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The BulletinOctober 4, 2018

The Bulletin: Prohibition returns with synthetics crackdown

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Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Health minister plans crackdown on synthetic drugs, new research and development tax credits announced, and Taxpayers Union rumbled for using fake names. 

Health minister David Clark has announced that he will push for synthetic drugs to be reclassified as Class A, reports Newshub. That would put them on par with the likes of heroin and methamphetamine. It would also mean sentences would increase for those caught selling or possessing synthetics. Dr Clark will take it to his cabinet colleagues to discuss it, saying there’s no safe level of the drugs that can be used.

In a rare moment of bi-partisan unity, National has welcomed the move. Their Pakuranga MP Simeon Brown has a bill that will soon be back before parliament, which would dramatically increase the sentences for synthetics dealers. He’s asking for the government to support that bill.

Why crack down at all? Basically, synthetics are terrible. They’re suspected of causing deaths – two more in Christchurch in the last fortnight, reports the NZ Herald. They’re making users violently attack ambulance staff, reports Newstalk ZB. They’re heavily addictive, reports Vice. They’re really nasty substances, and the minister is right to say that absolutely nobody should be taking them.

So what’s the problem then? Recent history shows that a crackdown won’t work, and could do more harm than good. Think about how many times meth has been cracked down on – now think about whether any of those crackdowns have made a blind bit of difference to how much harm it can cause. Recently the Global Commission on Drug Policy released a report which says exactly that – the war on drugs has failed, and regulating illegal markets is the only solution. One absolute cast iron guaranteed result of a synthetics crackdown will be more marginalised people ending up in prison, with all the ongoing harm that has been shown to cause.

It’s also wildly inconsistent with the government’s own rhetoric on the issue. As the Drug Foundation pointed out on twitter, “this is a big test for the government: making synnies Class A to be seen to be “doing something”, or will they truly “treat drugs as a health issue” as Jacinda Ardern said at the UN?” They also pointed to a Law Commission report on the subject, which called for the Misuse of Drugs Act to be scrapped completely and replaced with a bill that focuses on health. Politically, that would be much more difficult. But it also might be genuinely transformative, in the way this government came in promising to be.

New Research and Development tax credits have been announced by the government, and Stuff reports they’re more generous than previously expected. Businesses that spend more than $50,000 on R&D will be entitled to a 15% tax credit on that spending, up to $18 million. The industry group NZTech says that makes us competitive with comparable countries around the world. It will also mean growth grants from Callaghan Innovation will be phased out and eventually replaced entirely. New NZ Herald business team hire Chris Keall has a good rundown on who the winners and losers of the changes are.

The Taxpayers Union has been rumbled using fake names on Official Information Act requests, reports the NZ Herald. The lobby group says that’s because they needed to sidestep obstruction from government departments over their requests. Interestingly, one of the fake names – Raquel Ray – is the exact same name that was used to set up a pro-Judith Collins website during National’s last leadership election. At the time, founder Jordan Williams claimed it had nothing to do with him, even though Mr Williams’ personal email account was used for account recovery purposes.

The residents of a notorious boarding house in Grey Lynn that has been shut down have nowhere else to go, reports Radio NZ. The story is an evocative description of the dire conditions the people there lived in, and in some cases, died in. The building was recently sold for $4.1 million, and will be turned into tourist accommodation.

The prison population has fallen, staving off fears of Corrections simply running out of space – for now. Newsroom reports that the population has decreased by 7.3% since a March peak of 10,820. A significant chunk of that is through changes to bail laws, which has resulted in a much lower number of people on remand.

Angry bus drivers have occupied a GWRC meeting, attacking the Council over a lack of progress towards a collective agreement, reports Stuff. They say they’re willing to go on a region-wide strike if changes aren’t made.

The small South Island town of Franz Josef could be left without early childhood care facilities, if the only one in town closes, reports Stuff. Some parents say that means they’ll have to give up work. The childcare centre is part of the 72 facility non-profit network of Kidsfirst Kindergartens, who say they can’t afford to keep Franz Jozef and three other centres open.

The Silver Scrolls songwriting awards are on tonight, and Radio NZ is going to be doing live coverage. A while ago, music writer Hussein Moses gave a rundown on all the finalists for The Spinoff, giving his picks on who is most likely to win.

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Metiria Turei at Blue Oyster Art Project Space. Image: Rory Sweeney

Right now on The Spinoff: Don Rowe has written a definitive feature on the Ngāi Tahu story – the iwi that turned their Treaty settlement into a billion dollar empire. Jesse Mulligan writes about people getting mad at him online for suggesting a capital gains tax would be a good idea. Former Green co-leader Metiria Turei speaks to Waveney Russ about what she’s up to now – art. And I wrote about a new group of radical leftists who you’ll probably be seeing on the news quite a bit over the next few years.

Another piece from NPR today, and this time it’s about us. The American broadcaster has published a long feature on increasing levels of Chinese government influence on Australia and New Zealand. It’s not so much that the allegations being made are new – it’s more that it draws them together in a way that paints an alarming picture. It’s worth noting as well that there is a significant amount of balancing comment – the conclusions are contested. Here’s an excerpt:

More than 1,000 miles across the Tasman Sea, Chen Weijian rests on his balcony, listening to the cicadas in a leafy suburb of Auckland, New Zealand.

“He moved from China in 1991, escaping imprisonment for working on a pro-democracy newspaper. He restarted the newspaper in New Zealand, but even there, Beijing caught up with him, he says: A pro-Chinese Communist Party newspaper in Auckland sued him for defamation after he criticized it for being too pro-Beijing. Ongoing legal fees forced his paper into bankruptcy in 2012.

“Their paper was funded by businesses supported by China’s government,” Chen says. “So an overseas Communist Party’s propaganda wing crushed our democratic newspaper here in New Zealand.”

Ever since, Chen says, he has watched as China’s Communist Party makes deeper inroads into New Zealand’s society and government, becoming a major trade partner and expanding beyond trade to finance, telecommunications, military cooperation and cooperation on the Antarctic. Last year, local media reported that a prominent, Chinese-born member of New Zealand’s Parliament, Jian Yang, had lied to authorities about his education background on his citizenship application for New Zealand.”

Incidentally, Radio Live had the US ambassador Scott Brown on their station yesterday, who warned NZ not to put their trust in China over the USA. That came in response to a question from a listener, who asked why exactly the USA should be trusted, given their own history of meddling in the affairs of other nations.

Former Football Ferns coach Andreas Heraf and former CEO Andy Martin haven’t come out of a review conducted by the organisation at all well. Radio NZ reports that the complaints raised by the dozen Ferns who refused to play for the Ferns under Heraf again have been “largely substantiated” by the review, which was conducted by employment lawyer Phillipa Muir. Not only did the former coach breach NZ Football’s own code of conduct, his behaviour even breached Worksafe’s bullying guidelines.

From our partners, Vector’s sustainability manager Karl Check explains why the company is pushing for more urban forests, despite recent storms in Auckland bringing trees down on powerlines, and cutting electricity to parts of the city.

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