Health minister David Clark has waved goodbye to the Waikato DHB (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Waikato DHB sacked wholesale, commissioner appointed

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Health minister cleans out underperforming DHB, major Zero Carbon announcement coming today, and scope of cannabis referendum revealed.

The entire Waikato District Health Board has been shown the door, with health minister David Clark putting a commissioner in their place. It follows a long run of administrative problems, including the disastrous tenure of the now-disgraced Nigel Murray. As One News reports, the overall  financial performance of the board has been deteriorating, with a $56 million dollar deficit expected this year. It’s rare for a DHB to be sacked – it has only happened on three other occasions – so that underlines how dire the situation was in Waikato. Incidentally, the chairwoman of the Waikato DHB Sally Webb is also the chair of the Bay of Plenty DHB – she told the BOP Times that wasn’t a problem, and being sacked from one job had no bearing on the other.

Former Director General of Health Dr Karen Poutasi will be the new commissioner. She’s a top public servant, is currently the chief executive of NZQA, and has a significant background in health administration. She and up to three deputy commissioners will likely have a few years at least, reports Stuff, because David Clark is likely to cancel the upcoming DHB elections in the Waikato region.

Those DHB elections will be going ahead around the rest of the country, but in almost every region deficits are piling up. As the NZ Herald reported last year, only a few regions were breaking even, and the vast majority had significant deficits. It’s one of the stranger elections that takes place in New Zealand as well. It’s a highly technical job, so very few people pay attention to them, and voters often don’t really know what they’re getting. For example, there was a famous incident in 2010 in which the Auckland DHB came to have a plethora of elected members with names starting with A, B or C – the same year voting booklets switched to being in alphabetical order. In Southland, the first DHB election since 2013 is about to be held, and the outgoing commissioner says whoever does get elected is also going to face severe issues with the finances.

For David Clark himself, it lances a boil that had been festering away pretty much the entire time he has been in office. And he’s had a horrible time of running the health system so far. He says that’s because the previous government underfunded the health sector so much. And in the endless litany of problems that have come to light under his watch, some have dated back to when Jonathan Coleman had the job. But in a sector that has been rocked by strikes and scandals, and squeezed by financial pressures, some might wonder whether elected DHBs are helping or hurting the cause of better health outcomes. There’s a major review of the health system going on at the moment (expected to report back in a few months) and it will be fascinating to see what it has to say on this.

Finally, I’d love your feedback on the DHB system of governance generally – email thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz. I’ve covered some of the arguments against elected DHBs – so what are the arguments for that system?


Climate change minister James Shaw is ready to release more details on the Zero Carbon bill. Stuff reports an announcement on that will be made today, and it is likely to follow a split gas model – by which carbon is treated differently to methane. The bill has progressed through parliament at a glacial pace, in large part because the brakes have been put on by NZ First and National, who are concerned that agriculture doesn’t take too big a hit. Keep an eye out on The Spinoff later today, because our editor Toby Manhire will be in Wellington for the announcement and will be writing something up.


You’ll probably have heard that there will be a referendum on legalising cannabis, to be held alongside the next election. Yesterday it was announced how that will actually work. Russell Brown has written an explanatory piece for The Spinoff, going through what the new regulations would be, and about how the pro-legalisation side might still have a few hurdles to clear even if they win. And legal expert Graeme Edgeler has given a very useful 10 question guide as to exactly what the referendum is, and isn’t.

Meanwhile, Napier’s acting mayor has come out strongly against any suggestions the city should rebrand as a cannabis destination. Hawkes Bay Today (paywalled) reports that acting mayor Faye White doesn’t want it legalised at all, and wouldn’t want tourists coming there to smoke it.


Another high profile candidate could end up entering the race for the Auckland mayoralty, reports Newsroom. Councillor Mike Lee is mulling a run – but he has also long been mulling retirement. If he were to have a crack, it’s really difficult to predict how it would affect the race between Phil Goff and John Tamihere. They’re all nominally candidates of the centre-left, but with wildly different views on what that actually means in practice.


State services minister Chris Hipkins is proposing that the government proactively respond to concerns that arise out of the state care abuse Royal Commission, rather than waiting for a report. The story comes from Politik, and if it’s put in place would be a marked departure from how the government has tended to deal with major reports to date, where at times they’ve been accused of dragging their feet. Mr Hipkins says with it not expected to conclude until 2023, some of what needs to happen will be self-evident before that, and that should be acted on.


Beekeepers are struggling with a tough season, amid heavy overseas competition and falling prices, reports Newshub. Hive numbers, honey volumes and hive yields were all up for the year, and there has been a bit of a boom in recent years of new beekeepers getting into the industry. There were a few bright spots though – monofloral mānuka honey prices were doing well, and there has been increasing demand for pollination services from the horticultural sector.


Iwi leaders are urging parliament to declare a climate emergency, reports Radio NZ. It follows a similar campaign in Britain, whereby a non-legally binding emergency was declared following pressure from groups including Extinction Rebellion. Iwi Chairs Forum climate change spokesman Mike Smith says such a declaration would highlight the scale of the issue, as the biggest currently faced by humanity. A range of Māori organisations have also formed a network to focus on climate issues.

Not every environmentalist necessarily agrees that declaring climate emergencies is the best approach. Writing on Overland, researcher Raven Cretney said such declarations could potentially allow governments to start moving towards restrictions on democratic and political rights, on the grounds that they wouldn’t be helpful in an emergency situation. It’s a delicate argument to balance, in particular because it’s not actually clear if the often held idea about dictatorial societies being better equipped to fight climate change is true.


It’s a good day for journalism, with the unexpected release of two Reuters reporters from prison in Myanmar. Al-Jazeera reports Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were jailed after investigating a massacre of Rohingya people. They won a Pulitzer from behind bars for their reporting – and I must stress that the material in this story will be extremely disturbing for some readers. As of last year, the Committee to Protect Journalists estimated that 250 people around the world were currently in prison for doing their job.


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Right now on The Spinoff: Rowan Simpson has put together a remarkable history of TradeMe, which I don’t think is an overstatement to say has been one of New Zealand’s most important companies of the 21st century. The On the Rag podcast has a look at what you absolutely should not buy mum for Mother’s Day. And Renu Sikka writes about the month of Ramadan (which has just started) and how special and joyous that feast to break the fast is.


I didn’t really get the importance of the song Brother by Smashproof when it was a massive hit. I get it a lot better now after reading this fantastic interview conducted by Jogai Bhatt with the group. Brother was at the top of the charts for a full 11 weeks a decade ago. But the issues that it talks about – of systemic racism and double standards against Māori and Pacific people – haven’t really gone away in the intervening years. Here’s an excerpt, where Tyree and Sid discuss wanting to write about the stabbing of teenager Pihema Cameron:

Tyree: The penalty he got – Bruce Emery was his name – it was just a slap on the hand, you know what I mean? I don’t want to get into the whole racial thing–

Sid: But you have to, because you can’t stray away from the fact that he’s a white guy. And like, we got love for white people. It’s not like we don’t like white people or that everyone white is a white supremacist. It’s not like that. It’s just we can tell that a lot of things are different for people of colour.

For people like for him, he’s a businessman, you know. Pākehā. Stabbed somebody from the neighbourhood who’s Māori. In a lot of peoples eyes it was like, [Pihema’s] not going to amount to anything. So okay, cool, we’ll give you home detention. Whereas if it was the other way around, and he was the business owner, had his business going, and someone like Pihema Cameron, who everyone thinks is going nowhere, stabs him, kills him, what do you think Pihema Cameron would have got? As opposed to what he did get, you know?


Tall Blacks centre Rob Loe is heading back to Auckland to play for the Breakers, reports Newshub. He had been playing in Cairns last season, but had wanted to be closer to home. He last played for the Breakers in 2018, and is being talked up by Breakers general manager Dillon Boucher as someone with leadership qualities – so he might be in it with the Breakers for the long haul.


From our partners: Climate change has already affected how electricity gets delivered to customers, and it’s only going to get more challenging. Vector’s Chief Networks Officer Andre Botha outlines what the lines company is doing to respond.


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