Mental health workers claim decent pay

Mental health care is a real and growing problem for the National Government and for New Zealand Society.

There was a major move from institutional mental health care late last century.

It was correctly decided that many people with mental health problems could be better cared for in the community. The problem is that proper community care has never been adequate. And the problems seem to be getting worse.

Part of the problem is the shortage of resources, mainly mental health staffing levels. It is a demanding and sometimes very stressful field of work, and community care pay rates have been pathetic.

Aged care and supporter workers campaigned for and eventually won a significant pay rise, due to take effect next month.  They succeeded through the courts by proving that  their workers were underpaid because the majority were female.

Mental health care workers are trying to do the same.

RNZ: Mental health workers lodge equal pay claim

Christchurch mental health support worker Vicki Harmon works for Pukeko Blue, an organisation which provides community care for those with mental health needs.

She works at one of the 12 residential homes in the city, which provide 24-7 care for seven residents.

It’s tough and demanding work, for which Ms Harmon is paid $16.50 an hour – 75 cents an hour more than the minimum wage.

One of her clients is a woman with an intellectual disability who has spent the last six weeks in the grip of mental illness, something she describes as “exhausting” and “very demanding”.

“Having somebody with a dual diagnosis – an intellectual disability and mental health – means that you are constantly aware of their mental state, not just their intellectual disability, that’s the same every day.

“But you need to be aware of their mental state, it can go up in two days and then it will come back down in two days. You’ve go to be vigilant all the time,” she said.

Auckland mental health worker Pollyanna Alo agreed the job could be challenging.

“There have been occasions where I have been spat on, verbally abused, even had a knife thrown at me,” she said.

Both women are among the 3000 to 4000 community mental health support workers who were left out of the historic pay equity claim for care and support workers, because the government wouldn’t include them.

While they have similar experience, qualifications and responsibilities to their colleagues in the disability support and aged care sector, in a fortnight’s time they can expect to be paid about $6 – $7 less an hour.

Today, two of the country’s largest unions – E tū and the Public Service Association – will lodge an equal pay claim with the Employment Relations Authority.

E tū’s assistant national secretary John Ryall said this was the third group left out of the historic settlement and is similar to a group of workers employed in vocational services with the Ministry of Social Development, which the union is also negotiating.

Mr Ryall said the government needed to support this claim and move swiftly to avoid the impending crisis.

“If the authority decides that, then the government as the funder of the sector needs to either pay the money or watch these places shut.

“We think the job these people do is so important, that it’s important the government gets involved in it,” he said.

Ms Alo said reducing the number of mental health workers would place more stress on district health boards, which were already struggling.

It was inevitable that other sectors would try to benefit from the success of the Care and Support workers.

The problems facing mental health care are probably greater. Pay rates need to be raised, but more workers are also required to deal with the growing demand.

More funding was made available in last month’s budget but it was criticised as not enough.

Stuff:  Frustration, disappointment over health funding in Budget 2017

Patients and healthcare workers say they have been left frustrated and disappointed by “inadequate” funding for health in the 2017 Budget.

They said the Government’s announcements on Thursday would not go nearly far enough in addressing concerns about overworked staff, access to new medicines, and access to mental health treatment.

The Government said total health spending would be a record $16.77 billion in 2017/18 – an increase of $879 million, with an overall increase of $3.9b over the next four years.

There are growing demands right across the health sector. On mental health:

The government committed $224m in funding for mental health in this year’s Budget.

That includes $100m for a new cross-government social investment fund that will “target innovative new proposals to tackle mental health issues”.

A further $100m will go to District Health Boards to support local mental health and addiction services, with funding also earmarked for Maori suicide prevention.

Mental Health Foundation spokesperson Sophia Graham welcomed the funding announcement as a “really positive step in the right direction”.

“It seems like a lot of money, but we need to see a commitment to sustained increases in funding,” she said.

Meanwhile, mental health workers and union representatives said the funding was only a fraction of what was needed to adequately respond to demand.

Social worker Andy Colwell said he expected to see the gap between demand and funding get even worse as a result of Budget 2017.

“As a mental health worker, seeing families struggling with life-threatening situations not being seen as urgent is incredibly frustrating, and knowing it will get worse is incredibly distressing,” Colwell said.

“It’s critically important to look at how the money is spent, and make sure we don’t just keep doing the same things that don’t work.”

Graham said key measures for success would be a reduction in the number of suicides, and a reduction in the number of people presenting critically ill at mental health units.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman acknowledged there had been an increase in demand for mental health and addiction services in recent years.

“Cabinet will soon consider a new mental health and addiction strategy, which will include our new approach to dealing with mental health issues,” he said.

Mental health was covered on Sunday last night: Trouble in mind

Has a mental health crisis put our police under siege? Police officers say the number of emergency callouts for mental health related emergencies is skyrocketing. And they are struggling to cope. Police officers, patient advocates and a frightened family affected speak out.

Coleman wouldn’t comment for that programme but said he was taking a proposal to Cabinet soon. At least with an election looking there may be some urgency.

Clark v Coleman on mental health funding

Labour’s health spokesperson David Clark versus Health Minister Jonathan Coleman in Question Time on Tuesday – this approach doesn’t help the mental health debate.


Health, Minister—Statements on Authors of People’s Mental Health Report

11. Dr DAVID CLARK (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by his statement about the authors of the People’s Mental Health Report, “they’re very left-wing, anti-Government protesters”; if not, when will he apologise to the 500 people who wrote their own stories about experiences with the mental health system as part of the report?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Yes, and my statement distinguished between the genuinely motivated story submitters and those ActionStation organisers with some political agenda. My quote was: “When you look at the people behind it, [you know] they’re very left-wing, anti-Government protesters.” As I say, ActionStation is back on Thursday with another, separate, anti-Government protest within the health area, and it could be back week after week with different topics. And just for the record, the ActionStation campaign coordinator is Mr Rick Zwaan, the Green Party’s Wellington election campaign coordinator, who used to work as Kennedy Graham’s researcher. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Supplementary question, Dr David Clark. [Interruption] Order! I have asked for less interjection from everybody so that Dr David Clark can ask his supplementary questions.

Dr David Clark: Has he read the report; if so, does he accept that its aim, as recorded in the executive summary, is to give space to the stories of what is really going on and going wrong in our mental health services?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Yes, I have read the report, and especially the executive summary, the first line of which is a totally false premise. It talks about $140 million being cut from health funding. Well, actually, health funding has gone up by $300 million, which kind of proves the point that this is a political document.

Dr David Clark: Does he think the contribution of Robbie, who described support services as expensive and inadequate, and which, he says, “almost drove him to take his own life”, should be dismissed as the experience of a left-wing, anti-Government campaign?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I have already answered that. Look, I think Robbie’s experience is worth listening to, but that does not change the fact that this report is produced by a group of people who are permanent anti-Government protesters. If the member does not believe me, go and look at their website. They will be back here, week after week, on subject after subject after subject, because they do not like the Government.

Dr David Clark: Does he think the contribution of Mike King, who “describes despair and hopelessness in the face of inadequate access to mental health services”, should be dismissed as the experience of a left-wing, anti-Government campaigner?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Look, I think the member needs to speak to Mrs King about how you think on your feet. I have answered that question already. The organisers are from ActionStation, and it is the permanent anti-Government, left-wing protester. Mr King is a very good man—Mike King, as opposed to Mrs Annette King—who is genuinely motivated, and I do not detract from his efforts. But, as I say, when you have people like Mr Rick Zwaan, who used to work for Kennedy Graham, and his friends from the Green Party, I think it is pretty obvious that this is political.

Dr David Clark: Does he think the contribution of “the many parents who submitted in regard of their children’s experience of huge waiting lists and lack of funding” should be dismissed as the experience of a left-wing, anti-Government campaign?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I point out to the member that he does not have to take all his supplementary questions, and if he cannot think of new material in response to the answers, he should just stop. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! We will deal with them one at a time.

Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. For two answers in a row, the Minister began by insulting the questioner rather than addressing the question. But the main substantive point is that despite the abuse in that last answer, he did not even address the question that was asked.

Mr SPEAKER: On this occasion—[Interruption] Order! I have been increasingly worried about the interchange between these two members and some of the answers that have been given on occasion by the Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman, but, on this occasion, when I consider the three questions that were asked, they were, effectively, the same question each time. Therefore, I can understand the frustration of the Minister in having answered the question the first time—he, effectively, gets the same question for the next two occasions.

Dr David Clark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That question, in my view, was not addressed, because he had talked about ActionStation, which is the compiler of the report. I am asking a specific question about the comments from the parents within the report. That is a very specific and non – politically loaded question.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I would like to assist the member, but when I consider the answer that was given to, I think, the second supplementary question, that, effectively, was an answer that was then quite suitable for the rest of the questions the member asked, which were, effectively, just drawing on the experience of someone else within the book. The Minister was quite clear in saying he is not in any way critical of the experiences that were detailed in the report; he was certainly critical of the authors who put the report together.

Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, is the problem with that not that the Minister is trying to write this off as being a left-wing conspiracy—that is the essence of his answer? I think it is quite proper for members of the Opposition to put instance after instance after instance that paint a different picture. I think the Minister should have to address each of those instances, rather than just cast aside a political insult telling him he should learn how to ask different questions.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not agree that it was a political insult. The question was answered. There was no attack on the various contributions that were made within that report by the Minister. There was certainly a feeling that the authors were not of the same political persuasion as the Minister. That is acceptable.

Dr David Clark: To clarify—

Mr SPEAKER: No. [Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order! Would the member please resume his seat. [Interruption] Order! Would the member please resume his seat. I have ruled on that matter. The member is now starting to challenge the Chair and debate with the Chair. That in itself will lead to gross disorder in this House. Question No. 12—Melissa Lee—[Interruption] Order! [Interruption] If I hear a further interjection from Carmel Sepuloni while I am in the Chair today, she will be leaving the Chamber. She has been consistently interjecting throughout question time in a very—[Interruption] Order! If the member wants to go now, I can make that arrangement very easily. I expect cooperation, particularly from whips, and the level of interjection that has been coming from Carmel Sepuloni throughout question time is unacceptable. When I rise to my feet, for those interjections still to continue is just not acceptable to this House.

 

Labour’s ‘fresh approach’ on mental health

Labour has announced policy on trying to deal with difficult mental health issues.


Fresh approach on mental health

Labour will introduce a pilot scheme of specialist mental health teams across the country in government to ensure swifter and more effective treatment for those who need urgent help, says Labour’s Leader Andrew Little.

“Mental health is in crisis. It needs a fresh approach so we can make a difference quickly because what we’re doing now just isn’t working.

“This is something you can’t put a bandage on and a Labour Government will make it a priority to better equip our health system to cater for those crying out for help.

“Health professionals and those needing treatment tell us it’s hard to find the front door to access mental health services. The present service is over-stretched and fragmented with little co-ordination of the care people need.

“What the new mental health teams will do is offer free, accessible help for those in need and ensure their care is co-ordinated and effective.

“One in six New Zealanders will be diagnosed with a mental health problem in their lifetime. There’s been a 60 per cent increase in Kiwis accessing mental health treatment since National came to power but spending on this sector has only increased by 28 per cent.

“A quarter of all suicides are people who have been in contact with mental health services in the past month.

“Under the two year pilot specialist mental health teams will operate from eight sites across the country and work with doctors, NGOs and District Health Boards. One of the sites will be in Christchurch reflecting the city’s particular needs.

“We expect the teams will be able to help nearly 40,000 people each year at a cost of $43 million over the pilot.

“This is a small investment that we’re confident will make a big difference to those who struggle today to access the services they need. It will be funded through Labour’s budgeted commitment to reversing National’s $1.7 billion of health cuts and is in addition to Labour’s review of the mental health system.

“We believe early intervention and continuing care will help people avoid significant mental health distress and better assist them to live their lives to their fullest. It’s the right thing to do,” says Andrew Little.


This is a timely policy announcement by Labour given Health Minister Jonathan Coleman’s reaction to a mental health report.

The Spinoff: Jonathan Coleman’s attack on ‘anti-government’ ActionStation is a smokescreen. And it’s nonsense

The minister of health has dismissed a report on mental health claiming the authors are ‘left-wing anti-government protesters’. ActionStation’s Marianne Elliott responds.

You know the saying: ‘Don’t shoot the messenger’?

Well, the message is that New Zealanders are deeply concerned about the state of our mental health system, and heartbroken about the family and friends we lose to suicide every year. We’re just the messengers.

The “we” in that sentence is the ActionStation community of everyday New Zealanders, hundreds of whom shared their stories with the People’s Mental Health Review, and 12,800 more who added their names to an open letter asking the government to consider the findings of that review.

So when the minister of health, Dr Jonathan Coleman, dismissed the recommendations of the People’s Mental Health Report on Tuesday because “the people behind the report” were “left-wing anti-government protesters”, that is who he was dismissing.

Attacking the messenger is a classic diversionary tactic when you don’t want to face up to the message itself.

That’s how it looks – not good for Coleman.

Coleman needs to ditch the reactionary petulance and be seen be genuinely dealing with obvious mental health care shortcomings and difficulties. Otherwise voters may choose to go with Labour’s approach.

I’ve always been aware that ActionStation has some close connections with the Greens, and their regular petitions can seem a bit pointless and easy to ignore, but their mental health report was much more substantial and pertinent to current difficulties many people face.

And this from Parliament doesn’t help the metal health debate either: Clark v Coleman on mental health funding

Pay equity for health care workers

A major win for Kristine Bartlett, her union and 55,000 health care workers after the Government has agreed to a major boost in pay rates.


$2 billion pay equity settlement for 55,000 health care workers

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has today announced that some of the health sector’s lowest paid workers will share in a $2 billion pay equity settlement over five years.

The wage boost follows the TerraNova pay equity claim brought by E tū (previously the Service and Food Workers Union) on behalf of care worker Kristine Bartlett.

“This settlement recognises the work carried out by the 55,000 workers in our aged and disability residential care, and home and community support services across the country,” says Dr Coleman.

“From July 1 this dedicated and predominantly female workforce who are mostly on or around minimum wage will receive a pay rise between around 15 and 50 per cent depending on their qualifications and or experience.

“For the 20,000 workers currently on the minimum wage of $15.75 per hour, it means on July 1 they will move to at least $19 per hour, a 21 per cent pay rise. For a full-time worker, this means they will be taking home around an extra $100 a week, which is over $5,000 a year.”

For these 55,000 workers this funding boost will see wages increase to between $19 to $27 per hour over five years. Existing workers will be transitioned to positions on the new pay scale which reflect their skills, and their experience. For new workers employed after July 1 wages will be based on an individual’s level of qualifications.

A care and support worker on the minimum wage with three years’ experience and no qualifications will receive a 27 per cent increase in their hourly wage rate moving from $15.75 to $20 per hour from July 1. That rate would progressively increase to $23 by July 2021 and would rise further if they attain a higher qualification.

The $2.048 billion settlement over five years will be funded through an increase of $1.856 billion to Vote Health and $192 million to ACC.  ACC levies are set for the coming years, but may possibly increase over the next decade to support this. However, that is not definite. There may also be an increase in costs for people in aged residential care facilities, whose assets keep them above the subsidy threshold. This will be determined through the annual Aged Residential Care contract negotiations.

“To ensure the pay rises happen in the agreed manner, I will be introducing legislation to Parliament shortly,” says Dr Coleman.

“I would like to thank E tū, Public Service Association, New Zealand Nurses Organisation, and the Council of Trade Unions for their constructive and positive approach throughout the negotiations. I would also like to acknowledge the New Zealand Aged Care Association, Home and Community Health Association, and the New Zealand Disability Support Network for the vital role they have played in reaching this agreement over the past 20 months.

“I would also like to recognise the employers who will implement this new wage structure and pass the rates onto their staff.

“Home and community support, disability and aged residential care workers are widely seen as amongst the most deserving of recognition as a pay equity case. It is an historic moment for the Government to address this undervaluing with Ms Bartlett and the unions.”


Some background from RNZ: Govt settles historic pay equity case

In 2013, Kristine Bartlett – a professional caregiver – successfully argued in the Employment Court her low hourly pay rate was a result of gender discrimination under the Equal Pay Act.

Health care workers, including age care and disabled  care workers, were grossly underpaid through the Government for doing demanding jobs largely done by female workers, so this is a big step up towards pay equity.

Not only will this pay health care workers what they deserve, it will also boost the incomes of a lot of low waged households and families.

 

 

Coleman, McCully, Collins and Smith

Prior to the Ministerial reshuffle there was particular interest in what might happen to Murray McCully, who is retiring next year, Nick Smith, who is considered a friend of Bill English and who has struggled dealing with housing in Auckland, And Jonathan Coleman and Judith Collins who challenged English for the leadership.

McCully has kept his Foreign Affairs portfolio to help with transition but will be replaced on May 1. English said:

“I am keen for Murray to stay on for this transitional period to ensure I have the benefit of his vast experience on the wide range of issues that affect New Zealand’s vital interests overseas.”

Jonathan Coleman has slipped down the order from 5 to 7 (to accommodate a promotion for Simon Bridges) but retains his Health and Sport and Recreation portfolios. He had indicated an interest in Foreign Affairs.

English could take over Foreign Affairs when McCully goes, or could give it to Coleman.

Michael Woodhouse has jumped up from 16 to 9 but doesn’t have heavy duty portfolios (he kept Immigration and Workplace Relations and Safety, but had Revenue swapped for ACC), so could pick up Health, a field he has experience in.

Collins has dropped from 13 to 16 and has lost Police and Corrections, picking up Revenue,
Energy and Resources  and Minister for Ethnic Communities.

There is some irony in the latter portfolio, probably not deliberate of English, after a post by Collins promoter and fan Cameron Slater yesterday:

But bizarrely, Little made Michael Wood, the bland white man that parking meters are taller than, the ethnic communities spokesman. Imagine if National had Todd McClay, a man who is whiter than white appointed as Ethnic Communities Minister because he has some brown people in his electorate. That is precisely what Labour have done and there is not even a mention, nor a mutter, nor a murmur about it from the usual outraged suspects. Total silence.

I guess from this that Slater didn’t have advance notice of the appointment of Collins to the Ethnic Communities portfolio.

Wood also has responsibility for Revenue for Labour. He could find Collins tough to deal with.

Media and pundit knives were out for Nick Smith as he hasn’t exactly had a stellar year, struggling to deal with Housing and stuffing up liaison with Maori on both housing issues and the Kermadec sanctuary.

Smith has slipped down the pecking order from 11 to 15, which is a significant drop. But he retains Environment, and Building and Housing has morphed into Building and Construction. What’s the difference between Building and Construction?

Social Housing is a separate ministry, and has been transferred from Paula Bennett to Amy Adams.

Perhaps adding to leadership rivalry, Bennett has taken over Police from Collins.

English to be Prime Minister

In what Peter Dunne as referred to as “as quick and slick a contest as I can recall” Bill English was confirmed as the next Prime Minister this afternoon as endorsements from National MPs kept rolling in through the day, and then Judith Collins conceded early this afternoon, followed by Jonathan Coleman late this afternoon.

So it is confirmed that English will take over from John Key, presumably as planned early next week.

His deputy is still to be decided by the National caucus, possibly by vote on Monday, but it looks like his heir apparent Paula Bennett will get that spot.

English has already indicated that Steven Joyce will take over from him as Minister of Finance.

There will be a lot of interest in who English names in his Cabinet, with special attention on whether Collins and Coleman will retain or improve their rankings or get demoted, and how the carrots get dished out to supporting MPs.

National should benefit from having been seen to have at least some semblance of a contest rather than an uncontested passing of the PM batten, but this was a quick and ruthless leadership change.

Soon Parliament will shut down for the summer break so that will give English and his new team (which may contain more than a smattering of same old)  to sort themselves out ready for an election year.

With a likely by-election if David Shearer leaves for a UN job in South Sudan talk of an early election has increased, but I suspect English will be wanting to take advantage of improving financial conditions and get a budget under his Government’s belt.

Time will tell how well the National caucus works with their new leader.

‘Anonymous MP’ cuts Collins

Newshub are reporting that ‘unnamed sources’ in the National Party are saying that the leadership contest is effectively Bill English versus Jonathan Coleman with Judith Collins a distant third.

English versus Coleman: ‘Two horse race’

A National Party MP has revealed to Newshub the leadership race is down to just two candidates.

The anonymous MP says the true competition to become the next leader of the National Party is between Finance Minister Bill English and Health Minister Jonathan Coleman.

My guess is that Newshub is being used. Any ‘unnamed sources’ and anonymous MPs within National have some sort of vested interest, in this case trying to eliminate Collins from the caucus reckoning because it suits their agenda.

The MP also told Newshub there is a “sentiment for change” within the party – which could be expressed in a different style of management, or an unexpected leader or deputy.

English is hardly ‘change’, he is as close to a continuation of the same as anyone could be.

‘An unexpected leader or deputy’ sounds like someone promoting Coleman.

 

English, Coleman and Collins

So Bill English has decided to have a go at being Prime Minister, but he has to be chosen by National’s caucus first. Jonathan Coleman and Judith Collins have also put themselves forward,

It is excellent to see a good contest on offer. It would have been a real shame to see English get the job unopposed, but after  a decade of no contest it is not surprising there’s interest from multiple contenders.

There could be more to join  the contest, but Amy Adams and Simon Bridges have ruled themselves out.

The three already in offer a good variety of options, from much the same  minus Key to something quite different, a distinctly new phase in Government and for national.

English is the early favourite with about 8 Cabinet Ministers pledging support but there are 59 National MPs who get to chose their new leader.

Coleman was regarded as an outside chance but it’s now up to him to make a case.

Slater has still been plugging Collins and rubbishing the rest, indicating his personal interests have a higher priority than being an objective political commentator. Whale Oil is a device to push his interests more than a right wing blog.

I don’t care who wins this battle. It’s a fascinating time in politics, and a critical decision required from the National caucus.

Who next for Prime Minister?

If things go according to John Key’s suggested time frame then the National Party caucus will choose a new Prime Minister within a week. Breathtaking. This is a very tight timeframe for all MPs other than Bill English to consider their near future ambitions and to decice whether they are willing to hand over their time and their privacy to the country.

A UMR poll done from 27 September to 14 Octoberasked about preferences for a Key replacement:

  • Bill English 21%
  • Steven Joyce 16%
  • Paula Bennett 11%
  • Judith Collins 6%

Others mentioned as possibilities are Amy Adams (she seems to have preferred to work hard out of the public eye) and Simon Bridges (too soon for him). Jonathan Coleman has also been mentioned.

Key has  said he will support English if his current deputy decides to put himself in the reckoning. English appears to be the only one who knew about Key’s intentions well ion advance.

One thing is certain – politics and the country will continue on next year without Key as leader, and those who rise to fill gaps will take over the media and Opposition heat.

Labour will be rubbing their hands together, thinking that Key gone straight after their Mt Roskill by-election success will give them a better chance in next year’s election. It will – but how much remains to be seen. Key’s resignation won’t fix Labour’s problems and it’s hard to see them getting a 10-20% boost.

When an English-Little contest was suggested on Twitter journalists lamented the lack of excitement. This is one problem with our media, the Prime Ministers and Parliament are supposed to be running the country with a minimum of fuss, intervention and disruption.

They are not supposed to be click bait entertainers.


Added – poll number cruncher with a leftish viewpoint, Swordfish (from a Standard comment):

Here’s my March 2016 overview of public opinion on a post-Key successor (Polls over the last 5 years)

http://subzpsubzp.blogspot.co.nz/2016/03/next-national-leader_14.html

Parliament versus Dunne and Hague on drugs

Most of Parliament seems stuck in the dark ages of drug enforcement despite the efforts of Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne and Green health spokesperson Kevin Hague to move New Zealand with a significant shift in approach around the world.

Dunne is showing more signs of being keen on a significant softening in New Zealand’s approach to illicit drugs, from a punitive legal focus to an emphasis on health.

Radio NZ: Govt may soften approach to drugs – Dunne

The government is considering taking a more tolerant approach to minor drug offences, says Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne.

The potential change comes as a joint study by Johns Hopkins University in the US and the British medical journal The Lancet says the punitive approach to drug offending has done more harm than good.

Five former presidents have also said the global War on Drugs needs to be completely overhauled, according to the Economist magazine.

Mr Dunne told Morning Report today he was not sure New Zealand’s drug law was still fit-for-purpose and he wanted drugs to be viewed as more of a health issue.

“Under the general focus of trying to get the appropriate legal balance, the issues of the utilisation of drug paraphernalia are being looked at, issues relating to the penalty regime is being looked at. And I’m also asking the expert advisory committee on drugs when it classifies drugs, to take a focus that is more health-related than previously.”

He said he was open to reviewing evidence around the decriminalisation of cannabis.

Kevin Hague has has for some time promoted an easing in our drug laws.

Green Party health spokesperson Kevin Hague said he wanted cannabis legalised and regulated.

Mr Hague told Morning Report the Green Party was currently clarifying its drug policy, but expected it to favour the decriminalisation of cannabis.

He said all drugs should be treated from a health perspective and regulated in terms of their potential for harm.

However National ministers look like continuing to oppose any significant change as Radio NZ reports in Appetite for cannabis decriminalisation limited:

But most government ministers in this country have shown no interest in adopting this line and liberalising the laws on cannabis.

Justice Minister Amy Adams said there was very little support for any change when this was looked at last time, and it had not come up again recently.

Her National Party colleague, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman, was even more definite.

“I am not in favour of decriminalisation,” Dr Coleman said.

“We have got too many drugs in society. Cannabis is very carcinogenic, I don’t think it would be a great idea to have more people smoking more cannabis.”

But that misses the point, it’s not about “more people smoking more cannabis”, Dunne’s change of approach is in trying to reduce use and reduce harm through a switch from the failed punitive legal approach.

New Zealand First…

…is adamant it wants to uphold what it calls this country’s social fabric and traditional family values – and says any change on cannabis laws would have to be approved by a referendum.

But they were all for referendums until we had some they didn’t want, on flag change. This looks like effectively being a no change position.

Labour Party health spokeswoman Annette King…

…said the non-medical use of marijuana was not even being looked at by her party.

“Actively being dealt with right now is the issue of medicinal marijuana, but the issues that Peter raised in terms of [cannabis] decriminalisation, there is no direct work being done on them at the moment,” she said.

With National remaining in the dark ages of drug law and NZ First and Labour appearing to be not keen on any change it looks like Dunne and Hague will have to work on whatever improvements can be made under existing law.

Hague questioned Dunne on it in Parliament yesterday:

9. KEVIN HAGUE (Green) to the Associate Minister of Health: What steps will he be taking to ensure New Zealand drug laws are still fit for purpose given the recent findings by Johns Hopkins University and British medical journal The Lancet that the punitive approach to drug offending has done more harm than good?

Hon PETER DUNNE (Associate Minister of Health): In August last year, as the member I think will be aware, I published a new National Drug Policy. This contains 28 wide-ranging actions over the period from 2015 to 2020 that take a compassionate, proportionate, and innovative approach to addressing drug harm. I believe that this policy, like the attitudes being expressed in a number of countries around the world, reflect the view that the harm from illicit drug use is best addressed primarily through a health lens. This does not mean there is not still a role for law enforcement, but it should not be the primary approach, and the Government’s actions contained in the National Drug Policy reflect that position.

Kevin Hague: Does the Minister agree that the primary goal of the drug policy should be the reduction of health-related harm and that the regulatory response to particular drugs should be proportional to their risk of such harm?

Hon PETER DUNNE: Yes, I do. In fact, when I spoke to the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna last year I stated that in the New Zealand national statement the central pillars of a drug policy should be about proportion, innovation, and compassion. I believe we are generally achieving those goals in New Zealand, but, obviously, there is more to do, and I look forward to reviewing the National Drug Policy at its mid-point sometime next year.

Kevin Hague: What prospects for change does the Minister envisage at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly special session in New York on the world’s drug problem?

Hon PETER DUNNE: Having attended the United Nations convention meetings for a number of years now, it has been noticeable that there has been a perceptible shift in international attitudes from what one could describe 5 or 6 years ago as, essentially, a legalistic punitive approach to a much greater emphasis on public health issues being a driving force today. I also want to make one other point, which New Zealand has raised strongly over the years, and that is the use of the death penalty, particularly for drug offences. I hope that one of the outcomes of the New York meeting will be a very strong call for its abolition.

Kevin Hague: Is the Minister open to a cross-party working party of MPs from across the House to form to discuss moving drug law reform forward?

Hon PETER DUNNE: Yes, I am. I am certainly open to working with colleagues who have a range of views on the subject, and I particularly want to thank the member for the interest that he has shown and the approach that he has taken over a considerable period of time. I appreciate that.

But working with Hague is unlikely to achieve much if the rest of Parliament is determined to remain in the dark ages (National) or too gutless to address drug issues (Labour) while much of the rest of the world is waking up to the failure of past and current drug laws and their enforcement.

Radio NZ:

Losing the War on Drugs

The War on Drugs was started 45 years ago when the former United States president Richard Nixon called drug abuse America’s public enemy number one.

Since then, the War on Drugs has helped bankroll military operations against drug producers in Latin America, and led to a crack-down on drug use within the United States.

While New Zealand played little part in this, it shared the majority of US policy of prohibition.

The Economist said the former presidents of Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Nigeria and Switzerland had published strong attacks on the War on Drugs in a collection of essays titled Ending the War on Drugs.

In it, the former presidents argued the War on Drugs was costing taxpayers $US100 billion per year, but was helping traffickers earn $US300b a year.

The Johns Hopkins and The Lancet report said the War on Drugs had undercut public health worldwide and done little to combat drug use.

“The goal of prohibiting all use, possession, production and trafficking of illicit drugs is the basis of many of our national drug laws,” wrote Chris Beyrer, an epidemiology professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“But these policies are based on ideas about drug use and drug dependence that are not scientifically grounded,” he wrote.

The research found that harsh drug control policies actually increased the risk of death from overdose.

It also found that enforcement of drug control policies undermined the wellbeing and health of drug users and the communities they live in.

By keeping their heads in the sand, or worse wilfully ignoring a major shift in approach to drug use internationally, National, Labour and NZ First are ignoring the well being and health of drug users and the communities they live in.

Shame on them.

Dunne and Hague have a big job to change an appalling cling to a failed approach by most parties in an out of touch or self-interested Parliament.