Why the lack of confidence in New Zealand economy?

Stuff reporter Tracy Watkins wrote in The Press that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has five major problems upon her return to work. One of those problems is dealing with an apparent elephant in the room called business confidence.

Apparently it is at a ten year low. Supposedly the economy is somehow at risk, which I find a bit rich, given that this Government has:

  • Not even been in office a year and has not had time to undo the social consequences of the previous Government
  • Is addressing socio-economic concerns that have seen more and more New Zealanders at risk of falling through the cracks caused by unsustainable increases in the costs of living

Contrary to what National and A.C.T. would have one believe, many of the problems assailing the New Zealand economy at the moment are actually not of the Governments making. As a relatively minor, albeit respected player in the global economy, New Zealand’s ability to influence the likes of larger nations such as the United States, Russia, China and so forth is limited.

New Zealand did not ask for the trade wars that have been starting up, or which threaten to start up. It did not ask to be a victim of large nations slapping tariffs on each others products – the decisions by United States President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping were always going to have a negative flow on effect.

New Zealand did not ask for the high level of political tension in the Middle East that has seen frequent threats of war being bandied about between the United States, Israel and Iran. The very high petrol prices at the moment are a reflection of the fact that fiery rhetoric is starting to be matched, ominously, by military movements in form of U.S. and Iranian military assets being moved into the Gulf region.

Nor have we asked for the winding back of necessary checks put in place after the 2007-09 Global Financial Crisis to make sure that the banking system cannot destroy itself. The Dodd-Frank Act of the United States has been challenged by Republicans trying to assure their place in the 2018 midterm results. The Act was passed by President Barak Obama to end the notion of “too big to fail” which had seen large banks such as Lehman collapse, and ensure fiscal stability and accountability. With concerns mounting that the banking sector may be on the edge of another failure there is little sense in removing these checks and balances.

As for New Zealand economic symptoms, significant reinvestment in health, education, the social welfare system as well as transport and other sectors can only be a good thing. After years of relentlessly chipping away at these sectors, gaps are showing in mental health, housing, affordability of every day necessities. Such investment will help to keep many people who are at the lower end of the wealth spectrum in a position where they do not become destitute, and pay for itself in the longer term by enabling them to find work.

The significant investment in railways and public transport will help to reduce congestion on major routes, but also take more freight off roads and enable it to be moved in bulk. Some roads in New Zealand, such as the State Highway 1 coastal section south of Kaikoura are simply not meant to take the large trucks that are driven along a twisty, narrow route that have tunnels with low ceilings.

Nor should there be concerns about changes to labour legislation to ensure that the exploitation of workers cannot go unchallenged. As a nation that prides itself on giving everyone a fair go, that means giving workers fair working conditions. Common sense, really.

Nurses strike averted, but long way to go

On Thursday night whilst catching up with friends at a bar, I was talking to a nurse about the impending strike action that she and her colleagues were to engage in next week. She told me that the strike had not been an easy decision to make, but that the Union members had made very clear that current conditions of their work were not tolerable.

The strike had been set down for 05 July 2018. Starting at 0700 hours hospitals, medical centres and other medical practices would be subject to a 24 hour strike action, during which time widespread cancellations of surgery and the normal duties expected of nurses would have occurred.

I am pleased that an improved offer has been been made to the Nurses Union. The offer means that the N.U. has now withdrawn the notice of intention to strike for 05 July 2018, so that the terms of the new offer may be considered and the Union vote on whether or not to accept them.

However there is a long way to go. Quite aside from the fact that there were two dates marked for potential strike action, the N.U. will not be wanting to settle for anything less than a quite substantial improvement in pay and conditions. Nine years of under funding and wrongly prioritised spending has left New Zealand nurses in a precarious position. I have described in a previous article what conditions the nurses around New Zealand work in.

But it is important to note the ethical considerations that need to be made as well. Not being able to work in a safe environment and be appropriately renumerated for their efforts undermines them as professionals working in the most humane and life giving profession there is.

It also sends the wrong and messages about the value of a critical component of the medical workforce. It needs to be in a position where it could be realistically expected to do the job expected, and that means establishing as far as realistically appropriate physical and contractual working conditions. Because at the end of the day a fatigued, distracted, or disaffected nurse poses a risk to his/her colleagues, patients and other people by not being in the right state to do their job.

The nurse at the bar will be encouraged by the new offer and the opportunity to delay very serious strike action that would have caused massive disruption across New Zealand. If we are lucky, this will be sufficient for the N.U. to cancel the strikes altogether and make 05 July 2018 a normal working day.

District Health Boards shake up coming

In 2000, not long after Prime Minister Helen Clark’s Labour Government had commenced, it was announced that the National Health Funding Authority would be disestablished. In its place would be a set of District Health Boards across New Zealand who would be allocated money from the budge and be saddled with the responsibility for prioritizing its use and distributing the money accordingly. 18 years later, another Labour Government is reviewing it.

I am personally not very surprised a review is coming. District Health Boards have never really struck me as the most efficient method of dispensing funding, however good the idea of a democratically elected board to oversee the prioritization might be (and is). A significant portion of the money is locked up in administrative costs.

Yes, there is no doubt that governing something as big as a national health system is a huge task and the system of governance is something that must be robust. For that there is equally no doubt that the systems needed will be comprehensive and that there will be many tasks that are not obvious to the public eye that need performing.

But do we really need 20 district health boards? New Zealand geographically is generally recognized as being Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, Manawatu, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay, Wairarapa, Wellington, Nelson, Marlborough, Canterbury, West Coast, Otago, Southland, West Coast.

The unfortunate saga of Nigel Murray of the Waikato District Health Board was a rare but notable example of a District Health Board chief going rogue with huge personal misuse of money that he had no personal right to. However this is not the cause of the problems that go on in the District Health Boards. More likely the problems stem from the appalling lack of public interest in elected D.H.B.’s – is it possible that they realise there are possibly more effective ways of governing the health system in New Zealand than half baked boards behaving like a television that is trying to function with only half the necessary power available, that is smoking and smouldering its way into some sort of oblivion? Because to be coldly honest, people simply do not have much interest in how the D.H.B.’s work and nor do they terribly care about who gets elected to the Boards because one way or the other something will stuff up.

Back in 1999, following the failure of the Crown Health Enterprises, which established a series of entities meant to act like businesses and make a profit, the National led Government of Prime Minister Jenny Shipley was casting around for alternative means. Their solution was a centrally funded Health Funding Authority which would allocate money based on population size from Wellington. Unfortunately for National the solution was never realized as the party was swept from office by the Labour Government of Ms Clark.

I have written in other articles about the savings that I think could have been made from not having the D.H.B.’s. There has been much written about the poor prioritizing of spending in some D.H.B.’s such as the Canterbury District Health Board, where in the post earthquake environment there were increasing demands for additional mental health services. Whatever model the Government comes up with needs to be able to address the long term growth in demand for services.

Trump creating U.S. hegemony

Hegemony is a word I have resisted using to describe U.S. geopolitics for sometime. It is described in Dictionary as:

Leadership or dominance especially by one state or social group over others.

It is a word that has been used by more left-wing commentators than myself to describe U.S. geopolitics – Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal and others – when trying to explain the degree to which the United States seeks to impose itself on other nations. United States Presidents ranging from Jimmy Carter to the incumbent Donald Trump, have been accused of trying to impose this on the world, however true it may – or may not – have been in the context of their accusations.

When Mr Trump was elected President, he issued an Executive Order that withdrew the United States from the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. Many nationalist/populist commentators rushed to applaud him as an example of the nationalism that they wished their country would espouse. I wonder if they would have still congratulated him if they knew that barely a year later he would be making statements about potentially rejoining.

No one in New Zealand should be celebrating Mr Trump’s latest announcement, that New Zealand and nations like it should be made to made to adopt the American model of health care.

First off, what model? All I see is a mish mash of failing and failed health care programmes that might have been well intended when they were first released, but which have proven to be disastrous failures. All I see is a horrendously expensive, completely disjointed system dominated by inept corporations who only see dollars.

Second, why on Earth would New Zealand want to do away with Pharmac? This is the drug agency that negotiates on New Zealand’s behalf for affordable medicine at prices closer to what New Zealanders can afford than those that are being offered in the United States.

Third, who is Mr Trump to tell over sovereign nations what they can and cannot do with their health systems? Mr Trump is practicing as I always feared he would, economic hegemony, which he is prepared to back up using the pulpit of the bully boy – the big boy who goes around and smashes little kids lunches; who starts fights with vulnerable people if they do not let him have his way.

I live in New Zealand because I am committed to helping make New Zealand the best nation it can be. I am also living here with my severe hypertension for which doctors have pretty much given up on trying to find a solution, because New Zealand is lucky enough to have – for all the concerns aired about its funding priorities – a Government agency like Pharmac to keep costs affordable.

Depending on where one gets them from, my medication would cost hundreds of dollars per annum in the United States, just for one medicine. I am on five. A brief break down is below (source: Drugs):

  • Nifedipine – I have two a day; a years supply would cost about U.S.$500
  • Furosemide – 1 1/2 daily; a years supply would cost about U.S.$40
  • Metoprolol – 1 per day: a years supply would cost about U.S.$700
  • Felodipine – 2 per day: a years supply would cost about U.S.$750
  • Cilazapril – not found

If we took the cost of these medications and added it together, I am looking at effectively U.S.$2,000. If we add the nearly 29 years that I have been on some of this medication, we would be looking at a grand total of U.S.$58,000 (N.Z.$83,238 based on current exchange rate). It says nothing about the locoid and other creams I have used for my eczema or my inhalers for my asthma.

I believe everyone has the right to affordable healthcare. Why should New Zealanders and other nationalities suffer because of one persons desire for U.S. economic hegemony?

Jonathan Coleman’s dubious record as Minister of Health

Former Minister of Health, Jonathan Coleman abruptly resigned from Parliament last week. His departure from Parliament, whilst opening up a by-election in the Northcote electorate that he served, also brings to an end the Parliament and Ministerial chapter of a Health Minister, who many will remember as mediocre, aloof and out of touch with what was really happening in his Ministry and the D.H.B.’s under him.

But it might not be the systemic underfunding of health to the tune of billions of dollars that he is remembered for. Nor might it be the mental health crisis that exploded across New Zealand from a range of causes – loss of jobs and subsequent ability to support family; survivors of earthquakes in Canterbury and Christchurch struggling with every day chores as a result of suffering mental and/or physical harm in these events.

But it might be that Mr Coleman is remembered for the case of Nigel Murray who was Waikato District Health Board chief, and who was found seriously wanting for his misuse of public money. During his tenure Mr Murray racked up $218,000 in expenses including $78,000 in unauthorized expenditure.

More likely though, it will be the case of Middlemore Hospital in Auckland. This is a hospital where the damage caused by under investment in the health system exacted a substantial financial price in the tens of millions of dollars.

Questions must therefore be asked about what Jonathan Coleman knew about the condition of Middlemore Hospital? Mr Coleman denies knowing about the state of the hospital, which had – among other problems – toxic mould which had sufficiently developed that it was capable of rotting walls and contaminate the air, a sewerage leak and an urgent cladding issue that has resulted in $27.5 million, including $11.5 million being announced yesterday, being approved for recladding.

A cynic might suggest that Mr Coleman’s abrupt departure from Parliament indicates knowledge of failings in the Ministry of Health and a failure of his Ministry to react appropriately to them.

In the case of the wood in the walls, testing showed that 90% of walls were decaying to some extent. It further showed that some walls had up to 98% saturation. With such heavy saturation, I am not surprised that the bug outbreaks that have occurred at Middlemore Hospital over the last several years, did, for the moisture content in the physical environment that the bugs developed would have been more than sufficient.

I find it interesting though, that Mr Coleman has resigned from Parliament to take up the top job in a private health company. His departure from Parliament last Thursday follows a host of other National Party M.P.’s including Steven Joyce, Bill English out the door since National’s surprise loss to Labour in the 2017 General Election.