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Health minister David Clark (Radio NZ/Rebekah Parsons-King)
Health minister David Clark (Radio NZ/Rebekah Parsons-King)

The BulletinDecember 14, 2018

The Bulletin: Govt’s all things to all people drug reforms

Health minister David Clark (Radio NZ/Rebekah Parsons-King)
Health minister David Clark (Radio NZ/Rebekah Parsons-King)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Government pushes in two different directions with drug reforms, nitrogen runoff tool has serious flaws, and finance minister outlines ‘wellbeing’ budget.

The government has launched a range of drug reforms, which somehow manage to pull in two completely different directions. In general terms, the differences in law are about to be much more distinct for users and addicts on the one hand, and dealers and manufacturers on the other.

The top line in the government’s sales job on this – and one that many outlets have chosen to run with as their lead angle – is that there will be a heavy crackdown on synthetics manufacturers and suppliers. The NZ Herald reports that two of the most common chemicals in synthetics will be reclassified as class A – which comes with the possibility of life imprisonment at the extreme end of penalties for manufacturers. There will also be a new classification – C1 – which will be usable as a stop-gap measure if new illicit substances come onto the market.

But they’ve also thrown a massive bone to drug law reform campaigners. The Misuse of Drugs Act will be amended to direct police to treat drug use as a health issue – which means not prosecuting users of any and all drugs. Health minister David Clark says that’s not decriminalisation, but it does still formalise a massive change in approach.

On that point, the Police Association have raised some concerns, reports the NZ Herald. Spokesperson Chris Cahill says he’s concerned the government is asking police to effectively spearhead the decriminalisation of drugs, without that being made legally and politically clear. “If decriminalisation is what Parliament wants, then that’s what the law should say,” he said.

However, elements of this approach have already been trialled relatively successfully. One of those trials, in Northland, was reported on by Matters of Substance (a Drug Foundation publication) in which a police spokesperson said they had previously “been disconnected from the health issue. Traditionally, we might have just criminalised everything, but we went out to engage with communities.” Only 52 people were imprisoned for possession or use of drugs over 2017-18 – some would argue that’s 52 too many – but regardless, it’s not a significant portion of either the prison population (close to 10,000) or the total number of New Zealand’s drug users (quite a few more.) Radio NZ reports this morning that addiction services are very in favour of the changes.

One person who has both won and lost out of the changes is National MP Simeon Brown, who has been championing a bill this year to increase sentences for synthetics. Newshub reports that NZ First will no longer back the bill, as in their view it is now irrelevant with synthetics being reclassified. It means Mr Brown has largely got what he wanted, but won’t get the political win of passing a bill from opposition.

A tool used by farmers and regional councils to measure nitrogen runoff into water has been found to be seriously flawed, reports Newsroom. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment found problems around transparency and accuracy in the Overseer online tool, to the point that some estimates of runoff might be out by more than 50%. Unfortunately, there isn’t necessarily a better way of measuring runoff, and if the government chooses to fix the tool, it could cost millions.

Finance minister Grant Robertson has given more detail on how his first ‘wellbeing’ budget will operate in 2019, reports Interest. Basically, he will expect government departments to work together – ‘breaking down silos’ – to deliver on the government’s priorities, and their budget bids will have to reflect those priorities. They’re outlined in the story, and have all been well-signalled as areas the government intends to focus on. Politik has analysed it, and reckons that rather than being dry, it’s actually quite a radical new approach.

It is looking less and less likely New Zealand will reach the Smokefree 2025 goal, reports Stuff. That comes off the back of research published in the NZ Medical Journal, which found that quitting rates will need to be much higher to get there. The Otago Uni researchers reckon if the goal is to be reached, government campaigns will have to be massively stepped up.

The Air New Zealand engineers strike has been called off, after a new agreement was hammered out between the airline and the E tū Union, reports One News. Union members still have to vote on the revised offer, but the union says their core aims have largely been achieved, and it is a much improved offer.

A convention centre in Wellington, which was five years in the planning, has finally been given the go-ahead, reports Stuff. It will cost around $179 million, and be built across the road from Te Papa. The Council’s vote for it to go ahead was unanimous.

A couple of weekly community newspapers are being closed by publisher NZME, owner of the NZ Herald, reports rival publisher Stuff. The Bay News in Tauranga and the Whangarei Report will both be folding, though both regions will still be served by dailies published by NZME (Bay of Plenty Times and Northern Advocate respectively.) The last issues of the papers will be printed next Thursday.

Here’s a top 10 worth reading – the Science Media Centre has published their top 10 national and international stories of the year. The best thing about the listicles in my view is that they show the breadth of work the SMC has got through this year. It really is a fantastic resource for getting good, solid scientific information out to the public. You’ve almost certainly read a story that they helped the journo out with over the course of the year, by finding experts and passing on their comments on issues.

From our partners at Vector: The pros and cons of putting solar panels on the roof of your home are well debated. But what about the empty rooftop spaces on commercial buildings throughout our country? PowerSmart’s Sam Vivian explains why more New Zealand businesses are adding commercial solar systems to their buildings.

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Leighton Smith with Leighton Smith and Vicki Smith, Sails Restaurant, Auckland, in 2013. Photo: Supplied

Right now on The Spinoff: Maria Slade has written about meth house testing, and how little is still know about what level of contamination is safe.  I’ve handed over the data series to Alex Casey, who has a charming piece about how much Spinoff readers say they like having friends. Jihee Junn has a personal essay about choosing to travel alone as a young woman. And it’s the last day of Leighton Smith’s decades long Newstalk ZB career today, so we’ve asked other people called Leighton Smith what they think of him. One of the stories in particular is actually really touching.

And look, there’s a not-zero possibility the entire setting up and managing of The Spinoff for many years has just been a cover, to give Duncan Grieve the profile, mana and connections to write his series of stories on the media industry. And if that’s the case, totally worth it. Here’s his piece on Mediaworks – and keep an eye out over the weekend for more, including the state of Radio NZ in 2018.

Best Journalism of 2018: It’s Friday, so how about a bit of a celebration of sport? A suggestion came in from Nicole that I give a shoutout to LockerRoom, the project of Suzanne McFadden which focuses exclusively on Women’s Sport. And I’m more than happy to highlight that – it has been one of the most exciting new media projects to come out this year, I reckon.

I also want to give a shoutout to Abby Wilson of One News, not that she needs it after winning a TP McLean sports journalism award for this story. Her scoop was about accusations of bullying and inappropriate behaviour against former NZ Cycling coach Anthony Peden. It was both a really big story in its own right in the sporting world, and part of a much wider cultural conversation about men in positions of power.

Another pretty good effort from some unheralded local footballers on the world stage. Team Wellington have just missed out on advancing to the main draw of the Club World Cup, after an agonising loss on penalties to UAE club Al Ain, reports Newshub. They’re a fully professional club, as opposed to Team Wellington which is semi-pro, so to even be competing at that level is pretty remarkable.

And believe it or not, the summer of Test Cricket gets underway this weekend. The Black Caps are hosting Sri Lanka at the Basin Reserve from tomorrow, and my word how I wish I could be there. One News has some insightful comment from quick bowler Tim Southee, who says while the wicket looks pretty grassy, the selectors should make sure there’s a spinner on hand. That probably means New Zealand will go into the game with a long tail again, with Ajaz Patel likely to continue on from a promising early start at the top level.

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