United Future disbanding

There are a number of news reports that the United Future Party has agreed to disband. They were already in terminal decline, and Peter Dunne’s retirement effectively delivered the party’s last rites.

Damian Light made a decent attempt to take over the leadership but with little support and no money it was a hopeless task.

A letter announcing the disbanding is being reported on and linked to despite being clearly headed ‘Press embargo until 10:00am Tuesday 14 November 2017‘.

Can the media be trusted on anything these days?

United Future has been one of the most successful small parties, having been a part of several Labour and National governments but has been in what turned out to be irreversible decline for a decade.

The prohibitively high MMP threshold will make it very difficult for any new small parties to find a way in to Parliament.

Millions of dollars of funding didn’t help the Conservatives, the Internet Party (and Mana), and Garteh Morgan’s TOP, although people were also a problem for al of those parties.

Unless the threshold problem is addressed the only possibility of seeing any new parties in Parliament is if they are led by existing MPs who split of larger parties.

Dunne’s legacy

Peter Dunne’s 33 year political career hasn’t set the world on fire – Donald Trump may do that in 33 months – but he is regarded by those who know as a competent and effective politician in Parliament, and a hard working electorate MP.

He has practiced pragmatic incrementalism, but now sees himself as not fitting in with volatile media driven politics, nor with ideology driven revolution.

Brent Edwards at RNZ:  Dunne: A great survivor finally runs out of support

Dunne has supported governments led by both Labour and National and held ministerial posts in both. He has been an under-secretary and minister for just on 15 years, serving seven different Prime Ministers.

Few politicians have done better, yet few have been ridiculed more, whether for his coiffured hair or bow ties.

Despite the ridicule, Mr Dunne has been an extremely effective politician who has worked well with both sides of politics.

Mr Dunne’s resignation is not just United Future’s loss. It is also a blow to National, probably more so. It loses a crucial vote irrespective of its final result in the election.

In the meantime time the MP for Ōhāriu ends a 33-year parliamentary career by taking what he is likely to see as a pragmatic, commonsense approach to politics.

There is a need for pragmatism and common sense in politics, but it tens to not excite media or voters.

Southland Times editorial Dunne dusted as Nats lose ally:

The outgoing MP deserves to be remembered as an adept politician. And since that in itself is a fairly wan claim to integrity we can go further and acknowledge the areas in which the man himself suggests he’s drawn the most satisfaction:

  • Modernising drug policy,
  • making fluoridation in drinking water more widespread,
  • establishing Fire and Emergency New Zealand,
  • bringing back 10-year passports, and
  • overseen New Zealand help form the D5 group of digitally-advanced nations.

How many people, you have to wonder, would have immediately have brought him to mind if asked to identify the politician behind that little lot?”

As Minister of Revenue he was also involved in the modernisation of IRD’s computer systems. And there will be many other things he has played a part in.

He has received far less media attention and help than Winston Peters but has achieved much more as an MP.

He has also achieved more in Parliament in 20 years than the whole Green Party.

Sam Sachdeva: Peter Dunne’s cautious crusade ends

Along with those highlights, there have been low points, notably when he resigned as a minister during an inquiry into the leak of a GCSB report (he was later vindicated), but Dunne says the sun always came up.

“Politics is a tough game, it’s unforgiving, it doesn’t show much sentiment, it is demanding, and you’ve got to have the stamina and the mental rigour, I guess, to cope with that…

“The interesting thing was for me through that whole [GCSB] process I learned a lot about my own resilience and determination.”

Pragmatic incrementalism by design:

He concedes his political career has been marked more by pragmatic incrementalism than bold ideology, but says that has been by design.

“I have always railed against what I call bright ideas in politics. I think if you look around the world over history, societies have failed when politicians with bright ideas, good or bad, have got in control.

“I’m always wary of the politician with the big grand vision, the bold picture of the future, because it’s invariably founded on feet of clay, and I think the politicians who believe they can make a massive difference are deluding themselves and their country.”

Bold ideology and grand vision tends to flounder on the fringes in new Zealand politics. It rarely survives through the party system that anyone wanting to get into Parliament must work their way through and up. It almost always takes years to get into Parliament, and more years to become a significant influence.

That mindset is evident in what he labels as his proudest accomplishments: reforming the tax system, unifying the Fire Service after 70 years – “what everyone said was impossible” – and improving the housing of constitutional documents like the Treaty of Waitangi and the Women’s Suffrage Petition.

Someone has to do unheralded bigger things and important little things.

He says New Zealand is “a vastly better country” than when he first entered Parliament: more mature, more diverse, with broader horizons and more opportunities seized.

“I hope that we’re able to continue to do that, that we don’t get captured by backward thinking, people who want to try and reinvent yesterday.

A swipe at his oldest adversary, Winston Peters.

“Yesterday’s important in terms of what you did and what you achieved, but it’s not necessarily a guide to the future: tomorrow is where it all opens and you’ve got to be nimble.

Dunne has been adept at adapting for the future for decades, but now sees a need to stand aside.

“It’s just the sense of people feeling that old boundaries have gone and they can go every which way and if they go this way, then it doesn’t really matter because if they get it wrong, they go that way…

It’s very difficult to provide stable politics in that environment and be someone who likes to stand for a consistent line when suddenly all around you is swirling like a great maelstrom”.

So Dunne has decided to step out of the maelstrom. A modestly successful MP of the past but he doesn’t see a future in politics any more.

Peter Dunne calls time on his political career

Another leader stepping down- this time it’s Peter Dunne who has decided not to stand again this election, meaning the end of his 33 year career as an MP.

He has served in four different Governments, two National led and two Labour led, and has served under seven Prime Ministers.

He had many critics and detractors and his style was not very modern, but he was widely regarded as a hard working and effective electorate MP, and was the most successful MP over time under MMP.

It seems certain that his United Future party will retire with him.

There has been some genuine comments from some politicians and others, and a lot of awful an uninformed criticism.

Statement from Hon Peter Dunne

“The current political environment is extremely volatile and unpredictable. However, I have concluded, based on recent polling, and other soundings I have been taking over the last few weeks, that, the volatility and uncertainty notwithstanding, there is now a mood amongst Ōhāriu voters for a change of MP, which is unlikely to alter. This shift in voter sentiment is quite at variance with polling and other data I have seen throughout the year, upon which I had based my earlier decision to seek re-election for a 12th term as MP for Ōhāriu. While I am naturally extremely disappointed after 33 years of service at this apparent change of feeling, I recognise and understand it, and respect absolutely the electorate’s prerogative to feel that way.

“I have therefore decided that it is time for me to stand aside, so the people of Ōhāriu can elect a new electorate MP. Consequently, after much consideration and discussion with those closest to me, I am announcing today that I will not be putting forward my nomination for election to the next Parliament. I do so with considerable reluctance, but I have always understood that holding public office is a temporary privilege granted by the people, and can never be taken for granted.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed serving the Ōhāriu electorate in its various forms since 1984. I thank my constituents, my supporters, my Party, and all those staff members who have worked so loyally and professionally alongside me over the years, but above all, I pay huge thanks to my wife Jennifer, my sons, James and Alastair, raised in the heat of politics, and my entire family for their loyal support, patience and encouragement for so long.

“I am especially proud to have worked alongside successive National- and Labour-led Governments in the collaborative environment of MMP, and to have had the privilege of serving as first an Under-Secretary and then a Minister under seven different Prime Ministers for just on fifteen years. I am very proud of the many changes I have been able to make in my portfolios over the years to make New Zealand a better place in which to live and raise a family.

“Over the last three years alone, I have been very pleased to lead the work to modernise New Zealand’s drug policy towards a stronger health focus; and to make fluoridation of drinking water more widespread. I was delighted to establish Fire and Emergency New Zealand which unified our urban and rural fire services in the biggest reform of our fire services in 70 years. I was also very pleased to have been able to bring back 10 year passports. The D5 group of the world’s most digitally advanced nations meets in New Zealand early next year. Having overseen New Zealand help form the D5 group in 2014, I will be very sorry not to be chairing that meeting. Lastly, I have enjoyed being part of the continuing drive to make the taonga of the National Library and the National Archives more widely available to all New Zealanders.

“Ōhāriu has been a very large part of my life. I have lived continuously in the area for more than forty years. Jennifer and I raised our family in Ōhāriu. It is our home. Working for the community and its people over the last 33 years has, at all times, been an absolute delight. I will miss hugely that direct engagement with so many aspects of the life of our community, and I will never forget the huge honour Ōhāriu gave me by electing me, first as a young 30 year old, and then for the next ten elections after that.

“But good things cannot last forever. Now it is time for me to put all that behind me, take the election hoardings down, say goodbye to Parliament without bitterness or regret, and get on with life.

“Finally, my thanks and best wishes for the future go to Brett Hudson MP, National’s List MP based in Ōhāriu, for the support he has shown me throughout this year.”

This is a typically pragmatic decision. Dunne has plenty of experience at reading the mood of his electorate.

It looked quite likely he would lose the electorate, so not standing avoids not just a defeat but the vacating of his office under the shadow of a loss.

If Dunne managed to retain his seat he faced being shut out of government by Labour, or by Winston Peters.

Going now on his own terms look like the least worst option for him.

RNZ has a good career summary:  Dunne: A great survivor finally runs out of support

Ignorant criticism was especially prevalent on drug issues. Russell Brown covers reality well at The Spinoff: Peter Dunne, the flawed reformer

 

Recycled campaigning

Party campaign strategies seem to be trying to put as much out as often as possible. They risk driving people away from the election through overkill.

And to fill their sound bite targets parties are resorting to recycling old stuff.

Yesterday the Greens launched their new campaign without Metiria Turei – by ditching their new slogan and going back to their 2014 election slogan.

Today Labour announced a School Leavers’ Toolkit to equip young people for adult life – which was largely a rehash of policy announced in 2015 with a bit of detail added.

Also today National announced details of a $100m social investment mental health package – which had already been announced in the budget in May. They have just added some details.

David Seymour kept banging on about how different Act are to National – Forget boot camp, fix failing schools – and also attacked Labour – Labour’s civics classes: dodgy dodgy dodgy – and NZ First – Winston’s Racist Attack against Sikh’s Freedom of Religion.

The only original announcement was from peter Dunne, but this was not party news, it was as Minister of Internal Affairs –  NZ govt says Australia’s Joyce is NZ citizen.

So far this week the Aussies are beating us hands down for interesting political news.

Q+A: Ohariu electorate

Q+A: Is Ohariu a safe seat for Peter Dunne? We have the results our Q+A Colmar Brunton Snap Poll on the Ohariu electorate

NZ Herald pre-empt this:  Jacinda effect’ erodes Peter Dunne’s support in Ohariu but he hopes it will be temporary

United Future leader Peter Dunne believes his support in Ohariu has been eroded because of the Jacinda Ardern effect but he questions how long that will last.

The Q + A show has a snap poll tomorrow (TV1 – 9am, Sunday) which is expected to show Dunne trailing Labour candidate Greg O’Connor.

“The question is, and it is something everyone is trying to figure out at the moment, is how deep-seated that factor is,” Dunne told the Herald on Sunday.

“Is it a phenomenon that will pass by as quickly as it arose or is it something more substantial?

Dunne has held the west-Wellington seat since 1984, originally as a Labour MP, but held it in the 2014 election by only 710 votes. He has been a support partner of the National-led Government since 2008.

In the past National has campaigned for only the party vote but this time it is explicitly asking National supporters to give Dunne their electorate vote to keep him in Parliament.

Labour and the Greens have done an electorate deal in which the Greens are not standing in order to give O’Connor, the former police union boss, a stronger chance of rolling Dunne. The Greens had 2764 electorate votes last time.

It’s not surprising to see that Peter Dunne’s hold on the Ohariu electorate is at serious risk (it has been before but so far he has survived).

A resurgent Labour under Ardern’s leadership was always going to help O’Connor against Dunne, but that may or may not hold up as we get into the business end of the campaign.

If Dunne loses it will make National’s chances a little bit harder.


Poll:

  • Greg O’Connor (Labour) 48%
  • Peter Dunne (United Future) 34%
  • Brett Hudson (National) 14%
  • Jessica Hammond (TOP) 2%

Party support in Ohariu:

  • National 46% (50.23% in the 2014 election, 49.60 in 2011)
  • Labour 35% (23.42%, 26.53%)
  • Greens 12% (15.01%, 14,42%)
  • NZ First 4% (4.76%, 3.91%)

501 voters, +/- 4%

That’s a big lead to O’Connor and it looks very difficult for Dunne, but there have been big poll swings lately so it’s difficult to know how this will end up.

However I think this looks ominous for Dunne.

Another part of the poll:


  • Staying with Dunne 63%
  • Switching to O’Connor/Labour 27%
  • Switching to someone else 10%

 

The Jacinda effect on other parties

The change of Labour leadership to Jacinda Ardern could have quite an effect on how the other parties campaign, and how the fare in the election.

National already had a battle to avoid needing NZ First, that doesn’t change but how they campaign will need a major rethink.

The Greens seem generally happy. It means a rethink of their ‘go for broke’ approach, because a recovering Labour improves their chances of getting into government. albeit with a smaller share of the vote than they were hoping for last week.

The biggest impact may be on NZ First, which could be why Winston’s response to the leadership change yesterday was gruff dismissal. If Labour come back into the reckoning that could significantly reduce NZ First’s opportunities and influence. Peters could easily attarct media attention from Little, but that will be much harder with Ardern.

Peters versus Ardern is a very different contest to Peters versus Little, and swings the pendulum significantly.

The smaller parties are at risk of being ignored even more.

It reduces TOP’s chances of picking up disgruntled voters.

Kelvin Davis’ elevation to deputy makes the Maori party’s battle with Labour quite a bit harder.

Davis must be a hot favourite now to beat Hone Harawira in Te Tai Tokerau and keep Mana out.

ACT have struggled for relevancy and support and that won’t get any easier.

Peter Dunne already had a major challenge in Ohariu and this probably makes things harder for him.

One thing is certain – the whole complexion of this campaign has dramatically changed, and it affects all parties in major ways.

And one aspect of change is probably bigger than Jacinda herself – the media. They had given up on Little long ago and dreaded a boring election campaign. They have promoted Ardern all year, helping get her promoted to deputy, and now to leader.

The media have played a major part in changes to date, and may be the deciding factor inb this election.

Lack of urgency on mass killing by poison

Maggy Wassilieff made a good point yesterday about the spate of deaths as a result of synthetic drug use:

Somebody is lacing dried plant material with lethal poison.

This person is a killer. Why aren’t they being hunted down by every cop/soldier in the country?

If we had a sniper/terrorist at loose who had killed 8 people and wounded numerous others in Auckland over the last month, the whole shebang would be in lockdown.

Why do I get the impression that it’s business as usual?

I presume the police are doing some sort of investigation into the source of these lethal drugs, and the suppliers of these lethal drugs. But I haven’t seen any sign of urgency or effort.

Compare this to a case that began in November 2014,when there was a threat to lace milk powder with 1080. This had major trade implications and proved costly financially, it was despicable, but no one was harmed let alone killed.

Stuff: The 1080 milk crisis, from beginning to end

Police have arrested a man almost a year after threats to poison baby milk formula prompted an investigation costing $3 million, and safety measures involving more than 150,000 batch tests on milk products.

The case began in November (2014), when Fonterra and Federated Farmers received 1080-laced packets of infant formula along with a threat to contaminate retail supplies unless the Government stopped using the pest control.

The public knew nothing of this until March 10, when Ministry for Primary Industries deputy director general Scott Gallacher and deputy police commissioner Mike Clement explained the threat at a press conference.

“I’m confident the public will solve this,” Clement said.

Prime Minister John Key assured people infant formula was safe to drink: “We are advised it is extremely unlikely anyone could deliberately contaminate formula during the manufacturing process and there is no evidence that this has ever occurred.”

This eventually resulted in a conviction and a sentence of eight and a half years in prison.

1 News:  Lengthy jail term for 1080 milk threat a deterrent, says Fonterra boss

The eight-and-a-half-year prison sentence for the Auckland businessman who threatened to poison baby milk powder is a deterrent to others, Fonterra’s boss says.

Sixty-year-old Jeremy Kerr’s attempts to blackmail Fonterra and Federated Farmers cost the companies involved and taxpayers $37 million.

Prime Minister John Key says Kerr’s threats that could kill babies were “just despicable behaviour”.

And Fonterra Managing Director Maury Leyland says the idea of that happening is terrifying.

“And that’s why the sentencing, I think, denounces the crime and provides an appropriate deterrent,” said Ms Leyland outside the High Court in Auckland.

In the High Court in Auckland, Justice Geoffrey Venning said the potential impact on New Zealand’s trade relationships with China and other countries was extremely serious.

The police admit the investigation was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

It was a difficult case to solve but the police eventually got a result. It was costly in terms of dollars and threats to trade.

But in the current illegal drug trade a number of people have died, and it’s safe to assume that many more have suffered, A large number of lives have been ruined by drug concoctions that are deliberately made to be addictive, and they are pushed to vulnerable people.

What are the police doing about it? Where is the public assurances that everything possible is being done to protect people from this spate of poisoning?

Why aren’t politicians jumping up and down and demanding more be done?

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has been saying something: Govt ‘not satisfied’ with synthetic cannabis death handling

Mr Dunne said the first he knew about seven deaths linked to unidentified psychoactive substances this month was about an hour before police made the information public in a news release.

That number rose to eight yesterday when a man died after becoming ill from smoking synthetic cannabis.

Mr Dunne was satisfied with the detection work police were doing to track down who was selling and distributing the drugs, which can contain a range of different and sometimes unknown chemicals.

“I’m not satisfied, though, with the information that’s being shared,” Mr Dunne told Morning Report.

“That information had obviously been known to police and the coronial officials for some time. I don’t think it’s reasonable that the government wasn’t made aware of that until virtually the last minute.”

The government was now coordinating a response from police, district health boards and Ministry of Health officials – something that could have been done earlier with better communication, he said.

Dunne has been left fronting for the government on serious drug issues again.

Where are the other MPs on this? Ducking for cover it seems.

Mr Dunne agreed that more liberal laws for natural cannabis could help.

“But there are two big problems in this issue – one’s called National and one’s called Labour,” he said.

“Both the major parties have consistently ruled out any change in this area.”

Because it’s just drug users (and isn’t a threat to business?) this doesn’t appear to be much of a concern to other parties.

NZ Herald: Drug deaths don’t warrant Government response – Prime Minister Bill English

English rejected suggestions that an urgent Government-level response was required this afternoon, instead saying that people needed to avoid illegal substances and show more personal responsibility.

Speaking at his weekly press conference this afternoon, English said he had asked for advice on any possible responses to the fatalities.

“[The advice] falls into two categories. It is an illegal drug, it has to be policed, and we are not the police force.

“But the most important thing here … is that people do not take these illegal substances that can kill them.

“That sense of personal responsibility is pretty critical to staying alive. They need to decide they are not going to take these drugs”.

I guess babies and their parents could have been educated about the risks of taking milk powder – close to zero risk in reality.

Green Party health spokeswoman Julie-Anne Genter…

…said she was “extremely shocked and upset” at the absence of any Government plan or response to the drug-related deaths and injuries.

She said that in the short term the police should at least create a special unit to deal with the synthetic cannabis issue. Drug-checking facilities should also be made legal and resourced, she said.

In the medium term, Genter said legalising cannabis would create a “safe alternative” and lower the risk of black market-related drug deaths – a move English flatly rejected today.

Stuff: Police, coroner investigating multiple synthetic cannabis deaths: ‘further people are going to die’

“If we don’t do something about this, further people are going to die,” Detective Inspector Gary Lendrum said at a press conference on Friday afternoon.

“We’ve got reports of 13-year-olds right through to 64-year-olds using this product, so it’s right across New Zealand, and right across society.”

Labour leader Andrew Little said the reports were “incredibly disturbing”.

“I know police are saying they’re going to conduct an investigation – the Minister of Health has got to be involved in that. We’ve got to understand what’s happened there.

“It throws open the whole issue about the ability to regulate in this area and people’s safety with a substance that is constantly changing. It may well be time, even though it’s been a reasonably short period of time, for Parliament to review and revisit just what it has done in relation to synthetic cannabis.”

So politicians are expressing some concern, but there is no sign of real pressure to do something about the situation on drug supply and use and legality.

Eight people have died. Many more are at risk. This is a crisis, urgency and a lot more jumping up and down and demanding action is surely justified.

The number of deaths in a short time is out of the ordinary but deaths and the wrecking of lives has been going on for a long time.

When big business and foreign trade was at stake there seemed to be more concern.

Drug addicts don’t seem to matter as much to our Parliament.

However the costs are actually high. Illicit drugs cost lives, this is not new. There are substantial costs to society and to taxpayers through policing and the courts and prisons and the health system. Drug abuse impacts on individuals and families and work productivity.

Poisoning by drugs has a massive human and financial cost.

After eight deaths in a short period of time surely our politicians should be motivated to do much more than make noises and then go back to kicking the cannabis can down the road.

All parties should be doing more.

But in particular Bill English and National have to step up. For too long they have left Peter Dunne to cop all the flak on drug problems and copped out of responsibility themselves, but the fact is that Dunne has done much more than any other MP to try and promote change in the way we deal with drug supply and abuse. Dunne has only one vote against National’s 59, and Parliament’s 120.

If there was ever a time for a Prime Minister to step up on an issue surely eight deaths is enough to prompt some leadership.

TRP Adviser 28 July 2017

This week we learned many things.

Boris Johnson is not a complete buffoon, the Greens may come to regret Metiria Turei’s confession and one man party Peter Dunne may be over and out in Ohariu.

The likely next leader of the UK Conservative party has been here for a brief visit. Boris Johnson managed to complete the trip without any major gaffes, though comparing a kiwi hongi to a Gorbals kiss might be considered offensive by some here and by some North of Hadrian’s wall.

The perceived wisdom in the UK is that Johnson is biding his time, waiting for the inevitable coup against Theresa May to begin and trusting that there will be a knock on the door as the hopeful party calls on him to lead at their time of need.

I’m not so sure.

Leading a Government that is going to limp along until the next election is an unenviable task. Whether that vote is called early or the Tory/DUP Government lasts the full term, whoever leads the Conservatives to the polls can expect to lose.

I think that if asked, Johnson will say ‘No, thanks’. It’s all too much like hard work and swanning around the world being witty with the locals is much more fun.

Metiria Turei’s confession to an easily understandable and perfectly forgivable benefit rort is still in the headlines, well past the usual news cycle of a day or two.

I reckon it marks the high tide in the Green’s polling. It’ll be all down hill from here.

It won’t affect their die hard voters, but it will have an impact on waverers in the middle who might have been tempted to go green. If there is one thing about the New Zealand middle class that really stands out, it’s a broad streak of sanctimony.

They’ll forgive the likes of Key and English for their many, many rorts because that was just business. But a beneficiary who bends the rules to survive? To the workhouse with her!

I hear from usually reliable sources that Peter Dunne is in big trouble in Ohariu.

Labour have a near perfect candidate for the seat in former police union boss Greg O’Connor. Ohariu is a fairly conservative, middle of the road electorate and both Dunne and O’Connor fit that mold.

O’Connor has the advantage of being brand spanking new and earnestly keen. Too keen, in fact, having been snapped putting up election signs way too early.

That was an embarrassing start for the Labour candidate, but it doesn’t seem to have hurt him in the electorate. I’m told he has built up a convincing polling lead over Dunne already.

And that’s why Bill English felt the need to publicly tout for Peter Dunne. No coy cup of tea, this time. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

National know they are going to need every scrap of support they can get if they are to form the next Government without having to grovel to grumpy old uncle Winston.

Ohariu could be the seat that decides the very nature of the next Government.

Synthetic ‘cannabis’ crisis

I don’t think that what is referred to as ‘synthetic cannabis’ is cannabis, as I understand it it is plant material laced with a wide variety of drugs.

One of the problems is that users often have no idea what drugs they are taking. Another is not doing how potent any drugs are.

There has been an outbreak of deaths and admissions to hospital due to the use and abuse of synthetic concoctions.

RNZ: Synthetic cannabis crisis: ‘We need to be working together on this’

Police are being accused of failing to pass on crucial information about synthetic cannabis to those who are dealing with the drug at the coal face.

The death toll has risen to eight after a 24-year-old man suspected of taking the drug died at Middlemore Hospital last night.

Police had known about a very strong kind of synthetic cannabis being used, called AMB-FUBINACA, for over a year now but only recently shared information about it with other organisations, Drug Foundation chief executive Ross Bell said.

READ MORE:Synthetic Cannabis: The killer high

The cannabinoid was more than 75 times more potent that THC, the active ingredient in natural cannabis, and over the past year had become the most commonly detected type of cannabinoid in its lab, ESR Forensic Chemistry Manager Kevan Walsh said.

“It’s gained some notoriety overseas… some have referred to it as a zombie drug,” he said.

The results of ESR’s testing were passed to the police, who were its clients, and it was up to them to share the information, Mr Walsh said.

However, police said they could not always share information if it related to coronial investigations or if it was before the court.

Mr Bell said that needed to change, especially in times of a public health crisis.

“There does need to be a clear protocol or process in place where that very important information is made more widely available to people like us, or drug treatment agencies, when the police make these discoveries, rather than sitting on the information,” he said.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne agreed information between police and other authorities -including himself – needed to improve.

He said an emergency response unit was being set up between Auckland health authorities and police to try and and get a handle on the situation.

“There’s certainly been a problem in getting the information from police. I was a little surprised to get less than a couple of hours notice of their announcement last Friday. There’s been no contact with my office at all on this.”

“We need to be working together on this,” he said.

A special incident response unit is being set up at the Auckland District Health Board in conjunction with police, to try and get a handle on what synthetic cannabis products are being used and how it can be stopped, Mr Dunne said.

Auckland Police said they still had no idea where the drug was coming from and were asking for the public’s help.

Acting Detective Inspector Peter Florence said it was “a big worry” that people were taking synthetic cannabis.

NZ Herald:  Synthetic cannabis ‘worse than meth’ according to addiction specialist

A drug counsellor says the effects of synthetic cannabis can be worse than meth, with users kept up for days and sometimes being driven into psychosis.

Clinical director of Alcohol & Drug Assessment & Counselling (ADAC) Roger Brooking said the drug was far stronger than most users realised.

“It tends to keep them awake for days on end, much like methamphetamine does.

“My experience would be that it drives people psychotic, or at least in that direction, more quickly than methamphetamine.

“It’s a lot more addictive than the plant cannabis, it has no business being called cannabis.

“Normal cannabis, it’s kind of psychologically addictive, but not physically addictive.

“But the synthetic chemicals being used seem to be a lot more addictive, and once people start they find it very hard to stop.”

This has become a major and dangerous issue, and again raises the question of why natural cannabis is still illegal. It has it’s own risks but it is far better known and far l;ess a risk than many other drugs.

Brooking believed there needed to be big changes to stop the problem getting any worse, including decriminalising cannabis.

“I mean, if I was in charge of this I’d decriminalise all illicit drugs, as they have in Portugal.

“Because these drugs are illegal, when people use them and get caught they get steered into the justice system instead of getting steered into the health system.

“For the average user, these cause health problems rather than legal problems.

“If cannabis was decriminalised, people wouldn’t have to go looking for some of these other substances.”

But the National led government has been strongly against relaxing laws on cannabis.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne agreed that a “significant part” of problem was that synthetic cannabis was banned, and then driven underground.

He said he had spoken to Prime Minister Bill English about the idea of regulating the drug, and would “keep the discussion going”.

“Had we had a regulated market in place, this stuff would have had to be submitted for testing before being sold.

“Because its been driven underground we don’t know what it is, it’s not being tested, and we’re dealing with consequences. We’re playing catch-up all over again.

“There are so many new psychoactive substances coming down the pipeline, whether this is a blip or the start of a flood, we just don’t know.”

We will forever be reacting to the adverse effects of illegal drug use unless we take a different approach to cannabis.

Clear signal from National on support parties

It’s good to see the era of farcical nods, winks, cups of tea and media mania are over. Today National clearly signalled which parties and electorates they would help to try and maximise the chances of returning the current Government much as it is.

National signals election intentions

Prime Minister Bill English today signalled National’s intention to work with support partners – United Future and ACT – in this year’s General Election.

“Under MMP, voters determine the make-up of the Government by voting a combination of parties into Parliament, which means every election is close.

“After the election, parties must then work together to form and maintain a stable Government and voters want to know what party combinations are possible.”

In February, Mr English made it clear that if National is re-elected his preference is to continue working with ACT, the Māori Party and United Future.

“While we don’t always agree, our four parties have maintained a stable and successful Government since late 2008 and we would like to see that continue for the benefit of New Zealanders,” Mr English says.

“New Zealand’s political stability over the last several years has given this country a consistent economic advantage over many other countries we compare ourselves with.

“We are encouraging National supporters to give their electorate vote to ACT candidate, David Seymour, in Epsom, and United Future candidate, Peter Dunne, in Ohariu – and their party vote to National.

“To be clear, we want to increase our party votes in those electorates and that’s what our National Party candidates will be working hard to do.

“Our MPs are working hard throughout New Zealand to increase our party vote, so we can earn the right to stay in Government, keep the economy growing and provide opportunities for all New Zealanders.”

Media seemed a bit taken aback by this forthright approach, perhaps because it has removed one of their traditional election games.

Some quibbled over whether there was less preference for the Maori Party or not, and predictably Patrick Gower glowered about ‘dirty deals’, but the reality under MMP is that most parties now get involved in boosting their own chances by helping others.

  • Labour and Greens helped Winston Peters in the Northland by-election.
  • Greens helped Labour in the Mt Roskill by-election.
  • Greens and Labour worked together in the Mt Albert by-election.
  • Greens are not standing a candidate in Ohariu to try to help Labour candidate Greg O’Connor against Peter Dunne, who is in turn being assisted by National.

So it makes sense to be up front and early on signalling intentions, before the media have a chance to make an issue about it, and so voters have a clear choice.