Speaker by Various Artists


"The Ministry is interfering at Hogwarts"

by Matthew Bannister

"The Ministry is interfering at Hogwarts," says Hermione Grainger in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The occasion? An address by Dolores Umbridge, Ministry of Magic employee (and new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher) to Harry's school, Hogwarts, on the first day of a new term.

At the end of the preceding book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry witnessed the return of the Dark Lord, Voldemort, to human form, and the whole Phoenix book is shadowed by his presence.

But what does a children's book have to do with present-day New Zealand? Education is a political football - the government of the day always tries to impose its ideas on the system that supposedly moulds young minds, and provides opportunity for indoctrination.

Children and young people are always a focus of social and political concern, because "they're the future", they are "vulnerable" and because they have little voice of their own. Thus, well-meaning interest groups (particularly those in power) can impose their thoughts and fantasies, rehearsing them first in the media: "Educational standards slipping at Hogwarts" – remind you of Granny Herald at all? 

Dolores Umbridge's speech is a parody of the banal, smokescreen rhetoric that politicians routinely convey: "The Ministry of Magic has always considered the education of young witches and wizards to be of vital importance ... Let us move forward, then, into a new era of openness, effectiveness, and accountability, intent on preserving what ought to be preserved, perfecting what needs to be perfected, and pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be prohibited."

It puts the audience to sleep – it's supposed to. Only Hermione is smart enough to see it for what it is – a Ministry attempt to hijack the running of the school. Any parallels with present day NZ? You bet.

The Education Amendment Act 2015 changed the constitution of university and polytechnic ruling bodies to increase the number of Government appointees and minimise the involvement of teachers and students. Government appointees are usually from the private sector and their mission is to transform tertiary institutions from places of learning to places of business. If learning doesn't pay, in other words, it will be cut.

The first victim of such cuts is inevitably the arts and humanities. These disciplines have a tradition of debate and discussion. But in Umbridge's DADA class, asking questions is the one thing you're not allowed to do. The skills taught in the humanities, of writing, creating, thinking and arguing are not deemed "useful" (but who decides what is useful?).

So when Harry asks Umbridge why they won't be learning to defend themselves against the Dark Arts, she responds that there is nothing to defend oneself against. No arguments please - ten points from Gryffindor. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear, to paraphrase John Key on the GCSB.

Next thing, Hogwarts teachers find themselves under surveillance, their curricula checked for appropriate content. Then classes start getting closed down: the sacking of Trelawney, and the replacement of Dumbledore by Umbridge. This is happening right now, all over New Zealand (actually all over the world); arts departments being slashed to the bone – UNITEC in 2013, the University of Otago right now. And it's coming to a place of learning near you, very soon.

There are parallels between Umbridge and our present Minister of Education. Umbridge seems homely and mumsy - she likes kittens and pink cardigans, but under the innocuous exterior are sharp claws.

It's pretty clear that the present Government is appointing women (Maori women moreover) in sensitive portfolios like social services and education. This is a clever way of defusing criticism from the Left and the politically correct, as it is difficult to attack them without looking sexist and racist.

Umbridge's veneer of mumsy femininity is the Trojan horse used to storm the Hogwarts ramparts, and Maori women are being used to ram home reforms aimed at neutering the critical potential of the education sector, as well as attacking the Muggles of NZ society - the unemployed, the "idle", beneficiaries, the mentally ill, ethnic minorities, anyone who doesn't own a house. Their numbers are growing every day. How long before you find yourself branded Undesirable by the Ministry, a blood traitor? Pure blood status guaranteed as long as you keep up your interest payments. 

The Ministry of Magic's policy is to keep up a "business as usual" front and deny the truth (known only to Harry) that Voldemort is back. This is pretty similar to the situation many tertiary teachers in New Zealand (and worldwide) find themselves in today. They are told that student numbers are falling and that the fault is in the way they teach, so they have no alternative but to accept reforms.

But I don't think how they teach is the real issue. The real issue is Mammon – privatising education, and if this means dumbing down and drawing the teeth of one of the few institutions still capable of critiquing the present order, that is all to the good.

John Key isn't Voldemort, he's more like Cornelius Fudge, possibly acting under the Imperius curse - his true master, Voldemort, is neoliberal global capitalism which wants to turn everything, from ideas to the water we drink and the air we breathe into a commodity. Maybe you think I'm just one of those Internet conspiracy theorists - but that's what they said about Harry too. 

Matthew Bannister is an author, musician and Lecturer and Postgraduate Theory Supervisor in the School of Media Arts at the Waikato Insititute of Technology (Wintec).


Rise of the Censor Bots Parts 1 and 2

by James Rae Brown

You may have noticed that I haven't posted much on Public Address lately – that's because I've just started a big, cool project that has been taking me away from my desk. On top of that, I have an interesting but very technical and somewhat overdue feature story to finish. (That's also why I may not have answeerd your email.)

But happily, we are something of a content-creation household, and when I arrived back from travelling on Monday night, my son Jim asked me if I'd noticed that he had posted a couple of new YouTube videos. So I had a look and they're smart and funny. Fuckin' funny, even.

Jim says: "This is an idea I got when YouTube started demonetising videos on the site that weren't 'advertiser friendly'. I've decided to make comedy out of it."

Enjoy. Cheers, Russell.



Our Mental Health System: Let’s have a sensible discussion

by Andrea Bates

Our mental health system has been the focus of much attention of late, as have the mental health services that operate under this system. It’s long past time we had an informed discussion as a nation about mental health, so thank you to Russell for the opportunity to add to the korero.

As always when discussing an integral aspect of human life, there are often a lot of voices saying things for reasons that are not clear, or which are aimed at achieving unknown outcomes. For the sake of clarity I am writing this as a person who uses mental health services, whose work includes the mental health system, and who stays up to date on developments in knowledge and practice. I believe our mental health system is long overdue for examination and change, I know that the framework for this already exists, and I know that our mental health workers of all job titles are already working to do things differently.

The people who work in our mental health services are, in my personal and work experience, thoughtful and caring people who want to effectively support the people who our mental health system exists for – people who experience mental health crises and people who experience mental health conditions.

Our mental health system, which is governed by legislation that Parliament passed and continues to authorise, limits our mental health workers capacity to work to their best. A simple example is that under theMental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992 a person can be coerced by our system if they are seen as a possible harm to themselves. What this practically means is that anyone who has become aware of our system is extremely hesitant to discuss suicidal thoughts with mental health workers. Why would you, if you knew there was a risk you would be locked up against your will when you have done nothing wrong?

Everyone who interacts with mental health services knows that the greatest tool any mental health worker has is the therapeutic relationship that develops between them, the service user – and the service users whanau, if the service user chooses.

How can that therapeutic relationship operate when the system that governs it ensures that important truths are withheld? How can there be trust when both people know this is standard? How can a mental health worker manage this dance without being hauled in front of the Health and Disability Commission and risking their years of training and experience if they don’t toe our system's line? How can a service user in crisis get the support they know they want when they fear the consequences of asking for it? That is not a system that is fit for purpose.

Every now and again, you hear someone associated with the mental health system saying that if we just put more money into our current system everything will be fine. They often raise the spectre of the "violent and dangerous crazy person" as justification, even though there is no research to validate this stereotype.

These sorts of comments often come back to the thorny issue of causation. People who experience a mental health crisis understandably want to know what is going on. In our society there are many explanations offered as if they are truths. Unfortunately for people wanting certainty, the honest answer is that we don’t know. Despite stories of chemical imbalances and genetic markers we actually have no proof of a biological or genetic cause for mental health crises and/or mental health conditions.

The idea of a chemical imbalance still crops up despite people like the former head of the American Psychiatric Association, a painfully old-school outfit, saying:

‘…[T]he “chemical imbalance” image has been vigorously promoted by some pharmaceutical companies, often to the detriment of our patients’ understanding. In truth, the “chemical imbalance” notion was always a kind of urban legend- – never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.”  [Psychiatric Times, “Psychiatry’s New Brain-Mind and the Legend of the “Chemical Imbalance” July 11, 2011]

Nonetheless, we are not entirely in the wilderness. If we imagine a bucket with ‘probable causal elements of mental health crises/conditions’ written on its side there are a number of things we can add to it.

I don’t believe that there are many people who would claim there is not likely to be some element of biology involved. Equally, in due course of time it is likely that some genetic component will be identified. Also there will be the impact of the unseen, often described as wairua or spirituality, which needs to go in our bucket. We also need to add environment including natural, built and whanau environments.

The element that we have the greatest amount of evidence for is the impact of trauma. It could be a natural trauma such as an earthquake, or it could be the experiences listed in the Adverse Childhood Events study, or intergenerational trauma as explored through the families of Holocaust survivors, or the many experiences of abuse and neglect covered in the trauma research.

There are likely to be more things added to our bucket as experience and research uncover new knowledge, and as our understanding of the interactions between any causal elements develops.

The best part about knowing what we don’t know is that it provides us with an opportunity for developing useful responses. The media has let us all know that there is increasing demand for mental health services. Given what we know about causation we can’t claim that some broken brain fever is loose in our country.

Rather, we know that the way we are living has increased the number of bad things happening to people which have impacts on their lives, and some of these people are experiencing mental health crises and/or mental health conditions.

The issue is not with mental health services. The issue is that our mental health system needs to look at the social determinants of mental health. That means we need government policies for early interventions that work across government departments. The ministers and departments who need to work together on this include Health, Employment, Social Development, Children, Maori, Pacific, Justice and Housing – at least.

We also need to incorporate the work of our leaders with lived experience, such as Sir John Kirwan and Mike King, who have put in the hard yards in this area for years. The personal risks John and Mike have chosen to take by their presence and honesty have shown a lot of people that mental health crises and mental health conditions are part of life, and it is how the person and how all of us respond to their experience that makes all the difference.

Until as a nation we really look at how we see each other and how we treat each other, and particularly how we see and treat our young people, we will continue to see an expanding flow of people into mental health services.

Making our mental health system fit for purpose will require Parliament to act. Our current system hinges on the Mental Health Act, a piece of legislation that it is 24 years old and does not reflect current knowledge. As a country, we have already agreed to follow the way forward that has been set out. We have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, we have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (which includes mental health) and we are signatories to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Putting our obligations into practice is something our Parliamentarians have been obliged to do, and have yet to do. How our Parliament ratified the Disability Convention and let our mental health legislation stand despite advice of conflicts from the New Zealand Law Society continues to be staggering. You can see the extent of that ongoing breach by googling “CRPD Article 14 Guidelines”. In these guidelines the CRPD Committee has been very clear about part of the work our Parliament needs to catch up on.

For people in my community it is past time that these matters are comprehensively addressed. For our whole country to have a healthy and productive population we cannot have a crisis-based mental health system. That means we all need our Parliament to pass a single piece of capacity legislation that covers all people with permanent and impermanent diminished capacity. We need our Parliament to recognise that no one needs decisions made for them, but sometimes a person may want support in decision-making and be able to receive it. And we need our Parliament to examine the 159 legislative instruments on our books today that contain the phrase “mental health” and to repeal every one of them that is discriminatory.

Most of all, we need our Parliament to work with all people with lived experience to create a mental health system that works for us and proves to everyone in this country that we are all human beings who hold the same intrinsic value as each other.


Andrea Bates is the co-founder of Wellbeing Wellington.


The stark reality: New Zealand no longer has a functioning Mental Health Service

by Kyle MacDonald

Last week Auckland lost eight acute psychiatric beds.  They were closed because staffing levels at the North Shore Unit, He Puna Waiora were so low that it was not possible to staff the unit safely.  Funding shortfalls have meant it has been chronically understaffed, leading to staff burnout and increased assaults by patients on staff and other patients.  It is now a place nurses simply can’t work safely anymore: so they choose not to.

Since then we’ve heard that the same situation exists within the Auckland District Health Board who currently have 18 vacancies within their acute unit.   Counties Manakau DHB is also experiencing staff shortages with many staff working double shifts just to keep the unit open.

The Auckland DHB Community Acute Services, who manage acutely unwell people in their home to prevent them going into hospital, has now been closed altogether due to not having any staff available to run it.

The PSA believes that many other regions face the same issue, including Wellington and the West Coast.  They have called these cuts just the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to the reality of the problems we now face in the public mental health sector. 

How did we get here, and what does this recent crisis tell us about the state of mental health services in New Zealand?

One of the big problems with the mental health sector in this country is that through a serious of historical accidents and deliberate funding decisions by successive governments we have a fractured and relatively disparate system, with many independent and interlocking parts coming together to be what we might consider in totality a “system.”

Acute services, for those suffering from psychosis or severe mood disorders, and/or being at risk of harming themselves (or others) have been catered for by the core public services, provided nationally by the DHBs.  Over the years, varying levels of psychotherapy and ongoing support have been included as part of DHBs' services, dictated largely by funding levels.

The public services have always been supported in various ways, first in terms of crisis phone services like Lifeline, Youthline and other more specialised phone services (gambling, alcohol, etc.).  Low-cost counselling services have been provided by NGOs – Relationship Services Aotearoa being the largest – with many small local agencies picking up the slack.

Of course, if you were fortunate enough to be able to afford full private services then you have always had plenty of choices.

But over recent years funding to all parts of the sector has, in real terms, shrunk.

The Council of Trade Unions estimates that the current funding shortfall in the Health sector overall, compared with 2009/ 10 funding levels, is around $1.2 billion dollars, and that District Health Boards are underfunded by $152 million.  Furthermore, these funding shortfalls are cumulative, with each year from 2010 to the present experiencing a significant shortfall.

Essentially, funding increases have failed to keep up with population growth, ageing and inflation.

In 2015 funding for the largest NGO provider of counselling, Relationships Aotearoa, was cut.  Since then many other services have faced shrinking budgets.  Lifeline Aotearoa’s contract will not be renewed past the end of this year.

And given that we no longer have a funding “ring-fence” guaranteeing funding levels within DHBs for mental health, they are often the first to feel the pinch. 

Talk therapy, expensive and time consuming as it is (from an accountant's point of view) is pretty much always first to go and many Community Mental Health Services now have no choice but to explicitly assess for ability to pay for private therapy as part of their clinical assessments. 

Next to go is ongoing supportive care for the chronically unwell, whose primary clinical treatment is regular medication.  If the client is ‘stable’ they get referred out to their GP, and lose the informal but important support of regular appointments with people who have time to listen and assess their ongoing state of mind. 

If they become unwell, or suicidal, they can come back through the revolving door, but once they’re stable again, back to the GP.

All of this means New Zealand no longer has a functioning Mental Health Service.  It has slowly and surely been whittled down to little more than an acute response service. 

This is now also in crisis.

So it is little surprise that as also reported this week, Youthline is experiencing unprecedented call levels, to the point where they are simply unable to answer every call.  Lifeline also reports similar demand for services.

So despite what the Mental Health Foundation CEO Shaun Robinson says, the fact Youthline is experiencing record demand for their help line is not due to the fact we are now more comfortable asking for help. 

It’s due to the fact no one else is answering the phone. 

The Ministry of Health’s response? To roll out the same cut-and-paste quotes about how much they’ve increased funding. 

However the reality known by professionals in the system for some time is that we have now reached the point that unless urgent emergency action is taken, we face a system at risk of complete collapse. 

The Ministry of Health needs to stop answering every question by citing the ways they’ve increased spending; I believe people are not interested in numbers when the system is clearly falling apart and people's lives are at stake. 

The situation requires urgent action to ensure continuity of services in the acute wards and it also serves to further highlight the need for a National Review of Mental Health Services in New Zealand.

It is on this background that Mike King, myself and Action Station came together to carry out the People’s Review of the Mental Health System (there is also a Facebook page for the review).

Until the government takes positive action we will keep inviting anyone involved with mental health in New Zealand – from mental health professionals to those with either personal or family experience of the system – to tell their story, anonymously if necessary. 

“[It] is possible to foresee that at some time or other the conscience of society will awake and remind it that the poor man should have as much right to assistance for his mind as he now has to the life-saving help offered by surgery; and that the neuroses threaten public health no less than tuberculosis and can be left as little to the latter to the impotent care of individual members of the community … institutions or outpatient clinics will be started to which analytically trained physicians will be appointed … Such treatments will be free”

(Sigmund Freud speaking at the Fifth International Psycho-Analytical Congress in Budapest in 1919). 

Kyle MacDonald is a psychotherapist, NZ Herald columnist and co-host of the NewstalkZB Mental Health talkback show “The Nutters Club with Mike King.”  For more see: psychotherapy.org.nz


Christchurch: We're not "apathetic", just busy rebuilding

by Greg Jackson

This year’s local body elections are as weird as Christchurch life in general.

Incumbent Mayor, Lianne Dalziel will romp back in with a few bites on the bum from challenger, John Minto. Four incumbent Councillors and a smattering of Community Board candidates face zilch challenge and are effectively back already.

There is a slight spark of life at ECAN, run by commissioners since National took democratic control away in 2010, where the government  is letting us vote for some seats this time.

I’ve been biting passing pundits on Twitter this week as they roll out their Christchurch reckons, underpinned with the predicate that the voters are  dumb, apathetic and provincial. These “dumb” voters handed out a terrible, informed and clinical whipping to virtually all of the former Council at the last local body elections.

The apathy is relative. As a Christchurch-based three-term mayoral advisor and campaign strategist, I learned to leave the quixotic quest for the youth vote to the idealists and deal with the people who vote. Old people.

Now, "old" is still a pejorative that plasters over the reality that the old have generally learnt a trick or two. Back in 1996, as a reporter, I interviewed the daunting ladies of Ashburton’s retirement community about the national elections and realised that they could see through just about all spin and bullshit. Christchurch’s local body voters are cut from the same parsimonious and flinty-eyed cloth. If you want to get their hearts and minds, speak the truth and use large print.

They also tend to cleave to old Kiwi values like fairness. If they think someone has done a good job they rarely tell them to their face. But they will let it show in the ballot box.

I believe this group has the nous to understand that the first time Dalziel put up her hand for the job it was obviously out of commitment to her home town. In 2013, politically, the mayoralty was a Fukushima-scale poisoned chalice full of very little other than Dick Cheney’s “unknown unknowns”.

Nothing other than an informed decision to risk total burnout turning around a gutted shell of poor governance and failing competence made sense of her decision to stand. The previous council had even lost the power to issue building consents – a ghastly failure in normal times and a tragic one when the need for consents had never been higher.

Dalziel got very lucky in that she also got two major gifts amongst the intake of “new” Councillors.

One was Vicki Buck was an outrageously popular former Mayor who returned from private life to become Deputy Mayora nd help clean up her city. She and Dalziel are both well versed in the political skills of public life and equally in how to manage, deflect and override the Sir Humphries and Humphrenas of the not-so-civil service.

This is hugely important. Dalziel inherited a Council structure where the management had long ceased even pretending to have anything other than contempt for elected officials. Council management needed a very firm internal hand.

Add to this the other windfall,  former markets maven and financial free thinker Raf Manji, and you have the very strong skill base that helped form a robust, results-focused centre of gravity for the new Council.

In a very rough form (and doubtless slighting others) this gave them the capacity for Dalziel to manage, Buck to provide the public heart and Manji to out market the business community and do the numbers.

People elsewhere in New Zealand also tend to forget that since the quakes Christchurch and Canterbury have been firmly under the jackboots of central Government.

The present City Council has but to look across town to the remnants of democracy at ECAN, run by commissioners and technocrats, to see what fate lies in store for anyone who gets too independent.

Nor has Minister Brownlee been slow, or reticent about being willing to whack out a Council that gets too far out of line.

It makes the fact of the present Council’s achievements all the more impressive when you realise they effectively have a gun at their heads every day.

This is also why there is no overt candidate of the right for the Mayoralty. They know that if the Council gets too far out of line they will be punished.

Against the backdrop of these brutish realities the Mayoral candidacy of John Minto is at best a naïve triumph of ideology over reality. With a policy mix that fails to understand a Mayor is just one vote on a Council, that the Council does not have control of public transport, and that swimmable rivers are impossible when the drainage system leaks like a sieve, it is hard to be overly charitable here.

Then away from the clever wee world of “players” and political junkies there are many competing calls for the attention of the average Christchurch resident. Many of us have more pressing matters. What route through the rebuild roadworks is passable enough to get the kids to their relocated school on the other side of town? What are the lawyers up to and how much will the next phase of redress cost? Do we stay or do we go once all this stuff is settled? It’s a big list and we have the mixed blessing of living with a form of chronic fatigue which precludes too much in the way of 9 to 5 working.

Faced with all these daily realities, if you can look at the Council and see nothing alarming there that’s actually a big plus. The lack of competing candidates this time round means to me that people are relatively content and/or hellishly busy and buggered or possibly deeply embroiled in Christchurch’s alt-activist network of NGOs and start-ups.

There is a huge network of people coming together to help guide people through the hideous maze of earthquake repair and redress hurdles they still need to navigate.

The evolution of Christchurch’s self-defence movement against the antics of both EQC and private/state-run insurers has finally culminated in the formation of EQCFix.nz, which offers frustrated locals easy access to answers to their many questions.

The website is professional enough to make things look easy – it's the sort of ease obtained from years of Cardboard Cathedral claimants' meetings, OIAs, number crunching and hard research.

 There are also many other groups, like the Avon-Otakaro Network, Greening the Red Zone, the Rubble, the Student Volunteer Army. The list is endless and takes lots of community time.

Former Mayor Garry Moore anchors the Tuesday Club from his son’s inner city bar Smash Palace, bringing in keynote speakers from all sectors to inspire, inform and sometimes account for themselves. I chaired Christchurch’s Tenant’s Protection Association for several post-quake years, stepping down this year to make way for new blood and to aid my own physical recovery.

Every non-incumbent person I know who was looking at possibly standing for office this year, me included, did not in the end. I suspect all the factors I have cited above were in play here.

For all these reasons and crucially because the public trust the present Council and Mayor my reckon is we should be filed under content rather than apathetic.

The moment control of our own city returns to our hands, I also predict a very different sort of election will result.