 1 October next year”.

November 2017 – Minister Stuart Nash postpones cameras on fishing boats saying: “I am working with MPI officials on options for timing and these will be communicated once a decision has been made.”

July 2018 – Letter from fishing companies sent to Nash saying the companies do not support cameras on boats.

January 2019 – Rollout of cameras delayed until August.

June 2019 – $17.1 million announced in Budget for cameras on boats fishing in Māui dolphin habitat by November 2019.

June 2020 – Rollout delayed to a “holding date” of October 2021.

On Tuesday: Winston Peters launches attack on Newshub journalist Michael Morrah ahead of fishing boat camera investigative report

On Tuesday’s Newshub Live at 6pm, Newshub Investigations Reporter Michael Morrah will reveal the politics behind delays in introducing cameras on fishing boats – and who’s responsible.

NZ First leader Winston Peters has released a statement before it goes it air, defending his party’s actions.

Peters is calling it “the worst form of unethical tabloid journalism”.

“What is appalling is how clickbait journalism is affecting the public’s right to be informed accurately about government policy,” he said.

“Newshub’s ‘shock horror’ special investigation will be as shallow as the motives behind its creation, and highlight once again some in the New Zealand’s media’s inability to understand how coalitions work.”

Morrah has covered the fishing industry for a decade and stands by his reporting.

“The public can make their own mind up tonight on Newshub Live at 6pm about whether this is clickbait journalism as Peters has claimed,” he says.

“I strongly reject any such suggestion, and I believe this story is in the public interest.”

The news item on Tuesday evening: Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash blames pressure from NZ First for delay in fishing boat cameras in recording

Newshub has obtained an explosive audio recording of Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash talking about NZ First MPs Winston Peters and Shane Jones.

The recording was from February 2018, around the time the Government first delayed the rollout of cameras on nearly 1000 fishing boats – since then it’s been delayed again until at least October next year.

In it, Nash points the finger of blame squarely at them for delaying plans to put cameras on commercial fishing boats to make sure they don’t break the law.

“New Zealand First has not been the cause of delays on cameras,” Nash has claimed on Tuesday.

But in February 2018, a few months after he took office, the explanation was remarkably different according to this secret recording obtained by Newshub.

“I’ve got to play the political game in a way that allows me to make these changes. Now, Winston Peters and Shane Jones have made it very clear they do not want cameras on boats,” Nash can be heard saying in a recording.

Nash then went on to say a public review of the fisheries management is needed to get the cameras rolled out.

“If Winston wants to have that discussion with Jacinda, it is had in the public arena and it is almost impossible for him to win it,” he said.

“But if he has it behind closed doors on the 9th floor now, then the public will never know about it. So what I am trying to do is put Winston and Shane into a position where they cannot back down.”

“By revoking these regulations, first of all people like Winston and the industry will go, ‘oh there, there you go. That’s fantastic, that’s been done. We don’t have to worry about this’,” he said in the recording.

“Little do they know behind the scenes the tidal wave on this is coming and they won’t be able to avoid it.”

But that tidal wave never came, nor did the planned fisheries review nor cameras on all boats.

On Tuesday, Nash said his comments were a mistake and that he ‘misread’ NZ First’s position.

“I just got it wrong. I was a new Minister. I was coming to grips with the portfolio. I got it wrong,” he told Newshub.

NZ First MPs are adamant they haven’t delayed things, with Jones blaming the pandemic.

“I’m not the Fisheries Minister, but I suspect that COVID has got a lot to do with it,” Regional Development Minister Shane Jones told Newshub.

“Cameras on fishing boats is really interesting. We haven’t blocked cameras on fishing boats,” NZ First MP Tracey Martin told Newshub Nation.

Although in an interview with Newshub less than two weeks ago, party leader Winston Peters eventually acknowledged NZ First was involved in the delay.

“Do we listen to industry representation, yes. Are we concerned about families and their economic representation? Yes. Are we the cause of that delay? Well, we are part of the representation that has ended up with a more rational and sane policy, yes” he said. Asked whether that was a yes to the original question, Peters responded: “yes”.

Talley’s Andrew Talley told Newshub “within the right framework cameras have a place in modern fisheries management”.

He says there’s “no connection” with donations and the camera delays.

When questioned if NZ First had delayed the cameras because he got financial backing from the fishing industry, Peters called it an “insulting question”.

“Stop making your vile, defamatory allegations by way of an accusatory question,” he told Newshub. “This conversation is over.”

Peters can get tetchy when under pressure.

Newshub followed up yesterday:  Talleys hosted fundraiser dinners for NZ First, but denies that’s behind delay in fishing boat cameras

Members of fishing family Talleys organised two fundraising dinners at hotels for New Zealand First, Newshub can reveal – another link between the party and the fishing industry.

Newshub can reveal Talleys Fishing directors hosted two fundraising dinners for NZ First – one last year at a Christchurch hotel.

There’s nothing illegal or wrong about hosting fundraisers. The MC was former RNZ board chair Richard Griffin. He confirmed to Newshub that he’d MCed two fundraiser meetings for NZ First, and that Winston Peters, Shane Jones and Clayton Mitchell were there.

Asked about the fundraisers, Peters said “I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about.”

Even after Newshub briefed his office, he still refused to talk about it, saying “I don’t know what on earth you’re asking these questions for”.

After contentious donation issues in 2008 Peters lost his Tauranga seat and NZ First failed to make the 5% threshold, dumping them out of Parliament.

Stuff: Stuart Nash apologises to Winston Peters and Shane Jones over fisheries comments

Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash made a “heartfelt” apology to Winston Peters and Shane Jones for remarks made in a private phone call, which aired on television last night.

Nash said today that the conversation was had two and a half years ago, and he couldn’t remember who was on the other end of the call.

He said he’d apologised to Peters and Jones about the call.

“I’ve apologised to Winston and to Shane and said I got it wrong,” Nash said. “I think they took it well because it was heartfelt,” he said.

Nash said at the time that while the technology had been rolled on 20 boats on the West Coast, it was not yet ready for wider distribution.

If it works on some boats why shouldn’t it be able to work on others?

Cameras are already used successfully on some fishing boats, so the technology seems fine. Fisheries New Zealand:  On-board cameras for commercial fishing vessels

On-board cameras give us independent information about what goes on at sea. They help verify catch reporting, and monitor fishing activity by commercial fishers, to encourage compliance with the rules.

Overseas experience shows that placing cameras on commercial fishing vessels greatly improves the quality of fisher-reported data.

For example, reports of interactions with seabirds and mammals increased 7 times when electronic monitoring was introduced to Australia’s longline fisheries in 2015. Overall reported catch remained the same.

Camera technologies have been used around the world on commercial fishing vessels for decades, and we have learnt a lot from fisheries overseas which are already using these systems.

New Zealand regulations for on-board cameras on commercial fishing vessels came into effect in 2018.

Since then, we’ve been developing the systems and processes to support this, and have now put cameras on some fishing vessels. The regulations applied to these vessels from 1 November 2019 in a defined fishing area on the west coast of the North Island.

Currently, a holding date of 1 October 2021 has been set before the on-board camera regulations apply to other commercial fishing vessels.

So technology does not appear to be an issue.  It looks more like a political problem. Putting things on hold until next year sounds like waiting and hoping for a different mix of parties in Government.

 

 

Infrastructure handouts announced

$3 billion aimed at fast tracking infrastructure projects to try to boost recovery from the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic were announced yesterday.

Infrastructure investment to create jobs, kick-start COVID rebuild

A new package of infrastructure investments will help kick-start the post-COVID rebuild by creating more than 20,000 jobs and unlocking more than $5 billion of projects up and down New Zealand.

That is presumably an estimate of job numbers. There is no indication whether people with the right qualifications and skills  are available to do the jobs, or if they will need to be trained – which would take time.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones today outlined how the $3 billion infrastructure fund in the COVID Response and Recovery Fund will be allocated across regions, following extensive engagement with local councils and businesses.

The investment package includes about $210 million for climate resilience and flood protection projects, $155 million for transformative energy projects, about $180 million for large-scale construction projects and $50 million for enhanced regional digital connectivity.

The COVID Response and Recovery Fund (CRRF) set out in Budget 2020 earmarked $3 billion for infrastructure projects. Cabinet’s initial decisions on this allocation include:

  • Housing and urban development: $464m
  • Environmental: $460m
  • Community and social development: $670m
  • Transport (cycleways, walkways, ports and roads): $708m

The projects are in addition to the $12 billion New Zealand Upgrade Programme and existing Provincial Growth Fund investments.

Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones said the pipeline of projects would create immediate economic activity in the metropolitan centres as well as the regions.

Cabinet has now made initial decisions about key sectors it would like to support and general regional distribution of funds, with more than 150 projects worth $2.6 billion being approved in principal. Officials are now undertaking final due diligence to ensure projects are viable and offer the benefits stated by applicants.

That doesn’t sound like ‘immediate economic activity’.

About $400 million has been set aside as a contingency as the Government takes a responsible approach to managing spending on behalf of taxpayers. Funds not required in the contingency will be put towards further infrastructure projects, providing an incentive for local councils to deliver the approved projects on time and on budget, as this would unlock a further potential $400 million of investment.

Large infrastructure projects have a habit of running over budget, especially when the investigations and planning of them is rushed.

Rushing projects also raises the risks of them being ill-conceived and chosen so the Government is seen to be doling something.

And there are suggestions the announcements that the announcements are more timed for the election than practical progression of the projects. This announcement included government self promotion:

“This is about creating jobs as we recover and rebuild from the recession caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Because we went hard and early with our health response, we’ve been able to open up the economy quicker than other countries and get a head start on our recovery,” Finance Minister Grant Robertson said.

“This package will provide Kiwis with confidence that the Government is backing them in this challenging economic environment by creating new jobs and opportunities in communities around the country.”

Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones said the pipeline of projects would create immediate economic activity in the metropolitan centres as well as the regions.

“Both are critical to our economic and social recovery from the COVID-19 crisis,” Shane Jones said.

“Not only has this massive undertaking provided us with the largest stocktake of infrastructure projects we’ve ever had but it’s enabled us to partner with central and local government, the private sector and community groups to deliver projects for all Kiwis.

“The specific projects we’re announcing today are examples of the sort of projects we’re supporting – from nationwide investments in flood protection and better digital connectivity to civic facilities that we know form the bedrock of our communities.

“I am extremely proud of the depth and breadth of this unprecedented piece of work,” Shane Jones said.

Jones may also be hoping this unprecedented piece of work will help his electorate election chances, and Robertson may be hoping it helps Labour’s chances of being re-elected (but he may not be hoping for NZ First to interfere with them governing again next term).

It will be well after the election before the worth of the projects being pushed have been money well spent, or squandered.

Government crumbling?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern seems to have been keeping a deliberate distance from the handling of Covid isolation and quarantining, and from most other things that are currently besetting her Government. But questions are being asked.

NZ Herald:  Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern responds to claims Government ‘tearing itself apart’

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is shrugging off criticism that her Government is “tearing itself apart,” after New Zealand First killed any hope that light rail in Auckland would get underway this term.

“This is an MMP Government,” Ardern said this afternoon.

“This just happens to be one [area] where we were unable to form a consensus.”

Greens co-leader James Shaw said NZ First’s light rail moves were a “slap in the face of Aucklanders”.

But he insisted the policy was not dead.

Ardern admitted she was frustrated that the project won’t get underway before the election.

“That was a policy that we campaigned on that we have worked really hard on because we believe it will make a difference to congestion issues in Auckland.”

Light Rail was the first big policy announced by Ardern when she took over leadership of Labour leading into the 2017 election.

Labour made a commitment to the Greens in their governing agreement:

Work will begin on light rail from the city to the airport in Auckland.

But Ardern has not been able to prevent NZ First from delaying and then cancelling the project.

Stuff: James Shaw says NZ First are breaching their coalition agreement by axing light rail plan

Green Party co-leader James Shaw says NZ First are breaching their coalition agreement with Labour by axing Auckland light rail this term.

In some of his harshest ever words against the party, Shaw said NZ First’s killing off of Auckland light rail this term was a “slap in the face of Aucklanders” and breached the coaliton agreement between Labour and NZ First.

He also refused to say whether he would go into Government with NZ First again.

This is unusually strong words from Shaw, but the survival of his party is at real risk.

NZ First leader Winston Peterssaid it was his reading of the clause that his party would act in good faith with the Greens, but did not actually bind his agreement to theirs.

“It asks us to act in good faith using our best information to make judgements on matters,” Peters said.

Pushed on this point Peters asked that the reporter go to the Human Rights Commission to get an interpretation of the clause.

Good faith and Winston Peters? he is also fighting for political survival and is well known to put his interests first, his party isn’t referred to as Winston First for nothing.

He said NZ First had killed off the plans as it was worried about cost blowouts.

That’s from someone who, along with Shane Jones, are doling out billions to regions whiling claiming as much credit for themselves.

1 News Morning Briefing June 25: Ardern denies coalition is crumbling

Ms Ardern says hers is an MMP Government and “this just happens to be one [area] where we were unable to form a consensus”.

One of a growing number of ‘areas’.

Meanwhile, NZ First has also left business owners frustrated after putting the brakes on proposed changes to commercial leases, forcing Labour to turn to National for support for the bill.

NZ First leader Winston Peters denies he’s blocking the changes, saying, “We’re just making sure the policy is a sound, commercial proposition in fairness to the contractual laws in New Zealand.”

Peters is blocking changes on a number of things at least until the election.

The Spinoff  The Bulletin: Will the three-party government survive the term?

After several days of frantically knifing each other at parliament, you’d be forgiven for thinking the coalition government is on the verge of collapse. The highest profile incident was the news that the process on deciding how to get light rail in Auckland is now off the table…

As if to underline their independence from the wider coalition, NZ First have inflicted several more quick defeats on their frenemies this week. They’ve refused to support the proposal for hate speech laws. They put the brakes on proposed changes to commercial leases, in the wake of Covid-19. They stalled changes to how rape trials operate, based on concerns raised by defence lawyers. In each case, the party put up reasons for their opposition. But the cumulative effect of a barrage of similar stories creates the impression that they’re no longer interested in allowing anything else through before the election.

What’s driving all of this? Politik’s Richard Harman is particularly well informed on these matters, and has speculated that what we’re seeing right now is revenge from NZ First around one of their key projects – the movement of Auckland port operations to Whangārei – not making the speedy progress that they would have liked to see. Among the snubs in this area, the report noted that a proposal to build a floating dry dock in the north was not part of the recently announced list of 11 shovel-ready projects.

Peters reacting out of spite? Surely not.

Could all of this actually bring the government down? It’s not impossible that we’ll see an early election, even if it is deeply unlikely.

I think it is unlikely. Even if the Government collapsed now it would seem pointless bringing the election forward by a few weeks – it is currently three months away.

Peters should be very wary of bringing down another Government, he has a reputation for not going the distance and another failure would not be helpful for his re-election chances.

But an ongoing train wreck won’t help either.


RNZ: Casualties of the coalition government continue to grow

Labour and Green MPs have given up hiding their growing frustrations with New Zealand First vetoing their flagship policies.

Once again the confidence and supply agreement between Labour and the Greens has taken a hit.

Justice Minister Andrew Little hasn’t had a good run negotiating with New Zealand First in the past.

While he’d work with them again, he also said “I might change the ground rules”.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw is less forgiving that yet another policy in the Greens’ confidence and supply agreement with Labour has been placed on the backburner.

“I have faith in the Green Party’s confidence and supply agreement with Labour, yes. I don’t have faith that New Zealand First are able to uphold their own coalition agreement.

“Their coalition agreement says that they will act in good faith to ensure all other agreements can be complied with,” he said.

But NZ First Leader Winston Peters brushed off the accusation.

“We’ve acted in good faith but the Greens’ three hours ago were telling you they’re responsible, and then two hours later they had an epiphany and now they’re saying we’re breaching some kind of agreement to which we were never a part.”

Sounds like a dysfunctional government.

Health and Disability reforms

The Government has announced the  final report of the Health and Disability System Review which makes many recommendations for reforming the health and disability systems, but they will need to be considered by Cabinet and there isn’t much time to do this before Parliament pauses and this year’s election campaign begins.

“The Review makes it clear we have a very good health and disability system – as has been shown by the outstanding performance of our health services in response to COVID-19,” Health Minister Dr David Clark said.

“But it also confirms that our health services and workforce are under considerable stress and our system is complex and fragmented.

The Review’s recommendations include:

  • Shifting to a greater focus on population health
  • Creating a new Crown Entity, provisionally called Health NZ, focused on operational delivery of health and disability services and financial performance
  • Reducing the number of DHBs from the current 20 down to 8-12 within five years, and moving to fully appointed Boards
  • Creating a Māori Health Authority to advise on all aspects of Māori Health policy and to monitor and report on the performance of the system with respect to Māori
  • Greater integration between primary and community care and hospital/specialist services

“Cabinet has accepted the case for reform, and the direction of travel outlined in the Review, specifically changes that will reduce fragmentation, strengthen leadership and accountability and improve equity of access and outcomes for all New Zealanders.

“The Prime Minister will lead a group of ministers that will drive the changes. The group will include the Finance Minister, Health Minister and Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare.

Interesting to see that the Prime Minister will “drive the changes”, not the Minister of health, who seemed sidelined during the Covid pandemic lockdown.

.“One immediate priority will be to lock in many of the positive changes made in recent months in response to COVID-19, such as the greater use of virtual consultations and e-prescribing and the renewed national focus on Public Health.

I have experienced virtual consultations and e-prescribing and I think these are no-brainer options along with in-person consultations when necessary or wanted.

“…reforming our health and disability system is a massive undertaking, and will not happen overnight. Meaningful change and improvement will take concerted effort over many years.

“With that in mind, I will be appointing a Ministerial Committee (under Section 11 of the Public Health and Disability Act) to provide ongoing expert advice.

“An implementation team will also be set up to lead the detailed policy and design work. It will be administered by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

It is unlikely this will be operating before the election, so will be dependant on the incoming Government probably in October.

There is quite a bit of typical Clark self praise and political palaver in his announcement. Most of that has been omitted from the above extracts. The full release:  Building a stronger health and disability system

The Health and Disability System Review is available at https://systemreview.health.govt.nz/final-report