Inside New Zealand’s meth crisis

NZ Herald has a 40 minute documentary on the ongoing meth (P) epidemic:


Fighting the Demon

Inside New Zealand’s Meth Crisis

After failing to fix its 20-year methamphetamine crisis, New Zealand is gripped by the second wave of a devastating epidemic. The Herald spent six months with users, recovering addicts and those trying to save them.

In June 12, 2016 police seized almost 500kg of methamphetamine at a remote beach in Northland.

That single find, with a street value of $450 million, was bigger than the total seizures of the previous two years combined.

It signalled the beginning of a new wave of New Zealand’s meth epidemic.

For 20 years, law enforcement had fought to eradicate the drug and lost. Now meth is purer and more available than ever before.

Fighting the Demon is an unflinching investigation from deep within the crisis, created by a team of investigative reporters who spent six months in communities ravaged by meth.

In towns across the country, the journalists met users desperate for help, former addicts still struggling years after giving up and families forever ripped apart by the impact of the drug.

They followed law enforcement hunting traffickers, frontline police working to stop dealers and health professionals picking up the pieces left behind.

They found a country targeted by the world’s most sophisticated organised crime groups.

The meth they traffic is stronger than ever and shipments are growing larger. Ten years ago, 100kg was a record bust for law enforcement. Now, it’s almost routine.

And while smugglers once sent cold medicine to be “cooked” into meth, they now send the finished product. It’s easy to distribute, and easy to sell.

In many places meth is easier to buy than marijuana. Most users can score within an hour. Deals are brazen. The latest Illicit Drug Monitoring System report, from 2016, reported addicts more frequently buying on street corners, in parks, even at work.

The price of a point, around $100 for 0.1g, is unchanged from a decade ago. But where “P” was once a party drug for the middle classes, in this second wave, its victims are most likely to be the poor.

The documentary Fighting The Demon takes you inside their world.


In yesterday’s news (TVNZ): Four people charged as 22 kilos of meth and cocaine seized at Auckland Airport

Housing crisis >> KiwiBuild crisis >> what next?

When in opposition Labour talked up the housing crisis, even though it was a problem that grew over many years.  They promised big – 100,000 houses big. And ‘affordable’.

In Government they launched KiwiBuild and soon conceded, sort of, that new houses in places like Auckland in particular were a long way from being affordable for people who needed housing the most. But the pushed on.

However it has become apparent that KiwiBuild is growing into some sort of crisis of it’s own  a a crisis of credibility for the out of depth Minister of Housing Phil Twyford, as well as for his Government. And if it can’t appear to be at least partly fixed by next year it could become an election campaign crisis for Labour.

What should happen right now? Listener: The KiwiBuild failure should galvanise urgent action on NZ’s housing disaster

When a nation’s flagship housing policy is such a spectacular failure that it makes the New York Times, the minister in charge cannot avoid the international embarrassment.

This is the position Housing Minister Phil Twyford now finds himself in. Having arrogantly sneered at all those who dared question his strategy and timetable, he has failed to deliver on the very thing New Zealanders care most about – the urgent need for a solution to our housing crisis. This policy was central to Labour’s pitch to voters at the last election. The failure to deliver 1000 KiwiBuild homes by July – so far only 47 have been completed – is the definition of a broken promise, ameliorated only by the likelihood that few truly believed the Government would keep its word in the first place.

That the previous Government struggled to make any meaningful changes in the housing area should have indicated to Twyford that affordability was more complex than Labour, and National before it, had assumed.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared the market had failed, so the Government had to step in. She was right that the market had failed, but wrong to assume that the Government would make complex problems disappear merely by becoming a property developer itself.

Perhaps she should have paid more attention to competence rather than kindness. A kind captain of a sinking ship is still in charge of a disaster.

Inevitably, it has come up against all the same obstacles private developers face. These include the high cost of land, labour and materials, restrictive regulations, local authorities’ planning rules, lack of infrastructure, the Resource Management Act and neighbourhoods where existing homeowners refuse to countenance more intensive development.

The market failure Ardern referred to will not be solved by swapping a private property developer for a state-owned one. The market failure is not ideological. This is the real world, and not the 1930s with plenty of suburban land available for state housing.

The Prime Minister hasn’t resiled from the Government’s commitment to deliver 100,000 houses in 10 years. But a Government that is elected for three years still promising to ratchet up house production with a goal 10 years hence when it may not be in office, is not treating the public with respect. New Zealanders, having already witnessed the debacle over tree planting, are not so easily fooled.

The Government needs to urgently do what it can to change those things over which it has control. The Opposition, having itself failed when in government to make headway on housing affordability, owes it to New Zealanders to support any reasonable legislative changes to facilitate more house building. Ratepayers, too, need to allow councils, which have more say than the Government over the availability of land for new, infill and high-density housing, to use the powers at their disposal. And we all need to accept that changes that make homes affordable may affect the value of many existing houses.

That’s a tough one.

Certainly the cost of housing is an issue that needs to be addressed, and quickly. But it appears that the Government hasn’t got the courage or the ability to do this.

The recent Demographia International Report, which compares median house prices in seven wealthy countries plus Hong Kong, reports that in Australia housing has become more affordable over the past year as prices fell due to tightening credit. Yet, alarmingly, New Zealand housing has simply become more unaffordable since this Government took office. Property here is now further out of reach than in the US, Australia and the UK. This is beyond embarrassment. This is a national disaster.

Disaster, crisis, whatever. It needs urgent attention – but does Ardern understand this?

 

KiwiBuild struggling to deliver on housing crisis

KiwiBuild is one of Labour’s most important initiatives. It is supposed to address the ‘housing crisis’, to boost the number of houses needed around the country to accommodate a growing population. And it was initially presented as a way of portraying the Labour-led government as progressive and as compassionate as Michael Joseph Savage’s Labour that kicked off state housing  in the 1930s.

But KiwiBuild has proven to be a problem for Labour.  It is struggling to deliver on Labour’s promises, and the resignation of it’s first head – Head of KiwiBuild wasn’t working, now resigns – won’t help house building progress nor credibility.

The promise (Labour housing policy):

Build 100,000 affordable homes across the country

Labour’s KiwiBuild programme will build 100,000 high quality, affordable homes over 10 years, with 50% of them in Auckland. Standalone houses in Auckland will cost $500,000 to $600,000, with apartments and townhouses under $500,000. Outside Auckland, houses will range from $300,000 to $500,000.

It was always going to crank up the building programme.

The plan (Labour FAQ: KiwiBuild):

KiwiBuild is aiming to build:

  • 1,000 homes in the year to June 2019,
  • 5,000 the year after, 10,000 in the year to June 2020,
  • 12,000 every year after that.

The execution to date – Stuff’s Kiwibuild Tracker:

  • Homes built 33
  • Homes under construction 77

There is a lot required in the next five months to make the June target.

Gareth Kiernan (chief forecaster at economic consultancy Infometrics) at Stuff: Resignation another step to KiwiBuild failure:

Stephen Barclay’s departure as head of the KiwiBuild unit makes it even less likely that the scheme will be able to progress at the rate hoped for by the government.

Even allowing for a slow start, things are falling woefully behind.

Bearing these KiwiBuild targets in mind, having dynamic leadership for the programme seems imperative. Yet the KiwiBuild unit has effectively been without a leader of any sort since early November.

​KiwiBuild is an ill-conceived policy mess that doesn’t understand what is making housing unaffordable, why that unaffordability is a problem and needs government intervention, or even exactly who the policy is trying to assist.

We’re left with small $650,000 houses in Auckland’s outlying suburbs being offered to graduate doctors, or building homes in New Plymouth and Wānaka that are still too expensive to provide a realistic alternative for people wanting to get into the housing market.

Attempting to provide affordable housing while failing to address high land costs and ignoring critical capacity constraints in the construction industry is a recipe for failure.

So will Phil Twyford keep trying to do more of the same? Will Jacinda Ardern stick with Twyford as Minister of Housing? Probably, demoting Twyford would be seen as an open admission of failure, and more importantly, there is hardly a wealth of talent waiting to step up to one of the toughest jobs in Labour’s Cabinet.

KiwiBuild has to find a new head, and Twyford is going to have to show abilities not yet apparent, as well as finding new ways to accelerate the rate of house building.

Whether housing overall is a large problem or a crisis is just political semantics.

Whether KiwiBuild under performance is a large problem or a looming crisis looks like reality.

 

 

Is the US-Mexican border problem a crisis?

Rhetoric and exaggeration are common in politics. There is currently a war of words in the United States over their immigration problem on the Mexican border. There is certainly a major problem there.

Is it a crisis? Possibly, depending on how you define ‘crisis’ – but if so, it may have been an ongoing crisis over decades. And Trump has been talking up crisis to justify his border wall since the presidential election in 2016.

It may be a long-term crisis, but the real crisis may be in a dysfunctional Government and political system.

New York Times: In Texas Visit, Trump Presses His Argument That There’s a Border ‘Crisis’

President Trump arrived in this city on the Mexican border on Thursday to dramatize his desire for a border wall, a hardened position that has caused the partial shutdown of the federal government.

He surrounded himself with border agents, victims of horrible crimes, a display of methamphetamine and heroin, an AK-47 and an AR-15 rifle, and a trash bag stuffed with $362,062 in cash that had been confiscated by law enforcement officials.

In his view, it all added up to a single word, “crisis,” with a lone solution, building a wall.

He also criticized Democrats who have accused him of trying to manufacture a crisis to justify his $5.7 billion border barrier demand. “What’s manufactured is the word manufactured,” the president said.

Democrats have insisted that the administration faces a large-scale humanitarian problem that is a direct result of Mr. Trump’s policy, but argue that a border wall is not the right solution and that Mr. Trump has failed to make the case that there is a true security crisis.

Frida Ghitis (CNN): Trump is creating a ‘crisis’ to distract from the real crisis of a flailing president

Something has changed. President Donald Trump’s headline-hungry governing style has never lacked for drama, but there’s a new sense of aimlessness lately in Trump’s frenetic search for a crisis, his efforts to control the headlines, distract from other events, and keep his base satisfied that he is the muscular fighter who will stop at nothing to achieve his goals.

In reality, the Trump administration is a vortex of incoherence.

In the final weeks of 2018, Trump suddenly revived his promise to build a wall with all the concentrated determination of a man fleeing a posse.

The promise was never quite dead (the second stanza of the “Build the Wall” campaign chant, the part about Mexico paying, has faded, drowned by the debunking of nonsensical claims) but two years into the Trump administration, the urgency of building a wall exploded onto the scene only after tangible threats to Trump looked imminent.

Trump’s claim that there’s an immigration crisis at the border is refuted by experts. His demonization of immigrants treads a well-worn path of demagogues seeking to invent enemies to build support. And even people who live along the border are skeptical of his claim that a wall is a solution. And yet he has brought part of the government to a standstill over it.

Investor’s Business Daily: Yes, There Is A Crisis At The Border — The Numbers Show It

Illegal Immigration: Democrats and the mainstream press accuse President Donald Trump of manufacturing a crisis at the border. The numbers tell another story.

As soon as the words “growing humanitarian and security crisis at our Southern border” left Trump’s lips in his Oval Office address this week, Democrats and media “fact-checkers” were trying to dispel it as a deliberate lie.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump “must stop manufacturing a crisis, and must reopen the government.”

Border Crossings Climbing

NPR’s “fact check” — like countless others — dismissed Trump’s claim as false because “illegal border crossings in the most recent fiscal year (ending in September 2018) were actually lower than in either 2016 or 2014.”

What they aren’t telling you is border patrol agents apprehended more than 100,000 people trying to enter the country illegally in just October and November of last year. Or that that number is way up from the same two months the year before.

Nor do they mention that last year, the border patrol apprehended more than half a million people trying to get into the country illegally. And that number, too, is up from the year before.

That’s huge numbers.

The Department of Homeland Security claims that about 20% of illegal border crossers make it into the country. Other studies, however, say border agents fail to apprehend as much as 50% of illegal crossers.

Even at the lower percentage, that means that 104,000 illegals made it into the country in 2018 alone.

Is that not a crisis at the border?

It is a big problem to deal with, but is it “a time of intense difficulty or danger”? Or “a time when a difficult or important decision must be made”? Important decisions have to be made all the time by Governments. But Trump made his decision about building a wall years ago.

Pelosi and company also don’t bother to mention the fact that there are already between 12 million and 22 million illegals — depending on which study you use — in the country today.

An analysis by the nonpartisan ProCon.org found that in 2010 almost 4% of the U.S. population was in the country illegally. The average for 13 other countries it analyzed was just 1.3%.

Large scale illegal immigration has been happening for a long time.

Isn’t having millions in the country illegally, with thousands joining them every day, not a crisis at the border?

Past Presidents Promised To Fix This

Here’s another problem with claims that we don’t have a crisis at the border.

Past presidents all treated it like one.

In 1982, for example, President Ronald Reagan said that “The ongoing migration of persons to the United States in violation of our laws is a serious national problem detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

President Bill Clinton said in his 1995 State of the Union address that “All Americans … are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country.” That’s why, he said, “our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders.”

President George Bush, in a prime-time Oval Office speech in 2006, declared that securing the U.S. border is a basic responsibility of a sovereign nation. It is also an urgent requirement of our national security.”

President Barack Obama in 2005 declared that “we simply cannot allow people to pour into the United States undetected, undocumented, unchecked.” And in 2014 even he admitted there was a crisis on the border — one that he did virtually nothing to fix. (Apprehensions at the border last year were almost the same as in 2014.)

None of those past presidents are quoted as saying it was a ‘crisis’, but it was obviously a large problem of concern. One of the concerns about it was the impact on the US economy a major purge of illegal immigrants would have – illegals had become an essential part of the economy.

Perhaps the US has had an ongoing immigration crisis since the 1980s. One problem is that mass deportation would likely create a labour shortage crisis, and could create an economic crisis. And it would almost certainly create crises elsewhere, wherever the large number of deportees went to.

And perhaps here is a more recent crisis – a crisis in US government. Now that the Democrats have taken control of Congress, and they are refusing to fund Trump’s wall, there could be a developing political crisis. A dysfunctional democracy may have reached crisis point.

Building a wall on the Mexican border is nor going to fix their massive immigration problems, but the funding issue has created a clash of crises – immigration and a dysfunctional Government.

It’s hard to see any quick or easy solutions to either, with politicians from the President down seemingly hell bent on putting their own political interests a priority over trying to find solutions to their entrenched immigration problem.

New York Times:  What Trump Could Learn From His Shutdown

You know the system has broken down when the clearest way out of a government shutdown may be for the president to declare a fake national emergency.

This was the direction President Trump appeared to be leaning on Thursday, as he flew to McAllen, Tex., to promote his border wall — a P.R. stunt that he didn’t want to perform and that he said in advance was unlikely to bear fruit. “It’s not going to change a damn thing,” he was reported to have said, “but I’m still doing it.”

Bottom line: Mr. Trump loves to boast that he leads with his “gut.” He really can’t be bothered with all the humdrum details of governing, remaining proudly ignorant of how anything works in Washington — the presidency, the Congress, the Constitution. That’s left him in a standoff for which he was wholly unprepared.

For the sake of the millions being hurt, let’s hope he manages to blunder himself back out of this mess soon.

It’s alarming to see that “a stupid or careless mistake” is suggested as the sole way out of a clash of crises.

 

Government and Opposition on fixing the mental health crisis

It has long been known that mental health was being inadequately addressed by governments. It could be claimed (and is) that all health is inadequately funded, but mental health is a special case, and has been since the large mental health institutions were emptied and closed in the 1970s and 1980s. Community care was seen as a better option, but it has never really been done properly, at great human, family and community cost.

The last National government did the usual inquiries and came up with a plan late in their tenure, but the incoming Labour-led government scrapped that and went back to the drawing board – another inquiry. A year on they have just announced a plan that will still take some time to implement.

Labour’s health spokesperson Annette King on  21 February 2017 Kids suffering under mental health strain

A newly released report from the Ministry of Health on the mental health and addictions workforce shows a worryingly large vacancy rate in child and youth mental health services, says Labour’s Health spokesperson Annette King.

“The Mental Health and Addiction Workforce Action Plan 2017-2021 shows a whopping eight per cent vacancy rate in infant, child and adolescent mental health and alcohol and other drug services, the estimated equivalent of 141 full time positions unfilled.

“Every week we hear of failings in our mental health system from deaths in care, patient attacks, overstretched counselling services and crisis teams, with staff working more than 60 hours a week.

“The Government needs to do more than look at staff per 100,000 population, they need to look at how many staff are needed to meet demand and fund mental health properly.”

“A Labour Government will review mental health services…

King cited specific problems from a Ministry report but called for a review. Jacinda Ardern commented on it  on Facebook:

I find this staggering. There is such a huge demand for services and yet the vacancy rate for Child and Youth Mental Health Services is equivalent to an estimated 141 full time positions.

Mental health services have come up A LOT during this campaign, and for good reason. It’s time to review mental health services…

I find the call for reviews staggering, although one person (Liam McConnell-Whiting) laauded her words:

Yes Omg yes! Jacinda you speak the speak! NZs history of ignoring mental health issues, primary and secondary to other (better funded) health issues is a phenomenal shame.
Love to see you identifying this!!!

September 2017: What Labour promised, but will they deliver?

Labour promised to increase resourcing for frontline health workers, put nurses in all high schools and conduct a review of the mental health system in their first 100 days. It would put mental health workers in schools affected by Canterbury earthquakes and target suicide prevention funding into mainstream and rainbow community support organisations.

Labour would put $193m over three years into mental health, on top of the Government’s increase announced in the budget. It would conduct a two-year pilot programme placing mental health teams at eight sites – such as GPs – across the country. The programme would offer free crisis help for people.

A number of specific plans.

And Labour put together a government. Mental health was listed as a priority in the Labour-Green confidence and supply agreement:

16. Ensure everyone has access to timely and high quality mental health services, including free
counselling for those under 25 years.

There was a minor mention in the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement:

Re-establish the Mental Health Commission

In Taking action in our first 100 days Labour implied urgency saying they will hit the ground running in government, with a programme of work across housing, health, education, families, the environment and other priority areas.

  • Set up a Ministerial Inquiry in order to fix our mental health crisis

So they referred to it as a crisis, but chose an inquiry that has taken a year. On 4 December 2018: Mental Health and Addiction report charts new direction

Health Minister Dr David Clark says the Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink how we handle some of the biggest challenges we face as a country.

The Government has today publicly released the report of the Inquiry in full, less than a week after receiving it.

“It is clear we need to do more to support people as they deal with these issues – and do a lot more to intervene earlier and support wellbeing in our communities.

That has been clear for a long time.

“We are working our way carefully through the 40 recommendations and will formally respond in March. I want to be upfront with the public, however, that many of the issues we’re facing, such as workforce shortages, will take years to fix.

‘Fixing’ mental health care will always be an ongoing challenge, but there is a lack of urgency here.

“Reshaping our approach to mental health and addiction is no small task and will take some time. But I’m confident this report points us in the right direction, and today marks the start of real change for the better,” David Clark says.

“Today marks the start of real change for the better” is a nonsense statement, and will sound hollow to those who have been struggling with mental health for a along time, for some people a lifetime.

Two MPs, one from National and one from Labour, comment on progress in Virtue signalling or concrete action on mental health crisis?

Stuart Smith (National MP for Kaikoura):

Eighteen months ago, we established a $100 million fund to support mental health, which the current government duly scrapped after the election.

They then set about reinventing the wheel by launching their own inquiry into mental health and addiction services which, a full year later, supports the very initiatives that we had already identified for targeted funding.

The Prime Minister chose not to keep these initiatives in place, yet at the same time wanted a zero tolerance on suicides, a goal she has now shifted to a percentage reduction of 20 per cent by 2030.

This is nothing short of virtue signalling, and that is incredibly irresponsible. What we need at this time is action, and instead this government cut programmes, then spent a year coming to the conclusion that those programmes were exactly what the mental health system needed.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan (​Labour List MP based in Auckland’s Maungakiekie):

Over the last nine years, demand for mental health services increased by 60 per cent – but funding for these services did not increase by even half that.

Fixing the mental health system is a priority for this government – and it can be done. It requires commitment to understand the problems and implement sustainable solutions – and time. Almost a decade of underfunding and neglect cannot be turned around in one Budget.

The Prime Minister has spoken about her personal commitment to addressing it. The Finance Minister has signalled that it will be a priority in our first wellbeing Budget in 2019. So how are we tracking?

The Government committed to an inquiry into mental health and addiction services in its first hundred days. The report from that inquiry has just been completed and released and the Government will respond formally in March. This response will be a considered one that focuses on long-term, sustainable change rather than political expediency.

In the meantime, the government has committed an extra $200 million to district health board mental health services over the next four years. Low-decile schools, especially those affected by earthquakes, will be better resourced to assist children who may need support. It’s now cheaper for 540,000 New Zealanders on modest incomes to see a doctor, and free for children under 14. A pilot programme that will provide free counselling for 18 to 25 year olds is being developed. Our mental health and addiction support workers – 5000 of them – have been included in the Care and Support Workers Pay Equity Settlement. I’m proud to be supporting a government that cares enough to act.

Finally, as we work to fix the mental health crisis, we must remember that one size does not fit all.

As we work to fix the mental health crisis, we must make sure that we fix it for all New Zealanders.

Not all New Zealanders need mental health assistance. Some measures have been implemented, but after a year in Government it is warned that it will time to fix but is still being referred to as a crisis.

We will find out next March – 18 months after the election – what the Labour-led government plan to do to fix the mental health crisis.

Nation – Solving the housing ‘crisis’

This morning on Newshub Nation:

Can the Government’s big ideas really solve the country’s housing crisis? We talk to housing strategist Leonie Freeman and Alan Johnson from the Salvation Army.

Alan Johnson from the Salvation Army:

Kiwibuild is going to benefit the young middle class, not the people he deals with everyday.

The Government is being unrealistic thinking they can reach Kiwibuild goals with very little subsidy

 

Mental health crisis talk, but no urgency walk

There have been claims that our health system is in crisis. I guess it depends on what constitutes a crisis.

Speaking out of one side of his mouth Minister of Health David Clark says that parts of the health system are in crisis due to chronic ‘underfunding’, but out of the other side of his mouth he praises the state of Health.

And even though he sees a crisis in Mental Health he is happy to wait for a committee to investigate before taking action. He has justifiably been criticised for this contradiction.

On Q&A yesterday:

Corin Dann: The other criticism is that you’re manufacturing a crisis. Is there a crisis in health, for a start?

David Clark: There are some areas where there is a crisis. I think mental health – people will acknowledge is at a crisis level. But the reason our health system is holding together so well, and it is, is because of the dedicated staff. We have doctors and nurses and allied health workers who have turned up every day in an underfunded environment for years, and they deliver an amazing service, and New Zealanders know that.

There is a crisis, but the health system is holding up well?

Later the interview addresses mental health.

Corin Dann: We’re going to talk mental health now. Talking again to people in the health sector this week, one of the things that came up with mental health was actually an ED nurse, who said they are just seeing a massive increase in the number of presentations at emergency departments from people suffering from mental illness. What are you going to do about that?

David Clark: We know that we have an aging demographic, which includes dementia, and we have a growing population. As more people get weeded out for care in primary care, we have more acute demand at the emergency level. We’re going to need new approaches, new ideas to tackling these issues. And we’re going to need increased capacity in some areas.

No indication of what Clark intends to do, just “we’re going to need increased capacity in some areas”.

Corin Dann: Okay, I know you’ve got an inquiry looking at this issue and presumably that’s going to come up with some big, challenging recommendations for you on mental health, and you’ll deal with that. How quickly can you implement those?

David Clark: Yeah. I’m imaging we won’t be able to implement them all at once. We’ll take it budget by budget, step by step. But the purpose of making that inquiry independent is that it will bring forward hard recommendations. It will bring forward challenging recommendations. And we as a government will then have to wrestle with them. But I don’t want to get some watered-down version as minister. My job is to manage the prioritisation and the politics, and I’ll do that. 

Corin Dann: Sure. Big picture here, because I know you’ve got an inquiry, what is your feeling about the balance in terms of our mental health? Are we keeping people in the community too much? Are we not putting people in care enough? Where is the balance?

David Clark: My gut feeling is we’ve devolved care to the community without putting resource after it. And sometimes it’s been used as a cost-cutting measure. We need to change community attitudes. We need to change the way we’re delivering primary services to some extent. And we need to just make sure that mental health is afforded the priority that it should have. It shouldn’t be possible to cut corners for our most vulnerable.

Corin Dann: You’ve got other promises in mental health, in particular in schools and those sorts of things. Are you going to be able to deliver on those, having nurses or mental health care workers in those sorts of facilities?

David Clark: There are some things that have strong evidence behind them. Nurses in schools is one of those things. We will continue to roll out that programme. The cheaper doctor visits is another way of ensuring that those services are more accessible to people. So we will do some things in the interim. I’m not going to announce the budget detail today, Corin.

Labour rushed in an expensive tertiary fees-free policy, without claiming there was a crisis in education.

The did claim there was a mental health crisis in their Taking action in our first 100 days:

  • Set up a Ministerial Inquiry in order to fix our mental health crisis

One could think that a crisis would be treated a bit more urgently than deferring to a committee.

Labour’s post-100 day brag sheet includes this, but it is well down the list of priorities – 100 days. Here’s what we’ve done.

We’ve announced a ministerial inquiry into our mental health system. It’s time to do better by New Zealanders.

But this isn’t the time to do it apparently.

More details: Inquiry to improve mental health services

The Government has taken a major step towards improving mental health and addiction services with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announcing details of a ministerial inquiry.

The Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction will be chaired by former Health and Disability Commissioner, Professor Ron Paterson, and will report back to the Government by the end of October.

Then any spending to address the so-called crisis will have to wait until the budget in May 2019, unless things get deferred further.

“Nothing is off the table. We all know we have a problem with mental health in this country and our suicide rate is shameful. It is well past time for us to do something about it.”

That was in January. Perhaps something will be done about it in this year’s budget, but even then one could suggest ‘it is well past time for us to do something about it’.

In the meantime: Funding uncertainty for Dunedin rehab service

A Dunedin rehab centre with a waiting list of 142 people, most addicted to methamphetamine, will run out of money in two months.

Addiction treatment services say the public funding model they operate under is creating stress, fostering competition between providers and, worst of all, detracting from the work of rehabilitating addicts.

With only 62 days left in the financial year Ms Aitken still had not been able to secure funding – which comes from a mix of government departments – to continue to run past July.

Perhaps they could go and talk to the mental health crisis working group. Drug addiction is a symptom of mental health problems.

Claims of crisis are not new. from may 2018:  New Zealand’s mental health system is in crisis

The Auditor-General’s new report on discharge planning for mental health patients shows more than ever that the system is in crisis.

The report by Greg Schollum, Deputy Controller and Auditor-General, diagnoses several acute ailments in the system – a lack of planning and liaison between DHBs and community services, limited bed numbers available in inpatient units, and rushed discharges into the community because DHBs cannot cope with growing demand.

“This report provides some alarming insights into the slow decay of the mental health system under this Government, particularly in terms of supporting severely vulnerable patients to re-enter their communities after time in DHB inpatient units,” says Erin Polaczuk, PSA national secretary.

“It’s clear that empty rhetoric and the hollow promises of prioritisation by this Government aren’t enough,” says Ms Polaczuk.

See also (Stuff, 3 February 2018): A growing emergency: Why are cops looking after mental health patients in crisis?

If things go according to current plans another report will be released in October. Perhaps that will call it a crisis too.

Then what?


David Clark has been asked (on RNZ) about the Moana House funding crisis and says it is something that needs to be worked out over time. And pushed on whether urgent funding would be provided he said he won’t be announcing the budget in advance and again said solutions would be forthcoming “over time”.

No apparent urgency given the claims of a crisis.

It is a very difficult situation for Clark (as the portfolio is for any Minister of Health).  But if the Government talks the crisis talk surely they should walk the urgency walk.

 

 

Toll prompts call for crisis meeting

The Associate Transport Minister has called officials to a crisis meeting over the road toll.

It’s passed a grim milestone – 328 dead on our roads so far this year. That’s the same number that died in the whole of last year, and there are still 43 days to go.

This year more than one person a day has died on our roads, and we’re heading for our highest road toll since 2010.

“It’s not acceptable that people should die when they’re just going about their lives,” says Associate Transport Minister Julie-Anne Genter.

Ms Genter has called together officials from the police, the Ministry of Transport and the NZTA for an urgent meeting on Tuesday.

“I’ve asked officials for an immediate briefing on what can be done in a short period of time and they’ve indicated a few areas, so we’ll be exploring those and implementing whatever’s going to be most effective to save lives.”

Ministry of Transport: Annual road toll historical information

Time series of deaths from 1921-2016

Road toll peaks approximately each decade:

  • 1921: 69
  • 1930: 246
  • 1939: 246
  • 1951: 292
  • 1961: 393
  • 1973: 843
  • 1982: 673
  • 1990: 729
  • 2000: 462
  • 2009: 384
  • 2013: 253 (low)
  • 2016: 318

Trends also of interest:

Time series of deaths rates from 1936-2016

It appears that congestion is pushing the toll back up.

It doesn’t appear to be a crisis, yet, but it should be cause for concern.

 

 

The synthetic drug crisis

Killer chemicals – Inside NZ’s synthetic cannabis crisis

At least 20 people have died after smoking synthetic cannabis, but where is the community outrage and Government action plan?

In part one of a two-part series, we reveal the human toll of a killer drug.

Anika used to enjoy making art, before she became a slave to synthetic cannabis.

Then all she cared about was finding money to buy “synnies”.

She’s only 21, yet death stalked her.

Her friend, Michael, says: “I describe it as a zombie drug because the actual description of a zombie is the walking dead – they die, get up and they start hunting food.”

Where is the public outcry?

Ironically the current situation has come about because of a public outcry over the sale of synthetics after a law change to try and bring them under control, so the Government backed down.

This may have avoided becoming an election issue because all parties may be in part culpable.

Ducking for cover lest they lose some votes (losing lives doesn’t seem to be as important to them).

 

Is our democracy in crisis?

Some ‘experts’ are claiming we have a political crisis due to a lack of trust in politicians. I don’t think it’s anywhere near a crisis, but there is certainly room for improvement – from politicians, from media, and for those involved in political discourse.

Stuff:  Politics in crisis and trust issues: How Kiwis feel about how the country is run

Nearly 40,000 voters responded to the Stuff/Massey University election survey in May and they got to have their say on their trust in politics. They’re not happy. Experts say it’s a crisis.

Not many New Zealanders think our political leaders keep their promises. More than half of us think our political leaders are out of touch. Even less think our political cared about the things they valued.

And now, the vast majority of us want change of some sort.

Of course people want change of some sort, there are many problems that need to be addressed, and dealt with better. And the rest of the world changes so New Zealand has to change and adapt.

New Zealand politics and democracy are in trouble and the system isn’t working, academic and political commentator Bryce Edwards said.

It may sound dramatic, but it’s a dilemma that’s been brewing for almost half a century.

The public once saw politics as “fairly noble and important” but support for politicians and trust in institutions had been eroding since the 1970s and 1980s.

“It’s a crisis of politics, it’s a crisis of democracy … when you have a million people that are eligible to vote choose not to, and even many of those who do vote are very dissatisfied with the system.”

If people didn’t vote because they felt alienated by not being represented, the crisis would get worse, he said.

Results from the Stuff/Massey survey showed only 17 per cent of those surveyed believed political leaders kept their promises.

I don’t think it should be described as a crisis, our democracy doesn’t look likely to be at imminent risk of collapse. It just needs to be improved – and overstating how bad things are doesn’t help.

The Stuff/Massey survey results showed:

  • 13% of people thought the political system was “completely” broken
  • 55% thought it worked but needed to change
  • 31% though it worked well.

I would bet that a number of those who thought the system was completely broken want a change that most people would strongly oppose. Those wanting revolution are not likely to be well supported. I don’t think a one party state, nor an extreme socialist state, would be seen as improvements by most of us.

In 2016, a study commissioned by Victoria University found:

  • 8% of respondents had “complete or lots of trust” in MPs
  • 10% per cent trusted ministers
  • 12% trusted local government.

Most of those impressions are formed from media coverage, and the media has similar trust problems.

“New Zealanders want a le4ader who will deliver”:

  • Radical change 22%
  • Gradual change 23%
  • Steady as it goes 54%

I suspect that if various types of ‘radical change’ were proposed there would be limited support for any one of them.

An Ipsos poll taken in May showed over half of Kiwis thought politics and the economy were rigged against them.

A State Services Commission working paper, Declining Government Performance? Why Citizens Don’t Trust Government, last updated in 2002, noted that it had been declining for 30 years.

It’s suggested causes included “greater expectations”. When the public was pumped up by pre-election claims, but politicians failed to follow through, that caused declining confidence in elected officials.

Greater expectations and overemphasis on negatives are problems with media as much as with politicians.

Writer of the book The New Zealand Project, Max Harris, agreed that New Zealand politics was in crisis.

“I’m pretty concerned that we don’t have [an] engaged public that can hold governments to account to make sure policy is good.”

Some politicians were taking the issue seriously, but not enough of the public were.

He said if distrust continued, voter turnout would drop further and who did vote would likely do so reluctantly.

Would our democracy be better of more people voted? We would have more people choosing from the same options, so what would actually change?

Despite all that, Edwards believed the problems could be fixed and said he saw changes occurring already.

“Not so much in terms of the trust but in terms of a return at the moment to an interest in politics and an involvement in politics.

“To me, it’s a wee bit like a re-run of the 1960s where people are being a bit more energised and excited in politics either through things they oppose or things that they’re in favour of.”

“People are taking more interest in this campaign than they have for many elections. I would predict that this year’s voter turnout would be considerably up on previously elections.”

He said he expected it to be “significant” – five or six per cent.

And we would still end up with a National led or a Labour led government, with some influence from smaller parties.

More voters are not going to uncover better politicians.

I think there are three key issues with our democracy that more voters won’t address.

First, what the public sees of politics generally and elections in particular are dominated by sensationalism by media and seeking sensationalism by politicians. Voters can’t change that (they tend to get turned off by it).

Instead of media looking at voters they should look at themselves and what they contribute to the problems.

Muck raking and exaggerating politicians are rewarded by the media. Why doesn’t media investigate that?

Second, MMP is a more democratic system but it is abused by political parties protecting their own interests. A threshold of 2% would remove most distortions and unfairness, and improve democracy and self interest.

Third, I think that relatively minor changes could be made to our parliamentary system that would improve engagement with the public. A better way of including the public in debate and a simple way of measuring public views on bills of public interest (in addition to the current public submission system) would inform the politicians better and include the public in the process better.

Our democracy is not in crisis, and it’s not close to being in crisis.

Some sensible tweaks could make a significant difference – not good for headlines but far more sensible than using  using claims of the sky falling to promote radical change.