National party leader Simon Bridges at the party's 2019 conference (Radio NZ/Craig McCulloch)

The Bulletin: Bridges takes aim at cancer postcode lottery

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: National launches major policy on cancer drug funding, popular support swells for Ihumātao protectors as govt steps in, and ski industry workers face snow drought.

National have announced big plans for cancer drug funding if they win in 2020. At the party’s annual conference, leader Simon Bridges said $200 million over four years would be ring-fenced for Pharmac to spend on proven cancer drugs, reports Radio NZ. The message attached to that money is spend it or lose it. As well as that, the plan also calls for a nationwide cancer agency, in an effort to end the ‘postcode lottery‘ of patchy regional cancer treatment facilities.

Those discrepancies in care can have stark outcomes for people in less well-served areas. One of them is Southland, where Newshub’s Patrick Gower spoke to a man dying of bowel cancer, but was denied a requested colonoscopy for a year. A nationwide agency wouldn’t necessarily result in better facilities everywhere that need them – that itself would require a lot of spending. But it could help pool and focus resources, says the Cancer Society. Newshub also reported on criticism from other parties, with ACT saying it’ll merely add another layer of bureaucracy, and the Greens wondering why National didn’t do it during their recent tenure in government.

The current government is planning on releasing a cancer strategy in a few weeks. But they’re now in a position in which they’ll be under significant pressure from the opposition over whether they’ll effectively adopt the policy. And as Henry Cooke at Stuff writes, not only is it their natural turf in being new health spending, it was even a party policy in 2017. The extra money though does potentially undermine a crucial factor in Pharmac’s success – that drug companies know they’re not going to be able to rally political or media pressure in order to make a sale.

But in terms of sheer political outcomes, it’s clearly a win for Bridges. The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Derek Cheng was there, and described a speech that was somewhat muted, until bringing the house down with the announcement. It’s quite a powerful image for a politician to be given a standing ovation from a crowd, and for Bridges himself it’s a vote of confidence from his party’s members, amid a steady drip of speculation about his leadership. Writing on The Spinoff, columnist Liam Hehir argues that National have shown they’re still capable of winning back power in 2020.


Whether it wanted to be or not, the government is now involved in the dispute at Ihumātao. On Friday, PM Ardern said that construction work would stop temporarily, with mediation to follow. The government’s position was put in more detail by Whānau Ora minister and MP for Tāmaki Makarau Peeni Henare on Newshub Nation. He referred to the iwi leaders who signed the deal with Fletcher as mana whenua, and said he would be asking for Save Our Unique Landscape to join the talks.

However, plenty of popular support has swung in heavily behind SOUL and others protecting the land. Huge crowds turned out over the weekend, and there has been vocal support in other cities, on social media, and from four Green Party MPs. Te Manu Korihi have an excellent feature on the events of Saturday. Part of the impetus for the protectors is because the land was clearly stolen in the first place – here’s a thorough explanation from historian Vincent O’Malley on The Spinoff – and the dispute has captured the imagination of people all over the country of people who believe in redressing past injustices. Among them, people from the Muslim community have gone to Ihumātao to stand in solidarity, reports Te Manu Korihi, with many in the community originally coming from countries where colonising powers stole land.

There have also been developments in the story around housing generally – what is currently planned for the site. This opinion piece from Stuff’s Rob Stock outlines a few very good points. Why build houses over precious grass on the outskirts of town, when there’s so much under-utilised land within the city limits? It’s something to ponder, as this is unlikely to be the last time a dispute like this takes place.


Ski industry workers around Wanaka have been left out of pocket after a snow drought, reports Georgia Merton for Crux. Many Treble Cone workers required food donations after a delayed start to the season, and TC management put on barbecues for them in the afternoon. The bigger concern for many of them is not about this season, which is now underway, but about the damage that climate change could do to future seasons.


The number of super-rich individuals the IRD is chasing has soared, reports Luke Kirkness on the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) front page today. Some of the 350 people with wealth over $50 million are now in a fight over around $85 million. The fact that the sheer number of these people has increased so rapidly has some commentators concerned, given wages at the low-income end have remained stagnant outside of minimum wage increases, and inequality continues to widen.


A campaign has been launched against the farming practice of ‘winter-cropping’ – in which cows are left in a paddock to eat until there’s nothing but mud. Radio NZ reports it results in a lot of waterway pollution, because what comes out of the cows just slides off the paddock, and it can also create animal welfare issues. Federated Farmers are taking it as another attack on their industry, but Fish and Game say the practice can be “devastating”, arguing that badly managed winter cropping led to the ecosystem collapse of an estuary in Southland.


This is very strong work on the question of corporate carbon emissions in New Zealand, from Stuff’s Joel MacManus and Anuja Nadkarni. They have graphed up the companies producing the most in terms of emissions, most of which are basically in industries where high emissions is the business model. For example, how can Fonterra process dairy without cows, or Z Energy fuel cars without petrol? As a result, many are looking first at what changes they can make at the margins of their core business.


An unexpected despatch from the war on drugs: The amount of magic mushrooms being seized at the border by Customs is surging, reports One News. The exact numbers are still small – going from a few grams to a few kgs worth, but in percentage terms it’s a big increase. Mushies remain a class A drug, meaning strong penalties for anyone caught bringing them in.


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Right now on The Spinoff: Sophie Bateman writes about a visiting expert offering strategies to stop young men being radicalised by the alt-right. CEOs of NZ companies speak to Maria Slade about the crisis in capitalism, and the loss of faith from the public. Chris Lee writes about the ‘right-sizing’ of NZ’s tourist industry, and what we can learn from the increasingly troubled tourist island of Malta. Mark Amery meets artist Nikau Hindin, who is reviving a contemporary form of Māori art that was largely lost after the extinction of the aute plant. The Lightbulb talks to Arash Tayebi, co-founder of Kara Technologies which uses AI and digital humans to translate content into sign language.

And Duncan Greive continues his long bender of media writing, with a report on a major change quietly made by the state broadcaster. TVNZ isn’t foreseeing being able to pay the government a dividend any time in the future, and is moving towards a model closer to being a not for profit entity. For media industry watchers, that’s a massive development.


For a feature today, something to think about while the film festival is on. Liam Maguren has written on Flicks about the immense problem cinemas have with waste, and what they can and are doing about it. Refillable containers are one option, and more cinemas are investigating it. Here’s an excerpt:

Some cinemas already have pick-n-mix aisles for candy, so refillery options wouldn’t be a Grand Canyon-sized leap for big chains to make. Whether it’s a pay-by-weight option or a dollar-per-scoop sort of deal, just providing consumers choices could go a long way to contributing to a necessary change.

And consider those who buy collector’s cups and one-of-a-kind popcorn buckets that go unused after the Day One screening of Avengers: Endgame. Why not reward those who actively purchase, reuse your merch, and stay loyal to your cinema? As of writing, Hoyts are already preparing a Free Popcorn Refills deal with their new Loyalty Program.

This can work.

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In sport, the All Blacks have started their season on a tremendously mediocre note. They narrowly beat Argentina away last weekend, and on Saturday night were probably lucky to get a draw against South Africa. That might sound strange, given it took a converted try in the final minute to bring South Africa back to level pegging. But they dominated gameplay for most of the match, making the All Blacks look distinctly ordinary in the process. As Liam Napier put it in the NZ Herald (paywalled) the first half performance was “one of their worst in recent memory.”


From our partners: A two-tier system of energy use is developing, with those on high incomes much more able to reduce their bills than households on lower incomes. Vector’s Chief Risk and Sustainability Officer Kate Beddoe outlines what the company plans to do about that.


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