The Government’s “nine years of neglect” meme a bad excuse for under performance

Government ministers keep using the term ‘nine years of neglect’ to attack the last Government (and by association the Opposition), and also as an excuse for not delivering on their own promises.

With a far larger than expected surplus causing some embarrassment due to the lack of urgent action on issues that Labour had claimed needed urgent attention 9before they took over government) this line of attack may continue at least until next year’s pre-budget and budget announcements lead into the election campaign.

The Prime Minister started the year by telling New Zealand that 2019 would be the “year of delivery” but there is another phrase that has become much more synonymous with this Government.

“Nine years of neglect.”

It has become the Government’s go-to defence when its back is against the wall on any given issue.

From Parliament’s question time yesterday Jacinda Ardern showed in her first answer to Question 1 that she is leading the attack/excuse.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, particularly our Government’s $300 million investment in Taranaki Base Hospital announced last week. The Government is investing record amounts into infrastructure, including $1.7 billion set aside in Budget 2019 for upgrading our hospitals and health services, which, of course, after nine years of neglect is much needed.

Question 2:

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The accounts show the coalition Government continues to increase investment in areas that were neglected by the previous Government. Capital investment—including in new hospital buildings, classrooms, roads and rail, and the super fund—was up 13.7 percent over the year. In dollar terms, capital investment in the 2019 year was more than $6.7 billion, building on the $5.9 billion we invested in 2018. This compares with just $3.7 billion in 2017, before we came to office. Our high levels of capital spending demonstrate this Government’s commitment to investing in turning around the infrastructure deficit we inherited after nine years of neglect.

Clark has used the term a lot to make excuses for his slowness to address health issues. Again in question 3:

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Average wages are rising at the fastest rate in a decade. We have, as I said to the member earlier, ensured that those working New Zealanders, through the Working for Families tax credits, do have lower tax to pay. Now, this is the Government that wants to see a strong economy and is investing in making sure that we are also addressing the infrastructure neglect that we inherited—nine years of infrastructure neglect—and we make no apology for investing in our schools, in our hospitals, and in our roads.

And:

Hon Todd McClay: Does he think New Zealanders are paying too much tax?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Average wages are rising at the fastest rate in a decade. We have, as I said to the member earlier, ensured that those working New Zealanders, through the Working for Families tax credits, do have lower tax to pay. Now, this is the Government that wants to see a strong economy and is investing in making sure that we are also addressing the infrastructure neglect that we inherited—nine years of infrastructure neglect—and we make no apology for investing in our schools, in our hospitals, and in our roads.

Again in question 9:

Hon Michael Woodhouse: In that case, why does he continue to blame the previous Government when he believes he has put in sufficient funding to make DHBs viable?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: As I’ve said many times before, it will take more than two Budgets to make up for nine long years of neglect. They ran the health system into the ground, and it will take us a wee while to put that right.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: When is he going to take responsibility for the clinical and financial performance of the health sector on his watch rather than blame the previous Government?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I’ll take responsibility when I’ve finished cleaning up that Government’s mess.

At the rate Clark is going it will take a long time. Actually growing health needs are likely to continue to struggle against government funding limitations for a long time.

Nanaia Mahut joined the chorus:

Hon Jacqui Dean: How much does she expect rates to rise, in order for councils to fund all of the work she has just described?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: That’s a matter that I can’t be entirely responsible for. The setting of rates is a matter for local councils to determine, and they are mindful that, in balancing the impact on ratepayers with the priority that their people have within their communities, they must balance the books based on what the revenue is that they get from rates. But can I say this: when we came into Government, it was very clear that the local government sector had been left to languish for nine years and the issues of affordability on councils had been neglected. That’s why we embarked on a Productivity Commission report that is looking to provide some solutions, and we’re considering that report and will respond in due course to the cost pressures facing councils.

A report ‘looking to provide some solutions’ at some time in the future, perhaps, is a common theme for this Government.

Later during: Education (School Donations) Amendment Bill — Third Reading

Kiritapu Allan: Barking at cars.

MARJA LUBECK: Really though—barking at cars, all of that. But New Zealanders aren’t as gullible as the National Party probably thinks they are. People know that the flow-on effects from the nine years of neglect and nine years of under-investment are going to take us a little while to fix up. It’s going to take us more than one term to turn that ship around, but we have started to fix a lot of things. We have recently—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! I am going to call the member back to the bill, which is about school donations. The member has to somehow make the link.

MARJA LUBECK: So much good positive messaging…

Irony that Lubeck seems oblivious to.

It is a dirty meme, both a negative attack campaign, and an excuse for under performance, that is used by and obviously approved by Jacinda Ardern.

This sort of tactic isn’t new – National kept blaming the previous Clark/Labour-led government – but I think that voters would prefer to see more focus on doing things now rather than pointing fingers back into the past. And action.

Ardern promised that 2019 would be the Government’s “year of delivery”. It is becoming apparent that what she and her Ministers are intent on delivering is an ongoing excuse for not delivering anywhere as much as was promised.

It would be a very risky campaign strategy to claim that “It’s going to take us more than one term to turn that ship around” as a reason to be re-elected for a second term.

All incoming governments inherit challenges as a result of previous policies and circumstances.  It isn’t new for Prime Ministers and Ministers to blame past governments, but Labour’s relentless repeating of a lame excuse is wearing increasingly thin.

Next election campaign voters will remember the three years of the incumbent government better than the previous nine years or the nine years before that.

David Clark’s responses to written questions – Speaker: “the breach was so blatant”

Audrey Young at the Herald, in scores of Ministers, rated Minister of Health David Clark one of the three poorest performs at 4/10.

Evidence today that supports claims that Minister Clark is may be out of his depth and performing poorly.

In Parliament the Speaker awarded the Opposition an additional 12 supplementary questions due to blatant breaches in responses to written questions by the Minister Clark.

SPEAKER’S RULINGS

Written Questions—Responses

SPEAKER: Before we come to questions, I have received a letter from the Hon Michael Woodhouse raising with me the responses to written questions he has received from the Minister of Health. I note the Minister and his office have been under considerable pressure as a result of having up to 1,500 questions lodged on a single day. However—[Interruption] The member is running a risk of a multiplier effect here. However, Dr Clark’s response to some of the questions is not acceptable.

The replies refer the member to another reply, and that reply refers him on to another reply. In one instance, the member would have had to make his way through 22 separate replies which do not answer the question before finally reaching the answer. That approach falls far short of the standard of accountability required to the House of Ministers.

The matter was compounded by the answer that was ultimately provided, which stated that the matter was an operational one and that the member could use the Official Information Act 1982 to request the information sought. There is no convention that Ministers are not answerable for operational matters in the agencies falling within their portfolio areas—Speakers’ ruling 160/3. In fact, that’s a key part of the role of a Minister. The House’s own rules for seeking information and its entitlement to receive information exceeds that under the Official Information Act—Speaker’s ruling 177/6. Where a written question seeks an unreasonable level of detail, it is open to a Minister to reply that the cost entailed in answering the question is not consistent with the public interest—and, in fact, Ministers have on occasion done that, from both sides of the House.

Our question system is based on the assumption that Ministers will try and give informative replies—Speaker’s ruling 178/5—and to account to the House for the public offices they hold. In this instance, I expect the Minister to lodge fresh answers to the questions—14351 to 15621 and 15974 to 16132—and, if it is necessary to use a single answer to reply to multiple questions, then the replies should refer directly to the substantive answer.

The Opposition has been denied the opportunity to hold the Government to account through this series of written questions. Therefore, I’m awarding the Opposition an additional 12 supplementary questions to be used today or tomorrow.

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Leader of the House): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I don’t want to raise any issue with the substance of the ruling that you have just made merely one of the process, as somebody who has lodged complaints along the nature of the one that Mr Woodhouse has made in the past. In the past, Speakers have adopted the practice that, before a Speaker would rule on a matter of written questions, the member would first have had to make a formal complaint to the Minister who lodged the answers in the first place. Then, second of all, the Speaker themselves would raise the matter with the Minister before issuing a ruling such as you have. My understanding is that you no longer follow that process. It would seem to me that if there is a sanction going to be applied, there does need to be some process of raising the matter with the Minister’s office before that sanction is applied so they have the opportunity to correct it where an error has been made.

SPEAKER: I’m happy to respond to that. In the vast majority of cases that’s a process I’ve followed. If the member has a conversation with the Minister on his right, he will understand that it’s followed quite regularly. But, in this particular case, the breach was so blatant that—and I hesitate to use the word which I’ve gotten in trouble for using in this House before, but such a blatant breach, in two ways, of Speakers’ Rulings and the Standing Orders—I felt that having that conversation was unnecessary.

Dying man and his wife prompt Health Minister to promise better cancer care, sometime

A dying man from Southland, Blair Vining, and his wife Melissa, put Health Minister David Clark on the spot at  the ‘Cancer Care at a Crossroads Conference’ in Wellington yesterday. Clark has promised better cancer care.

Providing sufficient health care is always going to be a challenge, but regional differences can be quite unfair on some people diagnosed with cancer.

Stuff: Southland man Blair Vining calls government to account over ‘lack of cancer action plan’

Blair Vining says if it was not for his persistent wife Melissa he would probably be dead.

The Southlander said it was the stark reality of his situation and was why he was calling the New Zealand government to account over not having a cancer action in place.

Vining was last year diagnosed with terminal cancer and was given six to eight weeks to live without any treatment.

The catch though was that he was advised it would take eight weeks to get his first oncologist appointment.

That is awful.

Vining did not have eight weeks to wait.

Instead his wife Melissa searched the private sector in a desperate attempt to speed up the process.

He was able to see Dr Chris Jackson in Christchurch and get the treatment process started within three weeks.

“It took 19 phone calls and a very persistent wife. If it wasn’t for her, I would have been in the public sector and waiting for eight weeks,” Vining said.

As part of the public health sector he said he overheard doctors talking outside his room about his inoperable status and he also had an infected IV line as procedure wasn’t followed through.

He also said at one point he had a six-hour journey for urgent treatment because no-one was available at the Southern District Health Board.

One would hope that people diagnosed with terminal cancer wouldn’t effectively be condemned to die for lack of health care.

At least in this case one dying person and their wife may be able to make a difference for others – if Health Minister Clark follows through on his assurances.

Stuff:  Health Minister David Clark commits to improving cancer treatment for all Kiwis

 

Health Minister David Clark has vowed to get the ball rolling a national cancer plan to improve Kiwis’ access to fair and consistent cancer treatment, regardless of where they live.

Speaking at the ‘Cancer Care at a Crossroads Conference’ in Wellington, Clark acknowledged more needed to be done in the sector and that he, along with the Ministry of Health, would be working to establish a plan.

Clark had the hard task of following a talk by Blair Vining, a Southland father dying of bowel cancer, and his wife Melissa, who took the minister to task.

“You have failed Blair, you have failed me and my children, and you have failed many other New Zealanders by not having a cancer plan,” Melissa said to Clark and the gathered crowd of cancer experts.

It looks like he was deliberately put on the spot by conference organisers, but at least Clark was there to listen.

“I am personally concerned about the growing inequalities [to access health care] and that is the main reason I chose to get involved in politics.”

“The existing cancer arrangements have lapsed and it’s something that I’ve been aware of since I first became minister and that’s why we’re moving towards … a national system.

“We are committing to an action plan and one of the good things that I think is going to come out of this conference is the early steps of pulling that together,” Clark said.

There are positive signs that Clark understands the problem and will do something about it.

But there are also mixed messages from Clark about whether he sees it as urgent or not.

He said “The existing cancer arrangements have lapsed and it’s something that I’ve been aware of since I first became minister” but “one of the good things that I think is going to come out of this conference is the early steps of pulling that together” is worrying – after 15 months as minister and being aware of the issue he now says they are at “early steps of pulling that together”.

He said timelines were up in the air at this stage, but he was committed to seeing change as soon as possible.

When someone is diagnosed with cancer and is told he may die within two months, and is unable to see a public health specialist for two months, then timelines being ‘up in the air’ is not a very solid assurance.

Clark often comes across as an earnest do-gooder who struggles with the doing.

Health ministers have to try to manage many priorities, but providing health care for people before they die should be close to the top of the list.  I hope Clark takes urgent action over this.

Minister seeks Communications and Events Professional

David Clark, Labour MP (Dunedin North Electorate) and was given the challenging role of Minister of Health in the Ardern led Government. According to pundits rating his performance over his first year he has struggled.

From Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: NZ’s worst performing politicians

…there was also some cutting commentary on the disappointing performances of the likes of Simon Bridges, Kelvin Davis, David Clark, and Amy Adams.

in Stuff political editor Tracy Watkins’ scorecard of the year in politics, a number of struggling Labour frontbenchers don’t even get a mention (Megan Woods, Chris Hipkins, Carmel Sepuloni, David Clark, Nanaia Mahuta, and Stuart Nash) – see: After a huge year in politics, one politician stands out.

According to Newshub political editor Tova O’Brien, “Lees-Galloway’s admission that he had not read the full report when deciding whether to grant Karel Sroubek residency in New Zealand qualified him for this award” of “most useless” member of the coalition government – see Alice Webb-Liddall and Tova O’Brien’s Political superlatives 2018: Tova O’Brien reviews the political year.

O’Brien also thought the Minister of Health, David Clark, deserved to share the award, because he announced the Mental Health Review “with absolutely no detail about what the Government’s going to do”.

In the Spinoff, Simon Wilson also declared David Clark as one of the “flops” of the year: “Clark should be focused on improving mental health care, improving primary health care to those most in need, and rethinking health services delivery for the 21st century. He seems disengaged with all of it.”

So it sounds like Clark has some improving to do.

He is currently advertising for some electorate help:

I think that Clark has used the services of a communications assistant for some time, and as far as I can remember it has always been a 20 hour per week position.

The change with this latest advertisement is the range of expertise being sought. It may be difficult to find and keep someone with that degree of ability and experience in a part time position.

This is similar to other electorate situations vacant. For example:

Parliamentary MP Support to Sarah Dowie, MP (Public Relations, Communication and Stakeholder liaison)

Parliamentary MP Support to Sarah Dowie, MP

Varied and multifaceted role supporting Sarah Dowie, MP. As a strong planner, you will enjoy the coordination and planning of events along with drafting all types of communications including press releases.   You will be organised and understand office administration – you’ll be able to effectively liaise with stakeholders, support your MP with research and representation and, take enquiries at reception.

You’ve got a firm grasp of the current political landscape and where the electorate sits within it. You appreciate the sometimes unpredictable nature of this environment and instead of letting it faze you, you thrive on it – putting your proactive, calm, and flexible personality to good use. It goes without saying you’re someone who’s empathetic and respectful, and you’re confident in building strong relationships with a diverse range of people. You’re happy to work autonomously and are well known for your resilient and unflappable nature.

You’ll be stepping into an environment that is unique, exciting, and rewarding. This really is a role unlike any other and if you’re passionate about giving back and helping your community, it’s right up your alley. As an organisation, it’s extremely important to us that our people feel supported and are given the opportunity to continue to grow and develop their knowledge and their careers.

This role is based in the Invercargill office for up to 40 hours per week with a minimum of 30 hours. Some flexibility in hours may be required. This is an events-based, fixed-term role linked to the Member of Parliament.

If you’d like to play an important in supporting your MP and helping your community, apply now.

Interesting to see a back bench opposition MP seeking a similarly experienced person for a 30-40 hour per week role.

Not sure why Clark’s assistant is not advertised on the Parliamentary Services Website.

Dowie is low and slipping in The 2018 Trans-Tasman Ratings for 2018 -down 0.5 to 3.5.

MPs require good assistance but ultimately their performance is up to themselves.

Dowie can get away with staying out of the spotlight as an Opposition MP without a major role (if the Jami-Lee Ross thing has blown over and doesn’t flare up again) – she is National Spokesperson for Conservation.

But Clark needs to up his efforts – and that goes beyond better media assistance and presentation.  The Health portfolio is always challenging, but Clark has to be seen to be doing quite a bit better, and faster. Especially on Mental Health, which while regarded as in urgent need of changes is still not being addressed (due some time this year). And the Dunedin Hospital rebuild, which Labour made promises on as inn urgent need of pushing along has already slipped back.

Minister Clark needs to take more responsibility for his own actions, or lack thereof.

More pressure on him already this year:  A new year challenge for Health Minister David Clark

Dear David – A new year challenge Health Minister David Clark could make a good start to 2019 by admitting there is a crisis in the specialist workforce, Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) Executive Director Ian Powell says.

Mr Powell says specialists working in public hospitals are disappointed Dr Clark has yet to commit to developing a safe staffing accord to address this precarious situation. Mr Powell’s article, entitled ‘Dear David, There’s a Hole in the SMO Bucket’ has been published in the current edition of The Specialist and can be read here: https://www.asms.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Theres-a-hole-in-the-SMO-bucket.pdf

“This is a significant oversight as hospital specialists are a stressed and stretched workforce, and they have been shouldering the burden of an under-resourced public health system for years, to the detriment of their own health,” Mr Powell says.

Clark needs to step up.

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.

Labour violins getting ahead of writing the symphony

One repeat criticism of Labour in Government, with Jacinda Ardern leading, is that they are talking the talk far more walking the policies. I think this criticism is justified.

So does John Roughan:  Labour violins play but ovation must wait

Labour governments have one habit that annoys me intensely. They love to trumpet big liberal social advances without doing the hard work. The last Labour Government made an art-form of this and the present one is shaping up to be just the same.

This week its Health Minister, David Clark, moved the final reading of the bill legalising medicinal cannabis and hailed it as “compassionate and progressive” legislation that would make a difference to people living in pain and nearing the end of their lives. You could almost hear the violins playing in Labour minds and see the wistful look in their eyes as they imagined this moment in a movie made for audiences susceptible to simplified social history.

While the medicinal cannabis bill is progress (anything would be progress compared to what National stalled) but it is hardly a great progressive moment. And the compassion is limited to some and excludes many others, like those who suffer from chronic pain and prefer safer, less addictive but illegal relief.

You had to read the news reports carefully to notice that a great deal of work on the bill, now law, has still to be done. “Little” details such as, what cannabis products? How will people know they are effective? Who will be allowed to make them? How are you going to restrict them to people genuinely in pain or terminally ill?

All those questions, and more, have been passed to officials in the Ministry of Health. Until they can work them out the legislation does almost nothing, it’s just a statute of intention.

And a problem with this is that the Ministry of Health has proven to be far from progressive in dealing with medicinal cannabis. We won’t know how much real progress the current bill will make for up to a year.

It annoys me intensely because it is dishonest. Not just politically, but intellectually dishonest, which you would not expect Labour people to be. I don’t understand how they can take pride in acts of principle that leave so many practical difficulties demanding answers.

Fair call from Roughan.

To my mind, if a principle is not practical there is probably something wrong with it.

Ironically, the one thing this week’s legislation has done immediately is provide the terminally ill with a legal defence should they be prosecuted for using the drug while it remains illegal. Since they were never likely to be prosecuted that pretty much confirms the status quo.

While Labour play the violins of progress the tune is often much the same as National’s.

Labour seems divided on the subject. Police Minister Stuart Nash and Health Minister Clark this week announced a toughening of the laws against the manufacture and sales of synthetics, classifying them as class A drugs which I guess means the end of the attempt to provide a legal framework for them.

At the same time they announced a directive to the police would be written into the Misuse of Drugs Act to use their discretion not to prosecute for mere possession of all drugs (all?) where a therapeutic approach might be more beneficial. Again, the status quo, for lesser classes of drugs anyway. Discretion works well enough in practice but how do you define it in law? More hard work for somebody else.

Much of the work on regulations for the medical marijuana was in fact done by a new MP in National’s caucus, a physician, Dr Shane Reti.

Reti spent last summer in the US talking to officials in states that have legalised the drug for medicinal use. On return, he drafted a private members’ bill that appeared fairly practical and capable of controlling the standard and distribution of cannabis in medicinal forms.

He convinced the National caucus to support legalisation and for a while it seemed the Government might write his proposals into its bill. But though he was deputy chair of the select committee on the bill, it didn’t happen. It is hard to know why.

Labour could hardly claim to be the great progressive party but helped by National.

Maybe this Government is using medical legalisation to soften the electorate for general decriminalisation before we get a referendum on that issue. Is that the kind of dishonesty we are dealing with? I prefer to think not, and that Reti’s work will not be wasted when National returns.

There is a real possibility that Labour has used the medicinal cannabis bill to appear to be doing something (that they had promised to do with urgency) but in fact have used it to kick the cannabis can down the road.

The violins play while the opportunity to be progressive runs away. It’s almost as if Labour are running away from it.

I was resigned to National continuing to stall progress on drug law reform, but especially after Labour’s promises their hollow violin promises are even more disappointing.

Tougher measures against drug dealing, police to go easier on users

The Government announced new measures to combat drug problems, especially synthetic drugs that have been causing a number of deaths. Two common ingredients of synthetics will be reclassified, making selling them punishable by up to life imprisonment, balanced with instructions to police to go easier on drug users.

Generally this is a big and welcome step forward, but it has a complication – it’s common for drug users to also sell drugs to finance their habit.

And Police have expressed concerns about what the changes will mean for them. They already use their discretion in dealing with drug users.

Beehive: Crackdown on synthetic drug dealers

I don’t know why they have chosen to focus just on the getting tough bit in their headline.

The Government is responding to increased drug-related deaths by cracking down on the suppliers of synthetic drugs while making it easier for those with addiction problems to get treatment, Health Minister Dr David Clark and Police Minister Stuart Nash have announced.

“Under current laws synthetics and other dangerous drugs are killing people and fuelling crime while dealers and manufacturers get rich. The current approach is failing to keep Kiwis safe and can’t be continued,” David Clark said.

“It’s time to do what will work. We need to go harder on the manufactures of dangerous drugs like synthetics, and treat the use of drugs as a health issue by removing barriers to people seeking help.”

I hope the measures will work better – they should – but it is not going to solve all drug problems.

The Government has today announced a suite of measures to tackle synthetic drugs. The measures include:

  • Classifying as Class A the main two synthetic drugs (5F-ADB and AMB-FUBINACA) that have been linked to recent deaths. This will give police the search and seizure powers they need crackdown on suppliers and manufacturers, who will also face tougher penalties – up to life imprisonment.
  • Creating a temporary drug classification category, C1, so new drugs can easily be brought under the Misuse of Drugs Act, giving police the search and seizure powers needed to interrupt supply – an important part of a health response.
  • Amending the Misuse of Drugs Act to specify in law that Police should use their discretion and not prosecute for possession and personal use where a therapeutic approach would be more beneficial, or there is no public interest in a prosecution. This will apply to the use of all illegal drugs, so there is no perverse incentive created encouraging people to switch to a particular drug.
  • Allocate $16.6 million to boost community addiction treatment services, and provide communities with the support to provide emergency “surge” responses, when there is a spate of overdoses or deaths, for example.

“To be clear, this is not the full decriminalisation of drugs recommended by the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry. These are immediate steps we can take in response to the challenge we face with synthetics. We are considering the Inquiry’s recommendations separately,” Dr Clark said.

National have grizzled about it being a path to decriminalisation but given their lack of action through their 9 year term i feel like telling them to get stuffed.

Police targeting dealers

Police Minister Stuart Nash says frontline Police are targeting dealers and suppliers with an increased focus on organised crime and trans-national crime as a result of extra resourcing in Budget 2018.

“Misuse of drugs remains illegal and people should not be complacent about the risks of getting caught. Whether a drug user ends up getting Police diversion, goes through an alternative resolution process, or is referred for health treatment, they will still come to the notice of Police,” Stuart Nash said.

That’s fine, when a user isn’t also doing some dealing.

Police Association:  Police Association conditional support to drug initiatives

The Police Association supports the government’s move to go after the manufacturers and suppliers of lethal synthetic drugs.

Association President Chris Cahill says he is pleased to see a commitment to classification of two synthetic drugs as Class A, and the intention to create a temporary drug classification, C1, so new drugs can easily be brought under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

The association supports a greater focus on treatment of drug addiction rather than prosecution. However, there is concern about some aspects of the government announcement.

“It has an air of drug reform on the fly, rather than a more considered debate and informed legislation. I am worried that by codifying Police discretion the government is potentially asking officers to be the spearhead of decriminalisation. If decriminalisation is what parliament wants, then that’s what the law should say,” Mr Cahill said.

Police officers already use discretion and follow very clear guidelines to determine whether a prosecution is appropriate for the particular person and whether a prosecution would be in the public interest.

“This is often a difficult decision, taking into account factors about the offender, the offence and the victim. Evidence of discretion-in-action is apparent in research from Massey University’s Dr Chris Wilkins which notes that apprehensions for cannabis use have declined by 70 per cent between 1994 and 2014, and about half of all arrests now result in warnings only,” Mr Cahill said.

“Now the government wants officers to apply that discretion when it comes to drug users who are suffering from addiction or mental health problems so, instead of going to court, they can undergo addiction treatment. However, we know the treatment facilities are just not available.

For this all to work it is critical that substantially more treatment facilities and options are made available.

Russell Brown has a good post on it –Just quietly, this is a big deal

Finding the actual nature of that balance has not been an easy matter, and both official and independent expert advice has been sought on how to manage it. But this is what they’re doing, per this morning’s announcement:

Amending the Misuse of Drugs Act to specify in law that Police should use their discretion and not prosecute for possession and personal use where a therapeutic approach would be more beneficial, or there is no public interest in a prosecution. This will apply to the use of all illegal drugs, so there is no perverse incentive created encouraging people to switch to a particular drug.

Yes, you read that correctly. The Misuse of Drugs Act will be amended to guide Police discretion in such a way that the default will be to not prosecute personal use and possession of any illegal drug. The government is at pains to emphasise that this is not the full Portugal-style decriminalisation  repeatedly called for in last week’s Report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction, and you may even expect reform advocates to play it down a bit.

But it’s a really big deal.

If you are interest in these changes Russell’s whole post is worth reading.

The real work begins on the Medical Cannabis scheme

Media release from Medical Cannabis Awareness New Zealand after the passing of the medical cannabis bill in parliament today:


The real work begins on the Medical Cannabis scheme

MCANZ is delighted at the historic achievement of a solid commitment to produce Medical Cannabis in New Zealand, and is grateful for the amendments that were introduced broadening the scope of the compassionate clause, clarifying a more therapeutic “whole plant” definition of CBD, and allowing for native cannabis strains to enter the market, giving New Zealand Industry a competitive edge over Australia.

MCANZ Does note that the real mahi has yet to start, and close attention was paid to details in the Initial speech from David Clark.  Details were revealed around a consultation phase, with a mention of an advisory committee to be formed.

It is the view of MCANZ that a year has been wasted that could have been spent working on the scheme.
“We challenge the minister to get invitations for an advisory committee out before christmas to demonstrate it is truly a priority.” Says MCANZ Coordinator Shane Le Brun

“The challenge now lies in the MOH and its resourcing, we need the MOH to recruit more staff to assist in forming the scheme, and ultimately administering it, we hope that with a  budget surplus it should be fairly easy to get funds without resorting to the likes of industry levies.”

“Time frames are prone to slipping, especially with such large bodies of work, we hope that they can talk to other governments to learn from their experiences, and ensure that the scheme is implemented on time.”

“Our hope is that with early clarity on the direction of the scheme, manufacturers can be ready for the go live date, delivering products at much more affordable prices on day 1”

Medical cannabis bill passes third reading

The medical cannabis has passed it’s final vote in Parliament today. Minister of Health David Clark called it the most progressive bill ever, which will grate on those who were hopeful the Government would treat medical and general use of cannabis as boldly as a growing number of countries and states around the world. But at least it’s a start.

NZ Herald: Medicinal cannabis bill passes third reading

A bill that gives terminally ill people a legal defence for using illicit cannabis products has passed its third reading in Parliament today.

The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill also gives them a defence to possess utensils for using cannabis.

That defence comes into force as soon as the bill receives royal assent.

Last month, during the bill’s second reading, Health Minister David Clark made changes to the bill that expanded the defence to all people needing palliative relief, rather than just those with a year or less to live, as it previously was.

The changes also created a requirement for regulations for the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme to be in place no later than one year after the law comes into effect, allaying concerns that it could take as long as 2020 before the regulatory framework was in place.

It made clear that cannabis varieties already in New Zealand could be used for medicinal products, prompting at least one therapeutic cannabis company to call for illicit growers to come forward with their unique strains.

Following the bill’s passing, Clark said the statutory defence would be available to around 25,000 people who could benefit from palliative care.

But it wasn’t progressive enough to cover people suffering from chronic pain and debilitating illnesses that are hard to treat with conventional medicines.

Greens are happy they have finally got somewhere on freeing up cannabis laws.

National are acting like numpties. After voting for the bill initially they voted against it today and are grizzling about the bill. They had held up doing anything meaningful about dysfunctional drug laws through their last nine years in Government.

Labour promised Dunedin hospital rebuild start this term, now delayed further

A revised plan to rebuild the Dunedin hospital has been announced. It may be a practical, pragmatic and sensible approach, bringing forward the replacement of an outpatients and day surgery with a new building – but it would mean delaying the rebuild of the new hospital by several years, with completion extending another 2-4 years to 2028-3020. This is not what labour promised last year in the election campaign.

ODT: Hospital rebuild fast-tracked, completion date extended

The headline alone looks like a contradiction.

The Government has fast-tracked part of the new Dunedin Hospital build, but it appears the overall build time will be extended.

Health Minister David Clark announced at midday the hospital would be built in two stages, with an outpatient and day surgery building due to be finished more than three years earlier than anticipated.

The new plan is to open the smaller of the two buildings – the day surgery and outpatient building – in two stages: November 2023 and November 2024.

But the larger inpatient building would be finished five or six years after that, meaning the end of the build would be between 2028 and 2030, rather than the mid-2026 date planned.

Dr Clark said the build would be finished “in about 10 years”.

ODT: Services sooner with split build

Dr Clark said the decision came after “some months of thinking and planning”, and was conditional on Cabinet and budgetary processes being secured.

“The underlying issue is that the existing Dunedin Hospital will not last the distance in its current state.

Some services sooner but hospital several years later – the proposal is to extend the distance substantially.

This is contrary to what Labour promised in last year’s election campaign.

Labour: Rebuilding Dunedin Hospital

All New Zealanders should be able to get the healthcare they need, when they need it. Dunedin Hospital serves 300,000 people in the city and the surrounding regions, but it is no longer fit for delivering modern healthcare to a population with increasing health needs.

For years, Dunedin Hospital has needed to be rebuilt.

The current Government has finally committed to making a decision on the rebuild but Cabinet won’t consider the details until sometime next year and it plans for the new hospital to be up to 10 years away.

A year later and under Labour it is now 10-12 years away.

With Labour’s approach, Dunedin will have a new hospital as soon as possible, and the taxpayer will get the best value for money. Avoiding further delay will minimise costs and mean patients get better care more quickly.

Labour will:

  • commit to beginning construction of the new Dunedin Hospital within our first term

This project is expected to cost $1.4 billion, and will deliver the most modern hospital in New Zealand, ready to serve Dunedin and the Lower South Island for decades to come.

But not for another decade or more.

Jacinda Ardern (25 August 2017): Dunedin Hospital to start in Labour’s first term

Labour will start construction on a new Dunedin Hospital in the city centre in Labour’s first term, says the Leader of the Opposition Jacinda Ardern.

“This is a project that is long overdue for Dunedin. The hospital at present is dangerous and unsafe for staff and patients. Most of the existing buildings would not survive a severe earthquake.

“Things are so bad that at the moment operations have to be delayed because of the leaks when it rains. Dunedin Hospital is no longer fit for purpose.

“With Labour’s approach we will have a new hospital as soon as possible…

“We pledge that Dunedin Hospital will be rebuilt so that the people of Otago can get the healthcare they deserve,” says Jacinda Ardern.

ODT: ‘Significant’ change to hospital rebuild: What you need to know

This doesn’t say when the actual hospital rebuild will start, but implies it will largely be after the outpatients project set to be complete in 2023-2024.

The New Dunedin Hospital will have two main buildings – a large acute/inpatients building and a smaller outpatients/day surgery facility.

Initially it was thought these would be constructed simultaneously but they will now be built separately. The smaller outpatients/day surgery will be built first.

When will they be built?

The outpatients/day surgery building is planned to open in two stages – with target dates set as November 2023 (day surgery) and November 2024 (outpatient clinics). Importantly, all day surgery will open in November 2023.

The acute/inpatients hospital building will follow and will probably open a decade from now. We will know with more accuracy in the New Year.

Previous opening estimates were July 2026 and February 2027

This suggests that “Labour will start construction on a new Dunedin Hospital in the city centre in Labour’s first term, says the Leader of the Opposition Jacinda Ardern” is a promise that won’t be kept. The actual hospital rebuild won’t start this term, and may not even start in the next term.

How does improving day surgery help the rest of Dunedin Hospital?

Moving day surgery to a new facility frees up room to enlarge and reconfigure the emergency department and make other changes.

No suggestion that the Hospital itself will be affected much if at all, despite Ardern saying “The hospital at present is dangerous and unsafe for staff and patients…Dunedin Hospital is no longer fit for purpose”.

A hospital rebuild website also has a misleading headline: Hospital building fast-tracked

Health Minister Dr David Clark has announced a significant change in the approach to constructing the new Dunedin hospital.

The larger inpatient building does not have a finish date yet but Dr Clark said he expects it will be complete in about ten years.

“The people of the South have been waiting too long for modern hospital facilities – this plan means they can expect to have modern outpatient and day surgery facilities within five years,” David Clark said.

The larger inpatient building does not have a finish date yet but Dr Clark said he expects it will be complete in about ten years.

The ‘inpatient building’ (basically, the hospital), doesn’t even have a start date yet, despite Labour promising a start this term.

Despite the claimed unsafeness of the existing hospital building the revised plan may be a sensible way to rebuild, but the reality is looking increasingly different to the campaign rhetoric.