Health select committee chair Louisa Wall (Radio NZ/ Phil Smith)

The Bulletin: The politics of Pharmac

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Strange political stoush over Pharmac, spy bosses concerned about political interference from overseas, and DOC investing heavily in 1080 alternatives.

This story happened earlier in the week, but it’s worth going back to, to cover in depth. Government MPs have blocked a Select Committee inquiry into Pharmac, which had been pushed for by those who say funding decisions lack transparency, reports Stuff‘s Stacey Kirk. The inquiry was called for by National MPs on the committee, who allege that senior members of the government are interfering in the select committee’s work – for those who don’t follow procedural stuff closely, that’s not how it is supposed to happen.

So as to how exactly the inquiry came to be blocked, there are two stories. The first comes from Malcolm Mulholland, the husband of a cancer sufferer, who says that Labour MP and health select committee chair Louisa Wall told him that health minister David Clark “and people higher than him” were blocking the inquiry. Radio NZ reports that Ms Wall completely and totally denies that she said that, and said that while she supports an inquiry taking place, she voted against this one because a different one is in the works.

The drug-buying agency operates on a model by which they seek to get the best bang for buck as it were. But that leaves many seriously ill people out of luck with government funding for expensive medicine, or treatment for less common forms of illnesses. That in turn means many feel let down in quite a specific way. In the past we’ve seen similar battles playing out over medicines like Keytruda.

The exact condition in question here is a form of advanced breast cancer, and the call for an inquiry came after a petition for the drugs Kadcyla and Ibrance to be funded was presented to the select committee. The patients and their advocates are devastated by the decision to not hold an inquiry, saying it is a u-turn from what Ms Wall had previously indicated.

There’s a really interesting piece of analysis from former associate health minister Peter Dunne, who wrote on his blog that the focus on Pharmac is potentially misplaced. He writes that there are “much wider questions the Health Select Committee could usefully be inquiring into, rather than the narrow focus on the way Pharmac operates as National was seeking. Without such a wider, more fundamental, investigation nothing much is likely to change, leaving patients, clinicians, other health professionals, pharmaceutical companies, and the general public equally unsatisfied.”

As for where the money for drug-buying comes from, there really isn’t a lot of spare cash floating around the health system right now. Many have called for the money available to the organisation to be increased dramatically. National’s Michael Woodhouse says the government has been trying to make savings in the drug buying budget to redirect into other areas. David Clark, by contrast, says he wants more scrutiny applied to drug companies, because they make significant revenue out of New Zealand while paying little tax. Paula Bennett and Winston Peters got amongst each other over the issue in parliament yesterday too, for good measure. All the while, patients and their families continue to miss out.


Spy bosses have outlined concerns about overseas political interference in NZ’s political system, reports Stuff. They say there were no significant threats identified against the 2017 election, but state actors trying to interfere in future elections was “plausible”. This includes concerns about political donations, along with hacking, disinformation campaigns, other forms of covert influence and trying to strong-arm diaspora communities.


The Department of Conservation are investing heavily in research into alternatives to 1080. The story comes from Newshub’s Mitchell Alexander, who was told by Conservation minister Eugenie Sage that 1080 remains the most effective form of predator control. However, a DOC spokesperson added that changing technology, and the need to shift strategy in the future from management to eradication, meant that other tools would be necessary.


Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange has been arrested overnight, after holing up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for seven years. The BBC reports he’s been found guilty of failing to surrender to a UK court, and now as a result faces extradition to the USA. The charges he would face relate to the 2010 release of Iraq war documents and footage, including video which showed the US Air Force killing civilians and journalists from the air. The charges brought by Sweden over allegations of rape (which initially led to Mr Assange fleeing to the embassy) have subsequently been dropped, despite the accuser in that instance always maintaining that the alleged incident took place.


A new study has revealed ice loss from New Zealand’s glaciers over recent decades is really really extremely bad, reports the NZ Herald. A third of the mass of glaciers around the country has melted since the late 1970s, driven both by climate change, and a general decline since the end of the ‘mini Ice Age’ in the 1850s. The largest melt ever observed happened in the summer of 2017/18, and glaciers are considered particularly susceptible to climate change.


A man has been arrested after allegedly making racist and anti-Muslim comments outside the Al-Noor Mosque in Christchurch, reports Radio NZ. He is also alleged to have kicked tributes and tried to damage memorial items. Initially, he wasn’t arrested despite police being on the scene, but has subsequently been charged with disorderly behaviour, and will appear in court today.


Biosecurity NZ have leapt into action after the discovery of fruit fly larvae on an orange imported from the USA. The NZ Herald reports imports have temporarily been stopped as a result, as if the fruit fly became established it would be a serious threat to the horticulture industry. Supply of oranges for consumers is not expected to be affected.


The Australian election will take place on the 18th of May, PM Scott Morrison has confirmed. The ABC reports that the governing coalition could be in trouble, with voters in marginal seats potentially concerned enough about climate change to punish them. PM Morrison’s pitch to voters so far has been heavily based on economic stability.


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The Mint Chicks’ Screens hits its tenth anniversary.

Right now on The Spinoff: Jai Breitnauer writes about why universities are so often focal points for terrible behaviour towards women from young men. Russell Brown dives into the depths of the nature of the modern internet, and what needs to change about it. Elle Hunt writes about the health and financial costs of living in a heavily polluted city like London. And Sam Wicks collates an oral history of the final Mint Chicks LP, Screens, which many consider their greatest full-length.


Rugby player Israel Folau is back in the news for homophobic social media posts, and frankly we’ve heard it all before. To reiterate that, here’s an excellent deconstruction of the issue from Dr Patrick Thomsen, a commentator who is both gay and a Pacific Islander, on the Pantograph Punch. It was published in 2017, and remains just as relevant today. Here’s an excerpt:

When the term ‘gay’ is still being thrown around by sports people (a well-known Pacific Island All Black the latest perpetrator) as a slur to denigrate men they see as less masculine, and when the term equality is removed it’s an underhanded attack that tries to play into society’s still ingrained biases against sexual minorities.

What has disturbed me the most though are those in the Pacific Island community who have come to Izzy’s aid in claiming the classic dismissive line: he’s entitled to his opinion. Well, first of all, the fact that you’re entitled to one doesn’t mean that your opinion is a good one. Neither does it mean that your opinion cannot be critiqued. If the only defence of your position is that you’re entitled to one then your opinion really doesn’t merit any attention.

And this is where we have strayed into very dangerous territory. Folau has been valorised by many who say that he is speaking up for his right to believe in God and his faith. Funny thing is, no one said he’s not allowed to believe in God, or attend his church every Sunday. If marriage equality is passed it doesn’t mean he can’t go on living his cisheteronormative life. No one cares what you do on Sundays Izzy, not even the gays.

There ends the excerpt, and the whole piece by Dr Thomsen is worth reading. Just as an aside, his contract has been torn up by Rugby Australia and Rugby NSW, so we may not see him out on the field for quite some time.


Kenny McFadden is back with the Wellington Saints, reports Stuff. He’s a basketball legend around the capital, and was instrumental in the development of Steven Adams before he went off to play College ball. He has a place in history as the only player to have a Saints jersey retired – number 5 if you were wondering. The NBL season is underway this week, with the Southland Sharks the current champions.

Lastly, Israel Adesanya is feeling confident ahead of his UFC middleweight title fight this weekend, reports the NZ Herald. The Kiwi is in Atlanta to face Kelvin Gastelum, who doesn’t necessarily have the greatest record in the middleweight division, but is expected to be a stern test nonetheless. Adesanya says he’s feeling good after his last bout, which involved beating Anderson Silva, one of the undisputed greats of the sport.

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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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