Hard News by Russell Brown


Public Address Word of the Year 2016

It’s that time again: the time to find the Public Address Word of the Year. And it really has been a hell of a year. Last year's top five – Quaxing, Red Peak, Twitterati, Ponytail, Campbell Live – was entirely of domestic provenance. Will this year, with its global cray, be different? 

As ever, the Word of the Year 2016 will unfold thus: in the discussion for this post, readers will nominate their favoured words or phrases. Then, after a couple of days of fussing and fighting, I will draw up a short list of nominated words for voting.

There is, of course, history here:

2014’s champ #dirtypolitics was the first hashtag to top the poll, beating out the wistful “at the end of the day”.

In 2013, “metadata” beat out the Oxford Dictionaries word of the year, “selfie”, in a final Top 10 that also included “Lorde and “berm”. (Disappointingly, Lorde did not then go on to record a hit single called ‘Berm’.)

In 2012, “brainfade", “Marmageddon” and “Planet Key” were the key words (and the the case of the winner, the John Key Word). To be honest, it wasn’t a great year for words. 

In 2011, the word “munted” found its its destiny – beating out popular memes “nek minnit” and “ghost chips” for the top slot.

In 2010, of course, Public Address readers bypassed the news and opted for a neologism – the great ungendered insult that was “twatcock”. In 2009, the list was dominated by words involving Michael Laws and an “h” and  in 2008, “credit crunch” came in ahead of “rofflenui”. In 2007, another coinage, “Te Qaeda” topped the poll and in 2006, the big word was “unbundled”.

How will 2015 shape up? Well, that’s up to you.

To recap, the process is this:

- Words are nominated in the discussion for this post. If you want to join in the discussion, you’ll need to register to comment, which will only take a minute. You can make more than one suggestion, but not just reel off all likely contenders in one comment, because that's not really fair. So you can only propose two words or phrases per comment. Try to make a brief argument for your proposed WOTY.

- Eventually, I’ll compile a list of finalists for voting.

- Everyone votes.

- We have a winner!

Did I mention prizes? There are prizes.

I'm usually able to offer a prize to (a) the first person to suggest the winning word or phrase and (b) a voter drawn at random all those who vote.

But this year, there has been a late and generous rush, so I'll work out over the next day or two exactly how it will fall – it looks like I'll be able to do two main prize packages and some smaller ones. Until then, huge thanks to:


The Hemp Store

Plum Jam Designs

La Boca Loca

Pilsner Urquell

Sensitive Boyfriend


The new Hep C drugs: fresh hopes and old frustrations

My  story on the rollout of the first direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) funded by Pharmac to treat Hepatitis C has been published by Matters of Substance. I filed it a while ago and as journalists do on long lead times, caught myself hoping they wouldn't fix the problem I'd identified before the story came out. They didn't.

This is a story that resonates on several levels: there's the high-level bargaining that Pharmac does on our behalf, and there's the streets and neighbourhoods where 50,000 New Zealanders live with Hepatitis C. And between, there's the community health infrastructure that brings those two worlds together.

It's complicated (read the story), but the short version is that Pharmac has been negotiating with the drug companies making DAAs for some time. Those companies have mostly adopted a radical pricing structure to try and quickly recoup the billions they spent buying and developing intellectual property in their race to market. We're talking $1000 a pill radical.

Late last year, Pharmac tossed away its own August 2015 RFP for the rollout and did a good, unexpected thing. Instead of continuing to negotiate with Gilead for a mass rollout, it struck a deal with another company, AbbVie, which allowed it to fully fund treatment for more than half of the New Zealanders with Hepatitis C. That is: those with Genotype 1 of the virus. Those people will experience what is functionally a miracle cure.

And the people with non-1 genotypes? They need to be on the verge of a liver transplant to quality for Pharmac-funded treatment with Gilead's medicine. But they have options. Amongst the groups sourcing generic DAAs, Fix Hep C Buyers Club has distinguished itself. The drugs it sources are made under licence from Gilead in India. They are the same drugs. And New Zealanders can access them for a private cost of between $1500 and $2000 for a 12-week course.

But the Southern District Health Board doesn't think so. It is holding fast to a refusal to even tell non-1 genotype patients they have the option. No one else I spoke to believes this is an ethical position. It's being taken in a region with a substantial Hep C population. And it's harming lives.

I hope this story shakes up the SDHB. Because it really needs shaking up.


Friday Music! Digging Doug

When the tales of music are written, they rarely include the people who aren't in the band, but make it all possible. So I'm delighted to see that Audioculture has this week published an article on my old friend Doug Hood.

We all know about Chris Knox's TEAC four-track. You might not know it was Doug who was at the controls when Tall Dwarfs used that four-track to record 'Nothing's Gonna Happen' and when it was used to record The Clean's Boodle Boodle Boodle, the Dunedin Double and The Chills' 'Rolling Moon', among others. He helped produce The Androidss' 'Auckland Tonight'/'Getting Jumpy' and The Builders' Beatin Hearts and mixed The Chills' 'Pink Frost'. He managed The Chills when they first went to the UK.

It was Doug who was soundman for Toy Love and a long, long list of groups thereafter. Doug who ran the famous Looney Tour and who first toured The Fall, The Birthday Party, John Cale, Nico and The Violent Femmes and many others to New Zealand. It was Doug who brought the Big Day Out here in in 1994.

For many years, Doug was the calm, funny, practical guy who basically did what needed doing in the musical community he helped create. He hasn't had a direct music industry role since the mid-90s, but he's still very much part of that community and I'm proud to call him a mate.

Oh, and did I mention he was in The Clean too?


There's a hell of a lot in Auckland this weekend.

Tonight alone sees The Mad Professor playing at Neck of the Woods, Luka Buda's band (and with David Long and Anthony Donaldson from Six Volts) Teeth at Golden Dawn, Breakbot out at the Pah Homestead (you can buy a bus ride there along with your ticket), Ijebu Pleasure Club's wild blend of classic pop and afrobeat at The Portland Public House, and, just quietly, Auckland art punk legends The Features are playing an early show at the Thirsty Dog to mark the release of the new X Features compilation. (Strictly speaking, it's the X Features playing, but y'know.)

Russell Baillie has a nice piece for The Spinoff on the band and what they meant to those around them.

And tomorrow night, Peter Jefferies, Chris Matthews and Gary Sullivan convene at at Golden Dawn to celebrate the release of the first This Kind of Punishment record in 30 years by offering "a delectable array of T.K.P., Childrens Hour and Nocturnal Projections morsels". Also, Teeth play again, at The Wine Cellar. And at 12.30pm tomorrow, SoccerPractise and Peach Milk play for free in Aotea Square.

I picked the wrong weekend to be sick ...


Along with some clever guests, Charlotte Ryan and I talked about the year that was at Orcon IRL at Golden Dawn on WEdnesday. And after the talking was done, Voom played a sweet little set. Here's the video of that:



 Elsewhere, a little taste of what you can expect from Dinosaur Jnr when they visit next month: playing 'Goin' Down' on Conan.

Iggy Pop sings 'Surfin' Bird' to his cockatoo – and the bird really gets into it:



A mad new Hallelujah Picassos single! Peter Mac has the lowdown on his blog. It's on Bandcamp for a dollar or whatever.

The first new track in ages from High Hoops. It's cool and slinky ...

New single from the award-winning Pacific Heights. It's well dreamy ...

SoccerPractise's kinda dark, kinda garage-influenced, very good new single 'I Was Screaming'.

And going fully garage, Australia's Cup & String remix one of their own tracks from earlier this. Click through for a free download of the MP3 or WAV:

A well-chilled edit of Caribou's 'Can't Do Without You' (free download):

And because kitchen-dancing matters, NZ DJ Sammy Senior gets all up in your grill with the ghetto funk on this mix of his productions. Use the download button to grab the whole thing and click through to download the first track standalone, for free:


Greens drug policy 2: the animal testing problem

In an earlier post today, I've looked at what is undoubtedly the headline of the Green Party's new drug and alcohol policy: clear proposals for reform on both medical cannabis and cannabis law in general. But there's more there, including one important and tricky issue relating to drug law reform in general.

It's this: the policy refers repeatedly to the Psychoactive Substances Act – as a model – and would task the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority, which was created by that Act, with helping to develop a law aimed at reducing "harm and cost to society and individuals from drug use and abuse" and enhancing "people's capacity for informed choice". It's a real relief to see a policy document that views the PSA in this way, rather than as part of some fevered Peter Dunne-centred conspiracy theory.

Further, the final paragraphs of the policy address the issue of new psychoactive substances:

The Green Party recognises that we have entered a new age in which specific, individuated regulation for new psychoactive substances cannot keep pace with the advancements and modifications made by producers. It is thus impractical to regulate individual substances by their specific chemical composition, and a more nuanced approach that utilises evidentiary licensing bodies like the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority (PSRA) to measure actual harm is needed. In Government, the Green Party would:

  1. Require all manufacturers of recreational psychoactive substances to go through the PSRA’s licensing process and establish their harmfulness before deciding whether to allow their products to be sold in New Zealand.

  2. Task the PSRA with monitoring recreational drugs that have been approved for sale, so that reliable evidence can be collected about ongoing harm from drug use, and the wider social impact of a drug's availability can be counted in an evaluation of its harmfulness. 

Which is essentually what the Psychoactive Substances Act was designed to do.

But in a panicky amendment in May 2014, Parliament essentially disabled the PSA by foreclosing its interim product licensing period and, crucially, adding wording that stipulated that "the advisory committee must not have regard to the results of a trial that involves the use of an animal".

And that's a problem. From my November 2014 story on the fortunes of the Act for Matters of Substance:

“Our overarching assessment, not just in the offices of the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority but also on our expert advisory committee, is that, at this point in time, it is not possible to have a product approved without animal testing,” says Stewart Jessamine, group manager at the clinical leadership and product regulation branch of the Ministry of Health and effectively the personal link between the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority and its new neighbour, Medsafe.

“Obviously, that’s a major barrier to new products entering the market.”

Other interested parties speculated to Matters of Substance about possible workarounds, but as of now, the situation is this: the process created to approve and license psychoactive products – thus taking manufacture and sale out of the hands of the unregulated black market – cannot possibly approve or license any product.

And further:

Jessamine says that, in defining a standard for product approval, the authority and its advisory group have looked at existing manufacturing and safety standards, taking over-the-counter medicines as a starting point.

“That takes us into a series of international guidelines that say, ‘If you wish to introduce a new substance into an over-the-counter medicine, here is all the testing you have to do. It starts with simple stuff: how is it absorbed, how is it metabolised, how is it excreted? What is a toxic dose, what is a safe dose? Does it cause reproductive problems? Does it cause genotoxic problems?

“It then sets out a series of tests you can use to demonstrate those things. Those tests are set by boards of international regulators, which have animal welfare input as well. And some of the testing is still animal-based. There are a number of key issues where animal testing is still an essential part of the assurance of the safety of the substance.

“Our assessment here is that, whilst there’s a whole bunch of new technologies coming along that have been assessed and validated as accurate predictors of risk 
(as old-fashioned animal tests) and have been accepted into the standards required for medicines, foods and chemicals, there are some areas where there are no non-animal testing validated tests available at this point in time.”

Green MP Mojo Mathers helped champion the animal-testing amendment, and the party clearly isn't going to go back on that. But it appears that the ban hadn't been recognised as an issue until I put it to Julie Anne Genter this week. She confirmed the party's stance on animal testing and undertook to come back to me with a full answer on the issue, which she did:

Our policy states in Specific Policy Point 2: our intent is to use objective and health-centred legislation along the lines of the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013 to re-evaluate the relative harms and appropriate legal and regulatory status of psychoactive substances.

To that end, we will instruct the Ministry of Health to work alongside the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority to develop integrated, effective legislation.

The PSA 2013 does have a review built in to it, and we would expect that review and additional work by officials to identify any shortcomings or problems with the existing regime, and evaluate potential solutions.

As I understand it there is disagreement amongst scientists about the suitability and availability of alternatives to animal testing. We supported the ban on animal testing after receiving robust scientific evidence that that are alternatives for each of the tests initially required for the purposes of testing the safety of recreational psychoactive substances. There is strong public support for banning animal testing on recreational drugs.

We would expect the evidence to be reviewed as part of our work on the new regulatory regime. The very thorough testing required for medicines (regulated under the Medicines Act) does require animal testing, and we support that where there is no alternative. However, it may not be appropriate or necessary for testing the safety of recreational drugs to undertake all the tests required for medicines, in which case we would expect the new legislation and regulation to reflect that. (As an example, alcohol almost certainly wouldn’t make it through the current testing regime for psychoactive substances.)

You might be able to get the public to buy into different standards of safety for therapeutic and recreational drugs, but it would be a far, far harder road through MedSafe. And Jessamine has a point: why would the standard of safety for a drug you expect people to take be different depending on their reasons for taking it?

On the other hand, is the overall goal of harm reduction fulfilled by a law whose standards are too high to meet? It's quite likely that if cannabis products went through such a process – and that's not a bad idea in itself – nothing intended to be smoked would pass muster (Jessamine suggested to me that “vapouriser-type solutions would have a much better show).

It's possible that technologies that fulfill all the risk-prediction roles currently represented in animal testing will be available in around five years. Maybe.

Genter did confirm to me that the Greens' proposed PSA-like law could be made applicable to drugs currently controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, which would fix probably the greatest problem with the original act: that being that in specically not applying to any already-controlled drugs it privileges the newest and weirdest drugs, the ones not captured even by the  very broad analogue provisions of the MoDA. That's a very counter-intuitive – and objectively bad – thing to do.

So, the Greens deserve real credit for for going into this space, especially given the political potential for being accused of wanting to legalise P, or something. But in doing so they've bought into something of a philosophical quandary.


The Greens' pretty good new drug policy

The New Zealand Green Party today publishes a new drug and alcohol policy that, among other things, would legalise the possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use. It also offers a robust take on medical cannabis that could be implemented independently of any general cannabis reform.

You probably thought the Greens already wanted to free the weed, right? Not lately. The current policy offers only to prioritise enforcement elsewhere and (as a "long term goal") to:

Monitor and evaluate the effects of the removal of personal penalties for cannabis use, drug education programmes, drug addiction treatment programmes, and pharmaceutical controls.

This new policy document is far more explicit:

A. Cannabis for personal use

1. The Green Party will make cannabis legal for personal use:

  1. Possession and personal use of cannabis and/or cannabis products will no longer be illegal;

  2. Cultivation for personal use will no longer be illegal;

  3. New Zealand can assess the evidence from overseas jurisdictions with legal cannabis markets to determine the best model for New Zealand;

  4. A legal age limit for personal cannabis use will be introduced;

  5. The current law around driving under the influence of cannabis will be replaced with one that is based on cannabinoid levels that correlates with impairment;

  6. Education will be provided on the harmful e ects of heavy and prolonged usage, and the risks to mental and emotional wellbeing from cannabis use for certain individuals.

  7. Cannabis would be specifically included in the provisions of the Smokefree Environments Act. 

The general cannabis reform proposal leaves the market question unanswered. Julie Anne Genter, who is fronting the policy, said that would be for a select committee and officials to nut out, but "I'm watching Canada because I think that culturally and administratively they're much closer to NZ than any of the other jursdictions."

The medical cannabis policy is more detailed and, importantly, includes a number of proposals that would be a matter of regulatory direction rather than law change. It threads a couple of needles quite well: reconciling the existing pharmaceutical approval processes with the use of natural cannabis outside that system – and, crucially, addressing the supply issue in a way that doesn't look like open slather.

B. Medical cannabis

Pharmaceuticals which use active ingredients from the cannabis plant are being researched around the world, and we can expect that some of them will eventually qualify for licensing as medications in new Zealand. People with a terminal illness, or chronic or debilitating condition may wish to experiment with use of cannabis products to relieve their symptoms before a relevant cannabis-based pharmaceutical has reached the stage of being licensed for use.

While awaiting broader law change for cannabis, the Green Party will:

  1. Remove penalties for any person with a terminal illness, or chronic or debilitating condition to cultivate, possess or use cannabis and/or cannabis products for therapeutic purposes, provided they have the support of a registered medical practitioner. This exemption would also apply to any immediate relative or other nominated person for a person with such a diagnosis, for the sole purpose in terms of administering or supplying cannabis or its related products to the person.

  2. Accelerate the process by which medical cannabis products are licensed for use by directing MedSafe to consider the establishment of category-based classes for common compositions of medical cannabis products. This would expedite accreditation for cannabis-based medicines whose chemical compositions are commonly recurrent, and streamline the approval process for medicines seeking to apply for PHARMAC funding.

  1. Encourage MedSafe to carry out extensive ongoing monitoring of any new and approved cannabis-based medicines to ensure that they meet acceptable standards of safety, quality and e cacy; and that medical practitioners have reliable information about the selection and safe use of these products when prescribing them.

  2. Lower barriers for manufacturers to submit new cannabis products for funding applications to PHARMAC so that evidence can be quickly gathered for the efficacy of particular cannabis-based medicine classes, and manufacturers of cannabis-based medicines have timely and high-quality advice regarding what is sought and what is working. 

In a way, it's more perilous for the Greens to propose this than another party, in that it conjures the the kind of hippy image they're been working to move their brand away from. But we've seen two polls this year indicating 80% public support for action on medical cannabis, and a strong majority for some form of general cannabis reform. And we've had Helen Kelly changing the conversation.

"I think it's been both having a clear advocate in New Zealand who could stand up for those people who are suffering and could benefit from medical cannabis, and the fact that other comparable jurdisdictions like the United States and Canada are already moving in that direction, or have already provided access to medical cannabis," Genter told me.

Like all Green policy, this has come through the party's "policy network" and much of it – it is meticulous in touching the various points of harm reduction and evidence-based policy – bears the mark of former MP Kevin Hague. The principles here are sound:

The Green Party recognises that:

1. Drug policy should be rational and based on credible and scientifically-valid evidence.

2. There can be adverse health, social and economic consequences from the use of drugs for both individuals and society.

3. Not all drug use is abusive or problematic.

4. Some individuals in society will choose to use drugs, regardless of their legal status.

5. Prohibition of drugs can cause more harm than it prevents.

6. Drug policy should have a primary focus on improving public health instead of trying to punish users.

There are, however, a couple of issues the party will find it hard to resolve: most notably its frequent reference to thePsychoactive Substances Act as a model, when that act is currently kneecapped by an animal testing ban that one of the party's MPs helped bring into law. I've addressed that in a separate post here.

The question is: does it matter? After all, the Greens' potential coalition partners, Labour (who have been informed of the policy) continue to take the position that drug law reform is "not a priority". But medical cannabis might be a different matter and what the Greens propose here is much more fully-formed than the Damien O'Connor members bill that Labour was prepared to get behind.

It is, at the least, a very good start on the conversation we need to have.