New Zealand needs to stand by Samoa


Following the printing by the Otago Daily Times of a highly offensive Garrick Tremain cartoon, I think it is necessary to reiterate the importance of showing our support for Samoa. The historical links between New Zealand and Samoa help to provide back ground to this. With Samoa dealing with a major measles outbreak, hopefully some historic context will enable people outside of Samoa to understand New Zealand’s chequered pass in administering the islands.

Our treatment of Samoa and Samoans following World War 1 was an abomination. A ship carrying soldiers returning from Europe asked if it could dock in Samoa in late 1918 or early 1919. The consequences of it being allowed to dock reverberate through Samoan history to this day.

Word of an influenza outbreak had reached the small Pacific Island in 1918, but few had any obvious understanding of how it works. Influenza was a foreign thing. It was the result of the environment that the troops fighting in World War 1 had to bear – inhospitable conditions year round for four years including terrain so blasted no one knew where they were. As the troops boarded ships home in all directions from Europe, the combination of close living quarters, and medical treatment – or lack off – would have severely tested the health of any human who put up with it. When it docked in Apia for a few days it enabled the spread of influenza throughout a population not known to have had had any past outside connections to such an emergency. The ship’s crew had not presented signs of influenza, despite two crew being sent ashore in Auckland, but by the time it reached Apia many of them had it.

Samoa would suffer horribly. 7542 were killed in the outbreak. And for that one can only say how sorry we were to see the influenza pandemic back. Yes, it is true that Samoa has had lower vaccination rates than normal. Yes it is true that a botched round left two infants dead. These were some of the contributing factors in determining how the nature of the incident will affect their work.

New Zealand announcing that it stands with Samoa is barely a start. Whilst we have made welcome efforts to help Samoa fight the measles, M.M.R. is something that can be fully immunised against and thus we can afford to give them substantially more assistance in fully eradicating a disease that was thought to have been removed as of 1978.

Looming referendums: Are politicians passing the buck?


Two referendums are due at the next election in 2020.

One is for A.C.T. Member of Parliament David Seymour and his End of Life Choices Bill, which Mr Seymour hopes will legalize euthanasia. The other is to legalize cannabis.

But are Members of Parliament passing the buck? It depends on whom one talks to. New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters believes that “temporarily empowered politicians” do not necessarily know better than the general public. As a result New Zealand First believes that it is correct to pass the decision making on big decisions or ones that are perceived to be morally divisive back to the people. The party even has a principle in its 15 Fundamental Principles that requires decisions that are not party policy to be sent back to the public for a referendum.

This is the primary reason why New Zealand First voted no in the 2013 Same Sex Marriage conscience vote – the Same Sex (Definition of Marriage)Amendment Bill had not gone to the public as a referendum, so the party chose not to support it.

Whilst Mr Seymour is in support, many conservatives are not. Judith Collins and Maggie Barry of the National Party believe it is an affront to the most important human right there is: the right to life. I would probably support it, but I would need to see what safeguards are in place – not only to ensure that a family cannot use it as a means of getting rid of a terminally ill family member, but to stop pro-life family from interfering if the irrevocable decision to die has been made.

Currently the legislation to legalize cannabis will go before Parliament late this year or early next year. It is being sponsored by Green Party Member of Parliament Chloe Swarbrick, who was handed the legislation by fellow Green M.P. Julie Anne Genter when the latter become a Minister of the Crown.

Support for this is fluctuating. Family First, a small party outside of Parliament with strong conservative family orientation released a survey done by Curia research. It showed that there was low support for the legalization of cannabis, at just 16%. A Newshub poll showed that support among Green Party members dropped from 83% to 64% whilst National Party opposition rose from 40% to nearly 66%.

I personally support the legislation before the House and think it would help to reduce cannabis related crime. But before then should it become law there needs to be firm measures against anyone who sells to minors. I agree with sending it to a referendum as it is too controversial to rely on a party vote or conscience vote in Parliament. Whilst Members of Parliament are empowered to make decisions, I believe the limits of what Members of Parliament can vote on, should be mainstream legislation that was put through the select committee process and in doing so, subject to public submissions.

The monumental District Health Board data hack


As many as 913,000 patients may have had their records accessed in a massive data breach of New Zealand District Health Boards. The hack, which is thought to have also affected Public Health Organizations, was concentrated on the Tu Ora Compass’s computer system. As officials try to contain the damage, it raises – yet again – some damaging questions about the cyber security of Government agencies in New Zealand.

I have long thought that New Zealand has been too slack with data security in Government agencies. It is a recurring problem that has at some point or another affected Inland Revenue Department, Accident Compensation Corporation, Department of Work and Income, to name just a few. All of these agencies have been breached in the last decade, with some of the breaches involving thousands of files being misused or misplaced.

But back to what I think might be one of the biggest data hacks in all New Zealand history. Whilst it is good that the Chief Executive has apologized, it is not enough and there are major failings. Glaring questions need to be rapidly answered by the Ministry, the Chief Executive and those responsible for the maintenance of the data. Very quickly the Chief Executive must find out what steps can be immediately taken to tighten up the security of M.o.H. systems and equally quickly the M.o.H. system administrators must action those recommendations.

The breach appears to affect the lower North Island, particularly people in Wellington, Kapiti CoastĀ  and Wairarapa. 648,000 are thought to be affected, but given the data goes back over a decade and includes people who have deceased, the number of affected patients might be close to 1 million people.

Ministry of Health have to own this incident. If they cannot, Chief Executive Martin Hefford should hand his resignation in, for it was his responsibility to make sure M.o.H. had the correct procedures and personnel.

New Zealanders should be short onĀ  patience with Government agencies treating cyber security so poorly as to let this happen. But I have the feeling that after a brief burst of indignation, people will merely shrug their shoulders and life will carry own as if it never happened. The agencies will heave a sigh of relief and say “we got through that one – I am sure we will be fine in the future”, instead of holding those who failed in their roles to account.

It is this kind of resigned behaviour, touched with a bit of “She’ll be right”, implying things will sort themselves out instead of New Zealanders ensuring that the situation before them improves that prevents this nation getting better. We can be a lot better at these issues, but until we start dragging officials over the coals for indiscretions there will not be any progress.

Get private companies out of University accommodation


A few weeks ago, a student was found dead at the University of Canterbury. The discovery of the 19 year old who was estimated to have been dead for 8 weeks. It has kicked off a storm about whether profit-making companies should be in the business of managing tertiary accommodation.

Many students in halls are young people away from homes for the first time in their lives. Many will be nervous, and have no friends. They will not be in familiar environments and will be feeling stressed at having to fend for themselves all the while getting their studies underway.

In a country with an on-going mental health emergency, it seems that one of Christchurch’s biggest employers, the University of Canterbury has failed to heed the message: looking after student mental health is essential. It seems that Campus Living Villages has failed in its primary duty of care to the people that inhabit the villages it is responsible for looking after. And its Chief Executive has not helped things by saying:
“IF something needs to change…”.

No “IF’s”, “BUT’s” or “MAYBE’s” mate. Your company mucked up. Your company can fix up.

Then it can leave the tertiary accommodation sector.

I see no place for private companies in tertiary accommodation. If there need to be, they should be New Zealand companies operating to New Zealand law. A foreign company operating under a minimalist management model where the ratio of Residential Assistants was kept to a bare minimum – 54 students for every R.A. More importantly the two R.A.’s were only working part time, which further reduces the amount of contact time they had with their charges.

It is the culture that should be truly alarming. A human being dead for weeks would have been entering a horrible state of decomposition by that point – how could someone not have noticed the smell or perhaps other biological indicators such as ants or flies or maggots(!)? Why did no one from his courses contact the halls to see where their student had gone or to see if he was even still going to University – eight weeks is a full term plus mid-semester holidays and maybe a week longer?

And to the poor parents who thought their boy was going to be safe at the University that presumably he had chosen to study at and begin what for me was the most exciting chapter of my academic life, how do you explain what happened? CAN you explain what happened? I am not sure one honestly could.

Simply conducting investigations is merely the beginning of a much bigger process if University of Canterbury wants to recover the portion of its reputation that is now decomposing. It needs to boot out the Australian company. Its New Zealand replacement needs to have very clear terms of engagement set down including minimum full time staffing levels, a 24/7 help line, a supervisory panel making sure that all parties are compliant with their responsibilities.

How lucky I am that I live in the same town as where I went to University. I only had to cycle in or catch the bus. I knew from the outset numerous people there from Burnside High School and made more friends fairly quickly in Geography and Geology. The staff there were great and if I or another student was struggling they would pull us up to make sure we were okay.

Not everyone has that fortune. For some life at University can be very lonely. It does not need to be like this.

And if we want to stop another death, nor should it be.

The case for a cannabis referendum


I personally support a referendum. I think it would be too divisive to pass legislation without first knowing whether that is even what New Zealanders want. And given the propensity of New Zealand politicians for partisan politics, I might reasonably hazard a guess that if such legislation DID get passed through any backlash would be seized upon as New Zealanders objecting to cannabis.

And here would be where the politics start. Let us suppose that that is what happened: a law gets passed through Parliament, catching most people unawares, someone finds out and goes to the media full of indignation about it. The legislation itself might be perfectly fine, but the fact that a party is attempting to force it through Parliament without going to “we the people” has suddenly caused a major ruckus. Being a small country, within a short time the whole of New Zealand knows that cannabis laws are being pushed through Parliament. One major party or the other is demanding a referendum to force the issue into the open where everyone can see it.

Before the referendum, we would need to have a formal debate about it where someone speaks for those who support cannabis and someone to speak for those who are against it. A medical practitioner, legal practitioner, a police officer and a Member of Parliament would would be my preferred composition of the panel to talk about the issues that society might be faced with.

The referendum would need to address some thorny issues, such as what forms of cannabis are going to be voted on. What will the question be? Will it be a simple majority of 51% vs 49% or will there need to be a super majority to ensure the vote is clear of any obstacles?

Some people might question the timing of a cannabis referendum. I do not. It is very clear to me that the “War on Drugs” both here and abroad has failed to achieve its goals and that the only responsible thing to do is to wind it up. It is also clear to me that the support for medical cannabis has swung substantially in favour of allowing its use for purely medical reasons. In saying that, we need to acknowledge the hugely damaging consequences of synthetic cannabis which is causing major problems both in New Zealand and abroad.

But the movement in New Zealand is growing. I personally am not sure whether legalization or decriminalization is better and to what extent it should happen. In the United States the number of people going to jail for being in possession of small amounts of cannabis has led to a burgeoning jail population. Minor criminals end up meeting major league players and becoming hardened criminals, some with a vendetta against society who come out more dangerous than they went in.

Video clips on Youtube of people who have been destroyed by synthetics show zombie like beings in weird postures, completely oblivious to what is happening around them, are disturbing. Sure there is a growing problem with synthetics in New Zealand as well, but for someone completely trashed on synthetic cannabis, a jail cell or – as would potentially happen in Singapore – execution is not the answer. A rehab clinic is. There is no place for executing people and the jail cells should be spared for the chemists (the ones who make the synthetics), the importers, the dealers.

But if we agree that a referendum on cannabis should only deal with low powered product that might induce a brief high, but nothing else, then I see a case for a referendum around it.