Wednesday, 23 April 2014


24 April 2014

Tomorrow morning, rain or shine, thousands of New Zealanders will gather at dawn and throughout the morning to commemorate the disastrous Allied landings at ANZAC Cove, on the Gallipoli Peninsula, nearly 100 years ago.

They will do so not to recognise an outstanding victory – because it was most obviously not that – nor to glorify the abysmal tragedy that is war, but to acknowledge humble service and dedication, at ANZAC Cove, and through a near century of subsequent efforts, military and non-military, of generations of Defence Forces.

For some, there will be a family connection – maybe a parent, but increasingly more likely a grandparent, or great grandparent, who was there that morning. For others, it will be an occasion to commemorate the service of those in World War 11, Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, or more recently Afghanistan.

But for many, ANZAC Day will be about none of these. It may not even be about recognising the service of any loved one in the defence of New Zealand. Yet they will be there, dignified, sombre and respectful because ANZAC Day has transcended from commemoration of a particular event, as important and symbolic as that of itself properly is, to an occasion for all of us to remember and reflect the notion of service and our national commitment to freedom. That is what brings New Zealanders of all ages and backgrounds together on this special day, and is why what we loftily describe as the ANZAC Spirit (I doubt there was ever such a thing on the Peninsula on those awful days in 1915 where grim survival would have been the primary objective) will prevail.

As specific memories and connections inevitably fade, ANZAC Day around the world seems to prosper. The romanticised notion of the hell that was Gallipoli has forged a strong enduring streak within New Zealanders and Australians of determination, raw courage, stoicism in the face of adversity, and service to colleagues and country that has shaped the character of our two nations ever since.

That is the lasting significance of ANZAC Day and why it will flourish into the future. But establishing the template for the building of a nation a century later, would have been the last thing on the minds of those young, innocent and terrified soldiers as they tried to storm those inhospitable cliffs on that grey morning 99 years ago. They were focused simply on doing the immediate job in front of them, nothing more or less, certainly with no sense of greatness in mind, but just getting on with it, as anyone around them would. That is why they are such special heroes and their legacy a proud one for us to embrace.      

 

 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014


17 April 2014

There have been a number of harrowing cases presented this week about the impact of psychoactive substances on vulnerable young people.

At one level, the tales are deeply disturbing. It is awful to see anyone affected in the way some of these young people appear to have been. However, at another level, they are a little hard to believe at face value. The only psychoactive substances currently able to be sold legally are those that were on sale at least three months before the Act was passed, and which had hitherto not been known to be the cause of any problems. It is a little hard to see how they can suddenly have become so damaging, just in recent months. A far more likely explanation is that the people in question have been using a combination of legal and illegal drugs, or outlawed drugs obtained on the black market.

But be all that as it may, the fact remains that despite the R18 restriction on sales and possession there are still young people being adversely affected. It makes me all the more angry at the tardy and downright irresponsible response of our Mayors and Councils who, nine months after the passage of the Act, have done so little to implement the responsibilities they begged Parliament to give them. Nor has the psychoactive substances industry shown any interest in anything other than their bottom line.

At the same time, this emerging situation has led me to look again at what is available on the market at present, and the impact it is having. For that reason, I asked the Ministry of Health some weeks ago to check with doctors and mental health facilities around the country the impact the substances presently available were having. It is also why the manufacturers of those products are presently being audited on their compliance with the manufacturing code of practice that was released earlier in the year. I am reviewing the situation on literally a daily basis, including whether additional legislative measures are required.

Let there be no doubt that as far as I am concerned there is nothing positive about psychoactive substances. The issue is simply how to deal with what Time magazine called this week “the most complicated drug problem in the world right now   spreading to eager buyers everywhere at an unprecedented speed.” Because banning these products does not work (Time points out that “because the newest compounds don’t yet appear on state and federal lists of illegal drugs, the sellers can market them as legal. As soon as authorities add a compound to the prohibited list, the chemists tweak the formula—ever so slightly—to make a new substance that purports to be legal”) our responsibility must be to ensure the environment in which they are used in New Zealand reduces the prospect of harm to the greatest extent possible. That should not be interpreted as any form of approval for these pernicious products, as some ignorantly suggest. It is, rather, about implementing control policies that are realistic, responsible and ultimately effective. That is all that drives me day in and day out on this issue.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014


10 April 2014

A year ago the country was up in arms about the sale of synthetic cannabis in corner stores, dairies, groceries and convenience stores around the country. There were no restrictions on who could purchase these substances, and there was a cumbersome procedure in place which allowed me as Associate Minister of Health to temporarily ban products shown to be harmful. Since 2011, I had banned just over 50 different products under that regime.

But it was clearly not enough. Every time a product was banned, the chemical combinations were manipulated and a new product emerged, often within days of the first ban being applied. It was a never ending game of catch-up which no-one found satisfactory. It was time to turn the situation on its head to ensure that only those products proven to be low risk through a testing process equivalent to that for registering new medicines, could be sold, and even then in restricted circumstances. And so, the Psychoactive Substances Act was conceived.

Since its passage in July last year its impact has been dramatic. The number of outlets selling these drugs has been reduced from around 4,000 to just over 150; the number of products being sold has fallen from about 300 to 41 and is likely to continue falling; and, sales have been restricted to persons aged 18 and over, with no advertising or promotion permitted. The Police and hospital emergency rooms confirm the availability of these products and the number of cases of people presenting with problems associated with their use have fallen sharply. Yet still there are people up in arms.

How can this be? After all, the market has shrunk; the number of products is down over two-thirds and retail outlets numbers have fallen over 95%. The present situation is far more tightly controlled than ever before, even at the time we were banning psychoactive substances. And I have already foreshadowed more regulations are coming in the next couple of months.

Sadly, one of the major reasons has been the inexplicable tardiness of local authorities in implementing their local plans to regulate the sale of psychoactive substances. And some Mayors have shown an ignorance of the issues that borders on breathtaking stupidity. The facts are these: as the Act was being developed various local authorities and Mayors pleaded with the government to give them local powers, similar to those they already have to regulate the sale of alcohol in their areas, to control the sale of psychoactive substances. Parliament listened to their pleas, and by a vote of 119 to 1 gave them the powers they were seeking. But – and here is the rub – despite the grandstanding and tub-thumping of the Mayors (just before last year’s local elections significantly) nine months later only 5 of 71 Councils have implemented the local plans the Mayors said they needed so desperately. That delay is unacceptable. It is time for them to stop bleating, and start using the tools they implored Parliament to give them.   

Wednesday, 2 April 2014


3 April 2014

Being a good international citizen can have its highs and lows. Take the last couple of weeks as an example.

Two weeks ago a selection of international leaders, armies of bureaucrats and diplomats, and hordes of journalists deported to The Hague for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Summit. This is another of these Obama initiatives that show all the trappings of good engagement and process, but which in reality has achieved very little to date. And this last meeting was no exception. Indeed, reporters covering it seemed reduced to comment more about the external surroundings, than the substance, because there was apparently none.

Yet, barely had the doors closed on this nadir when The Hague was in the limelight again when the International Court of Justice ruled 12 to 4 against the validity of Japan’s so-called scientific whaling in the Antarctic. This was a triumph of international action, led by Australia with New Zealand in the van, and a powerful assertion of the strength of international institutions operating at their best. International citizenship suddenly seemed that much more worthwhile.

If the Nuclear Non-Proliferation séance left people wondering, then the International Court decision surely confirmed the significance and importance of New Zealand’s bid later this year for one of the non-permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council. New Zealand has always been a strong supporter of the United Nations, from the days of Peter Fraser and his role in its establishment in 1945, through to the work of Sir Leslie Munro as President of the General Assembly in the late 1950s, and the current role of former Prime Minister Helen Clark heading the UN Development Plan. We have also served a couple of terms on the Security Council with distinction, and are generally recognised as a safe and wise pair of hands, even if our size and isolation might suggest otherwise.

Despite the obvious frustrations of the international system, it essentially works, as New Zealand has found on a number of occasions. From the landmark decision against French atmospheric nuclear testing in the 1970s, through to this week’s whaling decision the International Court (on which a prominent New Zealand jurist sits currently) has been a positive for us. So too, was our insistence on staying out of the Iraq conflict until and unless specific action was mandated by the United Nations, and weapons of mass destruction discovered.

So while being left off the background map at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Summit might have made us wonder about the worth of international engagement, the whaling decision and history overall are timely reminders that, frustrations and all, being a good international citizen is worthwhile, and is a role New Zealand should continue to play.