Hard News by Russell Brown


Media Take: The Panama Papers

It's nearly a decade since Wikileaks published a legal document linked to actor Wesley Snipes' ridiculous plan to avoid paying his taxes. It was what's professionally known as a bit of a dick move because the bond included Snipes' private information.

But in the years that followed, Wikileaks published a stream of leaked documents of real public interest – and in doing so gave form to a new kind of investigation: one where journalists learned to use spreadsheets and encryption, and where media organisations realised they were stronger together than in competition.

This new journalism – without Wikileaks – has now turned up a tax story much, much bigger than Wesley Snipes. In late 2014, an informant contacted the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung offering data. A lot of data. In the year that followed, more than 370 journalists around the world pored over eleven and a half million documents leaked from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonsecka: the Panama Papers.

The work was coordinated not by any one media organisation but by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Media organisations – even the New York Times – that did not want to share could not play. And neither, sadly, could any New Zealand news organisation – so New Zealand journalists have had to wait for the Australian Financial Review to publish New Zealand stories based on the leaked material.

Admirably, that didn't deter the New Zealand Herald from going hard on the story. Saturday's Weekend Herald – overall, I think, the strongest edition of the paper in a long time – included an editorial addressed directly to John Key and a business section lead headlined A stain on our name.

Herald business editor Liam Dann and business investigations reporter Matt Nippert joined us on Media Take this week to talk about the importance of the story and the likelihood of New Zealand journalists getting access to the data (they will, but not immediately).

Media Take on Tax Evasion

On tonight's Media Take, 10:30 pm on Maori Television, NZ Herald's Liam Dann and Matt Nippert on Tax Evasion and The Panama Papers. #MediaTake

Posted by Media Take on Monday, April 11, 2016

Also with us is Massey University tax and ethics expert Dr Deborah Russell, who is, I think, one of the best guests we've ever had on the show.

Tax Havens

If it walks like a tax haven, if it acts like a tax haven, is it a tax haven? Deborah Russell on Media Take, tonight 10:30 pm on Maori Television

Posted by Media Take on Monday, April 11, 2016

We went to a different tax story in the third part, in which Deborah joined Act leader David Seymour to discuss Seymour's complaints about the lower tax rate paid by Maori authorities. It turns out, it's not a bug, it's a feature of our tax system for a good reason. Things got a little tense in that part of the show.

So yeah, we're very happy with this show. We'd be even happier if you had a look at it.

This week's Media Take can be viewed on-demand here.


About the King's Arms (updated)

Last week, 36 new parts of Auckland were designated as Special Housing Areas. Among them was a relatively small one, the Newton Cluster, which  comprises two titles in Karaka Street, currently home to a gym, and the nearby property at 59 France Street – which is currently the busy and well-loved live music venue the King's Arms Tavern.


UPDATE. From an apparently knowledgeable source:

Maureen has no intention to sell at this point. The council can't do shit as she owns the land outright ... Maureen's furious at the council.

This obviously has a very major bearing on what's below. This seems really, really strange.

UPDATE 2. I spoke to Kelly McEwan, the director of development at Urban Collective. Short version is that they seem to have wanted to get a SHA designation before the development controls change, and this was the last chance.

UPDATE 3. The SHA criteria require that the landowners' views be sought. I'm pretty sure Maureen knew about the application.


We should probably start with what this doesn't mean. Specifically, it doesn't mean old Auckland Council is demolishing the King's Arms. It means that the owners and developers have applied for the properties to be registered as an SHA, which, in return for undertakings about affordable housing and design quality, offers them a fast-track consenting process. SHAs are a joint intitiative by the government and the council to encourage the building of new housing in a city that doesn't have enough of it.

It also means that the Save the Kings Arms petition you might have signed doesn't make a lot of sense. The council can't save the King's Arms because it's not the council seeking to redevelop the properties, it's the owners.

According to records, the building at 59 France Street, Newton, is owned by the same people who have owned it since 1993: James Sclater, Susan DeGuara and Maureen Patricia Gordon – aka Maureen from the King's Arms. They are also the shareholders in the King's Arms business, PG Gordon Limited.

I presume they have an agreement with Urban Collective, the developer who sought the the SHA designation for the properties. The entry on the council's SHA information page says this:

The development at 59 France Street South is for approximately 60 new apartments over 3 years. The affordable homes within the development will be priced at between $450,000 and $675,000.

The apartment development will also provide a mix of housing types, matched to current shortages, including smaller one-bedroom units and larger two-bedroom units.

The land is currently occupied by a two level commercial building and car park. It is zoned Mixed Use under the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan, which was notified on 30 September 2013.

Urban Collective are pleased to be included in an SHA noting that there is an intention to have the first residential housing ready for habitation by 2019, with the entire development completed by 2019.

The affordability of $450,000 one-bedroom apartments might be debated, but there's no doubt this is an area where a lot of people want to live , and the kind of development to which the Unitary Plan is oriented. It's intensification via brownfields development. It'll presumably look something like Urban Collective's other Newton development, The Citizen.

It's worth noting that this is also an area where many more people used to live, before the motorway junction built in the 1960s forcibly displaced as many as 30,000 residents and radically changed the character of the area's commercial strip, Karangahape Road. So in that sense, Newton is going back to what it was.

We wouldn't be caring so much about it all, were it not for the fact that this particular SHA means the closure of a music venue that is important to a variety of local scenes and as a venue for several tiers of touring artists. When we lose it, we'll lose something really important.

The King's Arms dates back to 1900, which means that it's covered by a pre-1944 demolition overlay which makes the demolition of the building a discretionary activity. So it will be the subject of a resource consent application which the council may approve or decline. The building itself may be preserved in some form, but I don't think that its current status as a music venue can be protected if that's not what the owners want to do with their property.

But it is entirely appropriate for we members of the public to ask the council to preserve the cultural character of the area, especially given that  the Karangahape Road Plan, which encompasses France Street, emphasises the area's "role as the colourful entertainment and creative fringe of the city centre."

The loss of the KA is a blow to that vision for the area and we need to hear about how the deficit will be redressed. That may mean the council providing incentives for a new venue, perhaps on Karangahape Road itself. A beer garden might be a bit much to hope for, but K Road, especially with its forthcoming City Rail Link station, is where rock 'n' roll ought to live.

It's possible that the redevelopment has been on the cards since improvements to the venue itself – at one point there was a plan to increase capacity by moving the bar to the back of the room – seemed to go off the agenda several years ago. It's understandable: as Maureen told Sarah Stuart in 2014, "you can't go on forever", and the property, purchased for $564,000 in 1993, is worth millions of dollars now.

So bashing the council for the fact of the redevelopment doesn't make sense. Petitioning the council about retaining and creating cultural infrastructure does.

You should feel free to politely contact members of the Waitemata Local Board to express your concern. I'll ask Vernon Tava for a response and update this post if and when I receive one. He's a good guy, so I expect he'll be keen to respond.


Friday Music: Screen gigs

One of the nice things about new New Zealand films is the way they're drawing out good work by New Zealand composers. I was delighted to attend the crowdfund backers' screening of David Farrier and Dylan Reeve's Tickled documentary on Tuesday (the official premiere is at The Civic next Wednesday, tickets still available).

Not only is it a funny and surprising film, it's quite a brave and moral one. It's really worth seeing. And the music is really cool. It comes from several sources – some is taken, with permission, from America director Shane Carruth's art film Upstream Colour and some is library music, but the greater part was crafted by Rodi Kirkcaldy, aka DJ Scratch 22, who is now resident in Berlin.

Meanwhile, Taika Waititi's Hunt for the Wilderpeople has smashed the first week box office record for a local film and boasts a soundtrack crafted by a group called Moniker, who are Samuel Flynn Scott, Luke Buda and Conrad Wedde out of The Phoenix Foundation. This catchy little number is the single.

The soundtrack album is out today (only $11.99 on iTunes) and, as you might expect, most of it is more soundtracky, but it's a really nice collection of atmospheres in and of itself. I particularly dig the krautrock-ish 'Milestone 2 (Skuxx Life)'.

The addition to the Silver Scrolls of the APRA Screen Awards (one each for feature films and TV) two years ago would seem to have been a wise move.


Staying with the fim-music crossover, Lawrence Arabia, Liam Finn and Connan Mockasin perform together at the Crystal Palace theatre in Mt Eden (tickets here). The theatre is now under the management of a production company called Monster Valley, whose principal, Tayor and Karl recently talked about their plans for both film and music at the venue with Cheese on Toast's Jade Paynter:


I'll be trying to get my bearing in New York City next weekend – and that means you'll have to go and see Ed Kuepper for me. He's playing at the Tuning Fork in Auckland (Saturday 16th) and Meow in Wellington (Sunday 16th) – and is also the support at the long sold-out shows by The Stranglers.

Frankly, when Ed came here for the first time in years to support Television, he blew the academic New Yorkers off the stage. Tickets here from Under the Radar.

 Here's a track from the ex-Saint's 50th(!!!) album, Lost Cities:


Not exactly music, but there will certainly be a soundtrack. My buddy Andrew Moore is putting on another Satin Lives event from 2pm tomorrow at the New Lynn skate bowl. The formula is simple enough: a bunch of old skaters (and their children) convene to skate like they were young again and possibly enjoy a beer and a barbecued sausage. There will be one or two legends in attendance, but it's very much an open, fun event.


Kanye West finally released his much-teased new album Life of Pablo to streaming services that aren't Tidal – and it's set to become the first number one album with virtually zero sales.

A really intriguing listicle from The Guardian: The 50 most amazing moments in pop history (that never actually happened). I like this one:

7 Earlier this year country star Dwight Yoakam – of all people – claimed David Bowie once told him that six months prior to Elvis Presley’s death, Presley had asked Bowie to produce his next record. “It has to be one of the greatest tragedies in pop music history that it didn’t happen,” notes our reliable narrator. “One of the biggest missed opportunities.”

8 Separately, Bowie also claimed to have offered Golden Years to Elvis. Without wishing to extrapolate too wildly, could Bowie’s presence have steadied Elvis and saved his life? Well, it was the mid-70s, so almost certainly not.

Here's something that's good to talk about: from last weekend's Music 101, Melody Thomas explores The Secret Life of Gig Etiquette. Twenty-five intriguing minutes ...

I'll try and find time to round up Record Store Day more thoroughly next week, but for now, Tito at Rebel Soul Music in Samoa House Arcade, Karangahape Road, already has a lead-up sale with some excellent bargains. I popped in and got the Mary Jane Girls' 'In My House' 12" (because I'm like that) for only $5. And the lovely folk at Southbound Records will be hosting live performances on the day (ie: Saturday the 16th) from Tami Neilson,  The Leers and Delaney Davidson. They'll also have some of the 300 vinyl copies of Delaney's album Devil in the Parlour.

And Audioculture has a profile of one of the great characters of New Zealand music over the past 30-odd years: New Plymouth's mighty Brian Wafer.



Miloux - aka singer songwriter Rebecca Melrose – is now with Loop Recordings and today sees the release of her debut EP. She first showed up on TheAudience as one of a cluster of women writing, performing and producing electronic pop, and I think EP1 delivers on her promise:

That's $5 to old-fashioned buy on Bandcamp.

Soccerpractise have dropped their second single – and it's all in te reo Maori. Nice:

I missed Avoid Avoid playing last week, but I'll have to get along and see them soon, I think. They're Sonya waters with a couple of former Subliminals and their new album sounds like this:

I'd kind of drifted off Pretty Lights, but this is his new one and it's pretty chill. I like it:

Free download and/or iTunes purchase here.

And finally, an Outkast/Tribe Called Quest mash-up record? That happened!

Details here.


The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant


Labour's medical cannabis bill and a new Drug Harm Index

As you might have noticed, there is considerable activity in the area of drug policy. It's only a week and half until the United Nations' top policy-making body, the General Assembly, meets to discuss just that topic.

Ironically, the two things that happened yesterday – Labour MP Damien O'Connor's private member's bill aiming to to ease access to medical cannabis and a new and revamped New Zealand Drug Harm Index – have no particular connection to UNGASS. The former aims to address the shortcomings in our current medical cannabis approval system highlighted by Helen Kelly's case, and the latter fulfils an undertaking in last year's National Drug Policy.

Although O'Connor's is a private member's bill, he has had access to resources in the leaders office in preparing it, and it has been signed off by the Labour caucus. O'Connor's bill emerged from the Alex Renton case and the MP described it at the time as an attempt to improve access to cannabidiol (CBD), the hemp-derived cannabinoid that Renton's doctors were eventually granted approval to use in treating the young man's persistent seizures. Until fairly recently, the party was telling journalists the same thing: that the bill aimed to improve access to CBD.

In that sense, there's a symmetry with the controversial criteria for ministerial approval of medical cannabis products. Those too were drawn up in response to response to the Renton case – in which CBD was seen as a last-chance treatment for an intractable medical condition. As Helen Kelly's application demonstrated, those criteria were barely fit for purpose with respect to the use that Kelly and pssibly thousands of others seek: providing relief from the symptoms of terminal illness and chronic pain.

The difference is that O'Connor's bill has evolved, while the criteria are still pending review.

What the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis Approval) Amendment Bill actually does is well summed-up in its explanatory note:

This Bill proposes to make it easier for patients with a terminal illness or who are suffering from a condition that gives them significant pain to be able to access a cannabis preparation product approval through the Ministry of Health.

It inserts a new section 8A in the Misuse of Drugs Act so that in exercising regulatory powers regarding the medicinal use of cannabis preparations in individual cases, the Minister must not prevent the supply and administration of cannabis preparations to a person considered by an appropriate vocationally registered practitioner to be in the final stages of a terminal illness or to have a permanent condition that causes a significant level of impairment or pain.

So the minister must approve the use of medical cannabis by any patient deemed to be suffering a terminal illness or "permanent", "significant" impairment or pain. This would have a particular effect. Rather than rejecting an unacceptable product (which is what happened, to some extent, in Kelly's case), the ministry would need to nominate acceptable products.

Actually, more than that. A Q&A sent out with the text of the bill says: "We would expect the Ministry of Health to be responsible for accessing suitable products."

I've said before that the ministry could draw up a register of approved products to avoid applicants wasting their time. But actual sourcing and supply is probably better. It's certainly better than leaving patients to fend for themselves.  (This could of course be done without amending the Misuse of Drugs Act, but only by the government. Labour can't instruct ministry officials from Opposition.)

Peter Dunne has already said that work in Australia is likely to lead to a wider range of approved medical cannabis products both there and in New Zealand. The bill, should it be drawn from the ballot and passed would bring forward that day via products from, say, Europe and Israel.

So in that sense it's not really hostile to the path Dunne has already laid out. It's also quite amenable to further work at select committee, where questions on standards and potency could be addressed. It could be seen to privilege pain and palliative care over therapeutic use of CBD, but that, too, could be considered by a select committee.

The Q&A offers a blunt "no" in answer to the question of whether Labour is even considering cannabis decriminalisation – which actually makes Dunne the liberal on that issue – but Labour has identified a real problem and proposed a relatively straightforward means of addressing it. This isn't bad.


Back in 2008, I examined the new New Zealand Drug Harm Index and wrote a damning blog post about it it headed Spectacular but useless. The whole thing was essentially an expensive PR exercise for the police, with a flimsy connection to social science and almost nothing in the way of actual public health goals. It was both useless and terrible.

So the news in last year's new National Drug Policy that a new Drug Harm Index would be developed from scratch and tied more obviously to the policy was very welcome.

The New Zealand Drug Harm Index 2016 was published yesterday. And it's ... better. Whether it's actually good is another matter.

Unlike the British DHI it cites, it does not include alcohol and tobacco, which clearly limits its application in policy assessment. And unlike the British DHI, it comes without clear targets in drug harm reduction.

But the author, Michael McFadden, has quite nicely dispensed with the "long tradition of including ‘intervention costs’ as harms" and does a good job of explaining why the cost of intervention (eg: policing) is an attempt to address harms and should not be considered a harm in itself. 

This insert illustrates the potential dangers of including intervention costs as a type of harm. It is, of course, hypothetical.

Previous research has established that the sedative drug Stupor costs the community

$10 million annually in personal and community harms. No attempts have been made to address the growing threat from Stupor to date. An innovative and ongoing programme is introduced that reduces the harms associated with the sedative drug by 50%. The annual cost of the programme is $2.5 million. Under the traditional approach, the total harm associated with the drug is now $12.5 million and the return on investment is $2.50 for every dollar invested in the programme. In reality, the actual harm avoided remains at $10 million and the return on investment 2:1. The traditional method overestimates the benefits associated with an intervention when it includes those costs as part of the harm incurred.

This is good, and the introduction of foregone tax revenue on illicit drug commerce – which could be seen as a cost of prohibition – is interesting too. But elsewhere there are some obvious problems, such as the repeated conflation of natural cannabis and synthetic cannabinoids into one group as "cannabinoids". It really does not make sense to consider the two together when the harms associated with each are so unequal.

Moreover, it tends to jibe with another component of the index, the expert opinion survey. This survey is similar to one conducted in Scotland in 2011, but includes responses from far fewer experts. The Scottish survey had 290 respondents and McFadden approached 25 – of whom one declined to participate and 12 did not respond.

Disclosure: I was one of the 25 approached and one of the 12 non-responders. I did scrutinise the survey several times, but eventually didn't feel I could usefully respond to its requirement to score each drug 1-5 in terms of  its "Personal Harms" and "Community Harms" for dependent and casual users respectively. Perhaps I should have tried harder, but it seemed a blunt instrument.

Nonetheless, the survey results are interesting:

Cannabis (Class B or C, depending on form), LSD (Class A) and MDMA (Class B1) are rated as causing the lowest harms amongst both dependent and casual users, suggesting that our drug classfications need some bringing into order. But elsewhere in the survey  – through the unwise combination of natural and synthetic cannabinoids, and the multiplication by number of users – total harms from cannabis are considered nearly equivalent to those of methamphetamine.

There are other questions about methodology, assumptions and presentation of data that are beyond my competence. I warmly invite the Public Address nerd crew to explore the index further.

For now, even McFadden emphasises that some of his methods are "innovative" and that the DHI is a "living document" that will be subject to change. In that respect, Minister Dunne might be best advised to greet it as a first step, rather than trumpeting it the way Jim Anderton did in 2008. Because as we know, that 2008 index did not match its billing.


Media Take: Radio Radio

In this week's Media Take show we talked about the state of radio – commercial, Maori and Radio New Zealand.

Radio plays a variety of roles in our media environment, but a particular one in the two big media companies NZME and MediaWorks, where its low costs and robust advertising revenue make it the profitable part of both businesses. It's probably not going too far to say that radio rules the roost in both companies and its editorial culture influences the whole. But is there a reckoning yet to come for commercial radio?

Former Mediaworks CEO Brent Impey and Karyn Hay, a 35-year radio veteran on and off-air, talked to Toi and I about that.

The history of radio for and by Maori stretches back to 1940, when Wiremu Parker read bulletins of war news in the reo. Maori radio stations did not appear until the 1980s and did not have any firm footing until a series of Treaty claims forced the government to reserve radio frequencies and establish Te Mangai Paho in the 1990s.

Today, more than 20 iwi stations operate as a national network – most on shoestring budgets – with a news service provided by Radio Waatea. But Te Māngai Pāho chief executive John Bishara recently said the agency is no longer interested in investing in conventional broadcast infrastructure. It's time, he said, to go digital. But is it that simple? And where's the money?

We invited in Jacqui Taituha, the manager of Te Kūiti-based Maniapoto FM, which is still fulfilling its kaupapa after 20 years on air – even as it works to embrace new ways of delivering radio content. Like most iwi radio stations it faces a challenge the rest of the sector doesn't – the need to serve the very different needs of rangatahi on and hand and kuia and kaumatua on the other.

With Jacqi was the chairman of the National Māori Radio Network – Te Whakaruruhau O Ngā Reo Irirangi Māori – Willie Jackson, who is also the CEO of Radio Waatea.

And in the final part of the broadcast show we were joined by Radio New Zealand CEO Paul Thompson, who has been seeking to respond to the challenges not only for public radio but for radio as a whole that he identified in a 2014 speech. An eight-year budget freeze – which means a cut every year in real terms – means that nearly every necessary innovation comes at the cost of something it's currently doing. It's not an enviable position, but as he had pointed out, it might look quite good if you were in newspapers, watching your advertising revenue tank.

Absolutely inevitably, Willie used the show to pursue directly wth Paul his continued complaint about the level of Maori content on Radio New Zealand – most notably in the extra online-only Q&A we recorded. It's healthy for someone to be keeping the pressure on, but I'm not sure Willie actually serves Te Whakaruruhau by focusing almost exclusively on it.

During prep for the show, I did a news search of his name and Te Whakaruruhau – and every story, going back months, was him attacking Radio New Zealand. He's in danger of giving the appearance that he wants to talk about someone else's organisation and not his own. There were some important things we ran out of time to talk about, including the implications for iwi radio of Te Matawai, the new independent statutory agency to be created through the Maori Language (Te Reo Maori) Bill.

There was also some useful difference of opinion between Karyn and Brent over what she regards as the continued lack of on-air opportunity for women in commercial talk radio. She was very impressive – the star of the show, even.

Anyway, you can watch the programme on demand here. And the 17-minute extra online Q&A here.

Here's two minutes of the Q&A:

Media Take: Radio Q&A

We asked our radio industry guests to stay back after the show this week for some addition Q&A. Let's just say it got quite a bit spirted! Here's a sneak peek. This full website only extra will be available on the Maori Television website (keyword Media Take) after tonight's episode which screens at 10:10 pm on Māori Television.

Posted by Media Take on Monday, April 4, 2016