Hard News by Russell Brown


On seclusion rooms

After Kirsty Johnston revealed two weeks ago that Miramar Central School had repeatedly locked children – including an 11 year-old boy with autism –  in dark, cupboard-sized room as a punishment, the story developed quickly.

It emerged that many other schools were using the practice basically unmonitored and Education minister Hekia Parata appeared bizarrely disconnected from the situation at one school, where staff were refusing to cooperate with a police investigation into their use of restraint and seclusion. It's an appalling situation.

But I started to wonder about the basis on which these rooms had been installed in the first place. Before we were obliged to withdraw our younger son from intermediate school some years ago, we had been promised that there would be a quiet room for him to withdraw to and escape the human noise he sometimes found unbearable. It never happened.

But might at least some of these rooms have been installed for good reasons – and was there a danger of a knee-jerk reaction that might harm other familes for whom they were of benefit? Yes and yes, as it turns out.

The Ministry of Education has now cracked down on all schools using such rooms:

The ministry is now focusing on cracking down on other schools that have used seclusion rooms in the last 12 months.

The message is that all schools must stop using such rooms immediately and that Ministry of Education staff will be offering help to come up with techniques to manage students with extreme behaviour.

Meanwhile, this message from the mother of an autistic boy found its way to me:

My son's school has something which could be called a 'seclusion' room but is really a 'sensory deprivation room', a darkened room with a mattress and a hammock.

When he was younger and more volatile, I know my son was offered the room and chose to use it. He would rock in the hammock and have some calming downtime in there, soothed by the the motion and the feeling of safety, a break from his overwhelming senses.

I have also seen teacher aides use the room for students who are screaming and physically lashing out, to protect both the flailing student and themselves from harm.  The students usually calm quickly in there.

I am fine with our school's sensory deprivation room, I think it has helped both students and teacher aides deal with sensory overwhelm. The room has a window and students are allowed out when they want to come out.

I know the seclusion rooms in other schools are not necessarily the same and have not been used so well.  The point I am making is that SOME 'seclusion rooms' are designed to deal with autism's sensory processing issues and so it is not a black and white issue: aka 'all seclusion rooms are bad and staff who use them are bad people'. The teacher aides at M's school are the most caring, strong and wonderful people and I totally sanction the use of the sensory deprivation room that I have seen at our school.

Even the phrase "sensory deprivation room" sounds a bit grim: it's not as if there is no sensory stimulation, just a lot less of it. Even the darkness is relevant – some autistic people find fluourescent lighting aggravating.

The checklist is actually fairly simple. Is the use of the room discussed with parents and part of an agreed plan? Does the child find relief? Is the door unlocked? Are staff on hand?

The belated attention to unacceptable practices is, of course welcome. But having failed to monitor schools' use of what can be a helpful facility – and thus allowed the rooms to be used as a routine form of punishment, to the point where the police have had to get involved, the ministry and its minister are in danger of erring in the the other direction.

Their pressing need to get themselves off the hook risks compounding the negligence that got us to this point.


Music: Friends of Bill

The occasions when Bill Direen recruits some friends to explore his remarkable catalogue always have the feel of a gathering of initiates and oddballs. There are often unusual people present, but perhaps we're all strange.

This year, Saturday night's show at Audio Foundation was the culmination of a short tour northwards from Dunedin, with a fresh vinyl pressing of Bill's brilliant debut album Beatin Hearts in hand and Simon Ogston there shooting for his forthcoming documentary Bill Direen: A Memory of Friends.

The lineup has varied according to who's been available in each centre and Auckland was notable for the presence of Andrew McCully on keyboards and the presence of two drumkits, marshalled by Stuart Page and Steve Cournane respectively.

I only caught the end of a quieter early set (having spent the previous two hours yelling and cheering at the rugby coverage with some friends I'd just met), but I was there for all of the rock 'n' roll. There was a dramatic version of 'Inquest', a blazing rendition of 'Kicks' and this performance of 'Love in the Retail Trade'.

I thought the twin-drummer lineup brought a real snap and intensity to proceedings. It was brilliant, basically.

The only bum note (well, okay, 'Circle of Blood' was a bit messy) was the couple in front of me. Who stands in the front row of a show like that and proceeds to have a long, loud and unrelated conversation while the band plays? Honestly, go and do your flirting somewhere else, you prats.


A hundred metres away from where The Builders played on Saturday night stands the Flying Out store, on Pitt Street in what was once The Shaver Shop. Hunter Keane's 10-minute documentary on the shop is basically a look at what a record shop is in 2016 – a place to be.


Speaking of great catalogues, the Hamburg-based label Thokei Tapes has just released RePort, "a selection of 21 not-so-famous Robert Scott songs", which covers both solo work and Bob's various musical alliances, including The Magick Heads and his settings of Robert Burns' 'Green Grow the Rashes O' and 'My Bonie Bell'. (There's also a version of Abba's 'When I Kissed the Teacher'.)

It's available here on Bandcamp for $US10.


My other long-weekend listening has been of a different character. Leisure's debut album was released on Friday and it's a slinky, groovy summer thing. It's on the usual digital servces, but there's also a vinyl pressing which was, unusually, ready on the release date.


David Herkt has popped back to his Public Address blog with an absorbing interview with my old friend Martin Aston, on occasion of Martin's new book, Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache: How Music Came Out, a definitive (and until now, somewhat secret) history of gay and lesbian pop. It's a great post with examples of the music sprinkled through it. Have a read.


I couldn't get to Thursday's launch event at Golden Dawn, but I got a private demo of Rohan Hill's synthesizer-sequencer-sampler the Deluge a little while ago and it's a remarkable thing, developed from the ground up – he even did his own microcontroller programming. You can read Audio Newsroom raving about it and find out more here.


On Audioculture, Peter McLennan traverses the remarkable career of Alan Jansson, from The Steroids to 'How Bizarre' and beyond.


Eric B and Rakim are back together!

And they've hinted about touring as far afield as Australia ...


The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant


A big week for medical cannabis

I noted on Friday that the week marked by the presentation of Rose Renton's medical cannabis petition to Parliament and the passing of Helen Kelly, the woman who changed the debate, would be capped with an small, significant announcement about a medical cannabis product. That happened.

Q+A's Ryan Boswell got the exclusive. Or, rather, was supposed to: the Herald on Sunday ran the story early. You can can see it in the third part of today's show.

What has happened is that a cannabis tincture from the Canadian company Tilray (not a pill, as stated on Q+A) has been approved under section 3 of the Ministry of Health guidelines for approving cannabis-based products. That is, as a non-pharmaceutical grade product. That's the category under which the Bloom Farms product for which Helen Kelly's doctor sought approval but was denied. [Note: The minister's office takes issue with the word "declined". See the update at the end of this post.]

This is a different kind of product made by a different kind of company. Tilray operates under Canadian laws, rather than the loosey-goosey Calfornian medical marijuana system. It was able to meet the basic test of a product assay.

Indeed, the people at Medical Cannabis Awareness NZ, who helped with the application, applied under the second section of the guidelines, for "pharmaceutical grade cannabis-based products that do not have consent for distribution in New Zealand". I gather it came fairly close to meeting that standard. (You can read the join MCANZ-Tilray press release here.)

But the thing is, it's been approved. If the next application is in order, that should be approved too. Should.

There's another difference. The other two ministerial approvals for non-pharma grade products have been one for Alex Renton, Rose's son, who suffered with and eventually died of a condition of constant seizures, and one for a young man with Tourettes, for whom Aseco calm spray was approved. The young man in the second case would have qualified for Sativex, the only approved pharma grade product in New Zealand, but the Acesco product was relatively easy to approve, because it contained only neglible levels of THC and was therefore less psychoactive. (On the letter of the law, a CBD-only preparation might even have been able to be sold off the shelf, as it is in the UK – although that status will be ended by the UK regulator's recent acceptance of CDB as a viable medicine.)

The situation with the Tilray product is that it's functionally equivalent to Sativex, in that it contains equal quantities of THC and CBD – it's just way cheaper. Until such time as Pharmac funds a cannabis-based medicine, that means a hell of a lot to Huhana Hickey, the multiple sclerosis patient in whose name the application was made. I know Huhana and I'm very happy for her.

As she explains in the Q+A story, Huhana wasn't willing to freestyle it and just source some pot for her needs. Partly because she didn't want to break the law to have a medicine, but also because she wants to be assured of what she's taking, which is important when you have multiple health issues related to your primary illness. Retail cannabis doesn't have a warranted 50-50 ratio of THC and CBD, the two main cannabinoids – it has several (or many) times more of the former than the latter.

That might actually be an advantage if you wanted cannabis for, say, palliative care, but a high CBD content seems to be important for nerve pain. There's a pretty strong case for being able to say what a medicine contains, basically. That why you'll find many doctors who do not want to be put in the position of prescribing whole cannabis.

And yet, I've spoken to people who do experience symptom relief from raw cannabis – in one case, after trying every approved treatment for complex regional pain syndrome and becoming near-suicidal with it. They should be able to talk to their doctors about it – and they should not have to fear prosecution (neither should people who produce or prepare cannabis for them). The best thing that could happen for medical cannabis in this sense is for the law on cannabis itself to change. That would solve most of the problems.

But the present government has closed its ears to any talk of law reform – and, to be honest, the major party of Opposition isn't exactly champing at the bit either. So progress for now is likely to be a matter of finding paths within the law. In this context, both Rose Renton's petition and MCANZ's incremental win inside the system matter a lot.

Update: I received the follow message from Mr Dunne's media advisor, Rob Eaddy:

Kelly’s doctor was not “denied”, rather the opposite occurred - Mr Dunne asked the Ministry to actively follow up with him to obtain additional information on his somewhat loose application.

He subsequently decided to withdraw the application for Bloom Farms  and instead proposed to prescribe Sativex when the product was brought to his attention.  

Ms Kelly subsequently decided not to accept her oncologist’s recommendation for Sativex.

It is misleading and a little inflammatory to suggest, particularly given the recent death of Ms Kelly, that she was denied access by the Minister.

I'm not sure there is really a significant practical difference between "not granted pending further information to satisfy the guidelines for ministerial approval" and "declined under the guidelines", but yes, this was the sequence of events and the application was not formally declined. Perhaps we could say the application "failed". In my view, the Bloom Farms product was unlikely to ever be approved if the manufacturers did not supply sufficient information. But as I explained at the time, Dr Falkov's application also fell short of other guidelines (including that the patient be hospitalised when treatment was initiated) that were not reasonable or appropriate.


Friday Music! Special Records

If music is important in your life, you probably have a special record. You may have more than one, especially if you're a DJ. BaseFM asked its considerable fleet of DJs to choose just one, write about why it mattered and lend out the sleeve for its Cover Story exhibition for Artweek Auckland.

I went along to the opening on Wednesday night and, perhaps partly because so many of the people were in the room, I found it really quite moving. A common theme in the stories was family: Dad's records, Mum's records, just the records that were in the house long ago.

One of those stood out for me. OoGuN from Drunk Elephant Sound chose  Fela Kuti's International Thief Thief.

He wrote about growing up in Nigeria and hearing it as the first record where Fela used his music as "an alternative news channel" and about it being part of his late father's massive record collection and about not realising until years later when he bought his own copy in London that a member of his extended family actually played on the record.

The record has a different resonance for me.

Nicole King was my first real girlfriend, when I was 17. She was two years younger than me in age and 10 years older in sophistication. Her parents, Bruce and Adele, who both taught at the University of Canterbury, were the first New York bohemians I ever met. They were probably the only ones in Canterbury at the time. It seemed so exotic that Bruce would still be in his robe on a Saturday afternoon and that Adele would smoke coloured Sobranie cigarettes.

They treated me, as they did their daughter, as someone with whom cultural matters could be discussed. They took us to see Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls (Bruce, in a very bohemian fashion, decided to go for a walk during the movie). I'd go around for dinner and they'd serve each part as a separate course. They were astonished but grateful when, as a well-brought-up boy, I would spring up and do the dishes. They introduced me to sashimi, wasabi and sambal, in 1980.

And Nicole introduced me to that record. She explained that it was significant and that the title was a play on the name of the telecommunications multinational I.T.T. And she played it, the first afrobeat record I'd ever heard, and it blew my mind.

We broke up but stayed in touch, even after she went to university (Brown) in America and subsequently settled in Paris. I called her one day from Gare Lyon as a surprise and she told me off for not giving her notice – she and her boyfriend were just off to stay at a millionaire's place in Italy. I stayed in their apartment and had a romantic few days visting Jim Morrison's and Oscar Wilde's graves at Père Lachaise, drinking wine, reading Nicole's back issues of the New Yorker (for the first time!) and making copious notes.

A year or two later – and 10 years since she played me that Fela record – Bill Direen, a mutual friend, called me in London to share the terrible news that Nicole had died. She had been trapped in a fire in their apartment block –  there had been negligence in the part of the landlord. She was buried at Père Lachaise.

Seeing that cover this week brought back all those things. Records can do that.

Cover Story runs until November 5 at  Studio One, Room 10, 1 Ponsonby Road.



I've previously mentioned the new music venue (that seems a more appropriate word than "bar") REC down the bottom of town at 38 Customs Street – and last night I had the unexpected privilege of being the first act to play there, at the launch event.

About half the set was before the time on the invites, so it was mostly me playing records for the barmen (I do wish I'd got their dance routine to The Mary Jane Girls on video), which was cool. But as the room filled up and I nudged up the volume, I was able to confirm that for once, a new venue boasting a cracking sound system really does have a cracking sound system. I'm not much of a DJ really, but damn the tunes sounded good. I'm almost surprised GeoNet didn't have a word about the filthy great Public Enemy break in Madonna's 'Justify My Love'.

It's an excellent room too: good sightlines, lots of wood and exposed original oak rafters in the ceiling that create a built-in audio baffle. The first public show is tonight and features Cut Off Your Hands and Yukon Era. Scuba Diva, Puple Pilgrims and Eyes No Eyes play tomorrow night and there's a record fair at Recreation Records, the venue's store, at 10am on Sunday.

Connor Nestor and Samuel Harmony promised a music-centric space before REC opened. I really think that's what they've delivered. Bravo.


The New Zealand Music Awards finalists are out, with multiple noms for Broods, MAALA, Fat Freddy's Drop and the Phoenix Foundation, suggesting that the entertainment's going to be good at this year's ceremony. This year also sees the first stand-alone ceremony for the "artisan" awards for best producer, engineer, cover art and video.


At Audioculture, Nick Bollinger opens his Alastair Riddell profile with – what else – that 1974 New Faces appearance by Space Waltz. I was a 12 year-old fan and 'Out on the Street' was the first record I ever bought with my own money.

On a lighter note, Gareth Shute has The Top 10 Haircuts of the 80s.

From Red Bull Music Academy: Curtis Mayfield's son talks Curis Atria through the legendary Super Fly soundtrack.



Just one entry this time: Princess Chelsea's new covers album, Aftertouch. You can pre-order the vinyl.

The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant



Helen Kelly didn't take her medical cannabis before we came to see her last Friday.

She explained that she wanted to be articulate for the interview she was doing for a Radio New Zealand series I'm making. I can only guess that came at some cost in pain, and the anxiety she regarded as one of the more irksome side-effects of her cancer.

She was focused, good-humoured and thoughtful throughout the interview and then, with as much joy as relief, summoned some of the preparations she had been given to help her through: grassy white chocolate made from cannabutter, a leafy tea, a lovely-smelling cannabis balm that she invited us to rub on our sore bits.

I didn't know Helen well, but I've spoken to her quite a few times in recent years. She became CTU President not long before Media7 launched in 2008 and after I had a crack on the show at something she'd said, she suggested she come on the following week. She was not only impressive, but relaxed and fun.

A few months ago, she was a panelist at a law reform meeting I chaired. I don't think I've ever run an event with someone so aware of what was happening. She clocked my face when one speaker was going on a bit long   and quietly asked me if I wanted her to pass him a note (she did). When I was struggling a little with a commenter from the floor (this happens at cannabis events), she quietly indicated I should give myself a break and move on. I thought at the time it was indicative of a strong sense of empathy.

That sense of empathy informed her final campaign: for medical cannabis  reform. Having discovered that marijuana eased the symptoms of the ravage beginning in her body, she could simply have quietly taken it. But she decided to talk. And then, even as her time was being cruelly shortened, she offered that time to the people who contacted her to tell her their stories. She listened.

That was what the interview was about. It's not due to air until next month, although it seems that you'll hear some later today. I think my final question was as to whether, as a lifelong organiser, she felt some frustration with the sometime lack of organisation in the reform lobby. She did. She would have liked to see more unity of purpose. And perhaps that's what fractious reformers can take away: that although they may have different goals and different ways of reaching them, even different ideas of what a win looks like, they are all on the same side.

Although she would not have wished it, Helen died in an auspicious week for that one last campaign. Rose Renton's petition was presented to Parliament on Wednesday; the characters who once had a smoke-up outside the building were invited in by MPs. And I understand that this weekend, there will be a small, incremental but important announcement about a medical cannabis product. These two incremental wins are wins for all.

We did the interview at Helen's house in Mt Victoria,with its magnificent view of Wellington and its foreshore. She had been in hospice, but petitioned to come home, where three lovely women, her friends, were caring for her, and where her stately cat was keeping the seat warm.

I was so focused on the interview last Friday that I didn't realise her friends were listening intently, hovering at the door. They had been understandably protective of her. But when we wrapped, they stood there and applauded. As might we all.

Arohanui, Helen Kelly. Being with you last week was a pleasure and a very great privilege.