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Radio NZ: Politics with Matthew Hooton and Mike Williams – 3 March 2014

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– Politics on Nine To Noon –

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– Monday 3 March 2014 –

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– Kathryn Ryan, with Matthew Hooton & Mike Williams –

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Today on Politics on Nine To Noon,

Matthew Hooton and Mike Williams discuss the recent political polls.

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radio-nz-logo-politics-on-nine-to-noon

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Click to Listen: Politics with Matthew Hooton and Mike Williams (22′ 38″ )

  • ACT, ACT’s conference, Jamie Whyte,
  • Labour Party, 2014 election, Matt McCarten,
  • David Cunliffe, secret trust,
  • Tony Ryall, health portfolio,
  • Labour candidate-selection,
  • Paid Parental Leave,
  • John Key-Helen Clark

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What do you call…

28 February 2014 2 comments

…  nine National MPs deciding to stand down?

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Answer: A good start.

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Solid Energy – A solid drama of facts, fibs, and fall-guys

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Cast of Charachters

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Clayton Cosgrove, Labour Spokesperson on State Owned Enterprises

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Don Elder, CEO, Solid Energy, May 2000 – February 2013

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Bill English, MP, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Minister for Infrastructure, Ministerial Shareholder of Solid Energy

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Mark Ford, current chairman of Solid Energy

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John Palmer, CEO Solid Energy, 2006 -

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Simon Power, former MP; former Minister for State-Owned Enterprises, 19 November 2008 – April 2011

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Tony Ryall, MP, Minister for Health; current Minister for SOEs; Ministerial shareholder in Solid Energy

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Dear Leader, Minister for Funny Hats, Minister for Truth

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The story, thus far

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30 June 2008

Nil dividend paid to government, for year ending 30 June 2008.

Source: 2008 Annual Report

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8 November 2008

General Election

National-led government elected.  John Key becomes  New Zealand’s Prime Minister; Simon Power is Minister for State Owned Enterprises; Bill English becomes Minister for Finance.

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May 2009

“The Government, in its first term, looked at SOE [state owned enterprise] balance sheets and decided many of them could carry more debt… it made a decision to allow Solid Energy to take on more debt,” Mr English said.

Mr English acknowledged that in 2009 he signed a letter to Solid Energy approving a higher debt level.

Source:  Solid Energy was allowed to increase debt

The letter, as follows,

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letter from Simon Power to solid energy may 2009

Source: CCMAU & Treasury

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Thus was set in motion a decision that would have serious consequences four years later; the near collapse of an efficient and highly profitable State Owned Enterprise.

Not only did Minister Power demand higher dividends from Solid Energy, and instructed the SOE to borrow heavily  to achieve that goal, Power also demanded that Solid Energy “release all surplus capital to the shareholder as special dividends“.

In case the reader is wondering that that means, in plain english, National Ministers wanted all spare cash to be handed over to the government.

They were looting SOEs.

Accordingly, Solid Energy’s gearing ratio rose from 13.8% cent in 2009 to 41.7% by 2012. National’s demands had been met (see: Ministers pressured Solid Energy, Parliament told ).

Mission accomplished – the pillaging of Solid Energy (and other SOEs)  had begun.

Note: On 26 February 2013, John Key would try to insist that Solid Energy was “out of control” and was borrowing wildly.

He would say, “the Government was worried about Solid Energy’s ambitious investment plans and rosy view of coal prices as far back as 2009 but was unable to order the company to steer a safer course.”

So not only did SOE Minister Simon Power direct Solid Energy to borrow more; pay higher dividends; and hand over all spare cash – but four years later, Key would blame the coal company for the consequences;  it’s inevitable financial melt-down,

The causes of the financial crisis at Solid Energy are the usual suspects in failing businesses – too much debt, unsuccessful investments and no reserves to weather a slump in coal prices.

Prime Minister John Key’s comments yesterday indicated these problems and pointed the finger at an imprudent amount of debt and investments that have not returned any cash yet.

Key said the debt had climbed to $389 million when “typically coal companies do not have a lot of debt on their balance sheets”.

Source: State miner to return to coalface

Powers’ letter also put the lie to National ministers claiming that they were powerless to intervene in Solid Energy’s activities. As Simon Powers’ letter clearly demonstrated, Ministers were  exhibiting a total hands-on control over SOE’s finances, borrowings, investments, and dividend payments.

As Key himself claimed (without evidence) on 25 February 2013,

The government blocked proposals in 2009 from its coal mining company Solid Energy for a billion dollar capital injection to allow it to become “the Petrobras of this country,” Prime Minister John Key says.

National ministers had control alright, no two ways about it.

Power might as well have been sitting in Solid Energy’s Christchurch head office, in the CEO’s chair, with  his fingers in the cash register till.

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30 June 2009

$59.9 million dividend paid to government, for year ending 30 June 2009.

Source: 2009 Annual Report

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30 June 2010

$54 million dividend paid to government, for year ending 30 June 2010.

Solid Energy paid a dividend of $24 million on 30 September 2009. In accordance with the company’s dividend policy, the Board is proposing a dividend of $30 million to be paid by the end of March 2010 bringing total cash dividends paid during the current financial year to $54 million.

Source: Small half year loss for Solid Energy

Source: 2010 Annual Report

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27 August 2010

Treasury Report shoots down Solid Energy National Resource Company’s expansion  proposal

To: Bill English, Gerry Brownlee, Simon Power, Steven Joyce

5. In order for SEL to develop into a NRC, SEL has sought the following:

[…]

• indicative approval for total capital investment (including dividends and cash flow)
of $2-3 billion per annum with cumulative investment of $27 billion…

Source: Treasury Report: Solid Energy National Resource Company Response

Note the figure referred above: $27 billion.  Two and a half years later, Key would refer to that figure.

The question is, does the statement – “SEL [Solid Energy Ltd] has sought the following: indicative approval for total capital investment (including dividends and cash flow) of $2-3 billion per annum with cumulative investment of $27 billionactually state where the $27 billion would be sought from?

Answer: no.

And yet, by 15 March 2013, Key would insist that the Solid Energy chairman, John Palmer, sought $27 billion from the government.

See: Key says Solid Energy papers show $27b plan

John Key’s flexibility with truth is now legendary.

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8 September 2010

Then-SOE Minister Simon Power writes to Solid Energy – states support for developing resources –

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Office of Simon Power
MP for Rangitikei
Minister for Justice
Minister for State Owned Enterprises
Minister of Commerce
Minister Responsibilble for vthe Law Commission
Associate Minister of Finance
Deputy Leader of the House

08 SEP 2010

Mr John Palmer
Chair
Solid Energy New Zealand Ltd
PO Box 1303
CHRISTCHURCH 8140

Dear Mr Palmer

National Resource Company (NRC) Proposal

I would like to thank you and your Chief Executive, Don Elder, for meeting me
on 31 August 2010 to discuss the Government’s response to the Solid Energy
Ltd (Solid Energy) NRC proposal.

Ministers are encouraged by the vision of Solid Energy in developing the NRC
proposal. We also appreciate the efforts of the Solid Energy Board,
management and staff that have gone into preparing  the proposal.

Shareholding Ministers have carefully considered the proposal and at this stage
do not support the development of a single NRC to maximise the value of New
Zealand mineral resources.

Shareholding Mnisters are, however, supportive of Solid Energy developing its
current natural resources, including lignite and unconventional gas. As
discussed with you, we expect that Solid Energy will develop resources on a
project by project basis.

We also expect to be consulted on significant projects, and have the opportunity
to discuss the proposals with you. The proposals should be supported by a
business case and assessed against standard business case investment
criteria.

Yours sincerely

Hon Simon Power
Minister for State Owned Enterprises

cc: Don Elder, Chief Executive Officer, Solid Energy

Source: Letter from Simon Power to John Palmer (NZ Herald website)

Interesting…  The Minister, Simon Power,  was;

A. Supportive of Solid Energy “developing its current natural resources, including lignite and unconventional gas. As discussed with you, we expect that Solid Energy will develop resources on a project by project basis”. No reference whatsoever of the Minister directing Solid Energy not to invest  “developing its current natural resources“.

B. Insisting that he be kept advised  “on significant projects“.  It would be interesting to know if Solid Energy advised National ministers of all projects? Including the ones that have been heavily criticised by Key, English, and Ryall.

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3 June 2011

Key endorses Solid Energy expansion plans

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Prime Minister John Key speaks at the opening of the WHK building in Invercargill.

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“At the moment companies like Solid Energy are growth companies and we want them to expand in areas like lignite conversion,” Mr Key said.

[…]

“We know there is lots of resource there and we know they potentially have the capability [to convert lignite to urea or diesel] and so we will see how that progresses, but the briquette plant is a good starting point.”

Source: PM backs mining south’s lignite

Key is stating  with crystal clarity;  “we want them to expand in areas like lignite conversion” and “…so we will see how that progresses, but the briquette plant is a good starting point“.

Which would be in stark contrast to Key’s statements nearly two years later, when  on 23 February 2013, he condemns Solid Energy’s “… unsuccessful investments” and  ” and pointed the finger at an imprudent amount of debt and investments that have not returned any cash yet”.

Two days later, on 25 February 2013, Keywould again condemn Solid Energy – this time specifically distancing himself from the SOE’s expansion plans,

The government blocked proposals in 2009 from its coal mining company Solid Energy for a billion dollar capital injection to allow it to become “the Petrobras of this country,” Prime Minister John Key says.

It’s hard to keep up with a Prime Minister like John Key.

You have to wonder what his views will be in three, six, or twelve months time?

Key also said  at his  Invercargill speech,

However, Mr Key said companies were controlled by Government regulations and so there were always environmental obligations that needed to be met.

Which, again, totally contradicts what he said on 26 February 2013,

The Government was worried about Solid Energy’s ambitious investment plans and rosy view of coal prices as far back as 2009 but was unable to order the company to steer a safer course, Prime Minister John Key says.

Stories, eh? They’re so hard to keep straight sometimes.

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30 June 2011

$20 million dividend paid to government, for year ending 30 June 2011.

Source: 2011 Annual Report

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9 September 2011

Bill English – Don Elder – Opening new Mataura briquette plant

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Solid Energy chief executive, Don Elder and Hon Bill English at MatauraThe first sod has been turned in the construction of Solid Energy’s demonstration briquette plant near Mataura in Southland. This was undertaken on Friday September 9 by local MP, Bill English who is also Deputy-Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. (source)

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The Hon Bill English, MP for Clutha-Southland and Minister of Finance, today marked the official start of work at Solid Energy’s Mataura Briquette Plant, by “turning the first sod” at a small event on site with neighbours, local authorities, and other guests.The $25 million Mataura briquette plant is planned to start production by June 2012. It will produce up to 90,000 tonnes a year of low-moisture and higher-energy briquettes from about 150,000 tonnes of lignite mined from Solid Energy’s New Vale Opencast Mine and trucked to the Craig Road site. The plant will use technology developed in the USA by GTL Energy.

Source: Solid Energy starts work at Mataura Briquette Plant

Which demonstrated to anyone (if demonstration was needed) that National was in no doubt about Solid Energy’s expansionary plans.

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4 November 2011

Treasury Scoping study reveals Solid Energy’s financial problems to Government Ministers

Ministers were  officially  made aware of Solid Energy’s severe financial problems. This would not become public knowledge until  two years later,  on  21 February 2013.

See: Treasury Report T2011/2373: Solid Energy New Zealand Scoping Study Report

The Scoping Study is noteworthy on these points,

  1. The considerable  number of redacted items which the reader has no way of knowing what they refer to. They could be sensitive commercial data. Or they could refer to political matters.
  2. In Paragraph 36, the Report states, “The scoping study also recommends that Solid Energy should have no debt at the time of IPO.”
  3. In Paragraph 46, fourth item, the Report states, “Indentified that the company’s free cash flow has been reinvested in the business, particularly the Renewable Energy and New Developments. As a result  dividend payments to the government have been funded by increasing debt.”

In two sentences, Treasury has just confirmed what all the evidence has pointed to; “dividend payments to the government have been funded by increasing debt“.

The very same increased debt demanded by SOE Minister Simon Powers in his letter in May 2009.

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17 February 2012

Bill English – Asset Sales – Proceeds “just a guess”

Finance Minister Bill English is attracting political flak over suggestions that some figures in yesterday’s budget policy statement for the proceeds of share floats of state-owned enterprises were “a guess”.

The Government has long estimated that the sale of up to 49 per cent of five SOEs would collect between $5 billion and $7 billion.

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Mr English said the Treasury “had to pick a number” so they picked the mid-point of the range.

“If we did get $6 billion, that would be a gain of sale [of $800 million] which is just a product of the accounting.

“I just want to emphasise that it is not our best guess; it’s just a guess. It’s just to put some numbers in that look like they might be roughly right for forecasting purposes.

Source: English admits his SOE figures just a guess

Well. Now we know why it was “just a guess”.

Because by now, the Treasury scoping study on Solid Energy had revealed to National Ministers that the SOE’s finances were a mess. There was no way English could’ve responded to journalist’s queries without either telling the truth – or outright lying (which they do anyway, but he would’ve been caught out on this particular ‘porky’).

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18 May 2012

Subsidy on bio-diesel canned – Biodiesel New Zealand – Price increase for bio-diesel

National removed it’s subsidy on bio-diesel – which Solid Energy was producing through one of it’s subsidiaries, as part of it’s   expansion plans.

Biodiesel prices in Queenstown are likely to rise after a Government subsidy to develop production of the fuel was scrapped.

The subsidy, worth 42.5 cents a litre, was introduced by the National-led Government in 2008, but was not renewed in this year’s Budget.

The Queenstown Biodiesel Consortium has more than 20 companies running more than 70 commercial vehicles on the fuel.

The consortium’s provider, Allied Petroleum, is supplied by Biodiesel New Zealand, a Solid Energy subsidiary that makes the fuel out of canola seed and used cooking oil, in Christchurch.

Source: Biodiesel loses subsidy, prices to rise

This thoroughly  undermined Solid Energy’s business projections for income and profits, as they could no longer rely on the subsidy to produce bio-diesel on a viable basis.

So not only were National ministers stripping Solid Energy of it’s cash reserves and demanding higher and higher dividends – they were now tying it’s hands and undermining potentially profitable ventures.

A year later, on 22 February 2013, English (as well as Key and Ryall) would be blaming Solid Energy’s financial collapse on, “… a drop in world coal prices, and spen[ding] too much investigating other sources of energy”.

It would be safe to say that undermining a company’s commercial venture, by moving the goal posts half-way through, and changing rules,  is also not particularly helpful.

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23 June 2012

Solid Energy Chairperson, John Palmer resigns

John Palmer is quitting as chairman of state-owned Solid Energy because at the age of 65 he is unwilling to stay on and see it through to partial privatisation.

Mr Palmer, who is also chairman of Air New Zealand, took up a strong public position in calling for the partial privatisation of state-owned companies and he welcomed the government’s plan to sell down stakes in electricity companies and Solid Energy.

Source:  Solid Energy chairman quits over asset sales

Palmer  resigned some 18 months before his contract was due to expire. The question, as always, is,

Was he pushed?

Or did he jump?

Writing on 16 March 2013, Tracey Watkins suggested a Great Big Shove helped Mr Palmer on his merry way,

There is, of course, nothing unusual about SOE chairmen and chief executives being subjected to a lengthy interrogation. But it is rare for committees to offer a platform to SOE bosses who have been manoeuvred out of their jobs by the Government.

See: Solid questions still remain unanswered

I tend to agree with her. This has all the makings of a politically-inspired, fall-quietly-on-your-sword, exit.

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SOE Minister, Tony Ryall comments on Palmer’s resignation – Acknowledges company’s developments

State Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall announced Mr Palmer’s departure from Solid Energy on Friday.

“While it is disappointing to lose such a senior director, I wish to recognise Mr Palmer’s commitment to the company since his appointment in 2006, and the developments the company has made under his leadership,” Mr Ryall said.

Source:  IBID

Two months later, Bill English would be announcing that Solid Energy had  “…some fairly substantial issues” and would not be saleable.

Another six months after that, and the sh*t would be hitting the Big Fan. “Fortuitously”, Palmer would have been long-gone by the time English announced that Solid Energy was insolvent and  $389 million in debt.

Palmer would return, however on 14 March 2013,  for an encore performance before the Commerce Select Committee, to answer some hard questions.

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30 June 2012

$ 30 million dividend paid to government, for year ending 30 June 2012.

Source: 2012 Annual Report

Note that two months before English announced that  “Solid Energy faced “a number of commercial issues” and was “rethinking its business”, National ministers were  still taking dividends from Solid Energy.

Did English, Ryall, and Key not read the  2012 Annual Report which listed Solid Energy  posting a Net Profit after Taxation (NPAT) of  a  $40.2 million loss – on Page 2, under bold headlines, “FINANCIAL PERFORMANCE“???

Even though he maintains that “we wouldn’t be planning to float it any time soon”, they were still taking money out of what would prove to be a financially stricken company. This alone indicated that English and Ryall were being financially irresponsible in their role as Ministerial shareholders. As such,  Key was either ignorant of what was happening under his nose, or was irresponsible in not taking action.

Perhaps his adopted affectation as a “typical, non-political kiwi-bloke” who didn’t get his hands dirty with politics; grinned and shrugged off problems; and left matters to his sub-ordinates – had become a dangerous vulnerability for him? (See Tim Selwyn’s blogpost on John Key’s political/management style:  Rudderless Within The Great Game)

Either way, 30 June 2012 is an important date. This is when National Ministers should’ve known that something was seriously amiss.

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21 August 2012

English announces “issues” with Solid Energy

In August 2012, Bill English announced that Solid Energy had  “…some fairly substantial issues” and was not ready for sale.

Solid Energy “certainly isn’t” in shape for a partial sell-down, Finance Minister Bill English says.

English today said Solid Energy faced “a number of commercial issues” and was “rethinking its business”.

“We would only take any of these companies to the market if they are in good shape for investment and Solid Energy right now certainly isn’t. It’s got some fairly substantial issues that they have signalled. Whether it ends up being able to be floated would depend on whether they can get in suitable shape for public investors,” English said.

“We wouldn’t be planning to float it any time soon.

[…]

English said Solid Energy needed to be in “considerably better shape than it is now” before it could be floated.”

Source: English: Solid Energy not ready for sale

Perhaps National Ministers should have keep their fingers out of  Solid Energy’s petty cash box?

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9 September 2012

Coalminers redundancies – $200 million revenue shortfall – first mention of a ‘bailout’

Steven Joyce says Government capital for Solid Energy has not been ruled out.

The minister met with the company’s group manager of coal on Friday to discuss the situation. Mr Joyce says he has not promised a bailout, but if Solid Energy has a good business plan there may be funding options.

“Ministers get approached by state-owned enterprises to invest capital at different times. The thing that they would be interested in would be what’s the reason for doing it and what’s the opportunity.

“There’s a number of things that are up in the air with Solid Energy’s business plan at the moment that they need to work through with the new chair.”

Source: No decision on Spring Creek workers – Solid Energy

If National bailed out Solid Energy, they would  – in effect – simply be returning the dividends and spare cash that Simon Powers demanded way back in May 2009.

It would not be “new” money. It would be giving back what was looted from Solid Energy’s coffers, as National desperately tried to balance the government’s books, and return to surplus by 2014/15.

This entire sad, incompetant, wasteful,  exercise has provided no  benefit to anyone. National Ministers have ended up looking inept, manipulative, deceitful, and grasping. All for what?

The sole outcome has been to damage the reputations of businessmen who were hired for their business acumen (and who had been successful in their own fields), and destroy the name of Solid Energy.

In a bizarre twist, by sending Solid Energy into near-bankruptcy, National successfully delayed the partial privatisation of that SOE. Something that asset-sale opponants would welcome with delight.

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21 February 2013

Solid Energy in crisis – debt revealed to the public

The depth of Solid Energy’s financial woes have been laid bare with the Government confirming the company is in talks with bankers over its debt levels.

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State-owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall said a number of factors had weighed against the company, in particular world coal prices dropping by 40 per cent.

“It is facing very serious financial challenges,” Ryall said.

Ryall declined to say whether Don Elder received a payout on his departure as chief executive on February 4.

Solid Energy’s debt stands at $389 million and its interim result, which is due shortly, will show additional losses.

Earlier this week Prime Minister John Key said it was very unlikely Solid Energy would be sold in the near future.

Source: Solid Energy in debt crisis talks

Time to duck – the poo has hit the fan.

Watch Ministers scurry for cover; invent fictitious tales; and blame anyone/anything they can think of. John Key’s fingers will be moving at supersonic speeds, pointing at others, to apportion blame.

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22 February 2013

English blames Solid Energy management, bonuses, coal price fall, and expansion projects

Mr English said Solid Energy’s woes have two primary causes: it failed to predict – and adjust to – a drop in world coal prices, and spent too much investigating other sources of energy.

“Four or five years ago they set out on a big programme of expenditure on alternative energy, including researching into lignite down south to coal gasification and other research-based speculation, and that hasn’t turned out the way they thought.”

Source:  No more bonuses at Solid Energy – English

And yet, English and former SOE Minister, Simon Power had actively encouraged Solid Energy to expand. (see comments 8 September 2010 and 3 June 2011)

But if there was a cause for Solid Energy’s financial woes, a $389 million debt most certainly accounted for most of it.

Even the most profitable, efficient, well-managed company will collapse if it is over-geared (borrowed too much) and too much capital is  extracted in dividends (as well as tax).

Therefore, when English blames Solid Energy’s problems on “world coal prices, and spen[ding] too much investigating other sources of energy”; and when Key and Ryall blame Labour; massive debt; bonuses; mis-management; etc – the facts  show otherwise.

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23 February 2013

Key blames too much debt and unsuccessful investments

The causes of the financial crisis at Solid Energy are the usual suspects in failing businesses – too much debt, unsuccessful investments and no reserves to weather a slump in coal prices.

Prime Minister John Key’s comments yesterday indicated these problems and pointed the finger at an imprudent amount of debt and investments that have not returned any cash yet.

Key said the debt had climbed to $389 million when “typically coal companies do not have a lot of debt on their balance sheets”.

Which is  supreme irony – as nineteen days later, a letter will emerge showing that the former SOE minister, Simon Power,  instructed Solid Energy to borrow heavily and pay huge dividends to the National government. National was intent on using Solid Energy as a ‘cash cow’.

Source: State miner to return to coalface

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25 February 2013

Prime Minister discloses Treasury scoping study of Solid Energy

The PM was asked when the government first became aware Solid Energy was accruing big debts, given that such businesses were not normally expected to take on large amounts of debt.

He replied that the government had undertaken a “scoping study” when they were preparing the formulation of the Mixed Ownership Model and that their examination of Solid Energy’s accounts at that time indicated a degree of poor investment, over-valuation of the expected price of coal–which neither the industry nor government agreed with—and related financial problems stemming from this.

Source: PM Press Conference Dominated by Solid Energy Debacle

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Key claims Solid Energy wanted $1 billion cash injection

The government blocked proposals in 2009 from its coal mining company Solid Energy for a billion dollar capital injection to allow it to become “the Petrobras of this country,” Prime Minister John Key says.

Source: Govt blocked grandiose Solid Energy plans in 2009

Key’s claim is later rejected by ex-Chairman, John Palmer.

Documents released by Key – in an attempt to back up his claims – wound up shooting the Prime Minister in his foot. The documents do not show that Solid Energy (or it’s CEO or Board) asked National ministers for anything.  The documents show only that the government was informed that Solid Energy would have to borrow from somewhere.

As usual, Key had been bending facts to suit himself. (And he thought no one would notice?!?!)

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26 February 2013

Ryall confirms Treasury  scoping study

Tony Ryall confirmed that the scoping study was carried out in “late 2011″,

Hon TONY RYALL: The member can repeat whatever he likes. The simple fact of the matter is when Ministers became aware of the issues raised in the scoping study at the end of 2011 we took the appropriate steps to address the issues that were raised. As the member knows, the company now has a new chair and new board, and we are currently dealing with the banks to resolve those issues.

Source: Parliament Hansards – State-owned Enterprises—Commercial Expertise

Despite that Treasury scoping study on 4 November 2011, National was still extracting dividends from Solid Energy, right up to 30 June 2012 ($ 30 million).

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Key blames Labour

He said his support for the project in 2011 came four months before a scoping study revealed the true state of Solid Energy’s financial woes, and the former Labour government needed to take some responsibility for the situation.

“They can’t wash their hands that from 2003 on they were intimately involved when they purchased the land for lignite,” Key said.

Source: Govt forced to defend handling of Solid Energy

2003?

How far back does this man want to go in history as he tries to deflect responsibility for his government’s incompetance? It seems strange, but one gets the distinct feeling that John Key never learned how to take personal responsibility as a child.

Continually blaming others is not the mark of a mature individual. After a while, the public begins to notice.

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Key blames Solid Energy’s expansion plans

Mr Key says his Government was cautious about Solid Energy’s expansion and said it could “take some baby steps”.

Really? Key’s government was “cautious”?

Funny, that’s not how it looked on 8 September 2010, when then-SOE Minister, Simon Power, endorsed Solid Energy’s expansion plans in a letter, stating,

Shareholding Mnisters are, however, supportive of Solid Energy developing its
current natural resources, including lignite and unconventional gas. As
discussed with you, we expect that Solid Energy will develop resources on a
project by project basis.

Or on 3 June 2011, when John Key supported Solid Energy’s expansion, when he gave a speech in Invercargill,

“At the moment companies like Solid Energy are growth companies and we want them to expand in areas like lignite conversion.

We know there is lots of resource there and we know they potentially have the capability [to convert lignite to urea or diesel] and so we will see how that progresses, but the briquette plant is a good starting point.”

Or on 9 September 2011, when,

The Hon Bill English, MP for Clutha-Southland and Minister of Finance, today marked the official start of work at Solid Energy’s Mataura Briquette Plant, by “turning the first sod” at a small event on site with neighbours, local authorities, and other guests.

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Key blames inability to control Solid Energy

The Government was worried about Solid Energy’s ambitious investment plans and rosy view of coal prices as far back as 2009 but was unable to order the company to steer a safer course, Prime Minister John Key says.

[…]

But after getting advice on the company’s plan, Mr Key said his Government rejected it, “but of course under the SOE Act the company had the right to draw down debt and make investments and could do that without reference to the shareholder”.

Source: Govt worried about Solid Energy in 2009

Two things jump out about that statement,

A.  If  National ministers were so “worried about Solid Energy’s ambitious investment plans ” – why did they not change the Board of Directors? Or issue a new Ministerial Directive?

After all, Simon Power did just that in a letter dated 8 September 2010 (see above), when he issued an instruction to Solid Energy’s Chairman, John Palmer, not to proceed with a specific expansion plan,

Shareholding Ministers have carefully considered the proposal and at this stage
do not support the development of a single NRC to maximise the value of New
Zealand mineral resources.

B. Why did Tony Ryall acknowledge “Mr Palmer’s commitment to the company since his appointment in 2006, and the developments the company has made under his leadership” on 23 June 2012, when John Palmer stood down as Solid Energy’s chairperson – if  “Government was worried about Solid Energy’s ambitious investment plans and rosy view of coal prices as far back as 2009…“?

C.  How can Key state that “the Government was … unable to order the company to steer a safer course” – when legislation states otherwise? As the Crown Ownership Monitoring Unit (COMU) states,

Most SOEs are subject to ministerial direction in relation to the content of certain aspects of the company’s Statement of Corporate Intent and the level of dividend payable to the Crown. Shareholding Ministers may remove board members by shareholder resolution under the Companies Act 1993. Under the Companies Act 1993, an alternative process may be followed if allowed by the company’s constitution.

Source: COMU: State-Owned Enterprises

As stated above, then-SOE Minister Simon Power did just that: issued a Ministerial Directive.

Of course, “steering the company to a safer course” should have included reducing National Minister’s demands for hefty dividends.

That might have helped.

Either Key is grossly ignorant about SOEs and their ministerial oversight – or once again he’s deliberately misleading the public to suit himself.

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Key Blames Solid Energy

At that point, the company approached his Government seeking a capital injection “in the order of about a billion dollars to turn this company into the [Brazilian state-owned energy company] Petrobras equivalent in New Zealand”, Mr Key said.

Source: IBID

As a 27 August 2010 Treasury report – released on 15 March 2013 – showed,  Key’s claim that Solid Energy approached the government for “a billion dollars to turn this company into the [Brazilian state-owned energy company] Petrobras ” would prove to be false.

As ex Chairman John Palmer was to tell the Select Committee on 14 March,

“Were we talking to the Government about the possibility of capital and receiving that from the Crown? The answer is no.”

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14 March 2013

Former chairman John Palmer  and CEO, Don Elder appear before Commerce Select Committee

Now we start to hear the “other side” of the story – and much of it conflicts with what we’ve been hearing from English, Key, and Ryall.

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National confirms big dividends paid out

For the first time it is publicly acknowledged – Solid Energy has been used as a cash cow by National, to extract big dividends from 2009 onward,

The government concedes the pressure it put on Solid Energy to increase its debt is partly to blame for the company’s financial failures.

The state-owned coal mining company owes $389 million in debt, and is negotiating a rescue package with Treasury and banks.

Government documents reveal that in May 2009, then-State Owned Enterprises Minister Simon Power wrote to Solid Energy’s then-chair, John Palmer, saying he was disappointed its profitability and dividends were forecast to drop over the next three years.

At the same time, the government wanted the company to increase its gearing (debt to equity) levels to 40 per cent and its dividends to 65 per cent of operating cash flow.

A ministerial briefing paper shows Solid Energy’s gearing level in March 2009 was 10 per cent, and was forecast to reach 27 per cent in June 2010, while its dividend was 50 per cent.

Parliamentary Library figures show Solid Energy’s gearing leapt from 9.4 per cent in June 2008 to 34.4 per cent in 2010, dropping back to 29.6 per cent in 2011 and jumping again to 41.7 per cent in 2012 as coal prices began to slump.

Finance Minister Bill English admits the government pressure was perhaps too strong.

Source:  Govt pressure on Solid Energy revealed

National had to come clean, as ex-CEO Don Elder appeared before the Commerce Select Committee to explain what went horribly wrong at Solid Energy. National’s ministers knew that the truth was coming out, and had to pre-empt any public disclosures of massive borrowings and payments of dividends,

Mr English says there was a pushback against the debt increase from Solid Energy, which he expected Mr Palmer and former chief executive Don Elder to explain when they fronted a select committee later on Thursday.

Labour leader David Shearer says the documents show ministers had a greater degree of involvement in Solid Energy’s failure than they were publicly letting on.

Source: IBID

Push back against debt“? By now we all understand that English is lying his arse off to Heaven and back. There was no push back.

The only “push” was to increase dividend payments and gearing up to 40%.

The only reason politicians tell such howling lies is because they do not expect people to remember all the facts; to connect the dots; or for an under-resourced media to tell the whole story as a continuous narrative. Politicians expect people to forget; not hear all the facts; or become confused with too much non-contextual facts and testimony from the main players.

That’s how they get away with it; we’re not paying close enough attention.

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Don Elder appears before Commerce Select Committee – Confirmation of Govt wanting Solid Energy to increase debt – endorsed expansion

Firstly,  former Solid Energy chairman, John Palmer,  publicly confirmed that the National Government,

  • wanted Solid Energy to borrow more, and pay higher dividends to government coffers,
  • endorsed Solid Energy’s expansion plans

Labour’s finance spokesman David Parker asked whether the company was in any doubt that the Government wanted them to expand production, increase debt and dividends.

Palmer said it was “self evident” that increased gearing meant increased debt.

The Government was supportive of plans to expand, including into lignite.

Palmer’s comments contradicted Bill English’s comments on 22 February 2013 and John Key’s comments reported on 23 February, 2013, where both politicians lambasted Solid Energy for high debt and expansion plans.

According to Palmer, neither English nor Key were worried about Solid Energy’s expansion programme.

Next,

Palmer said that in late 2011 or early 2012, when it was clear what was going to happen, he spoke to minister Tony Ryall about a $200m revenue hole (twice the annual profits), which would have a dramatic effect on the balance sheet.

Which ties in with Bill English’s announcement on 21 August 2012, that Solid Energy had  “some fairly substantial issues… We wouldn’t be planning to float it any time soon”.

Now we know what he was referring to: Solid Energy was broke. He knew it then, but did not disclose the full nature of Solid Energy’s status until forced  by officials.

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Ex-CEO rejects Key’s assertion of Solid Energy requesting a $1 billion cash injection

“Were we talking to the Government about the possibility of capital and receiving that from the Crown? The answer is no,” Mr Palmer said.

“A specific $1 billion capital injection, I’m reasonably sure we did not ask for it in exactly those terms.”

However he said the company did have discussions with the Crown about potential large investment in lignite processing but it was also talking to potential overseas partners, “because it made no sense to us to think that Crown as the sole shareholder should finance that”.

He also said the company discussed with the Crown a national resource strategy that would have required large investment.

“My recollection is there was no dollars attached to that proposal.”

Source: Solid Energy opposed Government’s debt plan

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Curious case of politicians and executives receiving identical media-coaching

Meanwhile, National’s taxpayer funded media-staff had been busy coaching politicians and company executives;

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Don Elder – Blame,  “Perfect Storm”

This was the perfect storm.”

Source: Palmer: Elder deserves applause

Tony Ryall –  “Perfect Storm” – blames downturn in coal prices – blames wrong investments

“State owned enterprises minister Tony Ryall blames the distressed financial state of Solid Energy on a “perfect storm” of events.

Mr Ryall says a wrong choice of investments, along with a worldwide collapse in coal prices, led to the coal mining company’s current state.”

“A wrong choice in investments, together with the most significant collapse in world coal prices in 2012 led to a perfect storm. The perfect storm has created the situation this company is currently in,” Mr Ryall says.

Source: Ryall blames ‘perfect storm’ for Solid Energy’s crisis

Bill English  – “Perfect Storm”

On TVNZ’s Q+A, on 17 March, English refers – not once, but twice! – to the “perfect storm”,

“That’s right. Look, in retrospect, they would have been better off with lower levels of debt, but as I think Don Elder and John Palmer said at the Select Committee, the board is there to make the decisions about what the actual levels of debt are. Bear in mind, in 2011 their debt had peaked and was declining, and then they got hit by the perfect storm in 2012.”

And a moment later, again,

“…And in 2011 their debt levels were actually declining from that, and then they got hit by the perfect storm…”

Source: TVNZ Q+A

Lotsa ‘stormy weather’ around? I thought we were experiencing a drought.

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15 March 2013

Palmer says  Solid Energy did not want to take on high level of debt suggested by the Treasury

 Prime Minister John Key is facing claims he misled the public after former Solid Energy chairman John Palmer said the company resisted Government pressure to take on more debt – the very thing the Prime Minister said caused the company’s problems.

[…]

Appearing the day after Labour revealed former State-Owned Enterprises Minister Simon Power told the company to take on more debt and pay higher dividends, Mr Palmer said the company opposed that request.

The debt levels or gearing suggested by Mr Power and Treasury officials were higher than “we thought was an appropriate level of gearing given the nature of the industry we were involved in”, Mr Palmer said.

Source: Key under fire over Solid Energy claims

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Key claims Solid Energy wanted $27 billion

Prime Minister John Key this morning released documents detailing Solid Energy’s ambitious expansion plans which would have required capital investment of $2-3 billion a year until 2021 or a total of up to $27 billion.

Key released the papers in response to Labour’s claims he misled the public about Solid Energy approaching his Government about a $1 billion investment to become the “Petrobras” of New Zealand, a request he says his Government turned down.

[…]

Key this morning said the documents showed the proposal “absolutely required, as Treasury pointed out, somewhere between two and three billion dollars of Government money”.

Source: Key says Solid Energy papers show $27b plan

Remember the Treasury report, dated 27 August 2010, referred above? Key is saying that the Solid Energy proposals would have required “between two and three billion dollars of Government money”.

Yet the 27 August 2010 Treasury report said nothing of the sort. Solid Energy could have obtained that money from the same commercial sources  it was already borrowing from.

And don’t forget, Solid Energy had already been borrowing significant amounts – pushing it’s ‘gearing‘ (debt to equity ratio) up:

Solid Energy’s gearing ratio [borrowings] was 13.8 per cent in 2009, but that rose to 34.4 per cent in 2010 and 41.7 per cent last year.

Source: Ministers pressured Solid Energy, Parliament told

To this day, Key continues to mis-represent the truth.

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Key – Solid Energy wanted foreign investment and shareholders

“Key this morning said the documents showed the proposal “absolutely required, as Treasury pointed out, somewhere between two and three billion dollars of Government money”.

He said Palmer proposed selling a stake in Solid Energy to an offshore cornerstone investor “and that would involve taking more than 10 per cent of the company and not putting mums and dads first.”.

“I made it quite clear to him that we had campaigned on a mixed ownership model which didn’t involve someone having more than 10 per cent in the company”.

Solid Energy’s proposal “didn’t involve a situation where kiwi mums and dads would be first and so the only way to get that money was through the Government.”

Source: Key says Solid Energy papers show $27b plan

Now this is yet another contradiction from Key. First he tells us that Solid Energy executives wanted $1 billion (or was it $27 billion?) from Government.

But in the next breath – on the same day – he say Solid Energy wanted foreign investors/shareholders to buy 10% stakes in the SOE.

So which was it Dear Leader?! Government funding? Foreign investors/shareholders? Pixies at the bottom of the garden?

One can only conclude that former CEO, John Palmer, was correct, when he rejected any assertions that Solid Energy was looking to borrow money from government,

“I cannot recall that we have ever asked him explicitly for $1 billion dollars.”

Source: Key Must Front Up With $1 Billion Evidence

It was also interesting to note that Key derided Solid Energy’s plans for 10% foreign investors/shareholders blocks by stating that it contravened National’s policy of putting “kiwi mums and dads would be first“.

Which contradicts a statement that John Key made in a speech in 2005, on 4 March, where a private partner was something that National would welcome,

“In respect of Solid Energy, if an opportunity arose to introduce a private sector partner, we would consider that seriously.”

Source: John Key Speech: State Sector Under National

And how does Key reconcile that with other Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) such as Wiri Prison,

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley says a contract has been signed allowing the SecureFuture consortium to design, finance, build, operate and maintain the new 960-bed public-private partnership (PPP) prison at Wiri, South Auckland.

The new prison will deliver value for taxpayers and support the Government in reaching the target of a 25 per cent reduction in reoffending by 2017.

The 25 year contract is worth approximately $840 million, which is 17 per cent less than if the prison was procured through conventional means, representing a $170 million saving for taxpayers.

Fletcher Construction will build the new facility which will be operated by Serco and maintained by Spotless Facility Services. Construction will begin soon, with the prison set to open in 2015.

“The PPP will allow Corrections to draw on the experience and expertise of SecureFuture’s international partners,” says Mrs Tolley.

Source: Beehive – Contract signed for new PPP prison at Wiri

How many “mums and dads” invested in Wiri Prison?

There are many more PPPs of this nature where “mums and dads” have nil investments, and instead are the sole preserve of corporate investors – many from offshore.

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Palmer denies Solid Energy wanted to borrow $1 billion from government

“Were we talking to the Government about the possibility of capital and receiving that from the Crown? The answer is no,” Mr Palmer said.

“A specific $1 billion capital injection, I’m reasonably sure we did not ask for it in exactly those terms.”

Source: IBID

Palmer is correct. According to the 27 August 2010 Treasury Report (referred to above),  Solid Energy did not ask Government for that money. The money could have been borrowed from any source – just as Solid Energy had already been doing.

This was also confirmed by a spokesperson for Bill English,

“We told them all to improve their performance and that, if they wanted to expand, they had to pay for it off their own balance sheet, rather than asking the cash-strapped taxpayers for money.”

Source: Ministers pressured Solid Energy, Parliament told

So it has becoming apparent that our Dear Leader Key is attempting to re-write recent history to suit his own agenda by shifting the blame elsewhere…

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Key attempts to spin Assumption into “Fact”

“I think it is pretty self explanatory that when you come to the Government with such a very large proposal, we’re the 100% owner, that’s what’s required.”

Source: Details of Solid Energy’s expansion bid released

So let’s get this straight…

(i)  Solid Energy management presented  an expansion plan to National Ministers

(ii) The plan includes figures for said-expansion.

(iii) National Ministers had been encouraging of Solid Energy’s expansion plans (see comments 8 September 2010 and 3 June 2011)

(iv) There was no mention made of where borrowings would be made from – though up till now, Solid Energy had borrowed from private sources, and not the Crown. (See comments 27 August 2010)

(v) And from all that, the Prime Minister suggested that “ it is pretty self explanatory that when you come to the Government with such a very large proposal ” that Solid Energy expected finance from the  Crown?

I have one question: how on Earth did Key manage to amass a personal wealth of $50-$55 million when he  makes up  such fancifuul  “leaps of logic”?!?!

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And the cover-up starts?

The head of the committee that grilled Solid Energy’s former bosses says he is unconvinced a full inquiry is needed.

Opposition MPs are pressuring for a full inquiry into the collapse of the state-owned coalminer, which is now reliant on government support to manage its $389 million debt pile.

Commerce select committee chairman Jonathan Young allowed yesterday’s appearance by former Solid Energy chairman John Palmer and former chief executive Don Elder to run for an hour longer than was originally expected.

Young, the National MP for New Plymouth, said this morning that he believed the committee now had “a very clear picture” of what had happened to Solid Energy, which was hit by falling coal prices, a strong New Zealand dollar and poor investment decisions.

In recent days it has emerged that the Government leaned on the company to take on more debt, after it warned it may pay less dividends.

Young said that “in hindsight we can look back and see if they didn’t have debt they would be in a better situation”.

Despite this, Young said he was yet to be convinced that a full select committee inquiry was needed into the collapse, saying there were “multiple levels of inquiry” already under way, with the company talking to its financiers, and the Government “looking at all of the issues”.

He told TV3′s Firstline: “I am personally yet to be convinced that we are going to uncover anything new or different that wouldn’t be uncovered” anyway.

Source: Solid Energy probe call rejected

“…the National MP for New Plymouth, said this morning that he believed the committee now had “a very clear picture” of what had happened to Solid Energy…”

That statement boggles the mind; drops the jaw to the ground; and is so, so, wrong on many levels. But wholly expected from a National member of Parliament; chairing a Select Committee; stacked with five National MPs out of nine committee members (see: Commerce Select Committee members); supposedly ‘investigating’ wrong-doing/ineptitude by National ministers.

Let’s see… what part of that is wrong? A government investigating itself and coming up with a verdict of nothing-to-see-here-folks-move-along-please? How is Young’s assertion that the Government was “looking at all of the issues” supposed to reassure us?! By what measure of common notions of justice is a  Government  “looking at all of the issues” supposed to be a non-partisan, transparent, and objective investigation into this issue?

It would be like directors of failed companies (many of whom are either in jail or waiting to be tried in Court or sentenced) investigating their own actions and coming up with the same comments as Young made,

“In hindsight we can look back and see if they didn’t have debt they would be in a better situation…”

Directors are “looking at all of the issues”.

“We are  personally yet to be convinced that we are going to uncover anything new or different that wouldn’t be uncovered”

Yeah, right, Mr Young. You can stop putting lipstick on that pig.

Listening to  the main players – especially John Key, Bill English, and Tony Ryall – there are too many conflicting statements to believe that an Inquiry is not needed. National ministers are simply unable to get their stories straight and have contradicted each other (and themselves) on numerous occassions.

Young asserts that the committee now had “a very clear picture” of what had happened.

Bollocks.

The only thing even remotely “clear” about all this is that remains remain to be asked – and answered.

As Tracey Watkins wrote on 16 March 2013,

“But something clearly went seriously wrong if those talks were not enough to stop the collapse of an SOE on an unprecedented scale.

Beneath the flurry of claims and counter claims that is the question which has still not been properly answered.”

See: Solid questions still remain unanswered

Indeed.

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17 March 2013

Bill English – TVNZ Q+A

The following is a transcript from  Corin Dann interviewing Finance Minister (and half shareholder in Solid Energy) on 17 March 2013,

CORIN

All right, if we could move on to Solid Energy. Can you give us an update on where things are at with the banks? When will we know whether the government is going to have to bail out Solid Energy?

BILL

Well, that will be some months yet. There’s discussions going on with the banks now about stabilising Solid Energy. Some of the information around its cash flows is a bit more positive than we might have expected. But we will get a period of two to three months through to the end of June where we can look at all the options for recovering value for the taxpayer in the first place and, secondly, to decide whether there is an on-going viable business in the middle of this-

CORIN

Are you saying it’s making a bit more money than you thought now and that it might be able to get itself out of trouble?

BILL

Well, I wouldn’t go that far. All I’m saying is the cash flow numbers are just a bit more positive than we expected. I mean, if you look back, Solid Energy made some very substantial investments in some of its mines. Some of those worked out, such as in Stockton; some of them didn’t, such as in Spring Creek. But where they have invested, they’ve got capacity for production and for value, and if coal prices are at some kind of reasonable level, then there is a business there.

“All I’m saying is the cash flow numbers are just a bit more positive than we expected. ” – In which case, Mr English, keep your sticky hands of that cash.

I sincerely hope that if National Ministers attempt to gouge SOEs again, that Board Directors resign on masse and publicly disclose political attempts at such interference.

The public is entitled to be reassured that politicians will not use SOEs as “cash cows” simply to balance their books.  Especially after two unaffordable tax cuts – a glorified ‘lolly scramble’ – left a gaping hole in government accounts.

CORIN

Do you want the banks to take some of the heat on this?

BILL

Yes, I think that’s really important. They’ve lent money, and as lenders, they take risks. And if they lend to a company that’s affected by a very sharp downturn in coal prices and then loss of a quarter of their export sales, they’ve got the same risks as banks who leant to resource companies all around the world that have got in trouble.

CORIN

You can see the irony in that, though, because you told them to borrow more.

BILL

Well, and you were talking about it as a revelation. We did a press conference back in 2009 about the need for our SOEs to take on-

And it took Labour to advise the public, Mr English. Bill English, Key, and Ryall were more than happy to keep that 2009 letter from Simon Power under wraps.

That was part of National’s ‘spin’ that the massive borrowings and  debt were a ‘creature’ of Don Elder’s and John Palmer’s making. But as Corin Dann pointed out;

CORIN

But you know that timing is everything with these things, and that was a revelation coming at this time, given your government had tried to distance itself from this issue. You even blamed Labour for it, for what they said in 2007.

BILL

No, I don’t agree with that. In 2009, the government was facing a decade of deficits because of the Labour Party and the recession. And we quite reasonably said that our taxpayer-owned companies should contribute more cash to the coffers. That’s the point of owning them. And Solid Energy had paid barely- had paid almost no dividends for the previous five or six years, and they had very low levels of debt compared to their asset value. So, look, in retrospect-

Here we go again; more blame-gaming,

In 2009, the government was facing a decade of deficits because of the Labour Party and the recession.

English blames the recession?

In which case why did National Ministers extract 163.9 million in dividends from Solid Energy, during the worst recession since the 1920s/30s?

Is this what National calls “prudent fiscal management”?

Notice also that  English lied by  blaming “ a decade of deficits because of the Labour Party” – even though Cullen was posting surpluses from 2002-08 Labour-led period?! And paid down sovereign debt from 33.4% of  GDP to 17.4% GDP? (See previous blofpost:  Bill English – do you remember Colin Morrison?)

This is symptomatic of a National-led government that is desperate to avoid all responsibility.

CORIN

But there was a good reason for that, wasn’t there? Because they were a coal company.

BILL

That’s right. Look, in retrospect, they would have been better off with lower levels of debt, but as I think Don Elder and John Palmer said at the Select Committee, the board is there to make the decisions about what the actual levels of debt are. Bear in mind, in 2011 their debt had peaked and was declining, and then they got hit by the perfect storm in 2012.

Look, in retrospect, they would have been better off with lower levels of debt“…   “In retrospect“?!?! Little wonder that Solid Energy’s board and management resisted National’s demands for higher and higher dividends (as English concedes in his next statement).

That statement – ”Look, in retrospect, they would have been better off with lower levels of debt“  – totally destroys the argument put forward by Key, English, and Ryall that Solid Energy’s debt and subsequent crisis was of it’s own making.

Quite simply, National was desperate for cash to pay for the 2009 and 2010 taxcuts, and were prepared to bleed SOEs dry to get it’s hand on their money. Even if those SOEs had to borrow to do it.

This is ministerial incompetance at best – or outright economic sabotage at worst. (No wonder ACT and Libertarians maintain that politicians can’t run businesses. Correction: National politicians can’t run businesses.)

CORIN

But you were telling all SOEs to raise their debt to a 40% gearing, and Solid Energy told you they were not comfortable with that, and there was a good reason: because they were a volatile coal company. Surely that was too much pressure you were applying to them.

BILL

Well, clearly not, because their debt peaked at under 35%, which was the level the board set, which was lower than what the government was expecting. And in 2011 their debt levels were actually declining from that, and then they got hit by the perfect storm. So, yes, would they have been better off with no debt? Yes, just like lots of businesses and households would be better off with no debt. Then they got hit by these circumstances which may well have put the company into trouble even if it had no debt.

Yes Mr English, Solid Energy did get hit by “a perfect storm”. A storm largely made up of rapacious politicians.

It appears that by not gearing up to the full 40% demanded by National, that Don Elder and John Palmer may have done their best to prevent the collapse of Solid Energy.

CORIN

The issue also, of course, has been around their investments. Now, your government must take some responsibility, surely, for the oversight of what they were investing in. You were the one down in Southland turning the first sod with the lignite plant. You knew what they were up to.

BILL

Well, and it’s yet to be seen just whether that particular investment has on-going potential or not. Clearly, some of them don’t. Some of them may do. That’s what’ll happen over the next two to three months. But what you’ve got to keep in mind here is that under the SOE model, politicians are not there to run the companies. We do not make the investment decisions. The boards make the investment decisions, and the weakness in the model is that there’s no market scrutiny of those board decisions, and that is why the partial sell-down of the electricity companies will help with the monitoring and the performance of those companies.

But what you’ve got to keep in mind here is that under the SOE model, politicians are not there to run the companies. We do not make the investment decisions. ” – Really, Mr English? And yet Simon Power felt he had the ministerial authority to write to Solid Energy demanding higher dividends.

In reality, under the State-Owned Enterprises Act 1986, shareholding Ministers can and do issue directives to SOE Boards. So English is being disingenuous when he tries to indicate that Ministers are powerless. They are not powerless,

13.  Powers of shareholding Ministers in respect of new State enterprises
  • (1) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act or the rules of any company,—

    • (a) the shareholding Ministers may from time to time, by written notice to the board, direct the board of a company named in Schedule 2 to include in, or omit from, a statement of corporate intent for that company any provision or provisions of a kind referred to in paragraphs (a) to (h) of section 14(2); and

    • (b) the shareholding Ministers may, by written notice to the board, determine the amount of dividend payable by any company named in Schedule 2 in respect of any financial year or years,—

    and any board to whom such a notice is given shall comply with the notice.

    (2) Before giving any notice under this section, the shareholding Ministers shall—

    • (a) have regard to Part 1; and

    • (b) consult the board concerned as to the matters to be referred to in the notice.

    (3) Within 12 sitting days after a notice is given to a board pursuant to this section, the responsible Minister for the company concerned shall lay a copy of the notice before the House of Representatives.

Source: State-Owned Enterprises Act 1986 – Section 13

They have the power.

It’s the responsibility for their stuff-ups that seems to elude them.

CORIN

And are you confident there will be much better decision-making, that these MOM companies, in general, are going to have better board making decisions?

BILL

I think mixed-ownership companies will, but there’s a real challenge for government with the lessons from Solid Energy. When you look ahead, the companies that the government will own all have their challenges – NZ Post with the shrinking postal market, TVNZ and the digital media environment, a coal company if there is still a coal company. And we are going to have to change the way we work with these companies to ensure that we don’t lose taxpayers’ money. Because the taxpayers’ money in these companies doesn’t come out of the sky; it comes from the PAYE and the GST paid by NZ households. And we have a strong responsibility for the stewardship of that money.

Source: TVNZ Q+A

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22 March 2013

The NZ Herald reported that “seven years’ worth of documents about Solid Energy have been released by Treasury… It has been released after a number of Official Information Act request centred around how much the Government knew about the financial troubles the state owned coal miner was in“.

Source:  Big Solid Energy document dump from Treasury

[Note: This blogger has viewed only a fraction of documents. There’s no telling what other revelations and incriminating evidence is contained therein. Perhaps something to be re-visited on a quiet, wintry evening?]

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25 March 2013

Papers confirm Govt pressure on Solid Energy

A week after English’s attempt to ‘spin’ the collapse of Solid Energy and blame everyone under the sun, Radio NZ reported,

Official papers confirm the Government put pressure on Solid Energy to increase its debt and then appeared later to criticise it for borrowing too heavily as it got into difficulty.

The state-owned coal company is in debt to the tune of $390 million.

The papers released on Friday also show that despite strongly disagreeing with the company’s business plan, the Government left it late to act.

In 2009 the then State-Owned Enterprises Minister, Simon Power, wrote to Solid Energy chair John Palmer recommending the company raise its gearing ratio – a measure of debt – to 40%.

By June 2012, when it was clear the company was in trouble, the ratio had risen to 37% and, according to the Treasury, Solid Energy had taken on significant debt.

It was only at that point, after arguing with the company for three to four years about its business plan, that the Government decided to make changes.

Source: Papers confirm Govt pressure on Solid Energy

By  this time, public attention and media focus had waned. There were other issues and problems to deal with, and National ministers could breath a sigh of relief. They were “off the hook”.

Let us recall that Treasury’s scoping report, released on 4 November 2011, confirmed everyone’s suspicions that National had cash-stripped Solid Energy;

 ”…dividend payments to the government have been funded by increasing debt“.

Source: Treasury Report T2011/2373: Solid Energy New Zealand Scoping Study Report

The ‘up-shot’ of all this?

  • A billion dollar state own enterprise had been milked as a “cash cow” and left to collapse.
  • English, Ryall, Key, et al – off the hook.
  • There would be no ministerial accountability; no resignations; no one held to account.

And for good measure,

  • Blame Labour for everything.

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8 May 2013

Bill English preps public for Solid Energy’s write-off?

In a Radio NZ story (see: English questions viability of Solid Energy), Bill English contradicted his earlier assertion that Solid Energy would not be allowed into receivership,

“We’re not going to keep propping up businesses where we don’t think there’s a long term future. Where we think there there is, we put strong support in. So Kiwirail would be a good example.Where the government’s  already invested around a billion in them in the last 3 or 4 years and they will… all of their,um, surpluses will be reinvested in the business, probably for the next decade. So the taxpayer won’t take anything out of them. But there may be… it’s possible that there’s other businesses, as has been revealed say in the  Solid Energy case where their particular mix may not be viable so we have to look at  whether they can be restructured or whether in the long run there’s a viable proposition there. But at the moment Solid Energy is the only business where that’s in question.”

Listen RNZ interview: Bill English on Morning Report

By questioning the viability of Solid Energy, English is preparing the public for the day when National announces the demise of the company.

Having gutted it of cash and forced it to borrow millions for unsustainable dividends, National is now ready to administer the coup de grâce to finish it off. (If the Nats could eliminate all witnesses to their bare-faced thieving, I bet you they’d be considering it…)

Meanwhile, a week later…

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14 May 2013

$1 billion for KiwiRail

Radio NZ revealed that KiwiRail was receiving government funding to keep operating,

Overall the Government has committed about $1 billion to the effort, and Finance Minister Bill English has said the Government is unlikely to take a dividend for the next decade so KiwiRail can reinvest any profits in the rail service.

Source:  Solid Energy problems pose risk for KiwiRail

See also: Beehive.govt.nz: Next steps in KiwiRail’s Turnaround Plan

How is it that Solid Energy,  a once viable company – earning millions in revenue from overseas exports of coal (admittedly not a very environmentally-friendly product) – may be allowed to go into receivership?

Meanwhile, National is quite happy to keep investing in KiwiRail, which has never generated a profit in modern times. (Though admittedly, KiwiRail is  an environmentally-friendly transport enterprise with a positive future, as we pass the oil peak.)

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A message to businesspeople:

National Ministers are attempting to sheet blame for Solid Energy’s financial crisis to it’s former Chairperson, John Palmer, and CEO, Don Elder.

Key, English, and Ryall  have  resorted to mis-presentation of facts; omission of facts;  exageration; and in some instances, outright lies.

This should serve as a clear warning to businesspeople. Think carefully before accepting managerial or Board positions during a National-led government.

Because if things go wrong – even if caused by political interference – then they will have no hesitation to smear your reputation.  They will hang you out to dry, whether you are at fault or not.

A message to Voters:

National has a reputation as “prudent fiscal managers”.

For the life of me, I cannot understand how they have earned that reputation.

To allow a billion dollar SOE to crash and burn; run into the ground; and now   facing bankruptcy suggests to me that Key, English, Ryall, Brownlee, Joyce, Collins could not run a corner Dairy without getting into financial trouble.

I don’t think these clowns could run a sausage sizzle without losing money by the end of the day.

Perhaps, as a test,  those voters who are disbelieving should keep voting National? Let’s see what other SOE will collapse on their watch, eh?

What the hell. After all, it’s only our property. And tax dollars.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 17 May 2013.

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References

Solid Energy: Annual Reports Index

Crown Ownership Monitoring Unit – SOE Disclosures

Treasury: SOE/Solid Energy Disclosures

Previous related blogposts

That was Then, This is Now #18 (24 Feb 2013)

National caught out over Solid Energy – changes story on coal prices, debt, and other matters (13 March 2013)

Additional links (to replace dead links)

Click to access solid-energy-annual-report-2008.pdf

Click to access solid-energy-annual-report-2009.pdf

Click to access solid-energy-annual-report-2010.pdf

Click to access solid-energy-annual-report-2011.pdf

Click to access solid-energy-annual-report-2012.pdf

Click to access solid-energy-annual-report-2013.pdf

Acknowledgement and appreciation to “BLiP”

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Corporate Welfare under National

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begging-corporations

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In case there are still one or two New Zealanders remaining who haven’t yet cottoned on to one very simple truism about National in office, let me spell it out; they are rank hypocites of the highest order.

And in case you, the reader, happen to be a true-blue National supporter, let me explain why.

In the last four years, National has been beavering away,

  • slashing budgets
  • sacking nearly 3,000 state sector workers
  • closing schools
  • attempting to close special-needs services such as Nelson’s Salisbury school
  • cutting state services such as DoC, Housing NZ, Police, etc
  • freezing wages for state sector workers (whilst politician’s salaries continue to rise)
  • cutting back on funding to various community services (eg; Rape Crisis ands Women’s Refuge)
  • and all manner of other cuts to  state services – mostly done quietly and with minimum public/media attention.

In return, the Nats successfuly bribed us with our own money, giving us tax-cuts in 2009 and 2010. (Tax cuts which, later, were revealed not to be as affordable as what Dear Leader Key and Little Leader English made out – see:  Key: $30b deficit won’t stop Nats tax cuts, see: Government’s 2010 tax cuts costing $2 billion and counting)

One such denial of funding for public services is an on-going dispute between PHARMAC and the New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders (NZORD) which is struggling  desperately to obtain funding for rare disorders such as Pompe’s Disease,

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mum-not-prepared-to-wait-and-die

Acknowledgement: Fairfax Media – Mum not prepared to wait and die

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NZORD and it’s members have been lobbying National for the last four years to gain funding for much-needed medication. They are in a dire situation – this is a matter of life or death for them.

This blogger has blogged previously about their plight,

Previous related blogposts

This blogger has also  written directly  to the Prime Minister and to Health Minister, Tony Ryall.

One response from Minister Ryall is presented here, for the reader’s attention,

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email-tony-ryall-pompe-disease-5-dec-2012-b

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So there we have it, folks. If you’re a New Zealander dying from a rare disease, and PHARMAC won’t fund life-saving medication – don’t expect an assistance from this rotten government. Their response will be, and I quote,

While I share your concern [snort!!!]  for people with Pompe disease, as I advised you in my letter of 22 November 2012, in the current fiscal environment, unfortunately funding is not available for all treatments.”

So “in the current fiscal environment, unfortunately funding is not available for all treatments“?!

But funding is available for;

$1 Rugby – $200 million to subsidise the Rugby World Cup (see:  Blowouts push public Rugby World Cup spending well over $200m)

$2 Movies – $67 million paid to Warner Bros to keep “The Hobbit” in New Zealand (see:  The Hobbit: should we have paid?) and $300 million in subsidies for “The Lord of the Rings” (see:  Hobbit ‘better deal than Lord of the Rings’ – Key)

$3 Consultants – After sacking almost 3,000 state sector workers (see:  555 jobs gone from public sector) – and with more to come at DoC – National seems unphased at clocking up a mind-boggling $1 billion paid to “consultants”.  (see:  Govt depts clock up $1bn in consultant fees)

And on top of that, we are now faced with the prospect of a trans-national corporate – Rio Tinto – with their hands firmly around Meridian Energy’s neck, attempting to extract a greater subsidy from the SOE powerco. The story began in August last year,

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Rio Tinto seeks power deal revision

Acknowledgement: NZ Herald – Rio Tinto seeks power deal revision

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We know why. Despite implausible assertions to the contrary by National Ministers, Genesis Energy, and Rio Tinto executives – the partial sale of SOE powercos (Meridian, Genesis, and Mighty River Power) have made them vulnerable to the demands of Big Businesses.

Rio Tinto  knows that the share price of each SOE will be predicated on marketplace demand for shares.

They know that if there is less demand for electricity, then the price of power may (note: may) drop; those SOE’s profits will drop; and the price of shares will drop.

That leaves shareholders out of pocket and National with egg on it’s face. And a whole bunch of  Very Pissed Off Voters/Shareholders.

Think: Warner Bros. Think: corporate blackmail to shift ‘The Hobbit’ overseas. Think: National not wanting to risk the wrath of Peter Jackson and a thoroughly manipulated Public Opinion. Think: National looking at the 2011 election. Think: panic amongst National ministers and back-room Party strategists.

National capitulated.

This is precisely what is happening with Rio Tinto, Meridian, and National.

In the space of six and a half hours yesterday (28 March 2013),  events came to a dramatic head. The following happened in one day:

9.15am:

Via a Press Release from Merdian Energy;

Thursday, 28 March 2013, 9:15 am
Press Release: Meridian Energy

New Zealand Aluminium Smelter’s electricity contract

For immediate release: Thursday, 28 March 2013

Meridian was approached by Pacific Aluminium, a business unit of global mining giant Rio Tinto Ltd, the majority shareholder of New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Ltd (NZAS), in July 2012, to discuss potential changes to its existing electricity contract.

Since talks began, various options have been discussed and Meridian has offered a number of changes and concessions to the existing contract.

Chief Executive of Meridian Energy, Mark Binns, says that Meridian has advised Pacific Aluminium of its ‘bottom line’ position.

“Despite significant effort by both parties there remains a major gap between us on a number of issues, such that we believe that it is unlikely a new agreement can be reached with Pacific Aluminium,” says Mr Binns.

In the event no agreement can be reached, Meridian will seek to engage with Rio Tinto and Sumitomo Chemical Company Ltd, the shareholders of NZAS, who will ultimately decide on the future of the smelter.

Meridian signed a new contract with NZAS in 2007, after three years of negotiations. This current contract commenced on 1 January 2013 and remains unaltered and binding on the parties.” – Source

To which Rio Tinto replied,

10.15am:

In a NZ Herald story,

CEO  of Pacific Aluminium (the New Zealand subsidiary of Rio Tinto), Sandeep Biswas responded with,

“We believe a commercial agreement that is in the best interests of NZAS, Meridian, the New Zealand Government, and the people of Southland can be reached. We look forward to continuing productive negotiations with a view to achieving a positive outcome for all parties.” – Source

De-coding: “This ain’t over till the Fat Chick sings, and she’s nowhere to be seen. You guys better start hearing what we’re saying or this is going to turn to sh*t real fast; we’ll close our operations at Bluff; 3,200 people employed by us directly or  indirectly will be told ‘Don’t Come Monday’;  your Southland economy will collapse like a Cyprus bank, and National can kiss goodbye to it’s re-election in 2014. Ya got that, sunshine?”

11.15am:

That got the attention of National’s ministers Real Quick,

The Government has opened discussions with Tiwai Point aluminium smelter’s ultimate owners Rio Tinto in a bid to broker a deal after talks between the smelter and Meridian Energy reportedly broke down.

[…]

“With this in mind, the Government has been in contact with Pacific Aluminium’s international parent company Rio Tinto this week to discuss helping to bridge the gap in their positions over the short to medium term, if this could be of assistance in concluding an agreement.

“In the meantime, we understand Meridian’s existing contract with Pacific Aluminium remains in place at least until 1 January 2016 with significant financial and other obligations beyond that.” – Source

Barely two hours had passed since Meridian had lobbed a live grenade into National’s state asset sale programme, and it’s fair to say that the Ninth Floor of the Beehive was in a state of panic. It was ‘battle stations’. Red Alert. National ministers were, shall we say, slightly flustered,

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https://fmacskasy.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/headless-chickens.jpg

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12.00pm:

By noon, the markets were reacting. Though share-market analysts were attempting to down-play the so-called  ‘Phoney War’ between Meridian and Rio Tinto, Devon Funds Management analyst, Phillip Anderson, remarked that,

“…the announcement had hit Contact’s share price – the company was down 3 per cent in early trading but is now down only 1.2 per cent.” Source

If Contact’s (a fully privatised ex-SOE) share price had dropped 3% on the strength of these media stories, it is little wonder that share-market analysts were down-playing the brinkmanship being played out by Meridian and Rio Tinto. If the share-market was spooked enough, Contact’s share price would plummet, as would that of Mighty River Power – estimated to be in the $2.36 and $2.75 price-range. (see:  Mighty River share tips $2.36 to $2.75).

In which case, National would be floating shares worth only a fraction of what ministers were seeking. In effect, if Rio Tinto closed down operations, Key could kiss goodbye to the partial sale of energy SOEs. They would be worthless to investors.

3.43pm:

By 3.43pm, and six and a half hours since Meridian’s press release, National had negotiated some kind secret deal with Rio Tinto.  We don’t know the terms of the deal because though it is our money, National ministers don’t think we have a right to the information,

The Government is negotiating a new taxpayer-funded subsidy with Tiwai Point aluminium smelter’s owners and has all but acknowledged its assets sales programme is being used by them to get a better deal on power prices.

State Owned Enterprises Minster Tony Ryall this morning said the Government has opened discussions with the smelter’s ultimate owners global mining giant Rio Tinto in a bid to broker a deal over a variation to the existing electricity contract.

[…]

“With this in mind, the Government has been in contact with Pacific Aluminium’s international parent company Rio Tinto this week to discuss helping to bridge the gap in their positions over the short to medium term, if this could be of assistance in concluding an agreement.”

Mr Ryall indicated the Government had offered Rio Tinto “a modest amount of money to try and help bridge that gap in the short to medium term but there’s still a very big gap in the long term… We’re not interested in subsidising this business in the long term”. – Source

Ryall added,

“…they’re pretty tough negotiators and I’m sure they look at what else is happening in the economy when they make their various decisions…

…”they certainly haven’t got the Government over a barrel.”

Three questions stand out from Ryall’s statement,

  1. If  State subsidies for electricity supply to Rio Tinto’s smelter are “short to medium term” – then what will happen when (if?) those subsidies are lifted? Will shareholders “take a bath” as share prices collapse in value?
  2. Does Ryall think we are fools when he states that Rio Tinto did not have the government “over a barrel” ?! Is that how National views the public – as morons?
  3. How much is the “a modest amount of money” that Ryall is referring to?

Perhaps the most asinine comment from Ryall was this, as reported by TVNZ,

“The electricity market is capable of dealing with all the issues relating to the smelter,” said Ryall.

Acknowledgement: TVNZ News – Talks break down over Tiwai smelter contract

Really?! In what way is “the electricity market … capable of dealing with all the issues relating to the smelter” when the government has to step in with what could be millions of dollars worth of subsidies? Is that how “the market” works?!

This blogger has two further questions to put to Minister Ryall. Both of which have been emailed to him,

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Date: Thu, 29 March 2013, 6.43pm
From: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: Your correspondence to Hon Tony Ryall
To:  Tony Ryall  <Tony.Ryall@parliament.govt.nz>

Kia ora,  Mr Ryall,

I am in receipt  of your emailed letter to me, dated 5 December 2012, regarding the non-funding of certain medications for sufferers of Pompe Disease. Firstly, thank you for taking the time to respond to this issue in a thorough and timely way. Several of your other ministerial colleagues seem to lack that simple etiquette.

I note that, as Minister of SOEs, you have been in direct negotiations with Rio Rinto, and have offered the company subsidised electricity for the  “short to medium term”.

This will no doubt cost the taxpayer several millions (hundreds of millions?) of dollars.

If  National is able to provide such largesse to a multi-national corporation, please advise me as to the following;

1. Why is the same subsidy for cheaper electricity not offered to ALL New Zealanders? Or even those on low-fixed incomes? Why provide a multi-million dollar subsidy just to a billion-dollar corporation when New Zealanders could do with a similar cut in their power bills?

2. In your letter to me, dated 5 December 2012, you point out that,

“While I share your concern  for people with Pompe disease, as I advised you in my letter of 22 November 2012, in the current fiscal environment, unfortunately funding is not available for all treatments.”

If National has millions of dollars available to subsidise multi-national corporations, them obviously your statement on 5 December 2012 that “in the current fiscal environment, unfortunately funding is not available for all treatments” – is simply not credible.

It is obvious that your government can find money when it wants to. This applies to Rugby World Cup funding, consultants, movie-making subsidies, etc.

As such, I hope you are able to find the necessary funding for medication for people suffering rare disorders.

You are, after all, Minister for Health as well as Minister for State Owned Enterprises.

Regards,

-Frank Macskasy
Blogger

PS: Please note that this issue will be canvassed further on the blogsite, The Daily Blog.

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Minister of Health. Minister for SOEs. Minister for corporate welfare.

Which ‘hat’ will Tony Ryall be wearing today?

And will he find the necessary funding to save the lives of sick New Zealanders?

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 31 March 2013.

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References

NZ Herald: Rio Tinto seeks power deal revision (10 Aug 2012)

Scoop.co.nz:  New Zealand Aluminium Smelter’s electricity contract Press Release (9.15am, 28 March 2013)

NZ Herald:  Smelter counters Meridian – power deal still possible (10.15am, 28 March 2013)

NZ Herald:  Govt steps in to sort out stalled Tiwai power deal (11.15am, 28 March 2013)

NZ Herald:  Tiwai stoush may affect Mighty River price  (12.00pm, 28 March 2013)

NZ Herald:  Govt offser Tiwai subsidy (3.43pm, 28 March 2013)

Related references

NZ Herald:  Mighty River share tips $2.36 to $2.75 (20 March 2013)

Related to previous blogposts

Pharmac: The politics of playing god (16 June 2011)

$500,000 a year to keep toddler alive (5 Feb 2013)

Rare disease sufferers want pricey treatments (1 March 2013)

Rare disease takes awful toll on boy (1 March 2013)

Call for an Orphan drugs access policy to overcome Pharmac’s systems failure (28 Feb 2013)

Bill English – do you remember Colin Morrison? (4 Feb 2013)

Related Opinion

NZ Herald – Fran O’Sullivan – Govt intervention doesn’t cut mustard (30 March 2013)

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*** UP-DATED! *** NEWSFLASH!!! *** On TV3’s Campbell Live Wednesday night!

On TV3’s Cambell Live, Wednesday (not Tuesday) night;

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mum-not-prepared-to-wait-and-die

Acknowledgment: Dominion Post – Mum not prepared to wait and die

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Allyson Lock, and six other New Zealanders are suffering from a rare condition called Pompe Disease. It is a condition that is treatable – but which PHARMAC refuses point blank to fund because of “price”.

Allyson is “lucky”. She is receiving treatment from a pharmaceutical company as part of a trial. For this, she has to travel to Australia every two weeks. As I wrote in a previous blogpost,

The travel involved leaving on Wednesday by driving from Masterton to Palmerston North; flying from Palmerston North to Auckland; flying from Auckland to Brisbane; driving next day to a hospital; having treatment; next day flying from Brisbane to Auckland; staying in Auckland overnight; then flying from Auckland to Palmerston North, and then driving from Palmerston North, home to Masterton. In the meantime her husband took time off work to care for their children. (Travel, food, and accomodation costs are met by the drug company.)

This routine takes place every two weeks.

Source: “One should judge a society by how it looks after the sick and vulnerable” – part tahi

There are others with Pompe Disease not so “fortunate”, and PHARMAC’s decision is efftively a death sentence.

This blogger has supported Allyson and her fellow sufferers ( aas well as others with rare diseases). Correspondence with Health Minister, Tony Ryall, yielded this deeply callous response,

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email-tony-ryall-pompe-disease-5-dec-2012-b

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Not enough money to fund treatment for ill New Zealanders – but plenty to throw at new BMWs?  Rugby World Cup tournaments?  Or subsidise movies? Or other corporate welfare? Or bail-outs for finance companies? Or pay rises for MPs?

Campbell Live has taken an interest in Allyson, and will be featuring a story on her tomorrow night(Wednesday 15 May).

This blogger encourages the reader to tune in to Campbell (tv3, at 7pm, ot TV3-Plus, at 8pm) and share in Allyson’s story.

[This blogpost has been up-dated. The original screening time was tonight, Tuesday, 14 May. The date is now Wednesday 15 May.]

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Previous related blogposts

Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key – Update & more questions

Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key

National Party Supporters and their ‘Empathy’ for a woman with a terminal disease

“One should judge a society by how it looks after the sick and vulnerable”

“There’s always an issue of money but we can find money for the right projects” – John Key

Health Minister circumvents law to fulfill 2008 election bribe?

Priorities?

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Blogger lays complaint with Commerce Commission

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Commerce commission logo

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As of today,  1 April 2013, this blogger has laid a complaint with the Commerce Commission regarding National minister’s questionable dealings with Rio Tinto and proposed subsidies for electricity prices,

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contact@comcom.govt.nz
2:20 PM

 
to me

Your details

Your address

Your complaint

  • Business you are complaining about: New Zealand Government
  • Street: Molesworth St
  • Suburb: Thorndon
  • City/Region: Wellington
  • Post code: 6160
  • Business Contact Number/ Mobile number: (4) 817 9999

Description of complaint

What happened?
Tony Ryall has recently announced that the NZ Government is intervening directly in negotiations between Meridian Energy and Rio Tinto (which is 80% owner of Tiwai Aluminium Smelter).

Mr Ryall has said,

“With this in mind, the Government has been in contact with Pacific Aluminium’s international parent company Rio Tinto this week to discuss helping to bridge the gap in their positions over the short to medium term, if this could be of assistance in concluding an agreement.

“In the meantime, we understand Meridian’s existing contract with Pacific Aluminium remains in place at least until 1 January 2016 with significant financial and other obligations beyond that.”

Ryall added that “all relevant information – including about the smelter electricity contract – will be reflected in the Mighty River Power offer document which is currently being finalised”.

Source: NZ Herald, Govt steps in to sort out stalled Tiwai power deal ( http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10874174)

I therefore submit the following;

(1) This appears to be a prima facie case of the NZ Government manipulating the future stock price of Mighty River Power (and other state owned powercos), by offering a subsidy to Rio Tinto.

(2) This subsidy is not available to any other company nor individual.

(3) As such, I submit that the NZ Government’s intention to subsidise electricity that is provided to Rio Tinto is done with a view to reduce competition in the market.

Specifically, I draw the Commission’s attention to the Commerce Act 1986; sections 27, 30, and related clauses.

(4) Furthermore, I submit that if any other corporation, company, institution, or individual attempted such an act, that they would be deemed to be guilty of price fixing and manipulation of the market.

I await your response and thank you for your consideration of my complaint.

-Frank Macskasy

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I will keep readers posted as to what, if anything results from this complaint.

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Relevant sections

Section 27: Restrictive trade practices

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commerce act 1986 section 27

Source

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Section 30: Price fixing

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commerce act 19868 section 30

Source

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“One should judge a society by how it looks after the sick and vulnerable” – part toru

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com 27-28 february 2013 - rare diseases disorders - New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders -NZORD

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Continued from: “One should judge a society by how it looks after the sick and vulnerable” – part rua

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Chris Higgins – Muscular Dystrophy Association

Chris introduced himself as Chief Executive of Muscular Dystrophy Association. He was present to give the MDA’s perpective on high-cost medicines. Chris told the seminar that the MDA covers over forty  neuro-muscular conditions, including Pompe Disease. All forty conditions are rare, he said.

Chris acknowledged Pompe Disease patients, Freda and Allyson, who were sitting in the audience. He thanked both women for supporting him, at the seminar.

Chris opened his talk by saying that Freda and Allyson “should be given a fair go”. They deserved the opportunity for a longer, and higher quality of life, so they can achieve their full potential. He said that going by what Freda and Allyson had been saying at the Forum, that family/whanau were really important to both women.

He added that family members of people suffering neuro-muscular diseases were important. Chris said that Freda’s grandchildren should not be deprived of growing up and getting to know their nana.

He said Allyson’s husband shouldn’t be deprived of the opportunity of having a long marriage with his wife. And Allyson’s children shouldn’t have to watch their mother slowly get worse, and then eventually be deprived of her altogether.

Chris said,

“And believe me, if you’ve ever been through the experience of having your mother die, it is a truly devastating experience. It just never leaves you.”

Chris then outlined his Association’s concerns. He spoke of being worried that the health system seemed unable to respond to the  needs of people living with rare conditions such as Pompe Disease. He asked if other people with neuro-muscular diseases have to go through the same processes as Freda and Allyson have had to face.

Chris said that as new advances are made with drugs to treat neuro-muscular conditions such as Pompe Disease, and other rare diseases,  that Freda and Allyson’s experiences will be repeated over and over again, as the relatively small  numbers of sufferers result in high-priced treatments.

Chris then questioned whether Pharmac’s NPPA Scheme   system was actually becoming a mechanism to justify their decisions to denying treatments, rather than providing access to much-needed medicines for rare diseases. He added,

“We’re concerned that Pharmac seems to have the ability to ration resources using cost-benefit criteria which do not seem to be applied anywhere else within the New Zealand health system. So it seems  to be one rule for some, and another rule for others…  because of that, MDA members, and I’m sure it applies to a lot of people in this room, as well, are starting to feel really discrimnated against by the New Zealand health system. Seems if you have a rare condition, you don’t get the same consideration from the health system as other people.”

Chris said that discrimination is inconsistent with medicines strategies as well as community values and ethics.

He said there seemed no political will to require Pharmac to relax its cost-benefit criteria, so access becomes a reality rather than a vain hope.

Chris then dropped a quiet ‘bombshell’,

“We’re coming to the point where [the] MDA has lost confidence that  Pharmac will ever grant it’s members access to high cost medicines.”

Chris told the seminar that his group, in conjunction with others, will continue to support their members who are suffering rare diseases.

But Chris expressed a view that he did not believe that it would be a long term solution for the future. Instead, he offered a solution to this problem, by advocating for a separate agency, outside of Pharmac, of an “orphan drugs access programme”,

“We see that  operating within the Ministry of Health but outside of Pharmac. And we see it as having access criteria which are a lot more relaxed than Pharmac’s, and [which] acknowledge  the particular requirements of people living with rare conditions… the thresholds need to be different… and people need to be given a fair go.”

He added that a different mechanism will better address the medicines requirements of rare disease sufferers,  and which are more equitable and reflective of community values.

Chris offered an ‘olive branch’ to the Health system and stated that the MDA is willing to collaborate with both the Ministry of Health and NZORD (New Zealand Organisation for Rare Diseases) in designing an affordable and mutually satisfactory alternative programme.

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  27-28 february 2013 - rare diseases disorders - New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders -NZORD

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Jenny

Jenny works for the support group, Lysosomal Diseases New Zealand. She gave a brief outline of events over the last few years – some of which has been covered by others at the seminar. She referred to one application, for treatment for Gaucher’s disease patients, that had “sat” on Pharmac’s desk for two years before being prompted to make a decision. Funding for that application was finally granted.

A subsequent application, for enzyme replacement therapy (ERT) for another rare disease was declined for a number of reasons, including, she said, that the applicants were “too sick” and “not sick enough“, etc..Some of those patients are now on clinical trials (Allyson) and some are untreated (Freda).

Jenny said that the 2008 election gave her group hope. The extension of Herceptin treatment from 9 weeks to 12 months was a campaign pledge from John Key in 2008 (see:  12-month Herceptin treatment now available)  –  and was enacted within a month of National being elected into office.

Jenny said,

“The Minister of Health funded [an extension to] herceptin, and we thought this is actually a really good step. And we might get some of our other Enzymes [Replacement Therapies – ERT] across the threshold.

The Minister pledged to improve access to specialised medicines…… we took families to Wellington so they could meet the politicians, and tell their stories.”

Jenny’s group thought they were making progress in 2009 when a little boy, with Hunter’s Syndrome, was quickly given Pharmac funding to  receive enzyme replacement therapy (ERT). Adult patients with similar conditions, though, were untreated and without funding for ERT.

Despite a Ministerial review to investigate how adults could gain access to treatment, there was no change, Jenny told the seminar.

Furthermore, in 2010, Allyson’s application for myozome (ERT) was declined by Pharmac, even though the Agency acknowledged there would be stabilisation and improvement to Allyson’s health through treatment.

An appeal to Pharmac’s decision was also rejected.

By 2011, Jenny said,

“We really ramped it up. We put a call out to the community and we asked our families to go and talk to their own local politicians; brief them about what we were doing;  what we needed; about the  issues around access to medicines. And John [Forman] and Chris Higgins got a meeting with Tony Ryall, who said to them that the ‘EC’ (exceptional circumstances) review would solve the problem.

It didn’t.”

Jenny’s group made submissions to Pharmac about the (revised EC scheme), the NPPA Scheme, stating that they believed that people with rare disorders would not make it past the threshold and “would be cut out”.

In September, three more applications were made to Pharmac for treatment for Pompe Disease. They were all declined said Jenny.

In desperation, the group brought a patient with Pompe Disease from the United States to New Zealand, so she could “tell her story” to Pharmac, politicians, and to the media,

“But still that didn’t make a change.”

Jenny then told the seminar about their experience in trying to seek a meeting with Prime Minister John Key,

“We went to Parliament to  request a meeting with the Prime Minister. We got turned out. They got the  security [guards] and we got bailed out of Parliament.”

Jenny read out a statement from Labour’s deputy leader, who called the decision to forcibly evict Jenny’s group, “cowardly and disrespecful”. (For more in-depth information how rare-disease sufferers have been treated by this government, see: Lysosomal Diseases New Zealand News & Issues  . See Party responses here:  Political party commitments on Myozyme and orphan drugs )

The National government had stated that the ‘new’ NPPA (Named Patient Pharmaceutical Assessment ) Scheme would solve the problem of funding for rare diseases,

“The High Costs Highly Specialised Medicines Review – a National promise – recommended PHARMAC review its Exceptional Circumstances process. PHARMAC did that and the result is a new scheme
to replace the old one called “Named Patient Pharmaceutical Assessment”. It starts next March and its budget is expected to go up from $4 million to $8 million in the first year.” – Jackie Blue

Source

Jenny said that in August last year, her group tested the new NPPA process by submitting an application for treatment for Freda (see previous blogpost). Like Allyson, Freda has Pompe Disease – but is receiving no treatment whatsover.

We thought we’ve got nothing to lose, let’s see if it works,” said Jenny.

Well guess what,” she asked, “It didn’t work. She got declined.”

Freda “was not eligible” because, amongst other reasons,

“Pharmac had not provided a pathway forward for their new scheme for rare diseases. So in October we went to the Health Select Committee to ask for help. They sent us to the Minister. Then to the Ministry. Back to the Minister. And he said go and talk to Pharmac.”

They had nowhere else to go, except on a bureacratic roundabout.

Health Minister, Tony Ryall, simply refused to address their problems in any meaningful way.

Jenny outlined the stress on families whose loved ones were either not receiving medication because Pharmac refuse to fund treatment, or, were forced to fly to Australia every two weeks to be part of clinical drug trials,

“That’s a huge stress on their families. We shouldn’t have to do this when there are treatments available in New Zealand. And our patients say ‘it’s like genocide – they pay their taxes, they’ve contributed to society, why can’t we have a fair go?’.

Jenny then asked, “Where to from here? I guess we’ll have to have a Plan B for what [comes] next.”

Blogger’s note: With each passing story that I write up for this blogpost, I am more and more impressed by the sheer heroism of these good people.

See previous related blogpost: Health Minister circumvents law to fulfill 2008 election bribe?

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  27-28 february 2013 - rare diseases disorders - New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders -NZORD

Jenny

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John Forman introduced the next speaker, saying  that the seminar had heard from patients and from support groups, but there were very few people who could contribute to this issue from an academic viewpoint. He said that  few people with an academic or professional background were willing to challenge or criticise Pharmac and that many tended to have a sympathy for the core role that Pharmac has.

John explained that Dr Greg Coyle had written his University Ph.D thesis on the role of Pharmac and how it manages exceptional circumstances.

“It is exactly the topic that we’re interested in, and it’s exactly the kind of academic rigour, independent of a direct patient interest or family interest in this issue.”

Dr Greg Coyle

– Health Researcher

– Principal Advisor to the Salvation Army

Dr Coyle voiced his appreciation for meeting the members of the Forum the previous night (27 February),

“I want to thank the people I met last night…It was important to me for me to meet some of the people that I thought about; researched; and wrote about. And I’m the better for that.”

Following Dr Coyle’s very personal remarks that were directed to those present at the seminar, he launched into his pre-prepared speech and power-point present.

This blogger will re-print some  of his main statements and the rest of the text of his speech can be found here: How does the operation of PHARMAC’s ‘Community Exceptional Circumstances’ policy align with the distributive justice principles of fairness and equity?

“Thank you for inviting me to talk about my research. The subject was fairness and how we might know if agencies are being fair when we ration health care, particularly pharmaceuticals, in New Zealand.”

“…Today I would like to spend a few minutes talking about my study into PHARMAC’s operation of the exceptional circumstances policy (now renamed the Named Patient Pharmaceutical Assessment scheme). This policy of PHARMAC’s was interesting to me because it is located at the very boundary where the needs of the whole society and the needs of an individual meet.

Examples of how we ration healthcare in New Zealand in an explicit manner are very rare. I do not wish to suggest that health rationing is rare –it most certainly is not –but it is mainly done in an implicit manner and patients and families often will not be aware that it is even happening. PHARMAC is one agency which is explicit about limiting care. Many of you know this well.”

“…So the questions I suspect that you want answered is how much cost for the treatment of a person with a rare diseases is too much? As a country do we have processes to decide this? Are the processes rational and fair? Would providing more money for public health mean that other sectors like education, police, welfare, public housing or recovering from natural disasters would be given less? ”

“…John Rawls, an American philosopher, developed a theory of ‘justice as fairness’the chief purpose of which was to ensure that utilitarian and consequentialist thinking, in meeting the greater good, would not sacrifice the position of individuals.   He presented the principle that each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive liberty compatible with a similar liberty of others. However when social and economic inequalities are to be arranged, they should be arranged so that they are both to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged and attached to positions and offices which are open to all under the conditions of fairness and equality.”

“…Amartya Sen, a contemporary welfare economist, philosopher and winner of a Nobel Prize for economic science in 1998, developed a contemporary widely held view of distributive justice…

…  He clarified perceptions of distributive justice in terms of a person’s capability to experience justice.  Sen’s notions of justice are ultimately linked with the capability of people and how their lives are lived in the world.”

“… Sen held that the reach of health equity is immense and health care must be of primary importance in any discussion on social equity and justice;

“…health equity cannot but be a central feature of social arrangements in general”.”

“… Consequently, using these two philosophers, I posed the question of PHARMAC:

How does the operation of PHARMAC’s Community Exceptional Circumstance’policy align with the distributive justice principles of fairness and equity as described by John Rawls and Amartya Sen?”

“…I decided to distill their theories into four questions which decision-makers could ask of themselves to discover (or simply begin to debate) whether their decisions are fair and just.

Here are my 4 questions. I use the term ‘distribution’to mean decision, policy, funding or delivery of a service:

1. Would the most advantaged in society accept this distribution if they, at an instant, found themselves to be the least advantaged in society and requiring such distribution for themselves?

2. Is this distribution arranged so that it is attached to positions and offices which are open and accountable to all?

3. Is this distribution based on the efficiency of substantive opportunities and on procedural fairness in defining efficiency?

4. Is this distribution based on information available to decision makers about the capability of this person to do things he/she has good reason to value?”

“… We see the two purposes for PHARMAC in the governing legislation. One is to approve subsidy on an adequate range of quality pharmaceuticals for the general community. The second purpose is to approve subsidy for citizens whose needs are not met by the general schedule and considered exceptional.”

“… The evidence showed that in PHARMAC’s first purpose, general allocative policies have been highly successful in procuring an adequate range of quality medicines at internationally low prices.

PHARMAC has saved the New Zealand health system approximately $1.17 billion in 14 years. This has been achieved by methods of utilitarian efficiency analyses relying heavily on the Quality Adjusted Life Years calculation. PHARMAC has also expertly utilised subsidising and purchasing decisions based on evidence of clinical effectiveness.”

“… However, in PHARMAC’s second purpose,  its success has been achieved, in part, by managing the claims of individuals in exceptional circumstances in a way that has not closely aligned the Rawls’and Sen’s principles of fairness, equity, openness and consistency.

The research shows that using the functions required of it by governing legislation, PHARMAC well achieves its statutory purpose. However, in doing so, PHARMAC must deal with the tension between justice as fairness to individuals whose needs are exceptional, and fairness to the needs of wider society.”

“… There are three structural problems here. The first is that PHARMAC has no stated philosophical principal on which to base its decision-making other than limiting expenditure to achieve its budget, which is not a principle but an outcome.

The Minister, parliament, the courts, the Ombudsman, DHBs, the pharmaceutical industry, doctors or patients have no way of knowing if the decisions being made by PHARMAC are fair to both the community and the individual. ”

“… The second problem is that PHARMAC and its committees claim to use the 9 decision making criteria to guide decision making. However, my research showed that the priority, or weighting, of the criteria are never explained. So one cannot know which criteria were met or not met when PHARMAC comes to a rationing decision. ”

“… The third problem is that under these conditions PHARMAC will always feel embattled and defensive because it cannot serve both purposes and adequately protect the Minister from criticism. My research showed that PHARMAC Community Exceptional Circumstances Committees don’t record the reasons for their decisions because they would most certainly be challenged. If I was a panelist I am not sure I would record the reasons for my decisions either because of the hazard of doing so.”

“… The pharmaceutical industry has worked out how to squeeze PHARMAC in the media over funding for pharmaceuticals for rare diseases particularly if these drugs are available overseas or the drug company has made a new drug available for a short period provided to individuals on compassionate grounds. Pressure groups, such as your own, highlight individual cases in the media appealing to the ‘Rule of Rescue’to raise public sympathy and put pressure on PHARMAC.”

“… PHARMAC’s claim that it simply does not have the budget for $500,000 a year for drugs for a single person is quite true. But the government does have budgets for other things for example $30 million for a sports stadium in Christchurch, $8m a year on ministerial limousines, assisting a private boarding school in Wanganui for $3.8m,  a greater than $350m tax subsidy for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit  pictures or the government considering recapitalizing the state coal company for $400m… I could go on. ”

“… and one million for the penguin!” [Not in pre-prepared speech notes.]

“… In this first purpose they are world beaters and we should celebrate the relatively large savings PHARMAC has made…

… However in this system the needs of the individuals with rare diseases will always take second place. To achieve budgetary control over the community pharmaceutical schedule and provide for people in exceptional circumstances are contradictory purposes. The first purpose is explicit meso-level rationing and the second purpose is explicit micro-level rationing. They are not the same and cannot be treated the same way.”

“… Well what system for analysing pharmaceuticals for rare diseases would I propose?

Firstly I believe PHARMAC should continue to do what it does well which is carefully analysing clinical effectiveness and cost utility in the approval of subsidy for medicines for public hospitals and the general community.

(Slide 14) I believe the second purpose of PHARMAC, to approve subsidy for medicines for individuals with rare diseases should be handled by another agency administered by the Ministry of Health. Shall we call it the ‘Rare Diseases Funding Agency’ Its chair and members should be appointed by the Minister of Health.”

“… The Rare Diseases Funding Agency in New Zealand would be similar to PHARMAC in that it would have a fixed budget determined by parliament for the specific purpose of deciding on all claims not just for pharmaceuticals, but also for home support and other necessary assistance for people with rare diseases in the community.  The agency would need to implement the medicine strategy including the objectives of efficient use of resources and fairness and equity considerations. I have no idea what the level of funding should be, but a starting point would be transferring PHARMAC’s budget for ‘Named Patient Pharmaceutical Assessment’scheme, I believe is $8m, to the Agency.”

“… Or, here’s an idea, a reallocation of a proportion of the savings made by PHARMAC could also be made to the Rare Diseases Funding Agency.”

“… Finally, there should be consideration of the fairness of decisions to individuals. Fairness can be a consideration because the Rare Diseases Funding Agency is separated off from the funding of pharmaceuticals of the wider public.

The agency should demonstrate openness and transparency about it decisions. ”

“…A good model of openness and accountability to consider might be the investigation and reporting mechanisms of the Office of the Health and Disability Commissioner which I hold to be exemplary.

Clearly PHARMAC and the Rare Diseases Funding Agency would have boundary issues and it would be in both agencies’interest to have a cooperative relationship.”

“… I believe that there will never be a time when all the pharmaceutical or other health needs of people who suffer rare or common diseases will be able to be met. This day will never come. But such an agency which I am proposing, underpinned by distributive justice principles, will provide an accountable, cost effective and fair system for analysing and managing the limited resources which are available for this purpose.”

“…In summary, (Slide 15) I submit that the current PHARMAC system delivers incredible value on behalf of the general community but it does not deliver justice as fairness to individual claimants who suffer rare diseases. I believe a new Rare Diseases Funding Agency, such as I have described, would.”

(Blogger’s Note: It’s apparent that a general concensus throughout the seminar was that Pharmac’s role to fund treatment for patient’s with rare diseases was not working well, and that a new agency was needed to undertake this responsibility

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Lucy

Lucy has been advising NZORD of legal matters in relation to access to medicines for rare diseases. She has been undertaking this role for a couple of years. She said this has been of limited success, and likened it to trying to put a square peg in a round hole.

She said,

“But it doesn’t necessarily need to be this way. The legal framework feels like it should be capable of making these decisions.”

Lucy said that the Health Minister and Ministry “make all the right noises” when it comes to accessing treatments for rare conditions. She referred to various agencies, laws, and documents which all indicate a need to improve access to highly specialised medicines.

Lucy said that all the documents which refer to specialised medicines and principals of fairness, equity, and distributive justice (prompted with a whisper from Dr Coyle), and affordability,  should allow people to have a “fair go”.  She read from legislation and Statement of Intent relating to Pharmac,

“… including in exceptional circumstances providing for subsidies for pharmaceuticals not in the Schedule.”

She pointed out that rare disease should be the “exceptional circumstances” – “they’re the diseases that are so rare, hardly anyone has them.”

Lucy pointed out that these are the drugs that Pharmac will never fund because they don’t meet their narrow cost-benefit, health-economics basis – which Pharmac uses so well for mass-market medications.

“And why would we fund these things?” she asked. “We would fund them because,  we don’t want to abandon our citizens. We mount  hugely exprensive rescue operations  to rescue people stuck up on mountains even thought they’ve taken themselves up there. “

Lucy said that Pharmac considers that it doesn not need to take into account issues of morality, fairness, equity, and community values, because of the way legislation has been enacted. So they do not take those factors into account.

As a lawyer, Lucy said she would be assisting NZORD to ensure that Pharmac does take those factors into consideration, when making decisions.

She said,

“I don’t agree with their argument that fairness means the same processing criteria for everyone. Because it can’t be fair to say from the outset that this whole subset of patients will never be funded; ‘just rule them out’. There must be cases within that subset that deserve to be funded.”

Lucy added that in all cases the onus is on Pharmac’s decision makers to make their decisions with humility, empathy, and with respect,

“I think that Pharmac is exceptionally proud of the system that it’s developed and the $1.7 billion of savings that it’s  achieved for the Schedule. Such that, ‘they shall not be questioned’. And I think that;’s really  insulting for the people who don’t fit within that process.”

Lucy agreed with suggestions that a fundamental change to the system was required. She said that in the meantime  “legally we have what we  have”.

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Lucy

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At the conclusion of the speakers’  addresses, there was ample time to mingle and ask questions. In a room full of people with serious medical conditions – many life-threatening – there was a strong feeling of cheerful optimism. Never underestimate the human  ability for hope…

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This blogger wishes to thank the fine people who invited me to attend the Forum; to hear their stories; and who trusted me to present those same stories in an appropriate, respectful, and honest way.

The thing that struck me the most was that these were ordinary New Zealanders who most likely have never thumbed their noses at authority; have never engaged in protest activity; and are your typical Middle Class fellow-Kiwis.

They are also people who’ve not been well treated by the system – including politicians who often promise The World – but when held to account – find shabby excuses not to help those who desperately need it.

This country – our government – could help sufferers of rare diseases. The money is there. Perhaps politicians could cut some of the subsidies they give to businesses; build one less motorway; take a bus instead of chauffered limousines (which Green MPs do very well); or any other number of savings.

The money is there.

It’s the will to spend it on medicines, which is lacking.

And to Allyson and Freda – you two are fabulous! My thoughts are with you both (and all the others who I met at the Forum, and those I didn’t).  May the politicians and others in high positions of decision-making hang their heads in shame for how they’ve let you down.

You’re simply the best.

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  27-28 february 2013 - rare diseases disorders - New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders -NZORD

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So who uttered the quote, “One should judge a society by how it looks after the sick and vulnerable”?

Look for yourself,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  27-28 february 2013 - rare diseases disorders - New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders -NZORD

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Fine words, Mr Prime Minister. Perhaps these people would like to know how deeply you believe them…

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**Update** **Update** **Update** **Update** **Update** **Update**


NZORD has annnounced that it will be approaching the Office of the Ombudsman.

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Addendum

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Key defends 'small' Longstone payout

Source

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Previous related blogposts

Priorities? (19 Oct 2011)

Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key (12 Nov 2012)

Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key – Update & more questions (28 Nov 2012)

Health Minister circumvents law to fulfill 2008 election bribe? (18 Dec 2012)

Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment – Compassion (9 Jan 2013)

“There’s always an issue of money but we can find money for the right projects” – John Key (20 Jan 2013)

Media

Pharmac: The politics of playing god (16 June 2011)

$500,000 a year to keep toddler alive (5 Feb 2013)

Rare disease sufferers want pricey treatments (1 March 2013)

Rare disease takes awful toll on boy (1 March 2013)

Call for an Orphan drugs access policy to overcome Pharmac’s systems failure (28 Feb 2013)

Additional Information

Gregory John Coyle: How does the operation of PHARMAC’s ‘Community Exceptional Circumstances’ policy align with the distributive justice principles of fairness and equity?

The PNH Support Association of NZ

PNH Support: Petition to Government to Make Soliris available to New Zealanders!

Support for Jethro Morrow

Facebook: Support for Jethro Morrow Facebook Page

Facebook: NZ Rare Disease Day

Website: NZ Rare Disease Day

Facebook: Treat NZ Pompe Patients Now Facebook Page

Website: Pompe Network

Facebook: Lysosomal Diseases New Zealand

Website: Lysosomal Diseases New Zealand

Facebook: NZ Organisation for Rare Disorders

Website:  NZ Organisation for Rare Disorders   

Pompe Support: Petition to Government Fund Myozyme for Pompe Patients

Copyright (c)  Notice

All images are freely available to be used, with following provisos,

  • Use must be for non-commercial purposes.
  • At all times, images must be used only in context, and not to denigrate individuals.
  • Acknowledgement of source is requested.

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= fs =

“One should judge a society by how it looks after the sick and vulnerable” – part rua

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Continued from: “One should judge a society by how it looks after the sick and vulnerable” – part tahi

John opened the NZORD seminar with a welcome to attendees and members of the media.  He was sporting a newly designed purple ribbon, denoting support for people with rare conditions, and the every day struggles they face in their lives.

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Paul

Paul began by telling those present about his son, “Ja”, and his rare disease, Hunter Syndrome (MPSII). “Ja” is only one of two children in the country with this rare disease.

Paul’s concern, he told listener’s, was the problem of fairness in getting access to specialised medicines for rare diseases. Paul said that current enzyme replacement therapy, available world-wide, was proven to have an effect on this disease, by slowing its progress.

Paul told the seminar that in June 2010, Pharmac’s Dr Peter Moodie appeared on TVNZ’s “Close-Up” (now replaced by ‘Seven Sharp’) agreed that the drug ‘Elaprase’ (an enzyme replacement therapy) was an effective drug for “Ja’s” disorder. The drug was approved for the second child suffering Hunter Syndrome – but bizarrely, six months later, Pharmac declined access for “Ja”.

Paul’s son’s doctors immediately placed a second application for Pharmac to get funding for this treatment for his son.

Paul said they got results when they went on nationwide TV (See:  Campbell Live – “$500,000 drug treatment for boy”). He was not the first case where media attention had both accelerated the decision making process, but also had a positive treatment result. As he said,

When you talk about fairness and equity, this is the perfect example of two cases, of two kids, with exactly the same disease,  wanting exactly the same medicine. One was allowed access, one wasn’t. And we had to go on TV and beg for the drug. Parents of kids with rare diseases shouldn’t have to do that.”

Paul’s address to the seminar was short, lasting only a couple of minutes. But the power of his soft-spoken  words, describing his family’s experience in their dealings with Pharmac, was sufficient to get his message through,  with chilling clarity.

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  27-28 february 2013 - rare diseases disorders - New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders -NZORD

Paul

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Jo

Jo wanted to share her perspective of how a rare disease affects an ordinary family. In fact, Jo’s experiences and struggles were anything but “ordinary”. Jo described herself as the “proud mother of two  wonderful boys”, “J”, 9,  and  “C”, 11.

“C”  was diagnosed two years ago with a rare brain disease for which there is no cure; is degenerative; and life expectancy is mid-to-late teens.

At this point, I wondered at the inner strength of a parent who could talk about her child’s impending fate, in a room full of strangers. There was an underlying tension in Jo’s voice – unsurprising considering  the subject matter she was talking about. As if to underline this, Jo said,

No one said life was going to be easy, but we were not ready for this.”

Jo told the seminar that a drug called “genistein” – whilst not a cure – might help ease the symptoms. The drug is not available in New Zealand and they source it from a pharmacy in New York, USA.  She said the US pharmacy will not permit the medicine to be sold to a local pharmacy here in New Zealand. They will only on-sell to patients and their families.

Jo outlined the process by which they purchased  “genistein” from overseas. She had the support of her pediatrician in Dunedin; a metabolic specialist from Auckland’s Starship Hospital; and advice on dosage from another specialist, a Professor,  in Poland. They then “crossed their fingers” that the exchange rate was favourable when they made the purchase.

She then told the seminar that soon after the medicaton arrived into the country, they were phoned by NZ Customs, demanding payment of GST and Duty, on the medication.

Jo said they no longer have to pay some of the Duty on the  “genistein”, as they were exempt. She added, “I struck the nicest guy [at Customs] who had a heart“.

Jo questioned why her family should have to pay GST for a drug for her terminally ill son – a drug not otherwise available here in New Zealand. She asked,

Why should the government benefit from my son having an illness that will take his life. It is not a lot of money, but it is to us.”

Jo has written a book called “It’s OK”, about a child with a disability, starting a new schiool, and another child recognising that it’s ok to have a disability. She said it was the book they had been searching for, in relation to their son’s condition. It did not exist, so she wrote it herself.

Jo said that her local community in Otago held regular bingo nights to raise money to purchase the “genistein“ for “C”, and was hugely appreciative of their effiorts to support “C”.

Does the “genistein” work? Jo said they don’t know, and with a hint of resignation in her voice said,

There’s nothing else. That’s it.”

Jo then told listeners that their son, “C”, will become a donor. Jo said that she and her husband were trying to think of other parents, and hoping  that this decision would help them,

It will be ‘C’s’ gift to them.”

[Blogger’s note: At a time when Jo and her family are faced with the unimaginable, they still have the courage and forethought to think of others. This is people in their darkest moments, rising and being the best they can. I cannot put into words what I feel as I listen to Jo’s voice on my Recorder and write them here, for  others to read. To continue Jo’s story…]

Jo said it was impossible to try to explain, so others understood,  how such a rare disease affected  their family.  She said, “as a mum, there are days I cannot breathe“.

As Jo tried to describe the heart-wrenching feeling , as the disease took more and more “everyday things” from ‘C’, her voice began to break. She said,

There is not a day that I walk past ‘C’ without touching him as one day I will not be able to.”

She said she enjoyed days when she watched her boys play. “Life,” Jo said, “was not a dress rehearsal“, and she emphasised making the most of every day we had. She ended her address by saying,

Families dealing with a rare disease should be able to enjoy the time they have, not have to spend their time fighting for what they need.”

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  27-28 february 2013 - rare diseases disorders - New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders -NZORD

Jo

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Shannon

Shannon began by explaining that in 2010 her eight month old infant son, “Je” was diagnosed with kidney failure. At the time, she says, she believed “that was all she was dealing with“. Later, it was discovered, “Je” was suffering from a rare disease with a long, complicated name (but which Shannon can roll off her tongue with extraordinary ease), with the initials aHUS.

The condition is a genetic mutation resulting in chronic kidney failure, high blood pressure, neurological damage, risks of heart attacks and strokes and “the list is pretty endless“.

Though her young son was in bad shape at the time, doctors managed to restore kidney functions assisted with dialysis and stabilise him with plasma infusions. Later still, Shannon and her family learned that their best hope for “Je” was a drug called “soliris” – an expensive medication. Though “Je” was undergoing weekly plasma infusions – not much fun for a three year old little boy – that was not a long-term solution. When infusions are no longer effective, “Je’s” only other option will be “soliris”, Shannon said.

The medication is not funded by Pharmac.Two applications have been made to Pharmac – both rejected by the Agency.

Shannon and her family are busy fund-raising (see previous blogpost: ), knowing that every dollar they manage to raise will be a dollar that goes towards saving “Je’s” life. Shannon describes her activities as “a mad fund-raising mission”.

She says that “Je’s” health is currently stable, but that  60% of  aHUS sufferers do not survive their first year of diagnosis., “so we’re very lucky there”.

Shannon concluded by saying, “we have a pretty intense journey ahead“.

Blogger’s note: “Je’s” life will depend upon the generosity of ten thousand strangers, each  contributing $1 per week to save him – an awful dichotomy between the life of a child  and $1 per week. It is amazing how Nature’s cruelty can be offset by human beings’ love and compassion toward each other.

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  27-28 february 2013 - rare diseases disorders - New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders -NZORD

Shannon

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Allyson (assisted by Jenny)

Allyson has Pompe Disease – a condition shared by only six other people in this country.

With Jenny’s help, Allyson read from a pre-prepared power-point presentation on her lap-top.She called it “Innocent people dying under John Key’s Watch”.

Quoting Treasury’s website, Allyson stated that  $7.9 million was spent annually on Ministerial cars and chauffeurs. The figures covered Members of the Executive (government Ministers); leader of the Opposition;  former Governor Generals; former Prime Ministers; their wives’ judiciary; Distinguished Visitors (see: Govt paid $6000 limo tab for Warner Bros in Hobbit talks); as well as self-drive vehicles for Members of the Executive.

Allyson suggested that $8 million could pay for life-giving medication for everyone in the room.

Allyson pointed out other examples, such as drunk-drivers who killed someone being elegible for ACC, if they also happened to injure themselves. Even incarcerated criminals, she said, received more funding from government than sufferers of rare diseases did.

By comparison, she said, rare genetic diseases like theirs “got zero”.

Allyson’s application for enzyme replacement therapy treatment (ERT) has already been declined twice by Pharmac. “But I’ll go for three“, she said with a quiet chuckle. She said that the medication would slow down, or even stop,  the progression of her disease and offer a modest improvement, which is a “huge thing for a degenerative disease”. But Pharmac still rejected her application.

Allyson said she’s currently on a trial programme, for which she has to fly overseas – initially to Florida, and subsequently to Australia – and had to fund-raise by selling raffle tickets outside a super-market.

Selling raffle tickets to save my  own life. That’s pretty bad, isn’t it? For New Zealand. Or any other country.”

Allyson said there were sixty countries that funded ERT, but New Zealand and Australia were not one of them. “So we’re really in the Third World.”

Allyson explained that currently she was part of a drug trial that involved her travelling to Brisbane every two weeks (see previous blogpost for details). She was obviously worried that if the pharmaceutical company stopped the trial at any time, she would have to go “cap in hand” to Pharmac. There was an edge to her voice –  Allyson must have realised the likelihood of Pharmac granting consent to her application would most likely be nil.

Blogger’s note: Allyson’s life is currently in the hands of a pharmaceutical corporation that owes  very little to her. She is assisting their drug trial in a purely commercial transaction. By contrast, our own  government does nothing for her, or others, suffering from rare diseases.

Allyson considers herself lucky to be part of this drug trial, and says,

The alternative to not getting treatment  isn’t worth thinking about.”

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Allyson (L) and Jenny (R)

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Olivia

Olivia began her talk by explaining the nature of Hereditary Angioedema (or HAE).

HAE is a potentially fatal, genetic condition that involves parts of the body swelling, and affects one in 50,000 people worldwide. There are 49 known sufferers here in New Zealand.

Olivia said that an attack can occur in the stomach, internal organs, and sometimes fatally, in the air-tract. Death by asphyxiation can occur in under twenty minutes, if not treated appropriately. She said there is one treatment only, which is available only  in certain major hospitals, for in-patients.

This current situation affected families of HAE sufferers who had to familiarise themselves with the locations and means of access to  specific hospitals that carry suitable treatment. Olivia said that because frontline staff are not always familiar with the condition, there can be critical delays in treatment. Olivia pointed out that a sufferer in Spain died during an attack, when hosital staff failed to recognise the condition correctly – even when presented with information regarding HAE.

As a consequence, Olivia said that,

International physicians are recommending that patients have the ability  to carry their own medication for treatment at a hospital...”

Olivia added that there is a new medication available to 37 other countries, including Iceland and Russia.Whilst the drug is not available here in New Zealand, if it were, it could be self-administered by the patient in his/her own home.

Olivia outlined what was required for HAE sufferers,

We need equal and fair  access for all patients across  all of New Zealand. Even if they live in a smaller town or city. We need timely access to treatments, either through a patient carrying their own supply, or through the ability to self-administer at home which is available in other countries as well. Also access to the best treatments that are available in other developed nations. These allow early treatments at the first sign of attack, meaning less hospital admissions; less severe attacks; and the ability for patients to carry on with their every day lives. “

Olivia criticised the current system which forced people to  spend their  limited time and resources on  fighting for access to treatments, rather than “looking after the health that we do have“.

And we don’t think that’s fair.”

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  27-28 february 2013 - rare diseases disorders - New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders -NZORD

Olivia

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Daniel

Daniel is a 32 year old father of one. He suffers from Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH). He started by explaining his “journey”, and which started with experiencing odd symptoms that his then- partner suggested that he check up on. His GP insisted on blood tests which led to an MRI; then to a urologist; and then haematologist… and finally after nine months, a diagnosis of PNH was arrived at.

Daniel’s current treatment is referred to as a “supportive treatment”. This does not address the underlying causes of his condition, and only manages his blood levels, which are constantly fluctuating.

For deeper treatment, Daniel requires “soliris” – which Shannon’s son also needs for his condition. The drug prevents the body’s immune system from attacking red blood cells.

Daniel explained that many of the new drug treatments “are at the leading edge of science and health  technology” and by funding these innovative new treatments, they will eventually have greater applications and benefits. He said that by not funding these new treatments, the government is putting out a message that it is not interested in seeing science and technology develop in such a way as to treat other diseases and  benefit more people.

As a treatment, Daniel was offered a bone marrow transplant – which has considerable difficulties and risks for complications involved. With no sibling as a close blood-type match, Daniel would have had to seek assistance from a non-relation who matched him as closely as possible. He said a bone-marrow transplant offered a 50/50 chance of success – or coming out at the end in a worse state, “or potentially dead“.

An alternative was presented to Daniel when a UK specialist shared his research-findings in April last year (2012), regarding the use of “soliris” to treat PNH sufferers. What Daniel heard was like a beacon of hope being switched on,

With the treatment option [ “soliris”],  patients were living for the same period of  time as the general population, so mortality rates had dropped away. Without treatment, the expected survival is around ten years, so the median is about ten years, post-diagnosis. But with treatment, patients were living long and full lives. And the important thing for me was hearing some of the quality of life strories which he shared…living with PNH, one of the major symptoms is this constant and sometimes quite severe fatigue burden… to live day to day.

Daniel said it wasn’t just physical but the psychological impacts of living with a chronic disease, and the awareness that it’s “not going to go away”.

Daniel described  “soliris” as an “amazing treatment” that is “now proven to give people back quality of life” as well as extending their life span and which has been  part of the British public health system since 2008. In Australia it has been available since 2011.

Daniel asked the UK specialist,

What would you do in my situation?”

The reply from the visiting doctor was unequivocal, according to Daniel,

“There’s no question. If you were in the UK you’d be treated with “soliris”. You don’t go down the bone-marrow transplant [option], there’s too much risk involved. Internationally doctors are moving away from bone  marrow transplantation. Come to the UK.”

Whilst he was tempted to make use of other country’s health systems, Daniel recognised that there were many others in New Zealand – many of whom were young people – who desperately needed leading -edge drugs such as “soliris”, and he couldn’t “run away from these problems”. He said he and others were entitled to receive treatments that he had been paying taxes for a number of years.

Instead, Daniel did what Kiwis are famous for – he decided to take a stand for something which he recognised was grossly unfair.  He and others set up a patient association [The PNH Support Association of NZ] and have taken to lobbying government and Pharmac for funding for “soliris”.

Daniel made the point that PNH “rogue cells” are common in approximately 10% or 20% of the population. Occassionally, these rogue cells over-whelm healthy cells in the bone marrow and the disease becomes manifest. However, the visiting UK doctor informed Daniel that with life-spans extended by soliris, sufferers were often experiencing “spontaneous remission” as the body had more time to adapt and experience a kind of  “cure”.

Daniel then shared his experiences with Pharmac, after he and others had launched a media campaign, earlier this year, highlighting their difficulties at getting funding for treatment. He said,

I felt it was fairly non-agressive, fairly straight-forward… ‘We’re a group of patients; we’re sick; we want access to a particular drug. We didn’t hide away from the fact that it was a high cost treatment…”

He said, “we didn’t really attack Pharmac, we simply told the story of  ‘this is a treatment which has been under consideration for over 14 months’. We made it clear that there had been funds provided  by the drug company to support our media relations company, [but] none have come directly to the Association, but they have been paying for us to have access to this group. And we told our story.

And immediately on the same day, we began to see what John has described as the ‘clobbering machine’. The misinformation machine… essentially Pharmac is a hugely resourced government agency. It doesn’t take these stories lying down. It fights.”

According to Daniel, Pharmac fought back in the media with a variety of strategies, including denunciation by recognised leaders in various medical-related fields and painting the PNH Association as a proxy, attempting to speak on behalf of pharmaceuticals. Pharmac was also derisory about PNH sufferers, dismissing it as a “fashionable disease“.

(Blogger’s note: if, reading this, you are experiencing a sense of unease that taxpayer-funded state agencies are able to employ taxpayer-funded ‘spin doctors’ to counter public concerns surrounding Pharmac funding decisions – that is a normal reaction. It signals that, in an Age of Madness,  you are sane.)

Daniel said that many of Pharmac’s public statements did not make sense and it appeared that there was “a mechanism” within this public agency that worked to actively counter any argument it deemed critical of it’s performance. He said that whilst Pharmac was entitled to make its position clear, that it seemed that the agency was speaking through other groups and ‘proxies’ to put their message out to the public. Daniel said  “to me, this is an abuse of power“.

He said that the system is broken if people, such as the ones who had spoken at the seminar, were having to beg for treatment whilst being very sick.

Daniel said that he felt that the disease had not only taken over his health, but had taken over his life and that he was having to counter Pharmac and fight for what he believed to be a simple request; access to healthcare.

He said his concerns were two-fold.

Firstly Daniel believed that the system was “broken” and that decision-making for funding treatments for rare diseases be taken away from Pharmac, and given to a separate decision-making body. Such a new body, he said, would recognise a “different equation” where, by default, rare diseases would have to be treated differently.

Secondly, Daniel  said that “we need to be looking at Pharmac  and asking some questions about how it operates”. He said that as a government agency it is accountable to the citizens of the country, who it is supposedly serving, and has no mandate to attempt to “squash a small patient group”. He said there were problems around dissemination of mis-information, poor presentation of decision making processes, and a lack of transparency.

He repeated his assertion that, to him, this was an abuse of power by a governmental agency, and he hoped for better outcomes than this.

(Blogger’s note: And it should be said that when a government agency – of any description – uses media streategists and spin doctors to counter public concerns and criticisms – they are using our own taxes against us.)

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  27-28 february 2013 - rare diseases disorders - New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders -NZORD

Daniel

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Jane

Jane began by telling the seminar how shocked she was to hear other peoples’ stories on the previous evening of the Forum (27 February). She said she considered herself “lucky” in that she has resources, plus resources of her close friend, Susan, who Jane describes as “incredibly astute and on-the-ball” and very supportive.

So together, we quite a formidible team.”

Jane said that she’s managed to cope with her situation, but expressed concern for those less fortunate and with less resourcing and support.

“What about all those other people when someone looks them in the eye and says, ‘We’re terribly sorry but this is a disease that we just have to watch and wait‘?”

Jane detailed her own situation from initial diagnosis; the search for a stem-cell donor (no match anywhere); flying to Melbourne to consult a specialist;  and finally getting approval to commence a specialised drug, “azacitidene”.

Azacitidine” is not available in New Zealand. She said therefore that you either fund it yourself – or you don’t have it at all. Jane said if she doesn’t have it, “she’s going to drop through the ice” (See previous blogpost: “One should judge a society by how it looks after the sick and vulnerable” – part tahi )

Though not funded by Pharmac, “azacitidine” has won approval  for it to be administered. Her treatment starts in a couple of weeks.

Jane then posed the question to the seminar, “so why am I here?”.

She answered that she had the skills; the resources; the “team”; to work her way through the system; to research and network and therefore give herself a chance.

What about the person who can’t do that? What about the person who hasn’t got the resources? … They’re going to have no chance.”

Jane concluded by saying,

I just have this real concern that this is not fair. Health systems are not fair and equitable. It really relies on the individual, and relies on luck around the individual…This is an organisation that … by bringing people together, can make a difference.”

Next

Where this blogger reveals the author of the quote, “One should judge a society by how it looks after the sick and vulnerable” .

And where concrete proposals are made to reform Pharmac with a bold plan for a “Baby Pharmac”.

To be Continued at: “One should judge a society by how it looks after the sick and vulnerable” – part toru

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Previous related blogposts

Priorities? (19 Oct 2011)

Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key (12 Nov 2012)

Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key – Update & more questions (28 Nov 2012)

Health Minister circumvents law to fulfill 2008 election bribe? (18 Dec 2012)

Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment – Compassion (9 Jan 2013)

“There’s always an issue of money but we can find money for the right projects” – John Key (20 Jan 2013)

Media

Pharmac: The politics of playing god (16 June 2011)

$500,000 a year to keep toddler alive (5 Feb 2013)

Rare disease sufferers want pricey treatments (1 March 2013)

Rare disease takes awful toll on boy (1 March 2013)

Call for an Orphan drugs access policy to overcome Pharmac’s systems failure (28 Feb 2013)

Additional Information

Gregory John Coyle: How does the operation of PHARMAC’s ‘Community Exceptional Circumstances’ policy align with the distributive justice principles of fairness and equity?

The PNH Support Association of NZ

PNH Support: Petition to Government to Make Soliris available to New Zealanders!

Support for Jethro Morrow

Facebook: Support for Jethro Morrow Facebook Page

Facebook: NZ Rare Disease Day

Website: NZ Rare Disease Day

Facebook: Treat NZ Pompe Patients Now Facebook Page

Website: Pompe Network

Facebook: Lysosomal Diseases New Zealand

Website: Lysosomal Diseases New Zealand

Facebook: NZ Organisation for Rare Disorders

Website:  NZ Organisation for Rare Disorders   

Pompe Support: Petition to Government Fund Myozyme for Pompe Patients

Copyright (c)  Notice

All images are freely available to be used, with following provisos,

  • Use must be for non-commercial purposes.
  • At all times, images must be used only in context, and not to denigrate individuals.
  • Acknowledgement of source is requested.

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“One should judge a society by how it looks after the sick and vulnerable” – part tahi

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com 27-28 february 2013 - rare diseases disorders - New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders -NZORD

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NZ, Wellington, 27/28 February – This blogger was invited to attend a forum held by NZORD (New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders).  The Forum addressed issues and problems surrounding PHARMAC funding (or lack, thereof)  for “orphan drugs” (see: Wikipedia – Orphan Drugs), for rare medical conditions such  such as Pompe Disease.

Until now, many of the folk involved (John Forman, Allyson Locke, and others) were just names and media stories to me.

But on the evening of 27 February, when I met Allyson at Wellington Airport, and subsequently met John at Rydges Hotel in downtown Wellington – they became very real, engaging people. I was finally able to put people-to-names.

And then I heard and learnt their own stories.

What I found humbled me and made me realise that their stories and their problems with PHARMAC could be any New Zealander impacted by government policies.

These were our stories as well as theirs.

27 February

About 20 people met in the Rydge’s Function Room. It was a bright sunny day outside – and the hotel’s air-conditioning was on the blink. The heat was stifling; comments were made about hot-house conditions suitable for growing tomatoes; fans were brought in; and Management expressed their apology by shouting us five free bottles of wine later, during our buffet dinner. (Since I was driving, it was water for me.)

The Forum kicked off with John Forman, Executive Director of NZORD, welcoming attendees,

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27-28 february 2013 - rare diseases disorders - New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders -NZORD

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John introduced himself and explained his own situation,  referring to two family member with a rare disorder. This has given him  first-hand, intimate  empathy with people living with rare diseases and disorders.  He works in the dual roles of Executive Director of New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders and Chairperson for the Lysosomal Diseases support group. He has worked in this field, at first part-time and now full-time, for fifteen years.

John then invited those present to give a brief introduction to their own situation.

Daniel

Daniel explained his rare disease – PNH –  and that he is currently fighting to gain access for medication that is known to be a life-saving treatment for people with his condition. His group, The PNH Support Association of NZ, launched a media campaign this year to highlight their fight to access treatment for their condition.

He said that the Pharmac process had been ongoing for twelve to fourteen months. His group are pushing for release of documents from Pharmac relating to their application for drug-funding.

Daniel is a founding member of the The PNH Support Association of NZ which is currently running an online  Petition to Government to Make Soliris available to New Zealanders. [Blogger’s note: please take a moment to sign the petition. It will take only a couple of minutes, and will be the best thing you can do to help Daniel and his fellow PNH sufferers.]

Daniel said he lives with a disease that effects his life on a daily basis, and was excited about prospects to help his, and fellow sufferer’s, situation.

Paul

Paul spoke on behalf of his young son, “Ja”, advising the group of the rare disease, Hunter Syndrome (MPSII) that affects him. His son had undergone a bone-marrow transplant in October last year, following twelve weeks of Enzyme Replacement Therapy (ERT). Paul’s son was one of the few cases where Pharmac has funded ERT, and they appeared on “Campbell Live”.  (See:  Campbell Live – $500,000 drug treatment for boy)

Paul said that his son is doing “really well” at present, but will be going back to Starship Hospital for further, ongoing treatment.

Shannon

Shannon also spoke on behalf of her three year-old young boy, “Je”, who has a life-threatening, genetic disorder. She rattled of the lengthy, tongue-twisting, medical name for the disorder with an ease that suggested how frighteningly and  intimately familiar she was with her son’s condition. (I doubt most doctors could repeat the name with such ease.)

Shannon explained that whilst her little boy was presently stable, there was currently no cure for the condition. “Je” has plasma infusions every week – not much fun for a three year old lad who should be out playing with his mates and doing all the things that other three year olds do.

Shannon said that at some stage he will need “soliris”  –  “the sooner the better for a quality of life”. She hopes for funding in the near future, and in the meantime has been privately fund-raising. Shannon is asking ten thousand  people to donate $1 a week, to pay for upcoming treatment with ‘Soliris’. She said they were a quarter of the way to her target with two and a half thousand people making $1 weekly donations, plus extra donations coming in from other fund-raising activities, events, and auctions.

“I basically fund-raise non-stop… I’d like to basically give him a relatively normal life ,” she told the Forum.

Despite Shannon’s soft-voice and demeanour, she held a steely determination to do the very best she could for her son. She is obviously not going to give up on him.

People wanting to help Jethro can do so through the following;

http://supportforjethro.co.nz/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Support-for-Jethro-Morrow-aka-Jethro-Gantley/251266464918462

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/8262237/500-000-a-year-to-keep-toddler-alive

Remember – just $1 a week!

Jo

Told the Forum that her eleven year old son, “Co”, was diagnosed with a rare disorder two years ago. She said, “there is no cure, and there is no treatment”.

Jo said that her family imports a drug from the United States called “genistein“, but it’s use is “purely a trial”. She said it may help to ease the symptoms.

Jo said that “Co” is still walking – but his life expectancy was mid-to-late teens only.

At one point Jo found it difficult to explain why she was attending the Forum, but said that it was good to be with other people who had “been through the same journey, and probably understands”.  She referred to the “huge”  implications of a late-diagnosed disease and ongoing battles relating to her son’s condition.

Marianne

Marianne is from Dunedin and both her adult sons are affected with the same rare disorder, MPS1. She said that whilst both her sons are “living relatively normal day-to-day with the condition, as much as they can”, there was no enzyme-replacement therapy  that would be effective for their particular situation.

Marianne said that they were living their lives in the “present day like kids would their age” but that the disease might not manifest problems until they were much older. She said she was attending the Forum to be kept up to date “in the loop”, and appreciated that others who were present, had a “hard journey to make”.

Brenda

Brenda’s family in the UK had been devastated by a rare disease and told the Forum that “it’s now working it’s way through family here”.

Brenda’s  granddaughters have not been tested yet, and said that was  “a shock yet to come”.  She says her daughter, “D”, has Fabry diagnosis – hence a 50/50 chance that her two granddaughters  may also have the disease.

Brenda said she had been “a bit naive all my life”, thinking  that “when you got sick, you  got treated”. But she said she was horrified to learn that even living in a developed country that was not always the case.

Brenda said she wanted to help, “I want to do something, I don’t know what….just to do something, to kick arse!”, which prompted laughter from the Forum attendees.

Jane

Jane told the forum that her condition was often just a chronic disease but in her case was more serious.   She’d recently sought an opinion from our nearest centre of excellence for the disease in Melbourne where she was told that despite having ‘a performance level of 0’ and being ‘extremely well’ she is now in the ‘high risk’ category.  The specialist described her as being “a really good ice skater but that the longer she skated the thinner the ice”, and she could “crash through” at any moment.

Quite liking being alive, Jane’s uses her skills and resources to challenge and achieve opportunities.  She expressed her determination “to get what I need“, and referred to her “terrier” nature; getting her teeth in; and not letting go, but it takes huge effort.

Jane said “the rules of engagement are not explicit” and it is hard to work them out.  They [the system] expected people in her situation to follow a certain “role”. She said if you altered that, it can make a big difference, but not everyone could do that and many would just walk away.

A treatment is available in many other countries for people categorised as high risk however, it’s not available here. She has decided to self fund even if it means becoming “houseless” in the process.  However she expressed real concern and called it “dreadful” that someone else with similar health status but without her resources would just have to accept that only supportive care would be available for them.

Susan, Jane’s Friend

Susan and Jane have been friends for the last 20 years and as she put it, “it’s a helluva journey to be a support person“, and immediately expressed her feelings at what she had heard from others at the Forum.

Susan launched into a well-reasoned, articulate description of the system. She also said that whenever they go to Capital Coast Health  [Blogger’s note: Wellington Public Hospital as it was once called, in simpler times], it was as if they were teaching them that they were people first and patient second.

Susan referred to the “ease with which judgements are made” with regards to Jane’s situation and that often it was necessary to challenge what was behind the judgements. She said not knowing how the system worked that made being proactive in support of Jane more complex.  For example under what criteria would a person qualify for special assistance and does a successful application come with additional funding.

Dr Greg Coyle

Dr Greg Coyle explained that he is a principal  advisor to the Salvation Army who has written a thesis on exploring the boundary between what was provided to an individual, compared to what was provided to society as a whole. His thesis explored how fairness came into the issue. He said it was a policy analysis, and looked at how the system worked and did not work.

See: How does the operation of PHARMAC’s ‘Community Exceptional Circumstances’ policy align with the distributive justice principles of fairness and equity?

He said he looked at how disadvanged people have huge barriers  put in front of them for the normal and simple things in life.

Dr Coyle advised the Forum that he would explain his thesis, in more depth, tomorrow.

Freda

Freda, of Ngapuhi, greeted the Forum in Te Reo.

Freda told the Forum  that twentyone years ago, she had  been diagnosed with “acid maltose glycogen deficiency” – aka Pompe Disease.  In fact, Freda was the first person in New Zealand ever to be diagnosed with the condition.

At first, Freda was happy with the diagnosis, as she had been sick for a long time without knowing the cause. That happiness rapidly disappeared when she was told; there was no cure. Her reaction was simple,

“What the ‘heck’?!”

At this point in her life, Freda had a young, three year old son, and her oldest son was getting reading to go to Boarding School. And now she’d been diagnosed with a condition for which there was no known cure.

She asked the specialists, “Well, what do I do?“.

One specialist  replied, “Nothing. Go home.You probably won’t live till 40.”

Freda did live to see her 40th birthday, and in her own words, celebrated the event with a “hua of a party – two days, we partied!”. And every birthday party since then has been an unbridled celebration of another year lived, and the disease kept at bay.

Freda says that whilst it is her pure determination that has kept her going, that it is getting harder for her to walk and get around.

Freda then shared with the Forum the chilling fact that she had applied three times with Pharmac for treatment – and had her application  denied all  three times. She said she had been given a “host of reasons“.

When asked by this blogger if she would apply again, Freda said she was considering a fourth application. She said she was thinking about it. Having just become a grandmother, and seeing another granddaughter come into the world in three weeks time,  Freda said she wanted to take them to Kapa Haka; she wanted to take them to ballet. “Because trust me,” she said, “both my grand-daughters, they’re going to do ballet“.

Freda said she wanted to sing to them, as  she had done for her sons.

She then wondered if it was worth  putting in a fourth application, and suffer the emotional let-down? She said, “stuff it, I don’t want to be let down again“.

She said her condition was worsening and even a common cold affected her harshly, as she had very little immune system. If she fell, Freda said, her bones would not mend,

I’m getting tired. I’m so tired… It’s a struggle. I think all of us are in the same boat. Be it your daughter. Be it your son. Be it yourself, we’ve all been there“.

Freda brightened when she referred to Allyson, who was sitting beside her, saying,

Allyson, she and I may not be bioligically comnnected. [But] She’s my sister. For she’s the only other woman in this country who has the same disease as me.”

It was something that this Blogger noticed; Freda and Allyson seemed to have a special bond. Closer to being sisters than friends.  I wondered if their mutual support for each other gave them both added strength – to keep  going despite constant rejections for medical treatment, and a looming future that was bleak.

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  27-28 february 2013 - rare diseases disorders - New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders -NZORD

Freda (L) and Allyson (R)

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Allyson

Allyson began by confirming her status as a Pompe Disease sufferer. She said, with a warm smile at Freda,

We, that’s going to be a hard act to follow…”

Freda replied,

Well, I would break out, with a waiata, but...”

They both laughed at that and Allyson continued,

“…All of us are struggling. None of us should have to struggle this hard to get treatment. Just having the disease is bad enough. Why should you have to grovel to Pharmac and have them say ‘no, you’re not worth spending the money on’.

I don’t quite know what to do about it. We’ve tried and tried. We have to keep trying. Eventually they’ll have to do something.”

Allyson then pointed to the National Government over-turning Pharmac’s decision on Herceptin and another medication,

They’ve set a precedent for being able to do that [over-turning a Pharmac decision].”

Allyson also pointed to Pharmac using high costs of  drugs to garner public sympathy for their refusals to fund treatment,

It’s actually a lie and they say that to try and gather sympathy from the public and people say , ‘Oh well, yeah why should we spend $500,000 on you when they could help fifty other people with diabetes?'”

But we’re going to die if we don’t get help, she said.

But every time you try and stand up to them, to say ‘Hey we really need this thing, ‘cos we’re actually going to die if you don’t, ‘cos this is a fatal disease that we’ve got”… they sort of clobber us down  by saying ‘well, you know,  if we help you, then Joe over here is going to die along with a hundred mates..”

“We need everyone to be helped.”

Allyson added that she was one of the “lucky few” who was part of a drug-testing trial. Every two weeks she had to travel to Brisbane for treatment.

The travel involved leaving on Wednesday by driving from Masterton to Palmerston North; flying from Palmerston North to Auckland; flying from Auckland to Brisbane; driving next day to a hospital; having treatment; next day flying from Brisbane to Auckland; staying in Auckland overnight; then flying from Auckland to Palmerston North, and then driving from Palmerston North, home to Masterton. In the meantime her husband took time off work to care for their children. (Travel, food, and accomodation costs are met by the drug company.)

This routine takes place every two weeks.

It should be pointed out that Allyson uses an electric mobility-scooter; tires easily; and has difficulty breathing by late afternoon. She can stand, but not walk for more than a few steps.

Imagine the outrage if a government attempted to force a similar wheelchair bound person – suffering from a disease that could be treated easily here in New Zealand – to travel overseas every two weeks.

The stress of this constant travel cannot be helping Allyson’s already weakened state.

[Blogger’s note: by late Wednesday evening, Allyson’s breathing had become a noticeable wheezing. She took laboured breaths at semi-regular moments. I cannot help but wonder at the damage high-altitude flight, in a pressurised cabin, must be causing her. Perhaps Health Minister Tony Ryall and Pharmac Medical Director Dr Peter Moodie, should accompany Allyson next time she makes her arduous journey to Brisbane and back? My money is on a big, fat, ‘No!’ to that.]

However, Allyson expressed her gratitude that she had the option of engaging in the life-giving drug trial. Allyson knew she was one of the lucky ones. She pointed out that Freda is already too frail to make the flight to and back from Australia. Freda has not even been given the choice of participating in the drugs trial. She is receiving no treatment. Freda is simply awaiting her fate.

[Blogger’s pi**ed off note: One wonders if this is good enough for our country? Or is it ok because it’s happening to someone we don’t know?]

Allyson commented that she had an anger towards politicians in the Beehive,

They spent nearly eight million dollars on chauffeurs. This was, I think, 2010 Vote Ministerial Services. Where I got that was from the Treasury website. So that was verifiable,  that’s what they spent. That would help a lot of us in this room. But that was just for one year.”

(See: Govt’s VIP limo fleet cost goes up)

Greg Coyle added,

The point you’re making is how does the government prioritise the life of one person?”

Allyson agreed, adding,

Is providing a limo service for all the dignitaries from overseas and our ones here, at $8 million a year, more important than saving a life? That would help a lot of us in this room, right now.”

Jenny

Jenny introduced herself as Administrator at Lysosomal Diseases New Zealand head office. It is a field she has worked in for twelve years. Jenny is close to the members of her association, saying,

I’m right at the coalface and I work quite closely with these guys. We cry together, we laugh together. Obviously it’s very distressing seeing these guys get  turned down time and time again [by Pharmac].”

Jenny is also a mother to a son, “Ha” and daughter, “Sa”, who have a very rare disease – in fact the only two people in the country with this particular condition. She said that her role is to fight for  good clinical outcomes. Jenny said that managing her children’s rare disease has been difficult, and pointed out that there have been many times when “Ha”, in particular, has been put at risk by the inaction of  her local DHB.

Jenny therefore has many roles; organisational administrator, advocate, and a mother.

Chris Higgins

Chris is Chief Executive for Muscular Dystrophy Association of New Zealand. He said that Freda and Allyson were the reason that he was attending the Forum, as Pompe Disease was also a neuro-muscular condition.

Chris told attendees at the Forum that Muscular Dystrophy Association covered forty different neuro-muscular conditions, including muscular dystropy. All are rare diseases. With the exception of Pompe Disease there was no cure or treatment for any of them.

Chris remarked that he had not seen Allyson for two or three years, and that her disease had taken it’s toll on her. With a wry smile, Allyson said she thought that Chris was amazed she was still alive. Allyson added,

Damn, I thought you were going to say I looked good.”

Chris went on to say that he was moved to hear other people’s stories; people who are directly affected by the issues; particularly Freda and Allyson and that it “grounded him back to reality”.

He thanked the Forum for the humbling privilege of being invited to attend.

Olivia

Olivia is a director of HAE Australasia, which is a patient advocacy and  support group for Hereditary Angioedema or HAE. Olivia said there were 40 known patients in New Zealand alone and possibly more undiagnosed. She said HAE is a swelling disorder that can have sudden onset. The condition is life-threatening; extremely painful; and an  attack can take place in twenty minutes. There is only one treatment available in thre country. Olivia said there was often difficulty in explaining the condition to EDs at hospitals.

Olivia said that her group is looking for both additional treatments both here in New Zealand and overseas, as well as better access to the one treatment already available.

Lucy

Lucy is a lawyer who has given assistence to John on various issues. Lucy said she she was also concerned at issues of morality and what sort of society do we want to live in. She said she wanted a society where people who were vulnerable had wrap-around services, rather than being isolated and having to fight the system.

Lucy said there should be abilities  for exceptional circumstances; where discretionary decisions can be made.

Lucy  said that Pharmac’s process did not provide for exceptional circumstances or  funding for treatments outside their usual criteria. But listening to these cases,  “is this not the exceptional circumstances they’re talking about“?

She said there will always be people who are not the greatest number and who are at the margins with rare diseases. What kind of equity was there in a system that ignored their needs?  Lucy voiced her frustration at a system that ignored people’s needs. She gave an example of ACC providing a better service if you were disabled through an accident than if you were born with it. These are things that reflect on our society.

Lucy closed by saying she would be willing to offer her legal services to help in this area.

At this point one of the attendees quietly asked in a hopeful voice, “Do you do divorce cases?”

There was instant laughter to this.

Lucy declined to take the case.

She did, however,  make the point that there was a big difference to where only one drug was available for a rare disease than  to situations where Pharmac had to consider a fourth generation drug over a third generation product already funded.  In cases of rare diseases,  there was no drug treatment being funded by Pharmac whatsoever.

Lucy had no sympathy at all for people in high decision-making roles who wanted to put some difficult issues into the Too Hard Basket,  by saying they couldn’t assess morality as part of any decision. Lucy was adamant and said,

Well tough luck, buddy, you signed up for that decion-making role. You stepped forward to make those tough decisions – so just make them. Don’t say you can’t assess them.”

Meeting and listening to people at this Forum gave me two valuable insights…

  1. Their afflictions – many of them untreatable and terminal – had not affected their sense of humour. They were still able to crack jokes – often at their own expense.
  2. The people in the room were ordinary New Zealanders – mostly middle class; ages ranging from early 20s to 60; men and women. These were the “mums and dads” that politicians often refer to when seeking their votes at election time. And they are the ones who will most likely vote.

These folk are not seasoned political activists. They are people that live next to us in our neighbourhoods; who pass us on the footpath; and stand in line with us at the supermarket.

They are the face of New Zealand. And they have come up hard against The System and political intransigence.

Next

Where people’s stories are continued – and begin to touch upon reforming Pharmac…

To be Continued at: “One should judge a society by how it looks after the sick and vulnerable” – part rua

 

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Previous related blogposts

Priorities? (19 Oct 2011)

Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key (12 Nov 2012)

Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key – Update & more questions (28 Nov 2012)

Health Minister circumvents law to fulfill 2008 election bribe? (18 Dec 2012)

Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment – Compassion (9 Jan 2013)

“There’s always an issue of money but we can find money for the right projects” – John Key (20 Jan 2013)

Media

Pharmac: The politics of playing god (16 June 2011)

$500,000 a year to keep toddler alive (5 Feb 2013)

Rare disease sufferers want pricey treatments (1 March 2013)

Rare disease takes awful toll on boy (1 March 2013)

Call for an Orphan drugs access policy to overcome Pharmac’s systems failure (28 Feb 2013)

Additional Information

Gregory John Coyle: How does the operation of PHARMAC’s ‘Community Exceptional Circumstances’ policy align with the distributive justice principles of fairness and equity?

The PNH Support Association of NZ

PNH Support: Petition to Government to Make Soliris available to New Zealanders!

Support for Jethro Morrow

Facebook: Support for Jethro Morrow Facebook Page

Facebook: NZ Rare Disease Day

Website: NZ Rare Disease Day

Facebook: Treat NZ Pompe Patients Now Facebook Page

Website: Pompe Network

Facebook: Lysosomal Diseases New Zealand

Website: Lysosomal Diseases New Zealand

Facebook: NZ Organisation for Rare Disorders

Website:  NZ Organisation for Rare Disorders   

Pompe Support: Petition to Government Fund Myozyme for Pompe Patients

Copyright (c)  Notice

All images are freely available to be used, with following provisos,

  • Use must be for non-commercial purposes.
  • At all times, images must be used only in context, and not to denigrate individuals.
  • Acknowledgement of source is requested.

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“There’s always an issue of money but we can find money for the right projects” – John Key

20 January 2013 28 comments

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Key faces questions over extra Antarctica funding

Full story

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There are two issues involved with the above story.

Firstly…

The Government spends $26 million on climate research every year. The Prime Minister says that will increase.

There’s always an issue of money but we can find money for the right projects.”

Climate research is a fine endeavour, and this blogger has no problem with that.

What this blogger has a real problem with is when National’s quango’s come up with nasty suggestions like this,

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Doubt over savings from restricting ear treatment

Full story

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Or, National point-blank refuses to fund life-saving medication in instances like this,

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mum-not-prepared-to-wait-and-die

Full story

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There seems to be a multitude of “worthy causes” for National in invest our tax dollars in; subsidies for film makers such as Warner Bros; subsidies for the rugby world cup; loans for media companies (which they initially lied about); grants to businesses; advisors; consultants; staff bonuses; MPs travel expenses, and of course, salary rises for members of Parliament.

But when it comes to grommet operations for our children and medication for sick New Zealanders, the response is not quite as generous, as Tony Ryall ‘explained’ to me on 22 November last year,

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email-tony-ryall-pompe-disease-22-nov-2012

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And then explained on 5 December, explained  how he had pulled a neat little trick to fund National’s promised extension for Herception treatment, outside of PHARMAC rules,

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email-tony-ryall-pompe-disease-5-dec-2012

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(Note: in all fairness, Tony Ryall is perhaps the only Minister who has the balls to actually respond to my queries. The rest are either evasive, or like Bill English do not reply at all.)

Secondly…

In the above article at the top, TV3 reporter, Samantha Hayes, wrote,

It’s that variability New Zealand scientists want to investigate, using funds from a joint public and private venture – the newly formed Antarctic Research Institute.

See: Key faces questions over extra Antarctica funding

Pardon?

Why is the Antarctic Research Institute a “joint public and private venture”?

What does the private sector hope to gain from research by the Antarctic Research Institute?

On 21 August 2012, the NZ Herald reported,

The New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute was launched by Prime Minister John Key last night at Premier House.

It will operate as a public-private partnership.

The institute will be closely aligned to the crown entity Antarctic New Zealand and its chairman, Rob Fenwick, will chair the institute as well.

See: $5.3m gift sets up Antarctic research unit

About Mr Fenwick,

Rob Fenwick is an experienced businessman and company director with interests closely aligned to promoting sustainable development. He has had a long association with Antarctica: for nine years until 2007 he was a director and later chairman of Landcare Research, one of several CRIs involved in Antarctic research, and is a former chairman of the Antarctic Heritage Trust. In 2005 the New Zealand Geographic Society named the Fenwick Ice Piedmont in the Ross Sea for his work in Antarctica. 

He is a co-founder and director of Living Earth Ltd, New Zealand’s principal organic waste management business and is active in policy development around waste minimisation and climate change, and has been a member of several Government working groups in these areas. He is a special advisor to the Department of Conservation and was conferred with the degree of Doctor of Natural Resources, honoris causa, by Lincoln University this year.

See: antarcticanz.govt.nz/rob-fenwick

The Herald article goes on,

The institute’s director will be Professor Gary Wilson of Otago University, who said the goal was to strengthen Antarctic research capacity in New Zealand through international collaboration on research projects.

“Antarctica and the Southern Ocean hold the solutions to many of the key questions scientists and policymakers need to answer in order to manage the threats of climate change and global resource depletion.”

“Global resource depletion”…

One has to wonder what was so important that our Dear Leader, John Key, had to make the eight hour long flight – after collapsing at a Christchurch restaurant?! Surely not to return three bottles of whiskey to Shackleton’s hut??

Why is the private sector involved in a joint public and private venture with the newly formed Antarctic Research Institute? PPPs are usually formed  where there is the potential for profit by the private investor.

Or is it that Gareth Morgan has a point when he sez on his blog,

Taking care of Antarctica requires a constant diplomatic effort. John Key’s visit may look like the usual smile and wave routine, but the symbolism is much stronger. His presence is simultaneously reasserting our claim, bolstering our position at the negotiation table, and recognising the wonderful contribution the Scott Base installation has made for so long. Declaring to the world that Antarctica is important to us and we want it managed well is central to Mr Key’s visit. New Zealand has a long history of leadership in Antarctica.

See: Key Antarctica trip more than waving at penguins

Methinks there is more to this story than we’ve been told.

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Other blogs

Gareth  Morgan: Key Antarctica trip more than waving at penguins

References

Beehive Press Release

Antarctica New Zealand

Previous related blogposts

Children’s Health: not a high priority for Health Minister Tony Ryall

Health Minister circumvents law to fulfill 2008 election bribe?

Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key – Update & more questions

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Children’s Health: not a high priority for Health Minister Tony Ryall

11 January 2013 30 comments

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hodgson-cartoon-12-sept

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There was a time in New Zealand when health professionals like the legendary Doctor Smith created the first health system in the Hokianga without a single bureaucrat in sight. Until health management was corporatised under National 20 years ago the Coast had some outstanding no-nonsense characters in the public system but the intervening period has seen such people increasingly undermined by irrelevant bureaucracy and absurd political agendas.” – David Tranter, 9 January 2013

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After the spectacular cock-ups by Education Minister, Hekia Parata, it seems that the Health sector is next in line for the “National Treatment”.

Tony Ryall has demanded that the Health Budget be cut by $30 million this financial year (see:  Govt eyes cuts to elective surgery) Cuts to elective procedures that National’s spin-meisters “deemed to be of little benefit” are being planned – and details released to the media during the new season/holiday period when the public’s attention is focused on relaxation, barbecues, beaches, and “sinking a few coldies“.

Most of the mainstream media is also still “on holiday”, with minimal current affairs and investigative reporting being carried out by Radio NZ, TV3, and TV1. Only print media is reporting National’s covert cost-cutting programme – and even then, the Herald seems to be printing comments such as,

The National Health Committee has to find savings of $30 million this financial year from elective procedures deemed to be of little benefit.

The money would be used for smarter investment in other parts of the health system.

See: Govt eyes cuts to elective surgery

Note no quotation marks anywhere through those two paragraphs. The statements are presented as reported fact – not as government media  statement reflecting National Party policy.

This appears to be a re-run of National’s disastrous  “health reforms”  of the late 1990s,

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[National] Govt refuses extra ENT funding - ODT - 27 March 1997

Govt refuses extra ENT funding – ODT – 27 March 1997

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Call for funds  - ODT - 1 April 1997

Call for funds – ODT – 1 April 1997

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Wait for grommets a worry - ODT - 16 April 1997

Wait for grommets a worry – ODT – 16 April 1997

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Child health-care 'neglected' - ODT - 22 May 1997

Child health-care ‘neglected’ – ODT – 22 May 1997

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Sick children wait 2 years for surgery - ODT - 28 July 1997

Sick children wait 2 years for surgery – ODT – 28 July 1997

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Grommet 'blitz' clears backlog - ODT 19 November 1998

Grommet ‘blitz’ clears backlog – ODT 19 November 1998

Grommet 'blitz' clears backlog - ODT 19 November 1998

Grommet ‘blitz’ clears backlog – ODT 19 November 1998

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By the time Labour came to power in late 1999, the public Health system was a mess. National had gutted healthcare through funding cuts; increased management-bureacracy; closures; low salaries for front-line staff; and a slavish adherence to right wing dogma over the needs of communities and people.

The new incoming Labour-led government had much to re-build,

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$1.5b injection for health - 9 December 2001

$1.5b injection for health – 9 December 2001

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(When National supporters talk of Labour “wasting money” during their nine years in government – this is what they are actually referring to: the re-building of our public services.)

Note the weasel-words from Roger Sowry, National’s health spokesperson, in the above article,

Roger Sowry dismissed the announcement as a cynical, political move to hose down hotspots in health, including angst over waiting lists, DHB debts and health workers striking for higher  pay.

[…]

“It’s about politics. It’s not about the patient. It’s about saying we’ve got a problem with health, we can get a story out that there’s   a big lot of money coming down the barrel – it’s  about buying a comfort level for the next election.”

Roger Sowry should know about “hosing down hotspots in health, including angst over waiting lists, DHB debts and health workers striking for higher  pay” –  that is precisely the mess that National  left this country up until they were booted out in 1999.

The above stories are just a tiny few of the headlines from the 1990s.

Here are a few more that Mr Sowry might recognise – or should recognise. They all happened on his watch,

Claim many burned out by health sector reforms – 21 December 1996

Minister asked to halt job cuts  – 24 December 1996

Retiring GP pleased to escape growing bureacracy – 3 January 1997

$1m of health funds spent to date on rent for empty office space – 25 January 1997

More health changes tipped – 8 March 1997

Health reforms ‘harebrained’ – 15 March 1997

Rural abdication mockery of health system –  22 May 1997

Must pay for ‘wants’  – 19 July 1997

Cuts to hospital services expected – 8 August  1997

Move for sick to pay more  – 12 October 1997

English gives surgery pledge –  12 October 1997

Death The Northland Way – The Star – 15 October 1997

CHE announces cuts to public nursing hours – 15 October 1997

The Nation’s Health – 1 November 1997

‘Serious flaws’ in Govt’s health funding formula  – 31 January 1998

Privatising the public health system  – 2 February 1998

GP hits out at health reforms – 3 February 1998

Acute heart surgery list nearly 400  – 5 February 1998

Funding for Dunedin eye clinic slashed –  26 February 1998

Anger on heart op delay – 12 April 1998

Poorer patients put off doctors’ visits –  29 March 1998

Shipley, Bolger sorry for deaths of patients – 3 April 1998

Booking systems risky process, surgeon says  – 8 April 1998

Deaths hangs over boost in health funds – 9 April – 1998

Life on the waiting list uncertain – 9 April 1998

English may review waiting list funding –  11 April 1998

Health cuts spell doom for services – 30 April 1998

English agrees system flawed – 19 May 1998

Hospitals now owe $1.3 billion – 4 June 1998

100 drop off surgery lists  – 10 October 1998

Health sector needs stability, minister says – 28 January 1999

Four forced off waiting list die  – 15 March 1999

Patients ‘no better off’ – 29 March 1999

Widow says little improvement seem – 3 April 1999

Hospital waiting lists nudge 200,000 – 4 April 1999

Staff shortages could hit patient care, say nurses  – 4 May 1999

NZ heart attack victims likelier to die – 7 August 1999

Public hospital ills blamed on funding – 20 August 1999

Health spending rates poorly – 24 August 1999

Home Invasion – 24 June 2000

etc, etc…

That was the way we were in the 1990s; hospital budgets slashed resulting in chronic under-funding; growing privatisation of  healthcare; medical staff leaving New Zealand; bureacratic management growing; and people like Rau Williams, Colin Morrison, and others dying on waiting lists… all while a National-led government blundered on.

Things became so bad that even medical professions like the Royal Australasian College of Opthalmologists took to placing advertisements in newspapers, absolving  themselves of all blame and responsibility for the country’s chaotic and collapsing health system,

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Cataract surgery fact & fiction - advertisement - 6 October 1998

Cataract surgery fact & fiction – advertisement – 6 October 1998

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And while medical professions around the country distanced themselves from National’s non-stop bungling, others were jumping in, keen to exploit people’s fears and uncertainties for profit,

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Heartwatch Insurance Cover - advertisement - Otago Daily Times - 21 February 1998

Heartwatch Insurance Cover – advertisement – Otago Daily Times – 21 February 1998

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If you feel uncertain about the future…”

Talk about manipulating people’s fears.

What sort of society were we becoming that the callous exploitation of people’s   misery was somehow acceptable behaviour?! Was this the path that New Zealand had taken?

Or was our collective disgust finally being voiced with this statement,

I get a sense that the public is saying in quite a specific way, enough’s enough, we can’t take any more, you’ve got to stop, you’ve gone to far.” – Ian Powell,  Association for Salaried Medical Specialists, on Health cuts by the National-led government, 1 November 1997

The Minister of Health at the time, Bill English, and his colleagues – many of whom are still in Parliament (like Tony Ryall) – have much  to answer for.  For this was their legacy.

It now appears that they have not learned the lessons of that dark decade.

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Govt eyes cuts to elective surgery

Full story

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Govt's proposed health cuts could affect children - Labour

Full story

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Doubt over savings from restricting ear treatment

Full story

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Oh dear lord, not again!!

It appears that National may be hell-bent of repeating it’s ghastly performance of the 1990s – especially the late ’90s, where people died as a result of the then-National-government’s ineptitude.

And didn’t we go through a similar exercise in reducing grommet operations for our children in 1997 and 1998?!?! Oh yes, we did.

The three Herald articles above repeat the same mantra over and over again,

The National Health Committee, which is responsible to Health Minister Tony Ryall, is trying to find $30 million of savings in the public health system for reinvestment in more effective or better-targeted treatments.

See: IBID

What  investment could possibly be “more effective or better-targeted “ than  treating glue ear in children???

What “investment” could be better than removing a potential barrier for children to learn at school – a barrier called deafness, caused by glue-ear?!

The so-called “National Health Committee” are not new to this kind of narrow, anti-social thinking. They’ve been around for quite a few years and were involved in National’s blundering healthcare “reforms” – policies which led to the needless deaths of Colin Morrison, Rau Williams, and others.

This media report in the “Sunday Star Times”, on 12 October 1997, illustrates the sort of repulsive “philosophy” which this nasty little ‘Quango’ comes up with, from time to time.

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Move for sick to pay more - Sunday Star Times - 12 October 1997

Source: Sunday Star Times

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Note the comments high-lighted in red,

Patient charges could be increased to pay for more health care, according to a draft report by the high-powered Government adviser the National Health Committee.

[…]

If user part-charges were high enough, the report said people’s ability and willingness to pay them would be a way of deciding which demands for publicly-funded services should be met.

Make no mistake. What these invisible, faceless, nameless bureacrats were suggesting to the then-National government was that raising “user part-charges” would deter certain classes of people from accessing the health service.

For example, if you were poor.  Or unemployed. Or a solo-parent. Or a pensioner. Perhaps Samoan or Maori. This was the power of the State being used to determine who lives and who dies – not on clinical grounds – but on your ability to pay.

The article goes on to state,

The report said funding for health and disability services should be directed at services which:

  • Showed good effectiveness or benefit with those standing to gain the most receiving services first.
  • Are the best value for public money.
  • Are a fair use of resources

[…]

It said people must be prepared to made trade-offs to achieve  a sensible mix of proven, cost-effective services.

I don’t know about the reader, but these remarks chill me to the bone. These are bean-counters giving advice to the Minister of Health; advice which measures outcomes according to “ the best value for public money” and if  “user part-charges were high enough…  people’s ability and willingness to pay them would be a way of deciding” who has access to life-giving medical care.

The only thing missing here is what do they advise we do with the corpses of people who did not have the  “ability and willingness to pay”  for “ high enough user part-charges“.

Perhaps ovens…? User-pays of course. With the bill for incineration being forwarded to next-of-kin…

Which leads us to the next question;

The “National Health Committee” – Who Are They?

Who are the so-called “National Health Committee” and what are their qualifications to be making recommendations on our healthcare system?

The Committee comprises of these kindly-looking folk,

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NHC members

Source

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Mrs Anne Kolbe

Chair

– specialist paediatric surgeon and an Associate Professor at the University of Auckland’s School of Medicine.

Dr Mark O’Carroll

– is a Respiratory Physician at Auckland City Hospital with subspecialty interests in Cystic Fibrosis, Lung Transplantation and Interventional Pulmonology.

Mr Craig Climo

– management.

Mr Ross Laidlaw

– retired corporate lawyer.

Ms Sharon Mariu

–  consultancy  in strategic and business development.

Mr Alex Price

– Chief Executive of Fertility Associates […] He holds a chemical engineering degree, an MBA from IMD, Switzerland and a graduate certificate in reproductive medicine from the University of New South Wales.

Source

Of the six committee members, only two have medical qualifications  as practititioners. The rest are ex-lawyers, bean-counters, pricey consultants, and business-types.

These are the bean-counters – faceless and nameless no more – who are now suggesting that savings in the country’s Health budget could be made by effectively stealing $30 million away from our children who need grommets for their ears.

The committee members – with their usual euphemisms – called the cost-cutting, “disinvestment“. I kid you not. See: Govt eyes cuts to elective surgery

So taking away a surgical procedure which gives our children a better chance at school – because they can actually hear what is being said in the classroom – is “disinvestment“?!

I call it naked selfishness and thieving from the vulnerable. So this is what the term “stealing candy from a baby” means.

I think every one of these “kindly-looking folk” should hang their heads in shame and resign their arses from this odious little quango. We have enough child poverty and poverty-related disease in this country without people like this lot, funded by us the taxpayer, adding to it with revolting policy-advice.

The New Year is just barely over a week old, and already we are reading stories of National’s intentions toward us and our children.

How many will suffer and/or die this time?

Addendum

Date:   Fri, 11 Jan 2013 at 1:45
From: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@yahoo.com>
Subject:Children’s Health: not a high priority for Health Minister Tony Ryall?
To: “Tony.Ryall@parliament.govt.nz” <Tony.Ryall@parliament.govt.nz>
Bcc: Chris Laidlaw RNZ <sunday@radionz.co.nz>,
“campbelllive@tv3.co.nz” <campbelllive@tv3.co.nz>,
Dominion Post <editor@dompost.co.nz>,
Daily News <editor@dailynews.co.nz>, Daily Post <editor@dailypost.co.nz>,
Hutt News <editor@huttnews.co.nz>, Jim Mora <afternoons@radionz.co.nz>,
“joanna.norris@dompost.co.nz” <joanna.norris@dompost.co.nz>,
Kim Hill <saturday@radionz.co.nz>,
“kate.chapman@fairfaxmedia.co.nz” <kate.chapman@fairfaxmedia.co.nz>,
Listener <editor@listener.co.nz>,
Morning Report <morningreport@radionz.co.nz>,
NZ Herald <editor@herald.co.nz>,
Nine To Noon RNZ <ninetonoon@radionz.co.nz>,
“news@dompost.co.nz” <news@dompost.co.nz>,
“news@radionz.co.nz” <news@radionz.co.nz>,
Otago Daily Times <odt.editor@alliedpress.co.nz>,
“primenews@skytv.co.nz” <primenews@skytv.co.nz>, Q+A <Q+A@tvnz.co.nz>,
Southland Times <editor@stl.co.nz>, TVNZ News <news@tvnz.co.nz>,
The Press <letters@press.co.nz>,
The Wellingtonian <editor@thewellingtonian.co.nz>,
“tracy.watkins@fairfaxmedia.co.nz” <tracy.watkins@fairfaxmedia.co.nz>,
Waikato Times <editor@waikatotimes.co.nz>,
Wairarapa Times-Age <editor@age.co.nz>,
“wellington.news@tv3.co.nz” <wellington.news@tv3.co.nz>

For the Health Reporter:

Children’s Health: not a high priority for Health Minister Tony Ryall?

https://fmacskasy.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/childrens-health-not-a-high-priority-for-health-minister-tony-ryall/

The “National Health Committee” recently recommended stripping $30 million from the Health budget by cutting back on grommet operations for our children. According to the NHC,  the insertion of grommets is the only elective procedure specifically targeted for “disinvestment”.

Question: Who are the “National Health Committee” ?

Question: What advice did they give to the National government in the late 1990s, which effectively would have meant high “part charges” for medical care, and more people dying needlessly?

Question: Did National try cutting back on grommet operations in the 1990s? What were the consequences?

Question: Why is the “National Health Committee” – an unelected quango that comprises of four business/consultant/lawyer-types and two actual medicos – giving advice to a government that might result in suffering and poor education outcomes for our children?

Question: why has a blogger demanded that the entire “National Health Committee” resign their arses out of that quango?

It’s surprising what one can uncover with a bit of digging around.

-Frank

Blogger

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Cartoonconsult

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References

Scoop: Tony Ryall – Reduction in State agencies confirmed

NZ Herald: Govt eyes cuts to elective surgery

NZ Herald: Doubt over savings from restricting ear treatment

NZ Herald: Govt’s proposed health cuts could affect children – Labour

NZ Herald: The Hobbit: should we have paid?

Dominion Post:  Children need changes now – commissioner

National Health Committee

Previous related blogposts

Priorities?

Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key

Health Minister circumvents law to fulfill 2008 election bribe?

Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment – Compassion

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Health Minister circumvents law to fulfill 2008 election bribe?

18 December 2012 40 comments

Continued from: Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key – Update & more questions

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reaching-out-300x196

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To re-cap,

Allyson Locke and a handful of other New Zealanders are suffering from Pompe Disease – a terminal condition. Their only hope is an expensive drug – Myozyme – which they cannot afford.

Allyson and her fellow Pompe sufferers have appealed to the Prime Minister for assistance.

They are appealing for equal treatment to breast cancer sufferers,  who gained extra funding for extended herceptin treatment, as part of John Key’s election campaign promise in 2008.

This blogger supports Allyson and her fellow pompe sufferers to plead for mercy from John Key.

Considering that Key and National found over $200 million to support last year’s rugby world cup tournament(Blowouts push public Rugby World Cup spending well over $200m), it is inconceivable that they cannot fund medicine which seven New Zealanders desperately require.

The alternative is death.

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mum-not-prepared-to-wait-and-die

Full story

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On 22 November 2012, Tony Ryall sent this response to the blog author,

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email-tony-ryall-pompe-disease-22-nov-2012

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In turn, on the same day, I emailed Mr Ryall with this correspodence,

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Date:Thursday, 22 November 2012 9:41 PM
From: Frank Macskasy “fmacskasy@yahoo.com”
Subject: Pompe Disease sufferers: A request for mercy
To: Tony Ryall “Tony.Ryall@parliament.govt.nz”
Cc: Chris Laidlaw RNZ <sunday@radionz.co.nz>,
    “campbelllive@tv3.co.nz” <campbelllive@tv3.co.nz>,
    Dominion Post <editor@dompost.co.nz>,
    Daily News <editor@dailynews.co.nz>, Daily Post <editor@dailypost.co.nz>,
    Grant Robertson <grant.robertson@parliament.govt.nz>,
    Hutt News <editor@huttnews.co.nz>,
    John Key <john.key@parliament.govt.nz>,
    Jim Mora <afternoons@radionz.co.nz>,
    “Joanna Norris ( DPT)” <joanna.norris@dompost.co.nz>,
    Kim Hill <saturday@radionz.co.nz>,
    “kate.chapman@fairfaxmedia.co.nz” <kate.chapman@fairfaxmedia.co.nz>,
    Listener <editor@listener.co.nz>,
    Morning Report <morningreport@radionz.co.nz>,
    NZ Herald <editor@herald.co.nz>,
    Nine To Noon RNZ <ninetonoon@radionz.co.nz>,
    “news@dompost.co.nz” <news@dompost.co.nz>,
    “news@radionz.co.nz” <news@radionz.co.nz>,
    Otago Daily Times <odt.editor@alliedpress.co.nz>,
    “primenews@skytv.co.nz” <primenews@skytv.co.nz>, Q+A <Q+A@tvnz.co.nz>,
    Southland Times <editor@stl.co.nz>, The Press <letters@press.co.nz>,
    The Wellingtonian <editor@thewellingtonian.co.nz>

Sir,

I am in receipt of your email dated 22 November, regarding Enzyme Replacement Therapy (ERT) for sufferers of Pompe Disease. I understand you have already been in contact with Ms Allyson Lock on this matter.

You state that your reason for not supporting funding for ERT is – and I quote you – that “as a Minister I am prevented by law from intervening in PHARMAC’s decision-making process”.

I refer your attention to the 2008 election campaign where your Party pledged to extend herceptin treatment for breast cancer, from nine weeks to twelve months, even though Pharmac had up to that point been resisting all such requests on the grounds of cost and efficacy.

Post election, after becoming government, you implemented your election promise, and you stated in a press release dated 10 December 2008,

“We are extending funding for Herceptin to allow patients and their doctors to have a choice of a 12 months course. The nine-week treatment option also remains funded and available.”

I refer your attention to the following press releases from yourself and the Prime Minister, announcing additional funding for herception, despite PHARMAC’s initial decision opposing the move;

12-month Herceptin treatment now available

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0812/S00083.htm

Government honours Herceptin promise

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0812/S00082.htm

I have three subsequent questions, which you may be able to clarify;

1. If you are unable to intervene in PHARMAC’s  decision making process – what process did you use to fund herception from nine weeks to twelve months?

2. Where was funding obtained from?

3. Why are you unable to use the same process to fund ERT as you did for Herceptin?

I hope this problem can be resolved with some urgency, as Pompe Disease is terminal, and seven New Zealanders are facing a death sentence unless help is forthcoming.

Regards,

-Frank Macskasy

Blogger

.

Four days later, I received this response,

.

From: “Nicole Hine (MIN)” “Nicole.Hine@parliament.govt.nz”
To: Frank Macskasy “fmacskasy@yahoo.com”
Subject: RE: Pompe Disease sufferers: A request for mercy
Date:  Monday, 26 November 2012 9:14 AM

Dear Mr Macskasy

On behalf of Hon Tony Ryall, Minister of Health, thank you for your further email of 22  November 2012 about ERTs.

The Minister has asked Ministry of Health officials to advise him on the matters you have raised.  Please be aware that due to the large volume of correspondence we receive, a personal reply to your letter may take some weeks.

Kind regards

Nicole Hine
Private Secretary – Health
Office of Hon Tony Ryall

.

*** Up-Date ***

Finally, Mr Ryall’s response, dated 5 December was as follows,

.

email-tony-ryall-pompe-disease-5-dec-2012

.

It is interesting to note the following comments from Mr Ryall,

1. “… in December 2008, the Government decided to fund herceptin outside the PHARMAC model

[…]

The 12 month course of Herceptin was funded directly by the Ministry of Health…”

As Ryall stated in his 22 November correspondence,

I am prevented by law from intervening in PHARMAC’s decision-making process.”

But by “tapping” into the Ministry of Health’s budget, this allowed National to circumvent the  legislation surrounding PHARMAC’s independence and sideline that organisation entirely. In effect, the Ministry was turned into a giant “slush fund”, to allow National ministers to pay for their election bribes promises.

Allyson Lock and her six fellow Pompe disease sufferers could be funded by precisely the same means; directing the Ministry of Health to purchase the Enzyme Replacement Therapy (ERT) necessary to keep them alive.

But it’s not an election year.

The Minister’s final statement was that “… in the current fiscal environment, unfortunately funding is not available for all treatments.”

It seems paradoxical that whilst National ministers cannot afford life-saving medicine “in the current fiscal environment“, that they have found funding for the following;

  • $1,400 spent on a limousine hire for two days (Source)
  • $2,000 per day spent on a “Special advisor” to Bill English (Source)
  • $453,450  (conservative estimate)  spent on parties, welcomes, farewells, and other booze-ups  (Source)
  • $500,000 from this Government’s Major Events Development Fund spent on a  NZPGA Pro-Am Championship tournament held earlier this year  (Source)
  • $3.1 million spent by members of Parliament on airfare and accomodation in just three months,  (Source)
  • $4 million spent by Tourism New Zealand  to attract China Southern Airlines to New Zealand (Source)
  • $20 million spent on advertising by the NZ Defence Force (Source)
  • $21.9 million spent by  Treasury on consultants in 2012-13  (compared to $2 million in 2007-08), including  $20,000 paid to Cato Partners NZ to redesign the Treasury website and  $37,000 paid to Bill Ralston and Janet Wilson for media training  (Source)
  • $54 million spent by state owned enterprises  on “performance bonuses” to their employees (Source)
  • $75 million spent from 2009-11 to movie studios in taxpayer funded subsidies (Source)
  • $120 million in  subsidies paid to Warner Bros to produce “The Hobbit” in NZ (Source)
  • $220 million spent on the Rugby World Cup (Source)
  • $300 million subsidies spent on the Lord of the Rings trilogy (Source)
  • $910.5 million spent from 2008 to September 2012,  on consultants (Source)

If the  above list shows anything, it is that National can find money (or subsidies) when it wants to.  There appears to be no restraint due to “the current fiscal environment.

And yet, perhaps “the current fiscal environment” is not as bad as Mr Ryall makes out – especially in the health sector,

.

Pharmac 'saved DHBs billions' in medicine costs

Source

.

Another attempt to persuade the Minister to see the logic of this situation,

.

Date: Tuesday, 11 December 2012 9:17 PM
From: Frank Macskasy “fmacskasy@yahoo.com”
Subject: In response to your letter dated 5 December
To: Tony Ryall “Tony.Ryall@parliament.govt.nz”

Sir,

Re; Pompe Disease sufferers

Thank you for your letter dated 5 December explaining the circumstances and means by which Herception was funded outside of normal PHARMAC channels. Using the Ministry of Health to directly fund an extension of Herceptin for breast cancer sufferers was certainly a novel approach.

It occurs to me that the same process can be employed to fund Enzyme Replacement Therapies (ERT) for the seven New Zealanders who are suffering from the terminal condition known as Pompe Disease.

I do not accept that, as you suggest in your 5 December letter, that  ” in the current fiscal environment, unfortunately funding is not available for all treatments” since your government seems to find funding for e vents such as the Rugby World Cap ($220m); advertising by the NZ Defence Force ($20m); bonuses for  state owned enterprises employees ($54m); millions spent on tax breaks and advertising campaigns in the movie indsustry, etc.

There appears to be no valid reason that Pompe Disease sufferers are not offered the same “lifeline” that you extended breast cancer sufferers in 2008.

It is my contention that through clever negotiations,  government should be able to secure necessary ERT medication at a reasonable price, perhaps by offering contracts in others areas.

At least we have established that government is not constrained by legislation surrounding PHARMAC and that  flexibility exists with funding mechanisms.

I urge you to reconsider this issue and to find ways and means to facilitate a positive outcome for Pompe Disease sufferers.

Regards,
-Frank Macskasy

.

After one week, no response – or even acknowledgement – has been received by this blogger to the above email. The Minister appears to have ‘gone to ground’ on this issue.

It seems fairly clear to this blogger,

  1. When National wants  something – it will find the necessary money required.
  2. This is not a matter of available funding, but rather one of political will (or lack of).
  3. There seems no difference between funding herceptin for breast cancer sufferers in 2008, and  funding medication for Pompe Disease sufferers.

If money was available from the Ministery of Health (thereby circumventing the law preventing Ministerial direction of PHARMAC to purchase specific medicines), then one has to wonder why Ryall does not employ the same mechanism for Pompe disease sufferers?

One wonders  how the Prime Minister and Tony Ryall decided that breast cancer sufferers merited life-saving drugs – but Pompe disease sufferers do not deserve equal assistance.

One thing is for certain; the intransigence of Tony Ryall and John Key will have life-threatening consequences for Allyson Locke and many others in this country.

 

.

.

= fs =

Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key – Update & more questions

28 November 2012 20 comments

Continued from: Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key

.

https://fmacskasy.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/reaching-out-300x196.jpg

.

To re-cap,

Allyson Locke and a handful of other New Zealanders are suffering from Pompe Disease – a terminal condition. Their only hope is an expensive drug – Myozyme – which they cannot afford.

Allyson and her fellow Pompe sufferers have appealed to the Prime Minister for assistance.

They are appealing for equal treatment to breast cancer sufferers,  who gained extra funding for extended herceptin treatment, as part of John Key’s election campaign promise in 2008.

This blogger supports Allyson and her fellow pompe sufferers to plead for mercy from John Key.

Considering that Key and National found over $200 million to support last year’s rugby world cup tournament(Blowouts push public Rugby World Cup spending well over $200m), it is inconceivable that they cannot fund medicine which seven New Zealanders desperately require.

The alternative is death.

.

Full Story

.

Following on from a previous blogpost (Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key) on 12 November, the following exchange of emails between this blogger; John Key’s office; and Tony Ryall, has taken  place.

Email sent to the Prime Minister on 11 November,

.

Date: Sun, 11 Nov 2012 17:34:10 -0800 (PST)
From: Frank Macskasy “fmacskasy@yahoo.com”
Subject: A request for mercy
To: John Key “john.key@parliament.govt.nz”
Cc: Allyson

Kia ora Mr Key,

Allyson Lock, has contacted you via your Facebook page. Allyson suffers from  Pompe Disease  a terminal disease, requiring a  medication. The cost of that medication is beyond her means.

Her case is outlined here: https://fmacskasy.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/terminal-disease-sufferer-appeals-to-john-key/

Allyson has appealed to Pharmac for funding to treat her and six other New Zealanders who also suffer from this extremely rare condition. Pharmac has rejected her on the grounds of cost and efficacy.

I would like to  remind you that in 2008, one of your election promises was to extend herception from nine weeks to twelve months, even though Pharmac had up to that point been resisting all such requests on the grounds of cost and efficacy. You subsequently won the election and carried through with your pledge to fund herceptin to twelve months.

Allyson is requesting that you offer her, and six others in her position, the same opportunity to treat her condition.

I request that you take her pleas seriously and respond to her request.

Her life is in your hands.

Regards,

-Frank Macskasy

Blogger

.

Response from John Key’s office, five days later,

.

From: “J Key (MIN)” “J.Key@ministers.govt.nz”
To: Frank Macskasy “fmacskasy@yahoo.com”
Subject: RE: A request for mercy
Date:  Friday, 16 November 2012 3:52 PM

Dear Mr Macskasy

On behalf of the Prime Minister, Rt Hon John Key, I acknowledge your email of 12 November 2012. Please be assured your comments have been noted.

As the issue you have raised falls within the portfolio responsibility of the Minister of Health, Hon Tony Ryall, your email has been forwarded to his office for consideration.

Thank you for taking the time to write to the Prime Minister.

Regards

L Diehl

.

Tony Ryall’s response, dated 22 November, and sent via email by his Private Secretary,

.

.

Follow-up email to Tony Ryall,

.

Date:Thursday, 22 November 2012 9:41 PM
From: Frank Macskasy “fmacskasy@yahoo.com”
Subject: Pompe Disease sufferers: A request for mercy
To: Tony Ryall “Tony.Ryall@parliament.govt.nz”
Cc: Chris Laidlaw RNZ <sunday@radionz.co.nz>,
    “campbelllive@tv3.co.nz” <campbelllive@tv3.co.nz>,
    Dominion Post <editor@dompost.co.nz>,
    Daily News <editor@dailynews.co.nz>, Daily Post <editor@dailypost.co.nz>,
    Grant Robertson <grant.robertson@parliament.govt.nz>,
    Hutt News <editor@huttnews.co.nz>,
    John Key <john.key@parliament.govt.nz>,
    Jim Mora <afternoons@radionz.co.nz>,
    “Joanna Norris ( DPT)” <joanna.norris@dompost.co.nz>,
    Kim Hill <saturday@radionz.co.nz>,
    “kate.chapman@fairfaxmedia.co.nz” <kate.chapman@fairfaxmedia.co.nz>,
    Listener <editor@listener.co.nz>,
    Morning Report <morningreport@radionz.co.nz>,
    NZ Herald <editor@herald.co.nz>,
    Nine To Noon RNZ <ninetonoon@radionz.co.nz>,
    “news@dompost.co.nz” <news@dompost.co.nz>,
    “news@radionz.co.nz” <news@radionz.co.nz>,
    Otago Daily Times <odt.editor@alliedpress.co.nz>,
    “primenews@skytv.co.nz” <primenews@skytv.co.nz>, Q+A <Q+A@tvnz.co.nz>,
    Southland Times <editor@stl.co.nz>, The Press <letters@press.co.nz>,
    The Wellingtonian <editor@thewellingtonian.co.nz>

Sir,

I am in receipt of your email dated 22 November, regarding Enzyme Replacement Therapy (ERT) for sufferers of Pompe Disease. I understand you have already been in contact with Ms Allyson Lock on this matter.

You state that your reason for not supporting funding for ERT is – and I quote you – that “as a Minister I am prevented by law from intervening in PHARMAC’s decision-making process”.

I refer your attention to the 2008 election campaign where your Party pledged to extend herceptin treatment for breast cancer, from nine weeks to twelve months, even though Pharmac had up to that point been resisting all such requests on the grounds of cost and efficacy.

Post election, after becoming government, you implemented your election promise, and you stated in a press release dated 10 December 2008,

“We are extending funding for Herceptin to allow patients and their doctors to have a choice of a 12 months course. The nine-week treatment option also remains funded and available.”

I refer your attention to the following press releases from yourself and the Prime Minister, announcing additional funding for herception, despite PHARMAC’s initial decision opposing the move;

12-month Herceptin treatment now available

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0812/S00083.htm

Government honours Herceptin promise

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0812/S00082.htm

I have three subsequent questions, which you may be able to clarify;

1. If you are unable to intervene in PHARMAC’s  decision making process – what process did you use to fund herception from nine weeks to twelve months?

2. Where was funding obtained from?

3. Why are you unable to use the same process to fund ERT as you did for Herceptin?

I hope this problem can be resolved with some urgency, as Pompe Disease is terminal, and seven New Zealanders are facing a death sentence unless help is forthcoming.

Regards,

-Frank Macskasy

Blogger

.

Response from Tony Ryall’s office on  26 November,

.

From: “Nicole Hine (MIN)”   “Nicole.Hine@parliament.govt.nz”
To: “fmacskasy@yahoo.com” “fmacskasy@yahoo.com”
Subject: RE: Pompe Disease sufferers: A request for mercy
Date: Monday, 26 November 2012 9:14 AM

Dear Mr Macskasy

On behalf of Hon Tony Ryall, Minister of Health, thank you for your further email of 22  November 2012 about ERTs.

The Minister has asked Ministry of Health officials to advise him on the matters you have raised.  Please be aware that due to the large volume of correspondence we receive, a personal reply to your letter may take some weeks.

Kind regards

Nicole Hine

Private Secretary – Health

Office of Hon Tony Ryall

.

Let us hope that common sense, mixed with compassion, prevails.

This issue will be updated when new information, or events, come to hand.

.

*

.

Sources

John Key: Government honours Herceptin promise (10 Dec 2008)

Tony Ryall: 12-month Herceptin treatment now available (10 Dec 2008)

Additional

Drug trial gives hope to Pompe sufferer (1 Dec 2012)

.

.

= fs =

Letters from Parliament…

Following on from this Blog’s promotion of the Million Mail campaign (see previous blogpost: Campaign: Flood the Beehive!), several responses from National politicians have been forwarded to me.

The first two seem fairly innocuous fob-offs,

.

John Key state asset sales SOEs

.

Tony Ryall state asset sales SOEs

.

But this following letter, and enclosed literature, is more interesting.

First, the covering letter,

.

.

The letter seems fairly innocuous, like the two above – even with the statement “National will continue to work tirelessly to deliver on our plan to build a brighter future for all New Zealanders” (bottom of letter), which appears to be a Party-political statement. That would be illegal if the letter was paid by taxpayer-funded Parliamentary Services funding allocations.

The following literature, that was enclosed with the above covering letter, is more cause for concern,

.

.

The first, of four pages, contain some blatant mis-representations, half-truths, and a fair measure of hypocrisy.

1.

Delivering a better public service

It is debateable if National is delivering “better public services” with 2,500 jobs lost through sackings; pared-back services such as MAF Border controls; low Army morale; naval staff shortages resulting in uncrewed ships; unanswered phones at IRD and Housing New Zealand, etc, etc…

See previous blogpost: Another case of “We told you so!”?

In fact, it might be argued that National’s budget cuts and mass-redundancies have left our state sector in a run-down, demoralised, over-stretched state.

But in National’s alternative Universe, all these problems constitute “better public services”.

2.

New Zealand is in good shape…”

“Good shape” depends on whether John Key is comparing us to Greece, Somalia, and Tonga – or Australia.

Considering that,

None of these issues are covered  in National’s brochure. In fact, Bill English sez “we’re doing alright.

3.

Operating in surplus helps keep mortage rates lower for longer

That statement is so disingenuous that it is nothing more than an outright lie.

A. National has not been “in surplus” since Labour lost the election in 2008.

B. Mortgage interest rates are determined by the Reserve Bank and corporate banks – not by government.

C. Interest rate are dependent several factors such as the OCR set by the Reserve Bank (independepent of government); overseas interest rates; New Zealand’s credit rating (the lower our rating, the higher  interest rates we pay); our Balance of Payments; private debt; and lastly, sovereign debt.

D. Interest rates are currently low because the country’s economy is stagnating; there is poor economic growth; and hence banks are lowering their rates to attract new customers.

For John Key to claim some sort of  “ownership” over low interest rates is unsurprising.

He has nothing else to claim as “good news”.

Dear Leader has as much to do with keeping interest rates down as King Canute did in commanding the tide to retreat.  Didn’t that end well?

4.

See #3 above: more pure, unadulterated bullshit.

I haven’t read propaganda like this since the Soviet Union’s last 5 Year Plan to over-take the United States in economic growth. That didn’t end well either.

Let’s check out National’s bold claims for New Zealand’s growing neo-liberal nirvana,

“... employ more people,”

Not according to the latest job-market statistics, released in early May,

New Zealand’s unemployment rate unexpectedly rose to 6.7pc in the first quarter after the labour force swelled to a three-year high as more people started looking for work in what’s been a tight jobs market. The kiwi dollar fell after the data was released.

The unemployment rate rose 0.3 percentage points to 6.7 per cent in the three months ended March 31, from a revised 6.4 per cent in the prior quarter, according to Statistics New Zealand’s household labour force survey. That’s higher than the 6.3 per cent forecast in a Reuters survey of economists. “

See: Unemployment rate lifts to 6.7pc

And businesses seemed to have their own ideas, a month previous,

New Zealand finance bosses are feeling good about the economic recovery, but research shows that optimism doesn’t extend to hiring new staff.

Global finance and accounting firm Robert Half’s survey of 200 chief financial officers and finance directors found 79 per cent were confident about the prospects of national growth in 2012.

Those who thought their own company would pick up speed in the year ahead made up an even higher proportion, at 87 per cent. “

See: Confidence up, but jobs still not a priority

We are encouraging businesses to grow through having confidence to invest…”

Oh well, at least business confidence was up.

Oh, wait, no…

Sorry, that’s changed now,

Business confidence has fallen for the first time in seven months, though National Bank’s latest survey shows confidence is still “very healthy”.

A net 27 per cent of firms expect business conditions to improve in the coming year down from 35.8 per cent in the previous month.

See: Business confidence down but resilient

Not looking terribly good for Dear Leader, is it?

“… pay them higher wages,”

Well, it’s true that Dear Leader has promised us higher wages,

“We will be unrelenting in our quest to lift our economic growth rate and raise wage rates.” – John Key, 29 January 2008

We will also continue our work to increase the incomes New Zealanders earn.” – John Key, 8 February 2011

The driving goal of my Government is to build a more competitive and internationally-focused economy with less debt, more jobs and higher incomes.” – John Key, 21 December 2011

But, like most of his promises, they’ve either been broken, ignored, or “postponed” into the never-never,

New Zealand families are under growing financial stress as stagnating wages and salaries prove inadequate to cover spiralling costs – and even top-tier earners are feeling the squeeze.

According to Statistics New Zealand’s Household Income Survey, 29,200 more families now rate themselves as having incomes too low to meet their daily needs than in the same survey four months before John Key’s first term.

In June 2007, the number of households rating themselves income-poor was 254,100. That number has now risen to 283,300. “

See: NZ families feel the income squeeze

In  2008, wages (LCI)  increased by 3.4% for the March Quarter.

See: Salary and wage rates increase by record amount

By 2012, wages (LCI)  increased for the March Quarter by only  2%.

See: Wage Growth – March 2012 Quarter

Which is a marked improvement from only two years ago,

Statistics New Zealand’s latest Labour Cost Index showed salaries and wages increasing at their slowest rate in eight years, up 1.8 per cent in the year to the December quarter. It was the lowest quarterly increase since June 2001. “

See: Wage rises lowest since 2001

At the same time, the top 150 Rich Listers  have done extremely well,

The fortunes of the country’s 150 richest people have grown by almost 20 per cent in one year but they are still calling for the easing of constrictions around wealth creation.

The National Business Review yesterday published its annual Rich List, showing that the combined wealth of New Zealand’s richest has ballooned from $38.2 billion to $45.2 billion – the highest total ever. “

See: Rich Listers enjoy 20pc increase in wealth

Considering that rest home careworkers are still living on $13.61 an hour (perhaps marginally more), and that John Key denied these lowpaid workers a decent wage-increase, National’s committment to raising peoples’ pay is questionable. Especially when Dear Leader stated,

It’s one of those things we’d love to do if we had the cash. As the country moves back to surplus it’s one of the areas we can look at but I think most people would accept this isn’t the time we have lots of extra cash.

See: PM: No money for aged care workers

Which is rather ‘curious’, as National clearly has a spare $336 million to spend on consultants, and various “fees” for selling our own state assets to bogus “mums and dads”  (aka,  corporate investors)

See previous blogpost: Roads, grandma, and John Key

Furthermore, when workers go on strike to protect their current working conditions and pay-rates, as the recent Ports of Auckland dispute showed, National’s fellow-travellers are only too pleased to ‘put the boot‘ into them. In fact, National’s allies and at least one MP claimed that POAL workers were “over-paid”.

How can we raise wages in this country if the right wing are constantly resisting and even actively  attacking initiatives that would result in raising incomes and our standard of living?

Eventually, POAL workers defeated their employers attempt to casualise (and reduce their pay) the workforce – but only because of massive community support for the courageous men who work our wharves.

Far from raising wages to bridge the gap with Australia – Australia is bridging the gap with us…

“… creating a more productive and competitive economy.”

Not sure about productive, but Key has made us “a more… competitive economy” – but not in the way we thought was a good way,

Woolworths Australia this week moved a contact centre to Auckland, citing lower costs among the benefits, following similar expansion plans for cigarette manufacturing, food processing and media work to New Zealand.

“Labour does not want New Zealand to become Australia’s Mexico,” said the party’s finance spokesman, David Parker, criticising the influx of lower value jobs. ..

[abridged]

Macquarie University’s centre for workforce futures director, Ray Markey, said the pressure would continue as the mining boom pushed up wages and costs in Australia.

It was easy for Australian businesses to shift some operations to New Zealand because of the two countries’ many similarities, he said.

“I don’t think a low-wage economy is a way to go for the future, and it’s not going to help increase productivity… I wouldn’t want a call centre-based economy,” Dr Markey said. “But I’m much more optimistic if manufacturing is shifting“. “

See: Aussie firms sending business across ditch

And thus Bill English’s vision of a low-wage economy came to pass, when on 10 April 2011, he openly enthused over New Zealand’s low-wage economy compared to Australia,

GUYON Can I talk about the real economy for people?  They see the cost of living keep going up.  They see wages really not- if not quite keeping pace with that, certainly not outstripping it much.  I mean, you said at the weekend to the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum that one of our advantages over Australia was that our wages were 30% cheaper.  I mean, is that an advantage now?

BILL Well, it’s a way of competing, isn’t it?  I mean, if we want to grow this economy, we need the capital – more capital per worker – and we’re competing for people as well.
 
GUYON So it’s part of our strategy to have wages 30% below Australia? 

BILL Well, they are, and we need to get on with competing for Australia.  So if you take an area like tourism, we are competing with Australia.  We’re trying to get Australians here instead of spending their tourist dollar in Australia.

GUYON But is it a good thing?

BILL Well, it is a good thing if we can attract the capital, and the fact is Australians- Australian companies should be looking at bringing activities to New Zealand because we are so much more competitive than most of the Australian economy.

GUYON So let’s get this straight – it’s a good thing for New Zealand that our wages are 30% below Australia?

BILL No, it’s not a good thing, but it is a fact.  We want to close that gap up, and one way to close that gap up is to compete, just like our sports teams are doing.  This weekend we’ve had rugby league, netball, basketball teams, and rugby teams out there competing with Australia.  That’s lifting the standard.  They’re closing up the gap. 

GUYON But you said it was an advantage, Minister.

BILL Well, at the moment, if I go to Australia and talk to Australians, I want to put to them a positive case for investment in New Zealand, because while we are saving more, we’re not saving more fast enough to get the capital that we need to close the gap with Australia.  So Australia already has 40 billion of investment in New Zealand.  If we could attract more Australian companies, activities here, that would help us create the jobs and lift incomes.

See: TVNZ Q+A Bill English interview Transcript

Not looking too good for National, thus far…

5.

.

.

Two Dear Leaders. Propaganda. ‘Nuff said.

6.

In Budget 2012 we’ve allocated the first $558 million of the proceeds of mixed ownership. We’re modernising schools ($34m), upgrading hospitals ($69m), supporting infrastructure such as Kiwirail ($250m), and research through the new Advanced Technology Institute ($76m). Over the next few years, $1 billion of the [Future Investment]  fund will be invested in New Zealand schools.

One of National’s oft-quoted spin-rhetoric is that the partial-sale of five state assets is to invest in new state assets,

Those points around companies operating more efficiently and effectively have been well made by the Government, as has the view that we’d like to see New Zealanders investing more in their country and the fact that we want to buy new assets without having to incur more debt. I think those points have been made”. ” – John Key, 19 July 2012

See: Key defends asset sales policy promotion

This is a lie.

National is not investing in “new assets”. They are spending on maintenance,

...We’re modernising schools ($34m), upgrading hospitals ($69m), supporting infrastructure such as Kiwirail ($250m)

There is a difference.  This blogger has some degree of business experience, and understands the difference between capital expenditure (aka “capex”)  and maintenance expenditure.

A. Capital investment: purchasing a new fishing boat, to add to a fleet, to generate addition income.

B. Maintenance: regular painting; cleaning;  motor and equipment maintenance, to keep existing income-generation.

As the astute reader will understand,  Capital Investment involves purchasing a new item which contributes to increasing turnover for a business.

Maintaintenance (or modernising, upgrading, and supporting infrastructure)  is just that;  keeping existing items up to operating standards.

So when Dear Leader, Bill English, Steven Joyce, Tony Ryall, et al, claim that National is selling state assets to buy new state assets – they are willfully misrepresenting their actions.

Building a new school is a capital purchase (a new state asset).  Slapping a lick of paint on an existing school is not a new state asset – it’s whacking a coat of Dulux on an existing building.

Key, English, and Joyce know this.  All three have  been involved in finance or business in one way or another.  But it suits their purpose to perpetrate this “spin”, to make it look as if we are replacing “Asset A” with “Asset B”.

They are doing no such thing.

The reason that National is now having to partially-privatise five SOE’s is that they lost an estimated $2 billion in tax-revenue, per annum,  after cutting taxes in 2009 and 2010. After considerable research, the Green Party discovered,

The Green Party has today revealed that the National Government has so far had to borrow an additional $2 billion dollars to fund their 2010 tax cut package for upper income earners.

New information prepared for the Green Party by the Parliamentary Library show that the estimated lost tax revenues from National’s 2010 tax cut package are between $1.6-$2.2 billion. The lost revenue calculation includes company and personal income tax revenues offset by increases in GST.

“The National Government said that their signature 2010 income tax cut package would be ‘fiscally neutral’ — paid for increased revenues from raising GST. That hasn’t happened. The net cost for tax cuts has been about $2 billion,” Green Party Co-leader Dr Russel Norman said today.

“Borrowing $2 billion in 18 months to fund upper-income tax cuts is fiscally irresponsible.

“National’s poor economic decisions have led to record levels of government debt and borrowing. “

See: Government’s 2010 tax cuts costing $2 billion and counting

According to a Treasury report,

The Budget deficit is running $1.2 billion worse than forecast as tax revenue continues to lag.

Treasury today released the Government’s financial statements for the eight months to the end of February showing an operating deficit of $8.8 billion.

See: Budget deficit keeps getting worse

Considering that the tax cuts benefitted high-income earners the most, what we have here is that,

  • National cut taxes in 2009 and 2010
  • National is now having to flog off our state assets to pay for maintenance that otherwise would have been paid out of taxation
  • The people of New Zealand are paying for tax-cuts through the loss of their assets
  • The richest are benefitting the most from this wealth-transfer.

If you’re starting to feel angry about now, rest assured that is a normal response. After all, who likes being ripped of?

Pass the paint brush, please, Mr Key?

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7.

Welfare will always be there for those in genuine need but too many New Zealanders are welfare dependent, trapping families in work. We believe those who can  work should work. We’re investing $287.5 million to break long term dependence blah blah blah...”

This is dog-whistle politics geared toward the Uninformed and Intolerant. It is not based in fact – it is based purely on prejudice.

Welfare dependent“?

Breaking long term dependence“?

Those who can work should work“?

When National’s economic performance is criticised – John Key reminds us that they inherited a Global Financial Crisis and the resultant Great Recession.

But that doesn’t stop National from blaming welfare recipients for being out of work. Some actual facts here may help,

In four years, unemployment has DOUBLED since National became government.  We should ask Dear Leader why this has happened.  There are three possible causes,

  1. A global recession has resulted in a sharp rise in unemployment
  2. National’s policies has caused unemployment
  3. 83,000 New Zealanders  chucked in their jobs and decided that getting a benefit of $204.96 was better than earning the average wage of $1,016.95. Go figure.

Perhaps we should let Welfare Minister Paula Bennett provide the answer,

No. There’s not a job for everyone that would want one right now, or else we wouldn’t have the unemployment figures that we do. ” – Paula Bennett, 29 April  2012

See:   Q+A: Paula Bennett interview

It seems fairly clear. There’s nothing quite like engaging in a bit of bene-bashing to win support in Voter Land.  National has no hesitation in using the victims of the global financial crisis to make itself look “tough on welfare beneficiaries”.  Meanwhile, National uses the same global financial crisis as an excuse for it’s own unimpressive economic performance.

8.

Budget 2012 includes $101 million of extra funding over the next four years for 4000 more elective operations a year, faster access to important scans and test results, and better cancer support services.”

Anything to do with “better cancer support” is an instant vote-winner. It almosts succeeds in putting a “human face” on National’s neo-liberal, “small government”, policies.

Until we read this,

To help meet cost pressures and fund these new initiatives, the Government will increase the $3 prescription charge to $5 per item, up to a maximum of 20 items, after which items are free...”

So to pay for cancer patients; other sick people, including children over 6 will be paying more for their medicines?!

When we have 200,000 children living in poverty; going to school without shoes or food; and living in cold, damp, rundown housing – charging more for medicine is the height of inhuman cruelty. There are families in this country for whom $5 might as well be $5,000 – threy simply don’t have the money.

Scrub my earlier reference to putting a “human face” on National.

9.

“… We’ve hired over 2000 extra nurses and and 800 extra doctors while there are 1000 few back-office staff.”

Really?

So who’s doing the paperwork? Who is keeping patient records up-to-date? Who is handling every day matters such as procurements? Invoices and bill-paying? Salaries? Rosters?  Equipment requisitions and maintenance?  Building maintenance? Personnel issues? Appointment-making? Contacting patients? Etc, etc?

Let me guess – each of those 2,000 “extra nurses” and 800 “extra doctors” have their own desks and share of paperwork to complete?

10.

In the tertiary sector we’re re-balancing our investment between student support and future tuition and research.  This will see student loans repaid faster and student allowances restricted to the current 200 week maximum. We’ll re-invest the savings into improving quality in the tertiary sector, especially in our universities.”

That’s a whole lot of meaningless blah, blah, blah… with the exception of this slipped into the rhetoric,  “…and student allowances restricted to the current 200 week maximum.

With a stroke of a Minister’s pen, 5,000 students are denied student allowances to undertake their postgraduate study.

National talks about upskilling; having a modern, educated workforce – and then pulls the rug out from under students. And this is not the first time National has done this kind of thing.

Aside from cutting the Training Incentive Allowance, National has also,

It seems fairly obvious that far from ” re-investing the savings into improving quality in the tertiary sector “, National has been making sly cuts as part of their maniacal obsession with “balancing the books’ and returning to surplus by 2014/15.

Unfortunately,  our children are paying for it through their education.

11.

Our National Standards are keeping parents informed about their child’s progress and identifying  kids falling behind. Experts are working with schools and teachers to help raise the bar…”

Bollocks.

National Standards does nothing of the sort.

National Standards are an ideological construct leading ultimately to League Tables, and the social stratification of our schools. Ghettoisation follows soon after.

As for  “experts are working with schools and teachers to help raise the barthat has to be the most absurd claim on this entire leaflet.

What “experts”?

Who could possibly be more “expert” than our teachers and principals?!

New Zealand has consistantly ranked high on the  OECD PISA Rankings. We are in the top six of nations.

The United States – from whence National is ‘borrowing’ much of it’s ideological claptrap such as Charter Schools, ranks number 15 – with Poland.

National can take no credit for this, and has even tried undermining many of the  excellent achievemant New Zealand has built up in the last decade.

It’s attempt to slash teacher numbers and increase class sizes in State schools was a potential recipe for disaster.

Meanwhile, John Key’s children were attending private schools.

12.

To meet these targets, we need to lift quality teaching and leadership across the education system.”

Call me cynical, but whenever I read rhetoric like this from National, it sends a chill down my back. “Lifting quality” is usually code for some nasty right-wing policy that usually involves cost-cutting, user-pays, and some manner of  private-commercial involvement.

So far all we’ve seen from National involves,

  • plans to cut teacher numbers (cancelled)
  • plans to increase classroom sizes (cancelled)
  • Charter schools involving private companies (School for Burger King?)
  • League Tables
  • National Standards

All of it based on right wing ideology. Parents should be very afraid – National is planning to use our schools to implement American-style ideological policies.

Which begs the question why we would want that? Remember that the US is far below NZ on the OECD PISA rankings.

Why are we not following Finland instead, which remunerates it’s teachers very well?

Should we ask Gerry Brownlee?

Maybe not.

13.

And in Budget 2012 we are investing a record $9.6 billion across ECE and schooling – the most ever.”

How can National be spending “the most ever”, when Bill English has declared the 2012 Budget to be a “zero” budget?! National insists they are not spending a cent more than last year?

In which case, what has National been cutting?

We do know one thing that National has cut,

One of the smaller Budget moves removes a tax credit on schoolchildren’s incomes, supposedly to reduce compliance costs for the employers of youngsters with part-time jobs.

It is forecast to save the Government $14 million a year, but Labour has described it as “picking the pockets of paper boys”.

See: Budget: Our big fat zero Budget

Taxing kids on a paper run…

Charming.

14.

We’re spending $14.12 billion this year on our public health service – the most ever.”

Ditto above. When National gives with one hand – you can bet your booties they’ve taken from somewhere else, with the other.

Keep your hand on your wallet.

15.

National is focused on raising achievement through quality teaching…”

In which case, National should consider proper resourcing of schools; increasing training for young unemployed (15-19); raising salaries for teachers – and abandon the lunatic right wing agenda it has borrowed from the United States.

If National is serious about raising achievement, we should be following Finland – not the US.

Charter Schools do not offer the success that National would have us believe. Even our American cuzzies are starting to realise this.

See: Denver Post –  Charter schools, They’re not better for our kids

See: New Stanford Report Finds Serious Quality Challenge in National Charter School Sector

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16.

None of the above claims are easily verifiable. Taking into consideration that most of the “statements of fact” on the above pages are spin, rhetoric, and of dubious accuracy, one would be wise to take all statements in #16 with a significant quantity of salt grains…

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17.

More children in early childhood education,  especially in areas of highest need.”

This would be a positive move by National. But to achieve it, there has to be adequate funding – and this is not happening. Under National, it has budgetted for a nil increase in funding, and not taken inflation nor wage increases into account,

Early childhood education subsidy cuts worth tens of millions of dollars are likely to be passed on to some parents through increased fees.

Education Minister Hekia Parata has kicked a total revamp of ECE funding into a future Budget, opting instead to stop cost increases to the Crown by cancelling the annual upward inflationary adjustment in rates.

The subsidy freeze takes effect on the next funding round, stripping about $40 million out of ECE payments to 5258 ECE centres. About 1427 of those centres are eligible for “equity funding,” however, and will get a boost through $49m extra directed to them over four years in a bid to enrol more children from the lowest socio-economic parts of the country.

But the scrapping of an annual inflationadjustment for other centres will be an effective funding cut as inflation pushes the cost of running ECE centres up. “

See: Parents face burden of preschool squeeze

National is adept at saying one thing – whilst doing something completely the polar-opposite.

And politicians wonder why we don’t trust them?!

18.

Rolling out ultra-fast broadband and investing in roads and rail.”

Two things:

A. If our economy is now a free market, where the State no longer owns Telecom, and subsidies went out in the late 1980s…

… why are we – the Taxpayer -funding private telco companies to lay down broadband in this country? Shouldn’t this be left up to private enterprise to fund?

Or is this indicative of yet again private enterprise unable to meet nationally-set goals to build infra-structure, and instead reliant on the State?

Seems like it.

B. If National is “investing in rail” – why are they continually knocking back Auckland’s attempt to build new rail infra-structure?!?!

After overseeing a record seven million public transport passenger trips in March, the organisation fears having to cut service costs by $31.2 million in the next financial year because of savings sought by its two main funders, the Auckland Council and the Government’s Transport Agency.

A capital projects wish-list of $674 million of public transport infrastructure and local roading proposals inherited from Auckland’s former regional, city and district councils will also have to be hacked back after a gloomy Government subsidy forecast…

[abridged]

… Transport Minister Steven Joyce, who in 2009 ditched a proposed regional fuel tax for Auckland public transport projects, has in this election year cited continuing tight economic conditions in postponing a planned 1.5 cent-a-litre rise on petrol excise. “

See: Public transport faces subsidy cuts

In May last year, then-Minister of Transport Steven Joyce said the case for building the rail link had not been proven. “

See: $8m boost given to city rail link

It came to a head just over a year ago when Transport Minister Steven Joyce rejected an Auckland Council report claiming a stunning $3.50 cost benefit for every $1 invested in its proposed city rail loop.

The Government, which opposes the loop, demanded that Government boffins do the sums again. They did, with predictably less flattering results. But before that, up popped a secret independent analysis of the Puhoi to Wellsford highway commissioned by the Government which showed a cost-benefit ratio of 0.4, which meant for every dollar invested the return was only 40c.

In other words, if the politicians were to put the political clamour of their supporters to one side, the holiday highway was a non-starter. “

See: The big winners from cost-benefit studies

It appears that National does not want Len Brown to succeed in any public transport initiatives?

19.

Tougher sentencing, parole, and bail laws.”

Oh god, not that hoary old “tough-on-crime” chestnut again?! Hasn’t that been thrashed to death?

And didn’t Bill English admit that,

”  Prisons are a fiscal and moral failure. And building more of them on a large scale is something I don’t think any New Zealander wants to see. They want a safer community and they want protection from the worst elements of criminal behaviour, but they don’t want to be a prison colony … It’s the fastest rising cost in government in the last decade and my view is we shouldn’t build any more of them. “

See: The problem with prisons

Firstly, it take guts for a Tory politician to be so candid and forthright on such a basic, dog-whistle, issue. Kudos to Bill English for his honesty on this matter.

Secondly, if  National politicians are indeed aware that prisons are such a failure, then promoting harsher sentences and other “tough-on-crime” rhetoric is  nothing more than sheer dishonesty. It is a cynical, deceptive manipulation of the public’s fear of victimisation by random criminal acts.

It is dishonest. It is manipulative. In fact, it could be called criminally irresponsible

20.

Reforming local government.”

“Reform”? In what way?

Does it need reforming?

Is there something wrong with local government that demands the question to be asked?!

It is a vague question that has no clear purpose, and utterly meaningless.

21.

Reducing long-term welfare dependency, with a focus on work.”

Oh, here we go again…

Aside from the fact that this is a repugnant, loaded question – shouldn’t we be asking,

A. Where are the jobs?

B. Didn’t John Key pledge the creation of 170,000 new jobs?

C. Why isn’t National “focused on work” – as in creating jobs?

Blaming beneficiaries – many of whom were in paid employment  not too long ago – is like blaming the office cleaner at Lehmann Bros for it’s bankruptcy and collapse.

In asking this “question”, National isn’t seeking an answer. It is pushing a subtle, subliminal message that beneficiaries are on “long-term welfare dependency“.

As Paula Bennett herself said,

No. There’s not a job for everyone that would want one right now, or else we wouldn’t have the unemployment figures that we do.

The real tragedy is that far too many low-information voters actually believe National’s rubbish.

22.

Selling minority shares in four energy SOEs and Air  New Zealand.

Not only is this the only honest question that is not loaded or framed in a pre-determined manner – but I suspect that the rationale for this entire leaflet is this one, single question.

As the reader will note, the respondent is asked to “Please tick the three issues that are important to you“. In other words, National is worried that the issue of state asset sales may be impacting on their polling.  But they’re uncertain. So they are trying to determine how deeply people are opposed to asset sales.

This questionnaire contains two “dog whistle” issues (crime and welfare), plus other issues surrounding economic growth, education, and health.

How will asset sales rate amongst all these issues?

If  all/most respondents rate asset sales as one of the top three – then they’re in trouble.

If asset sales is a minor choice, or hardly rates at all, it will embolden National to stay on-course with selling Mighty River Power.

This is the real crux of the matter.

23.

Raising achievement and accountability in schools

Again, a loaded question, as it assumes that there is a problem with accountability in our schools.

What – have all the principles left for Australia? Have all the School Boards resigned en-masse?

As for “raising achievement” – see #12, #13, and #15 above.

24.

Rebuilding Christchurch

Another question  with double meaning.

Firstly, it suggests to the respondent that this is an issue of important to National. Otherwise, why include it on the leaflet?

Secondly, how does the respondent rate this? Should it be chosen above asset sales in priority? Or is asset sales more important? Now we begin to see the craftiness of this questionnaire…

25.

Practical environmental policies supporting growth

A coded question.

What National is really asking is; “Is  environmental protection ok, so long as we can do mining on conservation land or protected marine  areas, as money is more important than protecting trees and fish?”

It is a dishonest question.

But then, the entire leaflet and it’s contents is dishonest.

And worst of all, at a time when the public are expected to tighten their belts; 2,500 state sector workers have been sacked; and essential services like MAF Biosecurity are being run down – National is wasting our tax-dollars on rubbish like this.

They forgot to ask one last question,

Should we be spending your money on leaflets like this?”

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= fs =

That was Then, This is Now #14

20 June 2012 1 comment

A John, a Tony, and a Winston

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This morning’s  ‘Q+A’ (TV1), and ‘The Nation’  (TV3),  featured interviews with John Key, Tony Ryall, and Winston Peters. Peters  also appeared on John Tamihere’s panel on ‘Think Tank‘ – but more on that in a moment.

The three interviews and panel yielded some interesting points…

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Tony Ryall, Minister for State Own Enterprises

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One of National’s constant cop-outs on why the economy is stagnating and unemployment is so high, is a constant finger-pointing at the previous Labour government. According to Key, English, et al in National, the previous Labour government left the economy in a “parlous state”,

In 2008 the Government inherited an economy that had been in recession for nearly a year and that was up against a world economy in crisis….

… Under the last Labour Government the economy got way out of balance.

… We inherited from Labour a set of government books showing never-ending budget deficits and government debt spiralling out of control. This would have ruined the economy and created an onerous debt burden destructive to jobs and income growth.

See:  John Key, Statement to Parliament 2011,  8 February, 2011

I do agree with the view that for New Zealand to have a sustained recovery based on a stronger export sector will be a challenge with the dollar at the current levels. But I imagine that that member will not try to make a political point about that, because it is precisely record-high interest rates and a record-high dollar, driven by the previous Government’s reckless economic management, that have put the export sector into such a difficult position. “

See: Bill English, Parliamentary Questions And Answers – 30 July 2009

None of it is true, of course, and National’s attempt to re-write history is simply a dishonest strategy to excuse their own shocking performance at growing the economy.  In fact, this blogger pointed this out in a carefully researched analysis of Labour’s track record from 2000 to 2008.

See:  Labour: the Economic Record 2000 – 2008

Today (17 June), SOE Minister Tony Ryall let slip on ‘Q+A’  an admission that Labour’s record on fiscal management was not what National Party strategists had been alleging,

TONY RYALL  Uh, its certainly about debt. You know, New Zealands debt is currently $52 billion, $53 billion. Expected to go to $72 billion in the next three years. Thats getting to a level that were uncomfortable with. Thats the reason why we want to sell a minority stake in these assets, free up some cash that can then be invested in the other priority assets that New Zealanders want in the future

[abridged]

TONY  RYALL Thats right. Because at the moment, were going from $8 billion when we started in 2008. The debts now around $52 billion. Were expecting to be at $72 billion in another three years time…

See: TVNZ  Q+A  Transcript interview with Tony Ryall

So much for National; their party apparatchiks; and supporters who constantly warn us that Labour was, and is, a “borrow and spend” Party. National seems to be quite adept at racking up massive overseas debt – whilst cutting taxes locally.

Eventually though, that debt has to be re-paid. Hence why National is selling state assets and cutting back on state/social services.

Thank you, Tony Ryall, for the admission that the previous government, in fact, was not as fiscally inept as you and your colleagues have made out. Nor as inept as your handling of the country’s economy.

Feel free to call an early election any time soon?

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John Key, Prime Minister (Temporary)

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John Key’s appearance on today’s ‘The Nation‘ as the front man for an ideologically-driven National Party was on-par with past performances as the ever-smiling, smooth-talking politician, whose role it is to put a “human face” on the neo-liberal agenda.

There were several issues touched upon in the interview – though none as deeply as perhaps the viewer might have desired. On the issue of National’s deal-making with Sky City, Key was let off the hook lightly – with Fairfax interviewer, John Hartevelt looking slightly bemused when a particularly promising line of questioning was cut short.

Perhaps the interview tried cramming in too many issues, for the alloted time?

On the issue of the Auditor General’s investigation on National’s involvement in deal-making with Sky City on the possible awarding of a contract to build a new Convention centre, one comment from Key, in particular, should have raised a few eyebrows and generated further questioning.

At 6.37 into the interview;

KEY: The involvement I had, as Minister of Tourism was to go and talk to a number of critical players, and as part of a general conversation say to them, “Hey, look, New Zealand’s interested in building a convention centre. Did that with Sky City. I did that with people out at ASB Centre The Edge. I did that with Ngati Whatua. That’s not unusual.  I mean, and to argue that that would be unusual would be to say, well, look I have discussions with people in Whangarei about building a museum there. And I have discussions  with people in Auckland about building  a cycleway.

So now what we’re  talking about about is, ok, was there undue influence or was the process correctly handled, that’s what the auditor general  will say.

So let me tell you this, for a start of, ok, in terms of the expression of interest process, my office had absolutely no involvement, no correspondence, [ interuption by Rachel Smalley] no phone calls, absolutely nothing. So when the auditor general  comes in there will be no correspondence, no phone calls, no discussions, zero.

In a very casual, matter-of-fact manner, Key has stated that whilst he had “talks to a number of critical players, and as part of a general conversation say to them, “Hey, look, New Zealand’s interested in building a convention centre” – that there is no record whatsoever of any such talks or interaction with any of the parties involved.

What we do know is this,

Prime Minister John Key has confirmed he offered a deal to Sky City allowing the casino to have more pokie machines in return for building a multimillion-dollar convention centre. Mr Key, speaking from Indonesia, confirmed he made the offer to Sky City in his capacity as Minister of Tourism, Newstalk ZB reported…

… Mr Key was asked last July in a question for written answer from Green MP Sue Kedgley whether he or any of his ministers had met representatives from the casino to discuss changes to the Gambling Act.

He replied: “I attended a dinner with the Sky City board 4 November 2009 where we discussed a possible national convention centre and they raised issues relating to the Gambling Act 2003″.  “

See: NZ Herald SkyCity deal was PM’s own offer

See: Blogpost Doing ‘the business’ with John Key – Here’s How

The problem here, is that with Key’s “office having absolutely no involvement, no correspondence, no phone calls” we, the public have no way of knowing what has transpired. There is simply no telling what has gone on between Key and “critical players”.

I don’t know about you, the reader, but I am not in the slightest reassured by Key’s explanation.  It is an extremely worrying development in our system when important matters between government of commercial intrerests can be discussed in secret; off the record; and with no paper trail or other indication as to how arrangements were agreed upon.

The potential for corruption is plain for all to see.

If Key does not comprehend this, then his political advisors are not doing their jobs properly. This is not the transparent government that we have come to expect in a modern society – nor what John Key promised us.

See:  Open and Transparent Government – Declaration

John Key then went on to mount an extraordinary and peculiar attack on Winston Peters.

At 27.35 into the interview;

KEY: I dare him to go out there and say he will not under any conditions form a government with Labour, even if Labour’s policy is to raise the super age from 2020, not in the three-year period from 2014 to 2017.

“I dare him to say he will not, because he’s tricky and he’ll find a way all around all of that stuff. “

See: TV1 News -National in trouble – Peters

See:  TV1 VIDEO: Prime Minister John Key on ACC, super and the future

Curiously, when pushed by John Hartevelt, Key did not categorically rule out  a coalition deal with Peters as he did in 2008.

This blogger believes that  Key and National understand   Rule #1 in politics: learn to count.

If National’s support drops in 2014 (or earlier election) they will require a coalition partner with more numbers than the one-man parties of ACT and United Future. Only NZ First comes anywhere near offering the Nats a  potential coalition partner.

At the very least, National’s strategists want to drive Peters away from any potential coalition-partnership or Supply & Confidence support deal for a Labour-led government.

As for Peters – this blogger doubts that he will repeat his fatal mistake of entering into coalition with National, as he did in  on 11 December 1996. Peters understands that his constituency vote for him because it is a protest vote against the incumbent government – in this case, National.

Just as in 1996, people voted for him as part of a wide-spectrum political bloc of anti-National sentiment that was sweeping the country. By coalescing with the Nats in 1996, Peters ignored that sentiment and suffered the wrath of the electorate – first at the superannuation referendum in 1998, which was soundly defeated 92% to 8%. A year later, at the general election, Peters barely scrapped back into Parliament by winning his seat with a 63 vote majority. His Party polled under the 5% threshold.

No doubt National will continue to play their silly-bugger games to de-stabilise the  Labour-led governmen-in-waiting. They have no option, as their own internal polling must be reflecting what mainstream polling is showing; the public have had enough of National; it’s “Bright Future” never-never promises;  and want change. Come 2014 (if not earlier), the Nats will be dog-tucker and will be gone by dinner-time on election night.

Again, feel free to call an early election any time soon, Dear Leader?

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Winston Peters appeared on TVNZ’s ‘Q+A‘, and afterward on TV3’s ‘Think Tank‘, hosted by John Tamihere. Neither appearances could have been more starkly contrasting.

On ‘Q+A‘, interviewed by the personable Greg Boyd, Peters resorted ‘to form’, and displayed  his typical media-combativeness and mis-mash  of slogans and faux-outrage, that is his public persona.

It was painful to watch.

See: TVNZ Q+A Winston Peters on Coalition and Superannuation

‘Nuff said.

Contrast Peter’s cringeworthy performance on ‘Q+A‘, with his appearance on  ‘Think Tank‘, today, as one of three guests; Labour Leader David Shearer and Auckland University professor, Jane Kelsey.  This was a Winston Peters from a Parallel Universe where he appeared thoughful; measured; insightful; and practically led the panel. This is a Winston Peters who commands respect and attention – not the Jeykill & Hyde version on ‘Q+A’ who alienates the viewer with his  antics.

See: TV3 Think Tank 17 June

As a critic of Winston Peters, my suggestion to him is this; lose the attitude. Or at least tone it down. The media can be a pain in the arse, for sure, but why wind them up needlessly?

Save the aggro for the debating chamber in the House. That is where Peters can best utilise that righteous anger he is so famous for. And where he can best show the public that he is on our side as the champion of the Ordinary Kiwi Battler.

The Winston Peters that this blogger saw on ‘Think Tank‘ is the one that will help re-build NZ first.

Not the grumpy old bugger who got into a shouting-match with Greg Boyd.

If Peters reads this, take my criticisms as constructive. Or not. As a Labour-Green supporter, I’m not terribly fussed if he makes it back to Parliament at the next election, or fades away into the Twilight Zone.

But perhaps his supporters and Party activists deserve that opportunity?

Just my 5 cents + 15% gst worth.

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Acknowledgement

Cartoons by Murray Webb

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= fs =

History Lesson – Rua – Police

7 March 2012 3 comments

And now for another lesson in recent history; cut-backs in police funding, staffing, and other resourcing,

Government: National (in brief coalition with NZ First)

Elected: 12 October 1996

Prime Minister: Jim Bolger

Finance Minister/Treasurer: Bill English

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police - police association - national government - cutbacks - staff cuts - funding cuts -   reduction in police staffing - reduction in non-sworn staff - greg o'connor - nz police - low   morale

Otago Daily Times - 12 February 1997

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Community policing centres around the country are facing staff cuts like those being considered if the Naenae police station in the Hutt Valley, the Police Association says…

… Mr O’Connor said police administrators committed themselves to cut staff by 540 in four years to pay for the new computer system.”

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police - police association - national government - cutbacks - staff cuts - funding cuts -   reduction in police staffing - reduction in non-sworn staff - greg o'connor - nz police - low   morale

Otago Daily Times - 4 March 1997

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A slow police response to a 111 emergency call was indicative of problems  faced by police because of under-funding and staff shortages, Labour police spokesman George Hawkins said yestrerday…

… ‘This sort of situation happens because  the police are stretched to breaking point.’ The MP said the police budget dropped $6 million in real terms this financial year.

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police - police association - national government - cutbacks - staff cuts - funding cuts -   reduction in police staffing - reduction in non-sworn staff - greg o'connor - nz police - low   morale

Otago Daily Times - 7 March 1997

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Police Commissioner Peter Doone last night admitted morale within the police force had tumbled over the past 18 months  but scotched suggestions  staff were ready to strike. Labour police spokesman George Hawkins said on Wednesday strike action was being considered by police officers  after the leaking of a Treasury report recommending the police budget be cut  by $47 million by the year 2000.

Mr Doone… conceded, however, that front-line police  had been under pressure for at least 18 months and, with the release of the Treasury report on top of budget restraints, they had taken ‘quite a severe battering’.

The report, which is yet to go to  cabinet, proposed cutting police pay  and budgets, reviewing police superannuation, selling police property and closing the police training college. Mr Doone said Police National Headquarters  was taking staff concerns about the Treasury report seriously  and was already ‘well advanced’ on an emphatic response to its recommendations.

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police - police association - national government - cutbacks - staff cuts - funding cuts -   reduction in police staffing - reduction in non-sworn staff - greg o'connor - nz police - low   morale

Otago Daily Times - 16 October 1997

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Association president Greg O’Connor told about 100 delegates at the association’s 62nd annual conference in Wellington yesterday the increase in crime  and the decrease in police numbers in recent years had demoralised the force…

… Police numbers since 1994 had gone down 3.9%, while reported crime  had increased by 7%, he said.

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police - police association - national government - cutbacks - staff cuts - funding cuts - reduction in police staffing - reduction in non-sworn staff - greg o'connor - nz police - low morale

Otago Daily Times - 12 March 1998

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The Otago police budget has been cut by almost 20% in the past three years, but district manager Superintendent John Reilly is adamant front line policing has not been compromised…

Mr Hawklins said…

‘The excellent work of Otago’s police on reducing the crime rate is being jeopardised by funding cut-backs – their reward for success is a kick in the teeth’…

Supt Reilly yesterday conceded there were restraints  on police spending in Otago, ‘but none had been placed on operational policing’…

Supt Reilly was determined the cuts would not affect the level of policing which ‘the public are entitled to’…

Supt Reilly had also not ruled out leasing some of the $22.5 Dunedin police station to outside interests as a revenue gatherer.

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police - police association - national government - cutbacks - staff cuts - funding cuts - reduction in police staffing - reduction in non-sworn staff - greg o'connor - nz police - low morale

NZPA - 12 June 1998

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The police review out yesterday recommends 445 ‘back line’ job losses and the contracting out  of police work such as search and rescue, scene guards, and speed camera operations – at a saving of $50.5 million. Police Minister Jack Elder said there could be a ‘significant’ boost in front-line staff beyond the extra 500 promised by the government, as a result of the savings…

Police Association president Greg O’Connor said the report confirmed fears that the sole aim of the review was to cut jobs. Front-line police would be burdoned by extra paperwork, he said…

ACT’s Patricia Schnauer said the review was badly handled, hastily wrotten, and a ‘public confidence loser’…

At a press conference yesterday, Mr Elder emphasised that only 1.7% of sworn staff would lose jobs and said they could move to the front-line or normal attrition would take place...”

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police - police association - national government - cutbacks - staff cuts - funding cuts -   reduction in police staffing - reduction in non-sworn staff - greg o'connor - nz police - low   morale

NZPA - 29 September 1998

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Police Minister Clem Simich said yesterday no wholesale cuts would be made to front-line police numbers under the police review. But some districts have found out they may front-line staff under a proposed new method of allocating staff. Mr Simich said it was ‘pure coincidence’ the police review  was taking place at the same time as a staff allocation process, which could see officer numbers slashed in some districts…

The proposed new allocation process, based on population numbers, could see sworn police numbers cut from the Wellington, Central, Southern and Bay of Plenty districts and Police National Headquarters...”

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police - police association - national government - cutbacks - staff cuts - funding cuts -   reduction in police staffing - reduction in non-sworn staff - greg o'connor - nz police - low   morale

Otago Daily Times - 24 April 1999

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More than a third of the Southern police district’s 100 civilian staff could lose their jobs  as part of police restructuring, district  manager Superintendent John Reilly said today…

A working party had been appointed to look at the recommendation and determine if such losses were sustainable...”

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police - police association - national government - cutbacks - staff cuts - funding cuts -   reduction in police staffing - reduction in non-sworn staff - greg o'connor - nz police - low   morale

The Press - 30 April 1999

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The controversial police review continues to cause concern. The number of non-sworn police staff has fallen by almost 200 in the last year. And three senior Christchurch officers are leaving the force because of job stress caused by the review’s effects.

The fall in non-sworn staff is especially alarming. The numbers were revealed by the Minister of Police, Clem Simich, in a written answer to his parliamentary nemesis, Labour’s police spokesman George Hawkins. Mr Simich says that since April last year, 312 non-sworn staff have left. Although 123  have been reappointed, most were temporary. Mr Hawkins says the decrease means front-line police are answering telephones and doing paperwork rather than catching criminals…

Clearly, the police review has not worked out well. It has diverted senior officers from their primary tasks as they have been forced to reapply for their jobs.”

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police - police association - national government - cutbacks - staff cuts - funding cuts -   reduction in police staffing - reduction in non-sworn staff - greg o'connor - nz police - low   morale

NZPA - 15 May 1999

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Predictions of cuts in police numbers are irresponsible and scaremongering, and do nothing to ease the uncertainty staff feel as the police review goes ahead, says Police Minister Clem Simich…

Mr Simich said it was widely expected that many non-sworn staff positions would go. ‘That’s what the review called for. But those numbers aren’t big. They are not as big as a lot of people make out’…

He agreed that criminal intelligence, crime analysis and many other jobs  done by non-sworn staff  in Palmerston North constituted essential support for officers on the street.”

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police - police association - national government - cutbacks - staff cuts - funding cuts - reduction in police staffing - reduction in non-sworn staff - greg o'connor - nz police - low morale

Otago Daily Times/NZPA - 16 June 1999

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police - police association - national government - cutbacks - staff cuts - funding cuts - reduction in police staffing - reduction in non-sworn staff - greg o'connor - nz police - low morale

Otago Daily Times/NZPA - 16 June 1999

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Non-sworn police staff have been thrown a lifeline with the government yesterday calling a halt to reductions in the number of police civilian staff. Police Minister Clem Simich also announced the government would be providing extra funding for an additional 90 non-sworn staff throughout the country. ‘The Government and the police have said right from the start we would not tolerate police officers answering phones and doing clerical work instead of being out on the street,’ he said…

A review of the force, announced last October aimed to cut non-sworn staff by 285, and because of changes that have taken place since then, 195 positions have gone. Mr Simich said the extra 90 non-sworn staff would cost about $6 million in the first year…

Association presidentr Greg O’Connor saiid the voice of the police had been heard ‘and we’ve managed to maintain the bottom line’… 

Mr Doone said police operational capacity was not just being maintained – it was being improved. ‘The initial estimates were too tight.  they were just that – initial estimates’ he said.

Labour’s police spokesman George Hawkins said the Government had buckled under pressure from the Opposition and public opinion. ‘But it has failed to go far enough – 195  staff have already gone and the Government’s pathetic claim that cancelling further cuts amounts to providing an “additional” 90 staff is a desperate attempt to put a positive gloss  on an exercise that has been an unmitigated public relations and public safety disaster,’ he said.”

Dunedin’s CIB is being stripped of experienced detectives, with seven having left the police or applied  to transfer to other sections since February. There are also suggestions thers are poised to leave…

While officers were not prepared to speak on the record, there is growing concern at the loss of experienced detectives. Dissatisfaction with the police review and the way the CIB would operate under the new structure are believed to be factors in some of the departures.”

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Government: Labour (in coalition with The Alliance)

Elected: 27 November 1999

Prime Minister: Helen Clark

Finance Minister: Michael Cullen

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police - police association - national government - cutbacks - staff cuts - funding cuts - reduction in police staffing - reduction in non-sworn staff - greg o'connor - nz police - low morale

The Dominion - 26 March 2001

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A shortage of 200 frontline police officers means there will be no one to drive 404 new police vehicles, National’s police spokesman, Tony Ryall, says… [now in Opposition]

Mr Ryall said Mr Hawkins was in denial over police morale, as latest figures showed there were 200 frontline vacancies…

Assistant police commissioner Jon White said… ‘Police are planning to increase the number of recruit wings over the next year and plan to run a focused campaign to encourage people to join. The recruiting campaign will help increase that flow’.”

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Government: National (in coalition with ACT, Peter Dunne, and Maori Party)

Elected: 26 November 2012

Prime Minister: John Key

Finance Minister: Bill English

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police - police association - national government - cutbacks - staff cuts - funding cuts - reduction in police staffing - reduction in non-sworn staff - greg o'connor - nz police - low morale

Radio New Zealand - 6 March 2012

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The Government has told police they must keep within their $1.4 billion budget and says all government departments are having to manage without extra money.  Commissioner Peter Marshall is ruling out cuts to frontline policing, but warns other services may be affected and this could include some stations being closed….

…Peter Marshall says some non-sworn positions are already being done away with in a merging of human resources and finance from the 12 police districts down to just three hubs.”

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police - police association - national government - cutbacks - staff cuts - funding cuts - reduction in police staffing - reduction in non-sworn staff - greg o'connor - nz police - low morale

Newswire - 6 March 2012

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Police Minister Anne Tolley has avoided responding directly to reports police numbers will be slashed and stations shut to save $360 million over three years.

Police officers and non-sworn staff could lose their jobs, with union negotiations over pay increasing the financial pressures on the police, a source told the New Zealand Herald…

… The reports follow the deferral of an intake of police recruits late last year – a move Prime Minister John Key attributed to a low attrition rate.”

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police - police association - national government - cutbacks - staff cuts - funding cuts - reduction in police staffing - reduction in non-sworn staff - greg o'connor - nz police - low morale

NZ Herald - 6 March 2012

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The Police Commissioner has confirmed some jobs will go as he makes moves to stay within budget. Peter Marshall said there are plenty of options about how that will be done and is urging his staff to not panic about losing their jobs…

…Police Minister Anne Tolley said there has been no directive to the Police Commissioner to make savings, just for police to live within their means.

“That’s the expectations we all have on our departments that they live within their budget, there isn’t extra money and so they have to manage and continue to deliver an increase in front line policing hours.”

But Labour’s police spokesman Kris Faafoi said he did not see how that can happen.

“I think if we’re looking at $360 million over three years, it is going to be a mixture of resourcing and front line staff capability and it’s going to hurt the police.”

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police - police association - national government - cutbacks - staff cuts - funding cuts - reduction in police staffing - reduction in non-sworn staff - greg o'connor - nz police - low morale

Dominion Post - 7 March 2012

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Mr Marshall declined to comment on the size of any cuts, but he revealed a series of potential targets:

Police station closures;

Non-replacement of staff who quit;

A share of any savings from Corrections and the Justice Ministry being ploughed back into police coffers;

Cancelling outside consultancy contracts;

Changes to how vehicles are bought and serviced.

Paying staff accounted for 73 per cent of the budget so had the greatest bearing on any savings, Mr Marshall said.

The force was 100 sworn officers over its allocated number and natural attrition accounted for about 350 leaving the force each year.

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Fifteen years have passed since the media reported “community policing centres around the country are facing staff cuts like those being considered if the Naenae police station in the Hutt Valley” – and now history is repeating. It is as if we are witnessing a looped video, with events, policies, and even word-for-word statements made by various National Ministers of Police; Simich, Ryall, and now Tolley…

As per history’s re-run, I suppose it will be up to the next Labour-led government in 2014 (if not earlier) to un-do these cuts and re-build the Police – indeed, rebuild the entire state sector service.

And then New Zealand voters will eventually get another rush of blood to their heads and re-elect another National government, which will again cut taxes;  borrow truckloads of money from overseas; sell more state owned enterprises; slash the state sector; cut Police staffing and resourcing…

Ad infinitum.

Will voters ever learn? I doubt it… though Gen Yers do seem to be a lot more savy than their somewhat dimmer baby-boomer parents/grandparents.

We can but hope.

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Additional

Radio NZ: Listen to Checkpoint interview with Peter Marshall

Radio NZ: Listen to Greg O’Connor on Checkpoint

Govt under fire over NZDF restructuring

NZ Herald: Cuts likely if police get their hoped-for 3% rise

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Jobs for the bro’s?

20 November 2011 1 comment

10 September 2011

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Is it me – or does this sound plain wrong

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Full Story

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Why was the position not advertised, as is common practice?

Is this an example of nepotism? (Silly question. Of course it is.)

And at a time when this government has thrown thousands of government workers out of their jobs, and onto the unemployment scrap-heap – how much is this “advisor” job costing the tax-payer?

As an indication, this case might give us an idea,

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Full Story

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And once again, the highly-paid “advisor” involves the English family.

Another case,

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Full Story

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So much for this government “cutting expenditure”. They are sacking ordinary workers – and rehiring “advisors” aid exorbitant amounts of tax-payers’ money?

What on Earth is going on here?

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+++ Update +++

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It appears that the ‘heat’ has gone on Tony Ryall in this matter.  He and his colleagures may have been hoping that Mervyn English’s appointment slipped in “under the radar” – but New Zealand is too small a country for that to happen.

Appointments of family and friends to jobs that are not publicly advertised is never a good look, and it is surprising that the government was silly enough to think they could get away with it. It reeks of corrupt practice.

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19 November 2011

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And yet more of the same…

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Full Story

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Katherine Rich has been appointed to the Health Promotion Agency Establishment Board, which replaces the Alcohol Advisory Council.

The move has outraged advocacy group Alcohol Action. Spokesperson Doug Sellman says Ms Rich has been one of the most vociferous defenders of the alcohol industry.

Professor Sellman says supermarkets normalise alcohol as an ordinary commodity and sell it by the tonne at ultra-cheap prices up to 24 hours a day.Ibid

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The Labour Party agrees the appointment of Katherine Rich is too much a conflict of interest.

Health spokesperson Grant Robertson told Radio New Zealand while he holds Ms Rich personally in high regard, he believes her role with the Food and Grocery Council does clash with being part of such an agency.

“I think the linkage with her role supporting and advocating for the supermarkets is unfortunate and doesn’t sit well with the health promotion role that the future agency will have.”

However, in a written statement on Saturday, Health Minister Tony Ryall says Ms Rich, a former National MP, was appointed for her experience, balance and integrity.” Ibid

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(L-R) National MPs Simon Powell, Katherine Rich, former National leader Don Brash, National MPs Nathan Guy and Gerry Brownlee applaud John Key as he delivers his speech as the New Zealand National Party launch their election campaign at Sky City on October 12, 2008 in Auckland, New Zealand.

Source

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Stacking government and quango roles with party hacks (even if they are talented party hacks) seems to be a time-honoured tradition that National is loathe to depart from.

However, the Radio NZ report does raise an important question regarding her appointment to  the Health Promotion Agency Establishment Board, which replaces the Alcohol Advisory Council.

ALAC was an organisation dedicated to raising awareness of New Zealand’s considerable alcohol related (some say fueled) problems.

2009 BERL report estimated that “$4.437 million of diverted resources and lost welfare” could be directly attributed to alcohol abuse. That $4.4 billion  is reflected in  ACC, hospital admissions, crime, family violence, lost productivity, etc, and places a firm dollar cost on the harm that alcohol abuse is causing NZ society. These are costs we all pay for through ACC levies and taxes spent on medical intervention; policing; and the justice system.

Whilst working for the Food and Grocery Council, Ms Rich was a firm advocate of liberal laws surrounding marketting and retailing of alcohol.,

The New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) and Alcohol Advisory Council (Alac) strongly backed the recommendations.

Alac chief executive Gerard Vaughan said it set out a clear objective of reducing alcohol-related harm which stretched to structure and role changes for the district licensing agencies responsible for managing liquor licensing in their own communities.

Communities up and down the country were sick of the violence and vandalism that came with drinking and that proposed changes to licencing regimes would help address the problem, Mr Vaughan said.

Nearly 3000 submissions were received by the commission, many of which supported the tightening of laws around alcohol sales, purchasing and consumption.

But NZ Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich said the report reflected “classic nanny state thinking.”

It failed to target those causing the problems and punished everyone, she said. The industry was already one of the most regulated, and more sensible ways to approach existing problems included better enforcement of current rules and better use of legal powers, along with industry-led initiatives.”   Source

New Zealand has a $4 billion-plus problem with alcohol abuse (BERL report) and Katherine Rich dismissed attempts to address this crisis as “classic nanny state thinking“.

Thank you, Ms Rich. It’s nice to know where you stand on social problems that affect us all.

It is worthwhile reflecting that since liquor laws were de-regulated in the mid 1980s (as part of the wave of Rogernomics “reforms”), that 25 years later things have gotten steadily worse. In those 25 years, the free market system has reigned practically unchallenged and unchanged.

Somehow I think “Nanny State” has little to do with it.

Nanny is still nursing a hang-over from the last 25 years.

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Related

A kronically inept government

Community Needs vs Business Demands

New Zealand 2011AD: Drunken Mayhem and a nice Family Day Out

Our ‘inalienable right’ to destroy communities through alcohol abuse

Govt’s consultants’ bill $375m and rising

 

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Why did the fat kiwi cross the road?

30 September 2011 6 comments

First, let me bore you all with some stats, facts, and figures,

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This page provides introductory facts and statistics about obesity in New Zealand. For more information, refer to A Portrait of Health: Key Results from the 2006/2007 New Zealand Health Survey.

Obesity statistics for New Zealand adults

The 2006/07 New Zealand Health Survey found that:

  • One in four adults were obese (26.5%)
  • 41.7% of Māori adults were obese
  • 63.7% of Pacific adults were obese
  • 11% of Asian adults were obese
  • Pacific men and women were two and a half times more likely to be obese than men and women in the total population.
  • Māori men and women were one and a half times more likely to be obese than men and women in the total population.
  • There has been an increase in the prevalence of obesity for men and women from 1997 to 2006/07, adjusted for age, but the rate of increase appears to be slowing.

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Obesity statistics for New Zealand children

The 2006/07 New Zealand Health Survey found that:

  • One in twelve children (aged 2 to 14 years) were obese (8.3%).
  • One in five children were overweight (20.9%).
  • There has been no change in the average (mean) BMI for children aged 5-14 years since 2002.
  • There has been a decrease in average BMI for Māori children.
  • Adjusted for age, Pacific boys and girls were at least 2.5 times more likely to be obese than boys and girls in the total population.
  • Māori boys and girls were 1.5 times more likely to be obese than boys and girls in the total population.

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Other statistics

  • Nine out of ten (87.8%) children aged from birth to 14 years have ever been breastfed.
  • Nine out of ten (87.8%) children aged 2-14 years ate breakfast at home every day in the past 7 days.
  • Two out of three (63.6%) children had fizzy drink in the past 7 days. One in five (19.6%) children had three or more fizzy drinks in the past seven days.
  • Seven out of ten (70.9%) children ate fast food in past seven days. One in seven (13.6%) ate fast food twice in past seven days and one in 14 (7.2%) had eaten fast food three or more times in past seven days.
  • Two out of three (64.1%) children aged 5-14 years usually watched two or more hours of television a day. This equates to 368,700 children.
  • Two out of every three adults (64.1%) ate the recommended three or more servings of vegetables each day, and two out of three adults (60.0%) ate the recommended two or more servings of fruit a day.
  • One in seven adults (13.6%) reported that they were currently taking medication for high blood pressure. This equates to 425,500 adults.
  • One in 12 adults (8.4%) were currently taking medication for high blood cholesterol.
  • One in 20 adults (5.2%) had been diagnosed with ischaemic heart disease.
  • The prevalence of diabetes in children was 0.2% which means that approximately 1700 children had been diagnosed with diabetes by a doctor (most probably type 1).
  • One in 20 adults (5.0%) had doctor-diagnosed diabetes (excluding diabetes during pregnancy). This equates to 157,100 adults. Nine out of every ten adults with diabetes were diagnosed when they were 25 years or older, and almost all will have type 2 diabetes.
  • After adjusting for age, Pacific men and women had three times the prevalence of diagnosed diabetes than men and women in the total population.
  • Just under half of children (47.0%) aged 5-14 years usually use active transport to get to and from school (walking, biking, skating or using other forms of physical activity). Common reasons given by parents for what stops their children walking, biking or skating to school – live too far from school, busy traffic/main road, too dangerous for reasons other than traffic, takes too long.
  • Half of all adults (50.5%) met the definition of being regularly physically active. Overall one in seven (15.0%) adults were sedentary, reporting less than 30 minutes of physical activity in the previous week.

Source

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Like nearly every other Western (and non-Western) society, New Zealanders are putting on the kilos. The problem of obesity starts young in our lives, as we consume sugary, fatty, highly-processed foods – and usually ends in heart disease, diabetes, and early death. The last bit – early death – is usually the worst.

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Source

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In fact, obesity has become an epidemic in the West. This is not helped by the fact that over-eating can be as addictive as alcohol, tobacco, gambling, drugs, etc. A ‘Time‘ article, last year stated,

But what shocked the researchers was that extended-access rats also showed deficits in their “reward threshold.” That is, unrestricted exposure to large quantities of high-sugar, high-fat foods changed the functioning of the rats’ brain circuitry, making it harder and harder for them to register pleasure — in other words, they developed a type of tolerance often seen in addiction — an effect that got progressively worse as the rats gained more weight. “It was quite profound,” says study author Paul Kenny, an associate professor of neuroscience at the Scripps Research Institute. The reward-response effects seen in the fatty-food-eating mice were “very similar to what we see with animals that use cocaine and heroin,” he says.” Source

Science is confirming what many of us had already intuited; that obesity was not simply a matter of “will power” or exercise – any more than “self-discipline” is for alcoholics or gamblers. There is much more going on, in the depths of our brains, that is affected by what we are eating – and vice versa.

By June, 2008, the previous Clark-led government courageously attempted to halt the obesity epidemic. Despite being sensitive to criticisms of “nanny statism”, their policy was not to ban junk food throughout the country. Nor to force feed us with vegetables and fruit. And not to frog-march us up and down our streets with battalions of Exercise Police.

Their plan was simply to cut crappy food out of our school ‘tuck’ shops.

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Full story

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You would think that this modest proposal would have been welcomed by sensible people who understood the problem, and realised that what we fed our children early in their lives would have an impact on their later years? Sensible, right?

Oh hell no. That would require common sense; foresight; and a strong sense of community responsibility.

In the above article, Secondary Principals’ Association president, Peter Gall said “ secondary school principals would generally have preferred an educational approach to improving nutrition, rather than Government rules which “can seem a bit heavy-handed“. ”

I wonder if Mr Gall considers it “heavy handed” when we deny our children access to cigarettes and alcohol? After all, if it’s “heavy handed” to try to provide healthier food options for our children, then let’s go hell-for-leather and give 10 year olds a six-pack of  DB Bitter for breakfast. We can always try an “educational approach” later?

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Unfortunately for us – but more unfortunate for our children – this bizarre attitude of Individual Responsibility won out over Community Proactivity. The National Party was perhaps chief amongst culprits, as it began a smear campaign of “nanny statism” against the then-Labour Government.

Headlines such as “National slams ‘nanny-state’ health bill“; “National Party: Public health bill in ‘nanny state’ realm“; and ” ‘Nanny state’ fears on health bill” filled our media. Irrational comments like this, became the mainstream ‘narrative’ of the debate, “”National said the codes were regulations by stealth as they could be converted into law if the Health Ministry did not think the voluntary codes were working.  Codes could cover a range of things from what could be in a school lunchbox, to physical activity and food advertising.”Source

Gosh,  and just think; if Labour has it’s wicked way,  our kids might not become obese!! Shock! Horror!

In November 2008, National was elected into power, and John Key became our Prime Minister.

Even as the world was facing a global banking crisis, and recession was impacting on nearly every nation on Earth, the new National government still found time to reverse Labour’s evil plan to reduce obesity amongst our children.  In March 2009, National scrapped the healthy foods in schools policy,

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Full Story

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You have to read that article in it’s entirety to grasp the full flavour of lunacy involved in the ‘rational’ behind National’s decision.

There was simply no coherent, logical reason offered except, as Education Minister Anne Tolley said, “It’s not teachers’ responsibility to act as food police. If we want to start changing behaviour, that’s got to start happening at home.

Riiiight. The same goes to allowing our children to have access to a couple of shots of bacardi as well?

Never mind that Wellington nutritionist, Sarah Burkhart, said that,  “[A pie] isn’t a high carbohydrate food source. That’s actually one of the worst things you could [eat].” Source

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Oh no, because neo-liberal politicians know better than nutritionists. We are going to have Freedom of Choice Even If It Damn Well Kills Us (and our children). Essentially, that is precisely the message that National gave New Zealanders two years ago.

Thankfully, some school’s exhibited far more maturity on this issue than our brain-dead politicians and Wellington College deputy principal Dave Ashby said the college would probably keep its new healthy menu,

“Schools have got a responsibility to young people. I don’t think we’re going to chuck it all in now.” Source

Thank you, Dave “Common Sense” Ashby.

However, leaving these matters to the whims of individual schools is not a solution. It means that some schools  simply won’t bother; they will defer decision making further “down the food chain”,  to our children.

It certainly  sends conflicting messages to the community.

And National’s over-turning of Labour’s policy also shows a total lack of any measure of leadership on this problem (I refuse to call it an “issue” – it is a problem).

On 27 February, the New Zealand Medical Association released a statement, condemning the National Government’s Do Nothing approach. They described Anne Tolley’s actions as “incomprehensible”. Despite it’s length, I will re-print their statement in full. It is worthwhile spending ten minutes to read it,

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Our reasons for opposing removal of the clause follow.
  • The Minister, Hon Anne Tolley, states that the core business of schools is to provide students with a “quality…learning environment”.1 Students cannot be expected to benefit fully from such an environment if they are inadequately nourished or experiencing poor health because of poor nutrition. Research suggests that good nutrition is associated with better overall school and academic performance, intelligence, and psychosocial functioning.2–4 Thus, a healthy school food environment seems imperative for a quality learning environment.
  • The Minister states that boards of trustees can “make their own decisions about appropriate food and drink options”.1 However, the reason the clause was introduced was that school food under boards of trustees was not sufficiently nutritious. A study in 2007 by Utter et al showed an association between use of school canteens in New Zealand and more frequent consumption of high fat and high sugar foods. 5 An earlier study by Carter et al found that the most commonly available foods in primary schools were pies (79%), juice (57%), and sausage rolls (55%).6 There were over five times more unhealthy meals on offer than healthy meals, and filled rolls (a healthy option) were the most expensive item.
  • It is unrealistic to expect boards to have the detailed nutrition knowledge necessary to ensure an appropriate and healthy food service, especially with their already heavy workload. The Minister’s decision means that whilst schools are still required to promote healthy foods, they must determine what foods are healthy and, of greatest concern, can continue to sell unhealthy food. This is contradictory and suggests ‘do as I say, not as I do’ to children.
  • Relying on education alone has not worked for other public health issues such as smoking, seat belts, cycle helmets, and drink driving, which ultimately required regulation to bring about positive changes in behaviour.7 There is no reason to think education will work any better for tackling our obesity problem. If we expect people to eat healthily, the environment must be changed to “make healthy choices the easy choices”.8
  • Relying on nutrition education alone also assumes there is free choice in school canteens. However, food choices are constrained by the environment. If all that is available is food that is unhealthy and heavily promoted in the media, or if healthy foods are more expensive, then students don’t have a true choice. Furthermore, younger children can not be expected to make rational choices about food based on health.
  • Development and implementation of the Ministry of Education’s guidelines on ‘Food and Nutrition for Healthy, Confident Kids’9 was the result of a prolonged and extensive amount of work on the part of government, schools, health sector, and the food industry. That expense and resource was well justified given the potential long-term gains, but has now been completely wasted, without even evaluating its potential success.
  • The Minister has also stated that there is confusion about the guidelines amongst schools.1 However, this could be resolved given sufficient time to work with schools. ERO report that since the clause came into effect in June 2008, 95% of schools had already implemented the guidelines.10
  • The fact that children bring unhealthy food into school or buy it out of school is not, as has been proposed, a reason to allow unhealthy food to be sold at school.1 The same rationale is not accepted in other circumstances. For example, it could never be acceptable to allow cigarettes to be sold at school because students could buy them at a local dairy.
  • Whereas at one time New Zealand was seen as a global leader in our efforts to tackle obesity,11 this latest move by the National government puts New Zealand seriously out of step with other countries. The UK Government, for example, is making laudable efforts to tackle childhood obesity, including implementing regulations around school food, and embarking on plans to broaden the reach of such regulations to include other key environments such as restaurants and workplaces.
The future cost to the country of obesity and nutrition-related disease is immense.12–14 It is of the utmost importance that we support young people to develop healthy eating habits as they grow. This requires environments that support healthy food choices.
The current rates of childhood overweight (21%) and obesity (8%) show that existing environments are not conducive to healthier choices.15 Government intervention is justified to protect children and to prevent the high societal costs of nutrition-related disease. This does not make New Zealand a ‘nanny state’, but simply a caring state.
Delvina Gorton
Dietitian / Research Fellow
Clinical Trials Research Unit, University of Auckland
Helen Eyles
Nutritionist / Research Fellow
Clinical Trials Research Unit, University of Auckland
Cliona Ni Mhurchu
Public Health Nutritionist / Programme Leader (Nutrition & Physical Activity)
Clinical Trials Research Unit, University of Auckland
Chris Bullen
Public Health Medicine Specialist / Acting Director
Clinical Trials Research Unit, University of Auckland

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Now, you’re probably wondering; why should I accept the statement of the people above, rather than my democratically elected representatives?

It’s very simple. The people above are trained in matters relating to health. Their #1 concern is mine and your well-being. That is why they went to University; spent years and thousands of dollars being educated; and why they took time to make their views known to you. In short, they care.

The people who over-turned Labour’s National Administration Guidelines for healthy foods are politicians. They care only to be re-elected.

Or put another way, who would you trust to look after your health; your GP? Or the Minister of Health, Tony Ryall? Your call.

In March 2010, more Health professionals joined the nutritionists above, calling on the Government to reinstate legislation for all schools to provide healthy canteen food,

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Full Story

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Christchurch public health nutritionist Bronwen King, said,  “What we need is strong leadership and tough measures, not the soft options they are dishing out now. Unless we get this, we will all pay the price.”  Source

The response of the Minister of Health, Tony Ryall, was thus,

The new Government has a more balanced approach than the finger-pointing, nanny state attitude of the previous administration,” he said.

“We trust school boards of trustees and parents to decide what they sell in their own tuck shops.”  Ibid

“Nanny state attitude”, remarked Mr Ryall. More politicking.  What was it I said about who to trust; health professionals or politicians?

However, the government has taken “action”. If you can call it that,

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Full Story

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By now you are probably wondering why on Earth our political representatives in Parliament would ‘can’ Labour’s healthy foods policy for schools – which costs very little for the taxpayer to impliment – whilst committing $8 million dollars for 300 bariatric procedures (weight loss surgery) in the next four years? What possible sense is there to such a bizarre situation?

In terms of health outcomes and sensible use of tax-dollars – very little sense.

In terms of political appearances to be Doing Something – it makes perfect sense.

By scrapping Labour’s healthy foods policy, National gives the appearance of rejecting “nanny statism” (though National has passed, or assisted, similar legislation in the past – such as the so-called “anti-smacking Bill), and reinforcing the Rights of Individuals to “make their own decisions”.

By funding 300 bariatric procedures, National is seen to be Doing Something to address this nation’s obesity problem. Above all, politicians understand that the public’s perception must be influenced: politicians need to be seen to be Doing Something to address a problem.

It is precisely the reason why “boy racer” legislation was passed by National – despite police already having considerable powers to seize cars and arrest drivers. The point was not that new laws were needed – but politicians had to be seen to be Doing Something.

The reason why National could not rely on Labour’s healthy foods in schools programme? It would not have offered the immediate results that politicians require. Such a programme takes years – decades! – to show results. Politicians face re-election every three years.

Unfortunately, as usual, it is the public and our children, who will suffer the results of this political expediency. We will also pay for it, in monetary terms,

“About 150,000 New Zealanders could potentially benefit from bariatric surgery. One in five New Zealanders are obese, leading to direct health costs of almost half a billion dollars each year. “ Source

And it’s getting worse,

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Full Story

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Note the statement in that article, under-lined in red,

“Christchurch obesity surgeon Richard Flint said patients selected for the pilot programme would be younger and with a body mass index (BMI) of 35 to 45. “

That’s right, folks. Not only are we  spending more money for weight-reducing operations – but the patients are becoming younger, as obesity increases in our society.

National is also supporting a policy of “outsourcing” these procedures to private clinics,

Christchurch obesity surgeon Richard Flint said… ” Christchurch Hospital did not have the resources to do the operations so they would be outsourced to private clinics.” Ibid

So now companies are making a profit out of the growing obesity epidemic. This, no doubt, fits in very well with National’s core ideology of  encouraging private “providers” for our health needs.  Someone will be making a lot of money out of  peoples’ misery.

But it’s going to cost us taxpayers even more,

“There were plans for the multimillion-dollar Christchurch Hospital redevelopment to include a bariatric surgery unit. “ Ibid

This is how obesity impacts on us, as a society, and as individuals. As obesity gets worse, we will end up paying more for hospitals, surgical procedures, medicines, post-surgical care, etc.

And to make it worse, the Government is actually proud of it’s “accomplishments” in this area,

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Source

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Remarkable. We have a government that is willing to spend half a billion tax-dollars on new hospital facilities and operations…

… but balks at removing unhealthy food from school cafetarias. Obviously, National has forgotten what their grandmothers and grandfathers knew instinctively; a gram of prevention, is worth a kilo of cure. I guess their imperative for re-election outweighs simple common sense? Little wonder that we distrust politicians.

There are those in society who are vocal in their  insistance that obesity is an “issue of personal responsibility”, and not something for the State to be concerned with. I reject that philosophy utterly.

We are a community, who rely on each other for everything that we have. None of us achieved or gained anything on our own – someone, at some point in time, helped us to get to where we are today.

When it comes to the obesity epidemic, this is a problem that affects us all; whether in the taxes we pay, or a family member directly affected. Or ourselves.

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We need to remember this, the next time a Minister tells us that it is a matter of “choice”. If it is “choice”, then we should be choosing to have sensible, proactive policies when it comes to food for our children – and not just leave it up to individuals. For children, that does not always work. And eventually, that “choice” will lead to a “choice” whether to have an expensive operation or not.

(Please note, I am not opposed to people requiring such operations. Such medical interventions are life-saving.  My call is for programmes that offer children better outcomes than what is currently “on the menu” for them.)

And yet, with a bit of common sense and prevention, we ultimately wouldn’t be needing those expensive new hospital wings, and surgical weight-loss procedures.

Q: Why did the fat kiwi cross the road?

A: To get to his appointment at the new bariatric-wing of his local hospital. (Yeah, I know, not funny. It wasn’t meant to be.)

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Previous blogpost

Hey, People! Leave our kids alone!

Additional

Tumeke blog:  Ronald McDonald becomes guest editor at the NZ Herald

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History, seems to repeat…

“Reducing the number of government agencies, where it makes sense, will improve the delivery of services to the public, reduce duplication of roles, and allow reprioritisation of spending to where it will have the greatest impact,” State Services Minister Tony Ryall said.”

I hope no one actually believes that nonsense. National has an apalling track trecord  in undermining agencies and damaging their ability to provide services. It’s a shame that many folk seem to have forgotten the bad state of public services when National was finally voted out at the end of 1999.

For example, ex-psych patients were reduced to living in streets and public toilets – having no where else to go, and not having any support.

In another example, on 3 April 1998, Southland dairy farmer Colin Morrison (42) died on a waiting list, awaiting a triple heart bypass surgery. His condition was listed as “life threatening” – but was still on a waiting list when he died.

We are fast returning to those Bad Old Days.

And there will be a heavy price to pay.

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On Colin Morrison (1998)

Widow says little improvement seem

GP hits out at health reforms

Died waiting for by-pass

Word today on heart list

Anger on heart op delay

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