Ardern wants Sroubek residency review fast tracked

KiwiFirewalker: Oh so now NZ wants to talk about about immigration!

There was a lot of talk about immigration in last year’s election campaign, but until the Sroubek issue came up the Government has kept fairly quiet – probably because their election promises (Labour’s and NZ First’s) seemed to have been put aside.

Its funny isn’t it that the immigration debate in New Zealand can limp along with barely any discussion on exactly how problematic the situation is for years until a Czech drug smuggler gets permanent residence then people loose their minds.

There has been some good coverage over time, such as Steve Kilgallon and Dileepa Fonseka’s excellent series of articles on Stuff about exactly how widespread migrant exploitation in NZ is and how badly our immigration system is being rorted, but I have not herd the words “migrant exploitation” or “immigration rort” in the last six months as much as I have herd the words “Czech drug-smuggler” in the last week.

Ian Lees-Galloway, as Minister of Immigration, made his decision about Karel Sroubek in one of the three following contexts:

1. Lees-Galloway (or one of his minions*) did not actually read past the cover sheet and just made their decision on the easy (but incorrect) emotion angle of the case,

2. Lees-Galloway read the file but the file the file did not have all the info so the decision was made with incomplete information, or

3. Sroubek was given residency as part of some deal with the Police, or some other agency, as part of his connection to the Hell’s Angels and drugs smuggling in NZ.

Any of the above could be true but since we are listing facts about this case then lets list a few more.

4. Immigration NZ is run like a fast food franchise with lowly paid employees, quantity over quality decision making, outsourced  and offshore functions** and a risk adverse senior management which knows the problems exist but will not face them,

5. Appeals to the Minister of Immigration only make it to their desk when ALL other avenues are closed and things are looking BAD (as in nobody wanted to approve your application), and

6. Its a total crap shoot when your case is gone to the minister for appeal, anything could happen.

In my five years at Immigration NZ I watched all sorts of cases get declined at every single other level and then go to the minister for final judgement and in some cases people that should definitely not be allowed into the country got to stay while those who had cases with the most compassionate grounds ever get rejected outright with no reason or explanation, because at that level the Ministers power is effectively absolute and there is no appeal if you loose (or in the case of those highly questionable individuals who got in: won).

That said the Minister can also make the right decision and one of the most heart wrenching cases of my career, that I was unable to approve despite it being a obvious “yes”, finally got approved later by the Minister; to my utter happiness, and relief.

A bouquet for a National Minister of Immigration:

And for the record the Minister that I, and most of my fellow Immigration officers, felt made the best decisions was Michael Woodhouse.

And a brickbat for another:

For whatever reason when it usually needed to be declined he did and when it needed an approved he approved while, in my time at least, the worst  Minister was Jonathan Coleman who we could only believe was deliberately doing the opposite of what should be done, every single time, as there seemed to be no other rational explanation for the atrocious range of appalling decisions he made…

It’s not the party that matters, it’s the personality of the Minister.

So the real questions in these circumstances is not “why did the minister approve Sroubek” but how can Peter Thiel get the red carpet treatment but Karel Sroubek cannot?

Two of the most controversial residents.

Yet the likely outcome is Sroubek will go while Theil and Yang get to stay because apparently Kiwis can only get outraged about immigration issues when its drugs and not abuses by the wealthy,  obvious cases of espionage, migrant exploitation or marriage-for-residency scams which makes this less a genuine issue and more the most recent round of “wont someone think of the children!”.

So lets not turn the issue into another round of political point scoring or as an obvious distraction from a genuine high crime, like National selling slots in their party to the highest foreign bidder, but instead say “yes” to kicking Sroubek out but lets also get rid of that billionaire guy who got citizenship only because he’s filthy rich and that lying intelligence operative for a hostile power who is also, mysteriously, a sitting MP.

If Sroubek goes so should Thiel, Yang and all those other “economic citizens” who will have the dollars to buy a seat in Parliament because its just not right.

Good discussion points, but apart from Sroubek I doubt there will be any change for Thiel and Yang.

 

Calls for more funding for cochlear implants fall on deaf ears, reduced instead

The Government has cancelled funding for cochlear implants after a successful campaign last year pushed the previous Government to give a funding boost.

Further campaigns this year have fallen on deaf ears in the new Government.

Minister of Health David Clark has refused to comment.

A cochlear implant is an electronic device that provide sound signals to the brain when inner ear nerves that usually do this are damaged.

July last year: Kiwi woman urgently needing cochlear implant not even on waiting list and feeling ignored

In March, 1 NEWS told how the 22-year-old would be completely deaf, if she didn’t have a cochlear implant.

Now, with just weeks before her hearing deteriorates completely, she’s learned that she isn’t even on a waiting list for the surgery.

She says she is “depressed, angry and upset” by the news.

Now almost 25,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Government to step in.

A petition signed by 26,000 people was presented to Parliament in August. Later that month (during the election campaign): Cochlear funding boost music to ears of deaf Kiwi adults

Another 60 adults will once again be able to hear thanks to a boost in funding for cochlear implants.

Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman this morning announced an extra $6.5 million would be spent on providing cochlear implants for adults.

There are currently 224 adults on the waiting list for a funded cochlear implant.

Up until now there has been funding for only 40 a year but in 2017/18 there will be money available for 100 people to have the life-changing procedure.

The money, taken from another part of the health system, would take the Cochlear Implant Programme’s total funding to $14.93m, Coleman said.

“The investment will also increase the capacity within the system and cover the additional audiology and rehabilitation time required to support such a massive uplift.”

Levin surf lifesaver Danielle Mackay, 22, has been waiting for a publicly-funded implant for more than three years and will now finally get one.

In January this year – Deaf device: ‘A lot of people don’t want to wait’

Profoundly deaf people are bypassing a waiting list and paying to get their first Cochlear implant because they can’t bear to wait several years before they get their hearing back.

More funding for the cochlear implants – which can change the life of a deaf person – is needed, say advocates.

Dr Baber said about a third of the people who came in wanting an implant were turned away after being assessed.

Mr Baber supported the call for more public funding for Cochlear implants.

“They are considered the third most cost-effective high-tech medical intervention there is.”

Yesterday Stuff reported Government’s ‘shocking’ $6.5 million funding cut to cochlear implants

The Government has quietly cancelled extra funding for cochlear implants, despite a successful campaign for publicly-funded devices for every Kiwi who needed one.

Levin surf lifesaver Danielle McKay spearheaded the campaign after she waited three years for the surgery. She said the decision to slash the $6.5million funding boost was “shocking” and “disappointing.”

Health Minister David Clark refused to comment on the cut. But a spokesman confirmed that extra funding was not extended in this year’s Budget.

National Party spokesman for health Michael Woodhouse:

“It’s a callous and disgraceful decision which is going to see people lose their hearing when they don’t need to,” Woodhouse said. “We boosted the number of funded cochlear implants for adults and sped up access to implants for children.”

“This Government doesn’t see saving the hearing of hundreds of New Zealanders as a priority and those hundreds of New Zealanders and their families will be bitterly disappointed.

“Let’s not forget this Government has claimed for years there was a health crisis and now they’re in Government they’re cutting funding.

“It’s a disgrace.”

There are many demands on the health system and on Government funding, and it isn’t possible to fund everything, but cutting back on funding is difficult to defend – so Clark has chosen to not try to defend it.

Discussion on this at Reddit. Is not continuing a funding boost a funding cut?

 

Government to drip feed health underfunding stories pre-budget

Former Health Minister Jonathan has finally spoken about what he knew about the building problems at Middlemore Hospital that seem to have suddenly emerged.

RNZ: Coleman says documents show he didn’t know about hospital rot

RNZ has been reporting on hospital buildings at Middlemore Hospital that are full of rot and potentially dangerous mould. There’s also asbestos present and raw sewage leaking into the walls.

Earlier today, National Party leader Simon Bridges told Morning Report Dr Coleman did not know about Middlemore’s building problems.

In a blog post this afternoon Dr Coleman said he had been reviewing a couple of “very pertinent” documents.

“It’s just not credible to say that Middlemore Building problems were widely known about and I would have known,” he wrote.

This claim that was made in late March to Morning Report by former Counties Manukau District Health Board chair Lee Mathias.

“Most people in Wellington knew of the situation Middlemore was in,” she said then.

She also said the state of the buildings was covered in board minutes that were publicly available. However, the DHB has blocked the release of these minutes to RNZ under the Official Information Act.

More withholding of information under the OIA.

But the Government seems intent on not withholding information about health underfunding heading into next month’s budget.

RNZ:  PM hints of further public underfunding revelations

The government is going to drip feed stories of public sector underfunding by the previous government in the run-up to next month’s Budget, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has indicated.

Ms Ardern is playing down expectations of a big spending budget next month saying her government did not realise how bad the under-investment in public services had been under National.

She said it was now clear National put budget surpluses ahead of the wellbeing of New Zealanders, and chronically short-changed public services.

“I’ve always said that from the beginning we thought it would be bad, we didn’t know it would be this bad.

“And the public is seeing just a snapshot of it now, the state of Middlemore Hospital I think is emblematic of what we’re seeing across the board.”

I get the feeling that the public were played during the election campaign, and are being played by politicians now – with DHBs possibly complicit.

Ardern:

“What we are flagging is that as we’ve gone through this process we’ve uncovered things we didn’t expect. We want to build more transparency around that as we lead up to Budget day.

“As ministers we have been engaging in this conversation for some time, we’ve decided it’s one we should be having with the public too.”

The public could have done with factual information on health and hospital funding long ago. This sort of waffle in an apparent attempt to manage pre-budget PR is crap. If Ardern has information she should just present it all now.  Instead she seems to be intent on playing a risky game. Not all information that is drip fed could look good for Labour.

So why did the Middlemore building story just start to emerge now? It sounds too serious and important to be used as political misinformation.

Northcote by-election 9 June

The Northcote by-election has been set down for 9 June, exactly two months away – I guess it takes that long to organise things.

It has been won comfortably (6,210 majority) by the retiring MP Jonathan Coleman, but by-elections can be very unpredictable. It’s hard to know whether the result will mean much about Labour’s performance leading the new government, or National in the wake of Bill English and Steven Joyce (and now Coleman).

It is a couple of weeks after the budget, a week after Queens Birthday weekend, and the same day as an All Black test against France – these used to be supposedly weekends to avoid for elections but there are that many tests (and quite a few by-elections) these days so I don’t think it will matter.

Both National and Labour have already been receiving nominations from prospective candidates and I think will announce who will be contesting by Sunday.

It’s likely that many will try to make much out of not much.

Middlemore mess grows, Coleman blamed

RNZ broke the story of a building in very poor condition at Middlemore Hospital, and that grew to multiple buildings.

The building at Middlemore Hospital that houses the country’s largest maternity service might have to be knocked down because it is unstable and riddled with asbestos. The hospital says it’s getting to the point it would be cheaper to build new buildings than repair the existing ones.

Raw sewage has been leaking into the walls of Middlemore Hospital’s Scott building, on top of all the other problems with its buildings.

Seven buildings were considered of “high concern” with asbestos, leaks, critical infrastructure problems and some seismic concerns.

Press editorial: Middlemore is a bleak symbol of health failure

 If you wanted to devise a metaphor for a failing health system, you could not do better than images of toxic mould and rot, leaking sewage and power failures at Middlemore Hospital in south Auckland. It is as though underfunding had taken on physical form at a hospital that serves some of the most deprived communities in the country.

The new Government has inherited these problems from a National Government that prided itself on running a tight financial ship. Even as recently as this week, when worsening news about Middlemore appeared in the media, new National leader Simon Bridges stuck to a script about prudent financial management and passed the buck back to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister David Clark.

But the responsibility for this and other problems of underfunding and general neglect in the health system really need to be sheeted home to former Health Minister Jonathan Coleman, who has already signalled his departure from politics for the private health system. Many National MPs are said to quietly blame Coleman for their 2017 election result as both health and mental health became political quagmires.

Many are disappointed that Coleman’s sudden departure from politics means he will not face the music over Middlemore. An interview on RNZ’s Morning Report ended with the former minister hanging up when questions about Middlemore were asked. It was a sad but symbolic end for Coleman, who claimed he had not been warned about the line of questioning. RNZ said that, in fact, he had.

More crucially, what did Coleman know about Middlemore? Bridges has said the National Government knew about Counties Manukau Health’s need for extra capital but not about the specifics of its buildings. Others have said that the problem of toxic mould at Middlemore was something of an open secret in Wellington but one that somehow never made it to the ears of the former Health Minister.

Middlemore isn’t the only hospital with major building problems, Dunedin being another with asbestos and leak problems (this has been known for years). The rebuild of Dunedin, promised by Labour, may have to wait if expensive repairs have to be pushed forward elsewhere.

 

Woodhouse appointed to Opposition health role

A National shuffle was required after Jonathan Coleman announced his resignation from Parliament. Simon Bridges has appointed Michael Woodhouse to replace him as Opposition spokesperson for Health.

Michael Woodhouse.jpg

After studying commerce and accounting Woodhouse worked for an accountant, at Dunedin Hospital and for ACC before becoming CEO of the private Mercy Hospital.

He was elected as a list MP in 2008, and became a minister in the National Government in 2013.

It’s interesting (for me anyway) that the current Minister for Health, David Clark, and the new Opposition spokesperson for health have both contested the Dunedin North electorate. Especially so with the ongoing delays in announcing plans for the replacement of the Dunedin Public Hospital.

Woodhouse was ranked 10 on the National list for the 2017 election, but is currently rank #13 after Bridges’ recent appointments. That may change slightly after Coleman leaves Parliament.

1 News: National Party appoints Michael Woodhouse as new Health spokesperson

In two other National Party changes Nikki Kaye has been appointed Sport and Recreation spokesperson and Scott Simpson has been appointed Workplace Relations spokesperson.

The Coleman resignation

It was relatively easy for Bill English and Steven Joyce to resign from Parliament, they were list MPs who were automatically replaced by the next on the National list.

But if an electorate MP resigns, and they don’t wait until just (a few months) before a general election like John key and David Cunliffe, it is more consequential, as a by-election is required.

Yesterday Jonathan Coleman announced his resignation from Parliament, just six months after the general election. He stood for and won the Northcote electorate, so a by-election will be necessary.

In some ways Coleman’s resignation wasn’t surprising. He has spent most of his time in Parliament in government and as a Minister. Some MPs with similar experience struggle to adapt to being relatively ineffective and powerless in Opposition.

Coleman had also just failed in a leadership bid, his second unsuccessful attempt (he also competed with English to replace Key in 2016).

So he’s packing his bags and leaving Parliament. Obviously this option is open to him, but I think is poor.

Like anyone standing for an electorate Coleman effectively committed to representing people for a three year term. To leave after half a year is bad, for no reason other than (he claims) he was offered a better job.

This is cynical pissing on democracy. And taxpayers have to fork out for the substantial cost of a by-election.

On the plus side Parliament will be better off without a poorly committed politician. Better that Coleman is replaced by someone who is committed to the job and to the responsibilities.

Coleman on the medicinal cannabis bill

Opposition spokesperson on health (and ex Minister of Health) Jonathan Coleman spoke on the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill in it’s first reading in Parliament yesterday.

 

As an electorate MP in the Northcote electorate, I’ve had extensive contact with people from a wide range of backgrounds with a wide range of views on medicinal cannabis, but there is no doubt that this is becoming much more of a mainstream issue and that people have an interest in being able to access these products when they are experiencing, sadly, a terminal illness.

There’s also, of course, people who are wanting to access it for a wider range of medical complaints as well. It’s also been an issue that’s had a great deal of public exposure through the sad illnesses of Helen Kelly and Paul Holmes and Martin Crowe—three very public figures who all said in their latter days that they had accessed medicinal cannabis.

So there’s no question that this is an issue that the Parliament has to deal with and that it’s of great import to tens of thousands of people across the country.

A Curia poll last year showed that 78% of people supported making medical cannabis is use legal.

I can say that he must have his officials tearing their hair out, because he was out there around New Zealand, campaigning big on medicinal cannabis. He said to people that the Labour Government would increase access to medicinal marijuana for the terminally ill and those with chronic pain and chronic conditions. Of course that created a huge wave of expectation, and there will be many people who, when they read this bill, will be bitterly disappointed. As Bill English has said, this is a Government long on intentions but actually poor in the delivery.

That’s what we’re seeing in this bill. It’s a hollowed-out, weak bill that goes nowhere close to delivering on what Labour had promised.

That’s a fair description – Labour promised, but then blamed NZ First for not delivering on the expectations that Labour had built up.

There’s a change there in this bill. Of the three changes, we’ve talked about two of them. There’s the regulation-making power. There’s the effective criminalisation for possession of marijuana, although it’s silent on the quantity for terminal patients who are using it for their own use. But then there’s this thing that the Minister has been heralding—how they are changing the classification of cannabidiol.

It’ll be really interesting to understand how that is any different to what the last Government did under the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act 2016 Commencement Order 2017, passed in about June 2017, where cannabidiol was no longer a controlled drug. All this is, from what I can see in the legislation, is just a tidy up of the legislation to reflect the regulations and existing practice. So, when you take that away, what you’re looking at is a pretty hollowed-out bill.

Labour promised something they haven’t been able to deliver on, and deserve criticism for that.

But much of the responsibility for this hollow shell of a bill must rest with Winston Peters and NZ First.

The last Government had already taken some action on medicinal marijuana. Peter Dunne did a very good job as the Minister then, and I want to acknowledge his contribution. In December 2016 he removed some of the bureaucratic restrictions around access to marijuana, and Sativex, one of two products available in New Zealand, no longer needed ministry approval for sign off. He then in February 2017 signed off non-pharmaceutical grade medical cannabis. That delegation was moved from the Minister to the Ministry of Health.

Arguably that was as significant progress in some respects as the current bill.

But David Clark has said, and this is pretty much from his press release actually, “We wanted to make sure that medicinal cannabis is more accessible to people with terminal illness or chronic conditions and the piece of legislation [here] will make progress.”

Well, I can tell you, it absolutely doesn’t, because when you look at people who are using medicinal cannabis for a terminal illness, this is not going to result in one more person accessing medicinal cannabis. The other thing is he’s got a half-baked scheme here. He’s legalising possession, but where are these people—the middle-class, elderly, terminally ill patients of Northcote—meant to get their cannabis from? So it’s a half-baked scheme, which doesn’t go far enough.

David Clark and Jacinda Ardern have as good as admitted that it doesn’t go far enough.

It’s very clear, it’s the result of that political pressure to get this over the line within 100 days. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the regulatory impact statement (RIS), because that’s very clear about what this bill does and doesn’t do. It actually says there’s been massive time pressure here. It actually says the legislation has had to be rushed to get it under the bar for 100 days.

On other 100 day promises Labour stepped them back and delayed them, to do more work and consultation, saying that it was more important to have good legislation than rushed legislation.

It says there will be a paper in March 2018 that will lay out the description of this medicinal cannabis scheme, which the Minister was talking about as if it’s actually in the legislation. It’s not. The scheme has not been designed. All this gives is a regulation-making power. So you can see this is a heck of a long way from perfect, and there are some major weaknesses in the bill.

Although this is a poorly designed, politically-driven bill, on balance we have to be mindful of the needs of those terminally ill people. So, in the end, compassion has to win out over a very poorly designed piece of legislation.

National will be supporting this bill but we’re expecting to see some big changes, some big improvements, and we will have some very big questions when this comes to the select committee.

With the Swarbrick bill apparently doomed (in large part by National’s decision not to allow a conscience vote for most of their MPs) then the only chance of a decent bill will be getting big changes and big improvements via the select committee stage.

Minister of Health on colonisation and youth suicide

In an interview with NZ Herald new Minister of Health David Clark linked youth suicide with colonisation – New Health Minister David Clark on youth suicide: We have a problem and we need to talk about it

Labour campaigned on mental health and pledged the return of the mental health commissioner and an inquiry into mental health.

Terms of reference and other details around the inquiry were yet to be settled, Clark said, but forecast it as wide ranging, considering issues of colonisation and poverty.

He spoke of “hardship, or the after-effects of colonisation, or trauma in their own lives or personal histories”.

He was questioned about this in Parliament yesterday.

Hansard transcript (slightly edited):

7. Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (National—Northcote) to the Minister of Health: What quantifiable health service improvements, if any, will his policies deliver?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): This Government is committed to providing affordable access to quality healthcare for all New Zealanders. This will happen in many ways; there are too many examples to list. However, to pick just one, I can tell the member that more people will be able to access affordable primary healthcare.

Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: By exactly how much will he lift the number of elective surgeries above the 174,000 delivered in the past year, given his commitment to increase access to elective surgery?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I will not be rushed into committing to specific targets. I want a health system that is honest and transparent with targets not like the previous Government’s one, which was pumping statistics by performing Avastin injections and skin legion removals that could have been done in primary care.

Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a very direct question. If he doesn’t have an answer, he should just say so.

Mr SPEAKER: No. I probably was a bit slack letting him go on after he answered the question in the first sentence.

Matt Doocey: By how much will he reduce the suicide rate over the next three years now that his Government has taken responsibility for the rate, as reported in the New Zealand Herald yesterday in the article entitled “… New Health Minister pledges change on youth suicide”?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: One suicide is one suicide too many. I do not believe it will be possible to eliminate suicide in the first term of this Government, but we are committed to lowering the rate of suicide in New Zealand, and I am looking forward to beginning the mental health inquiry.

Dr Shane Reti: What did he mean exactly by his statement to the New Zealand Herald yesterday that addressing colonisation will be an important part of his mental health inquiry?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: That is one factor that I said to the New Zealand Herald I expect will come up in the inquiry.

Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: Can he explain the improvements his policies will have on the link that he believes exists between colonisation and youth suicide?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: This Government will commit to a mental health review—an inquiry, a ministerial inquiry—and that inquiry I have asked to be broad. It will cover a variety of topics, including the one the former Minister has raised, and I expect it to provide answers that will help us to provide mental health services that New Zealanders need.

It was a topic that the Minister raised in his interview with the Herald.

New Zealand has an alarmingly high level of youth suicide, and of all types of suicide. The annual suicide toll is now over 600, far higher than the road toll that has had huge funding to try to reduce it.

It is an urgent problem that needs action faster than a general mental health review, and the causes of suicide are much wider than just mental health. Many of those who commit suicide are never in the mental health system.

“I do not believe it will be possible to eliminate suicide in the first term of this Government” – it won’t be possible to eliminate suicide in any time frame.

“…we are committed to lowering the rate of suicide in New Zealand…” – as was the last Government, without success.

“…and I am looking forward to beginning the mental health inquiry” – I’d like to see more urgency and action than that.

Unseemly stoush over youth suicide

Of all things youth suicide is one of the worst issues to become a victim of unseemly political niggling, but that is what has happened between the new Minister of Health David Clark and the previous Minister, Jonathan Coleman.

Coleman had problems with diplomacy and public relations, but Clark seems to have not graduated fully from being in opposition yet.

NZH:  New Health Minister David Clark on youth suicide: We have a problem and we need to talk about it

Labour campaigned on mental health and pledged the return of the mental health commissioner and an inquiry into mental health.

Terms of reference and other details around the inquiry were yet to be settled, Clark said, but forecast it as wide ranging, considering issues of colonisation and poverty.

He spoke of “hardship, or the after-effects of colonisation, or trauma in their own lives or personal histories”.

Past practices of shutting down debate on suicide did not deal with an issue that was persistent, Clark said.

“I think we need a public conversation about this. We can’t avoid it as a country. We have a problem and we need to talk about it.”

But he also challenged media to tell stories of survival and recovery, and not to dwell only of those who had taken their lives.

Not talking about it has failed so talking about it makes sense – as long as it is sensible talk. However continuing a political slanging match is not a good place to start.

New Health Minister Dr David Clark has leveled a stinging accusation at the previous government and his predecessor Dr Jonathan Coleman, saying funding and priority shortfalls led to more victims of suicide. Clark made the comments during an interview with the Herald as part of its Break The Silence campaign on youth suicide.

The interview charted the new Government’s hopes for greater suicide preventions and a pledge that more would be done to save the lives of those contemplating taking their own.

Our teen suicide statistics are the worst in the developed world and we have the second greatest number of self-inflicted deaths among those aged 25 and under.

The latest suicide statistics had the highest number of suicides ever – 606 people took their lives. And the figures were little better measured against an increasing population showing little movement in the last decade.

It is a problem that has proven difficult to deal with.

Clark was critical of Coleman and the previous government during the interview, saying officials were “frustrated” over the failure to develop a new Suicide Prevention Strategy after the previous one expired a year ago.

He also criticised Coleman for failing to match an increase in people seeking mental health support with funding.

Political bickering is not a good start to trying better ways of dealing with it.

Asked if that cost lives, Clark initially said it was “very hard on an individual level to say that somebody died because of a lack of funding”.

He then said: “The proposition you’ve put is one that seems reasonable to me, that if you don’t support people, more people are going to take their own lives. I don’t think we can deny that.”

Asked how he felt about there being no current suicide prevention policy, Clark said: “I have expressed publicly frustration with the previous minister. I don’t think there’s much point dwelling on that now. I feel the burden of office that I have picked up. I want to make sure we are in a position as government to find solutions.”

A response: Jonathan Coleman says he’ll hold new health minister to account over suicide target

National’s former health minister Dr Jonathan Coleman says he will be holding the new health minister to account if New Zealand’s suicide rate does not drop.

Coleman declined to be interviewed by the Herald for the story but spoke to Newstalk ZB’s Larry Williams this afternoon.

He told Williams he was surprised Clark was personalising the issue.

“Dr Clark is now signalling he is going to take personal responsibility for the suicide rate from this point on with a zero suicide target … I think he’s making a real rod for his own back,” he said.

“Of course we want to get the suicide rate down … it’s an extremely tragic and difficult area and I’m just very surprised that he’s prepared to talk like this – he’s not doing himself any favours.”

Coleman defended his record on mental health, saying the National government had put an extra $300 million of funding for mental health in the 2017 budget, with $100 million going into spending on portfolios like social welfare, housing and education that impact on mental health.

It’s too soon to know if that extra funding will make any significant difference, and it can easily be argued that it is too little, too late (that can always be argued in politics).

Asked by Williams if any government was accountable for New Zealand’s suicide rate, Coleman said it was “foolish” for the new health minister to say so.

“I genuinely wish Dr Clark well in improving that suicide rate because he’s now set the target, he’s said he will taking personal responsibility and I will be holding him to account over that,” he said.

“I hope he does succeed because this is people’s lives – but clearly if he doesn’t he will be failing to deliver on one of biggest things he campaigned on.”

It’s disappointing to see both Clark and Coleman making this issue political and personal. It is far too serious and important to be overshadowed by bickering.

Health is a very difficult portfolio to manage, because there will always be deaths, and there will always be demands and pressures on funding.

Youth suicide – and don’t forget middle aged suicide which is as big a problem – deserves better from both the Minister and the ex Minister.