Hard News by Russell Brown


The climate changed

Yesterday was not only the day a new government was announced. It was also the day that a new stocktake compiled by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand laid out the challenges posed to New Zealand by climate change and warned that our gross greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 24% since 1990.

While the report was notable for its detail and in places the urgency of its language, these are not new facts. Governments have seen this develop and, by and largely, done little to respond.

Yet in 2017, the public is very largely on board with climate change as a problem. Last week, the tenth annual Climate Change and Business Conference saw corporate leaders address the practical implications of global warming with a renewed frankness. Two months ago, a Victoria University study found that New Zealand media treatment of of the issue has improved and is largely in line with the scientific consensus as expressed in the IPCC report.

The problem, more than ever, is in our politics. So the "policy gains" that the leaders of the Green Party announced last night to their delegates are extremely significant. They are, according to the email that went out:

Significant climate action, with a shift towards a net zero carbon emissions economy by 2050. The specific focuses will be on: transport, energy, primary industries. The establishment of an Independent Climate Commission. Support for a shift in farming to more sustainable land use.

The shortfall in government also came up in this week's Media Take programme. It's a good show, on which we were joined by Peter Griffin of the Science Media Centre, Newsroom's evenironmengt editor Eloise Gibson, AUT's David Hall, Mike Smith, Huhana Smith and – talking about the Pacific Island experience, Alistar Kata and Kendall Hutt. The Pacific segment was the last one we added to the show, but it turned out to be the most profound. Pacific peoples who culturally define themselves through their land, are already beginning to lose that land.

There was one other sector that frustrated out commentators: agriculture. The farming lobby – and its intransigent press, which remains stubbornly outside the mainstream – continues to resist reform or, in many cases, even acknowledge a roblem. That lobby will not be happy with the prospect of meaningful action and it will resist that action strongly. It would be nice to think that a National Opposition will have the sense not to spend three years on a Fart Tax campaign, but that might be too hopeful.

Nonetheless, yesterday was a very auspicious day for this new government to be named. We can do this. It might not be easy. But it does feel as if suddenly we've started. You might say that yesterday, the climate changed.

The Media Take climate change special can be viewed here on demand and the 15-minute extended korero is here. Both parts will be packaged up into an extended show that will screen on Māori Television at 11.30am on Sunday.


All Change

New Zealand's not-really-all-that-lengthy coalition negotiations were conducted with a degree of discretion that meant there were few tidbits for an increasingly frazzled press gallery to bring to a probably less frazzled public. But one thing we did learn was significant: that almost all the haggling was over policy, not political favour.

That, I think, is the best way to understand what took place at the end of a long day yesterday. Winston Peters, it transpired, could not countenance mere tinkering in place of the change called for in his own party's manifesto and those of the Labour and Green parties.

Politics, if anything, pulled the other way. National, the party with a plurality of votes, will form a formidable Opposition. No party has led a governing coalition without the comfort of a plurality. It's going to take some doing.

More so, given that the fiscal constraints Jacinda Ardern's Labour Party set itself do not offer much room to move in the next three years. This does not mean, per the fatuous suggestion of Matthew Hooton on RNZ this week, that Labour will be forced to practice "austerity". A party that has budgeted for significant increases in social spending, health services and homebuilding is not practising austerity.

But it is walking a very tight line – to the extent that had Peters chosen otherwise, Ardern and her party could have properly consoled themselves that three years as a strangthening Opposition wasn't entirely a bad prospect.

But that would have left the raft of policy problems I wrote about two days before the election unresolved. An under-resourced and increasingly chaotic health system would have lurched on, transport policy would have become even more wrong-headed, housing solutions remained half-hearted and people in need been asked keep waiting until the economy somehow delivered them from their predicament.

It might seem – and indeed it is – unfair that Peters' party will enjoy four seats in Cabinet while the more talented Green caucus gets none. But on face value, the Greens have achieved a great deal on policy. Climate action, special education funding, new budget for water quality initiatives along with stronger regulation – and, most significantly, reform of the welfare system to make it less punitive. That last is the legacy of Metiria Turei.

The Greens have also won something no one saw coming: a referendum on cannabis legalisation within this Parliamentary term. If a string of polls in recent years are even remotely accurate, that will mean historic reform of cannabis law with the bonus of a clear public mandate. The Greens also say they've won increased funding for drug and alcohol services and a further assurance that "drug use is treated as a health issue".

There's no specific mention of medical cannabis, but Julie Anne Genter's members bill would seem to have better prospects than if she had been championing it from outside government. I'd like to see Genter – like Anderton and Dunne before her – take the Associate Health role that the last few governments have farmed out to support parties. (Mind you, I'd like to see her in a Transport role, too.) At any rate, it seems certain that this will be the most significant three years for drug policy of any term in Parliamentary history.

The new Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has managed this policy process with the Greens at the same time as she has managed a separate one with New Zealand First, which refused to deal directly with the Greens. That she seems to have conducted those two processes amicably and effectively speaks of great political skill.

Demands on that skill will, if anything, only increase. Labour has won the chance not only to run a government for three years, but to enact some profound change. It won't be easy. But I do think it will be better.


Friday Music: Staying Okay

One of the more welcome developments in the local music business in recent years has been a better focus on the welfare of people who work in it. That focus was given form a year ago when the New Zealand Music Foundation Wellbeing Service was launched at the Silver Scroll Awards.

This week, I was given the numbers of the service's first year. The 0508 MUSICHELP line has received 80-odd calls from 45 people in the industry. Those numbers might seem modest, but it's not a huge industry – and it's one person a week who had someone to reach out to.

The calls get people through to triage counselling, which might be enough in itself – many "minor" calls have lasted longer than an hour – or lead to a reference to specialised help, including in-person counselling.

More than a quarter of people who called have  subsequently been diagnosed with a mental health or mood disorder – bearing out the findings of the survey that led to the service's creation. Issues have ranged from anxiety and "industry stress" to that perennial peril of a life in music, substance use problems.

People who used the service seem to have strongly appreciated talking to someone who "got" music. The foundation's general manager Peter Dickens deserves huge credit for first identifying the need, then acting to meet it. 

A separate but equally welcome development has been renewed attention to the issues faced by women in music – up to and including sexual harassment and assault. Coco Solid kicked off Equalise My Vocals with the assistance of The Spinoff.

This week, Girls Rock! Camp Aotearoa – a local version of an initiative that launched in Portland, Oregon, in 2001 – announced itself with a crowdfunding campaign on Boosted. The "camp" (nb: no actual camping) for young women and girls will be held at MAINZ in Auckland from January 15 to 19. They'll learn instruments, write songs, form bands – and get good advice.

Its founders have already been backed by APRA, Recorded Music New Zealand, the New Zealand Music Commission and MAINZ, but they're looking for an additional $7000 from the public to keep costs for participants as low as possible.

Here's their video, which has more information from the organisers:

And finally, there's Sing It Sister: Sexism in the Music Industry, the last of this year's LATE at the Museum season. The moderator is Rose Matafeo and the panel is Ladi6, Dianne Swann, Geneva Alexander-Marsters and Jessie Moss. I also know who the guest performer is, but I'm not allowed to tell you yet. Let's just say it looks like a great evening.


Speaking of women in music: Julia Deans is back!

She played a little industry showcase at Golden Dawn this week to preview songs from her first album since 2010, We Light Fire, and play a couple of favourites from her last one, Modern Fables. And it was hugely, brilliantly impressive.

Julia's singing is better than ever – which figures: she recorded Modern Fables over time while she was working in a fashion store, but in recent years she's been singing for a job in various settings – and the new songs sound compelling. Cool band too: Richie Pickard on stand-up bass, Tom Broome on drums and (for one night at least) Anika Moa and Anna Coddington on backing vocals.

The first of those new songs, the surging single 'Walking in the Sun', is out today on your favoured streaming service and in the iTunes store.

I just wanna hear more. So I'm delighted to say that the last Orcon IRL event for the year is back at Golden Dawn on Sunday, November 19 and amid the chat, Julia will be playing a few songs for us out in the courtyard. Mark it down, y'all.

PS: For actual good photographs of the show see Libel Music's page.


The crowdfunder for the forthcoming Chills documentary has less than a week to run – and it's almost there to its $60,000 target. A bunch of new rewards has been added and you really should consider getting in to help the story of Martin Phillipps, his band and their long, strange journey be told. There have been multiple bids to tell that story – this looks like it can be the one that gets there.


Moana Maniapoto is one of the better storytellers in New Zealand music – she has a lot to tell – and was basically a cinch for the latest in the series of video interviews by Ross Cunningham for Audioculture.

The interview was published this week and the page features the full 55-minute korero and nine parts covering everything from music and activism to Mo's memories of the southside club scene, which thrived in the 70s and 80s but was basically invisible outside South Auckland:

You can watch Ross's interviews with Peter Jefferies and Karl Steven on Audioculture too.

Also worth a look: Graham Reid's Audioculture article on Golden Harvest, freshly updated to mark the re-release of their eponymous album.

You can read much more of Graham's writing about music (and other things that take his interest) on his Elsewhere website.


Red Bull Music Academy this week published a really good chronological guide to the music of Fela Kuti, with observations on famous and lessr-known albums that I think would be of interest to anyone who's ever enjoyed Fela's music. It's extensively linked to YouTube instances of the tracks in question (in Fela's case, "track" usually meant a whole side of a vinyl abum). This 1986 Roy Ayers collaboration is one I'll be further investigating.

Coincidentally, Vulture did much the same thing with Sun Ra, with Spotify links to selected albums, including the fascinating 1978 album Disco 3000, which saw the Arkestra underpinned with a drum machine:

Both artists are fairly well represented on the streaming services – and it's worth noting that there are a couple of dozen Sun Ra albums available to buy in high-quality formats on Bandcamp – and pretty much all Fela's records too, including both volumes of the Black President best-of compilation.


Neil Young is still cool. As evidence, this clip from Farm Aid 2017 of him playing 'Cortez the Killer' with Promise of the Real, the California band he's been using as a touring band for the past couple of years. (Two of whom are the sons of Willie Nelson.)


At the end of this month (the 27th and 28th) Whammy bar celebrates 10 years of trouble underground with Whammyfest 2017, which features a big lineup including Disasteradio, Echo Ohs, Queen Neptune, Silicon and more.

Congrats to Rohan Evans for first opening the doors and Tom Anderson and Lucy Macrae for keeping it rocking. In a town where venues are closing down it's nice to know one venue has a long lease and no plans to go anywhere.

Lawrence Arabia has a series of solo shows under the banner An Evening Alone With Lawrence Arabia early next month (disclaimer: there may actually be other people there).

And Sneaky Feelings round off their Progress Junction tour with shows at the Cook in Dunedin on Saturday and Meow in Wellington next Thursday. Tickets here at Under the Radar.

Oh, and also: Electric Avenue headliners Primal Scream are playing an Auckland show too: at the Powerstation on Febuary 23.



It's been out a couple of weeks, but still highly noteworthy: Silicon (aka Kody Neilsen) has remixed Bic Runga's 'Drive to mark its – deep breath – 20th anniversary. It's on your streaming service and also here on YouTube:

Bic's national tour starts in Christchurch a week from today.

Estère literally releases half an album today. The six-track My Design will be partnered by the other half, On Others Lives in May. It's on the streams and in iTunes and Google Play and it's strikingly eclectic. Here's the Prince-ish single 'Control Freak':

And with Nina Simone finally making the longlist for the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame this week (along with another long-overdue pioneer, Sister Rosetta Tharpe), here's a great dancefloor rework (free download) ...



Out of sight, out of mind: how we forgot about synthetics

Update: This week's Media Take looks at and compares the twin news stories of synthetic cannabis and "methamphetamine contamination" with social activist Denis O'Reilly, public health expert Papa Nahi, journalists Tony Wall and Baz Macdonald, treament professional Kohe Pene and the former chair of Ban Synthetics NZ, Stephanie Harawira.

The episode is available on demand along with an additional 15-minute discussion with all the panelists.


There was "a certain dishonesty" in government actions after synthetic cannabis products were removed from shops in 2014, says former Associate Health minister Peter Dunne.

The comments come from a feature to be published in Matters of Substance, the magazine of the New Zealand Drug Foundation on October 25.

Dunne's Psychoactive Substances Act 2013 was amended in the heat of the 2014 election campaign to foreclose a system of interim approvals that allowed some existing products to continue to be sold under regulation. The amendment also banned animal testing, making it almost impossible for any other product to be approved under the law.

A wave of deaths and emergency presentations in recent months has underlined the fact that synthetic cannabis did not go away when it was blanket-banned – and that while the products are less widely used, the toll on those still using has become far worse.

"I wouldn't say we took our eye off the ball," says Dunne. "I think that more what happened was that as a result of the 2014 changes, there was a prevailing feeling that we had sorted the problem.

"There was a certain dishonesty there. I fought to maintain the integrity of the Psychoactive Substances Act. The National Party fought to get psychoactive substances off the shelves, and they weren't too fussed about the integrity or otherwise of the act.

"I continued doing my work, but it was in an environment where as far at the National Party was concerned, and in particular the leadership of the National Party, that all had been resolved. It was off the shelves and we'd dealt with it. 'Yeah, yeah, you can get your act in place, but frankly that doesn't matter. The stuff's off the shelves and that's all that counts'."

Henderson-Massey local board member and Unitec lecturer Paula Bold-Wilson, who led a campaign to end retail sales in West Auckland in 2014, "left the community to tidy up the mess, really."

"We always knew that the synthetics would go underground," she says. "We were pretty realistic about that. It's similar P, it's going to be sold. But you have to do education stuff, you have to raise awareness around the risks of smoking this product."

There were some indications that the problem had not gone away. The government forensic agency ESR said in 2015 that it was testing many more synthetic cannabinoid samples from the Police and Customs – including chemicals that had never been legally sold in New Zealand – contradicting assurances from Dunne that any cannabinoids on the black market had been stockpiled from the regulated period.

The Illicit Drug Monitoring Survey conducted by Massey University's SHORE Centre also picked up a shift to the black market in 2014 and 2015. At the same time, the survey found that the availability of natural cannabis had declined.

"One explanation might be that the people previously involved in cultivating cannabis have moved to synthetic cannabinoids because they're much easier to produce," says the survey's director, Dr Chris Wilkins. "You don't have to cultivate them for four months and then have a chance of the police swooping in. The fact that natural cannabis availability is declining indicates it's coming from the supply side. So someone previously involved in producing natural cannabis doesn't do it any more."

Wilkins also says that IDMS and its partner survey NZADUM (Arrestee Drug Use Monitoring) recently lost their funding, which came largely from the Police budget.

"Part of the problem with drug policy in this country is that they've got no research so they don't know what's going on. That's becoming more and more clear to me. So they tend to rely on the media – and synthetic cannabinoids was a classic example of that."


This report is based on a Matters of Substance cover feature to be published on October 25.


Cycle infrastructure: the blessings are not evenly shared

To say that cycle infrastructure has improved over the past five years in the part of Auckland where I live is almost understating the case.

We've had a significant upgrade to the northwestern cycleway, the westward spine that links everything up. My route into the CBD has been blessed by the "Pink Path" and the Nelson Street cycleway – and that link will soon be further enhanced when the cycleway lands at Upper Queen Street, taking out the irksome climb to Newton Road.

Thunderous middle-class grumbling has not reversed progress on our local network, where the greatly-improved path through Grey Lynn Park is being joined by paths along Richmond and Garnet Roads, along with traffic-calming requested by residents. Before too long, all that will join up with new paths through Point Chevalier and the high-stakes daily crapshoot of riding on Meola Road will be but a memory. Karangahape Road is coming too.

And, of course, there is the Waterview shared path, which opened on Friday morning, and connects with the "southern path" through a reimagined public space at the south end of the Waterview tunnel. It's a harbour-to-harbour link – across the country! – for walkers and riders, and it revitalises green spaces that have been poorly-used for decades. It's a safe, chill route from the northwestern to Avondale. It's a quaxing plan for me to get to Pak 'n' Save. It's transformational.

Now, that last one is a quid pro for the Waterview Connection – one that was fought for by Cycle Action Auckland (now Bike Auckland). The northwestern upgrade itself is also an NZTA job. But the other improvements I've noted aren't – they're part of a network plan funded from rates and, crucially, from the national Urban Cycleways fund.

And as grateful as I am, all that is making me start to think about whether the blessings are being evenly shared. Because they aren't. A new blog called Great South Ride is one woman's story of leasing an e-bike and trying to do the right thing by riding to work in the CBD from South Auckland.

That is really not an easy thing to do. I have ridden on Great South Road and it's a nightmare. My immediate thought was to try and find somewhere to ride which was not Great South Road. Which is what the author did, sitting down with Google Maps and Auckland Transport’s cycling map "to try and find a route that was less likely to make me a traffic statistic."

She was only marginally successful. As she explains in her latest post, Four kilometres, four years:

You’ve probably noticed that there are three main routes crossing this isthmus south from Manukau to north and the city. One of these is the Southern Motorway, four lanes of either thundering traffic or a gridlocked hell, depending on the time of day and your luck. The middle option is the Mount Wellington highway, and the far left road is my route, Great South. There’s no “back road” option here. No sneaky route. A motorway, or one of two trunk roads with lots of heavy industries on them and the trucks that service those industries.

Not one of these three routes has any, and I mean ANY, provision for cyclists. So I asked the council what their plans were. The answer was pretty bleak.

Basically, Auckland Council will not even investigate a safe southern route until 2021. It does offer her this:

While we regret that we cannot provide more positive news on the short term link between Otahuhu and the city, we can advise that there is planning for improved cycleways as part of other projects on an east west axis across the isthmus. This includes improved cycleways between Mangere and Sylvia Park and Otahuhu and Sylvia Park – both routes via Otahuhu.

So, basically, the only "good" news here is tied to the construction of the East-West Link, a stupendously expensive truck road with no benefit-to-cost analysis that does very little to get anyone to work. You may well think the use of $2 billion in these circumstances seems reckless, but if National forms a government, it will be built. And to make it worse, National is still yet to confirm a commitment to less than 1% of that amount to continue the Urban Cycleways programme. Never mind 2021, the whole vision could could be dead before then.

This isn't good enough, and the people of South Auckland deserve a hell of a  lot better. The South should be a great place to ride – and it shouldn't have wait years for that to be the case.

Update: Useful context from from Eden-Albert local board chair Peter Haynes, via Facebook:

You probably know this, but the traffic planners decided to start in the centre, where the population is densest and the usage greatest, and then move outwards from there. (It is certainly true that Waitemata Local Board has by far the highest population density in NZ, and the Albert-Eden Local Board the second highest in the region.) Where I think they got it wrong, and where the argument against the traffic planners' thinking is strongest, is that there are far higher numbers of car accidents and people killed and injured by traffic in the south than others parts of Auckland.


That said, I do want to share some photographs of the Waterview path from Friday. Perhaps this is a special case, one based on long-reserved land,  a big motorway development and a helpful tertirary instiution, but it does show what's possible.