Hard News by Russell Brown


Digital persuasion and the dark places of democracy

Last week, officially the first of Australia's 2019 federal election campaign, potential voters were subjected to a series of false claims about the Labor Party's policy on vehicle emissions reduction. But not everyone saw the ads, and of those who did, not everyone saw the same ad.

"[Labor leader] Bill Shorten wants to tax the Toyota Hilux. Sign up to help us stop him," read an ad seen by Hilux owners. Mitsubishi Triton owners, on the other hand, were told "Bill Shorten wants to tax the Mitsubishi Triton." These were targeted Facebook ads and using them isn't exactly rocket science. Car brands are an available "interest" category for Facebook targeting.

Labor responded by using Facebook targeting of the same potential voters ("If you're a fan of Mitsubishi you'll want to know about our plan to save you money"). This is a campaign in which both major parties are using social media targeting – in Labor's case, particularly geo-targeting – to reach particular voters. And the ads themselves are, so far, staying within Australian Electoral Commission party authorisation rules.

The same can't be said of the anonymous Facebook pages that are paying to amplify unsourced political ads to the benefit of the Liberals, according to The Guardian. The AEC told the Guardian that the lack of authorisation on these ads is a breach of the law and it would be contacting some of the page owners, but it doesn't, of course, know who their owners are. Facebook has temporarily banned political advertising booked by non-Australians, but declined to offer the transparency tools it has already deployed in some other countries.

So, much as our societal wellbeing relies on the "community standards" of giant companies that may not be totally focused on that wellbeing, we're reliant on platform owners for the health of our democracies. And even when the transparency tools are globally rolled out in June, it willl be Facebook that runs the approval process.

It seems worth noting that earlier this year, Facebook deliberately broke a ProPublica tool that let everyone see how ads were being targeted. The Guardian's appeal for its own readers to help its journalists understand what's actually going on by screenshotting any dodgy ads they may come across seems an inadequate form of oversight, but it's all we've got.

It all seems to signal a significant challange for our own electoral regulators next year. The Electoral Commission sets rules and decides what is or isn't election advertising, but hands off judgement on the actual content of advertising to the Advertising Standards Authority, via the Advertising Standards Complaints Board. The ASA is a sound organisation and a good example of industry self-regulation. But it's complaint-driven – and we seem to be entering an era where there can be multiple micro-targeted iterations of campaign advertising that concerned parties can't even see to complain about.

It has become easy in the social media age to mislead the public not only about what the other side is doing, but who "your" side even is. The Guardian revealed earlier this month that more than a dozen high-profile "grassroots" Brexit ad campaigns are in fact being run by staff at the office of lobbyist Lynton Crosby. The estimated £1m spent on targeted advertising for these campaigns all, it seems, flows through that office. Only Crosby and whoever's paying him knows where the money comes from.

Couldn't happen here? The paper's follow-up today further claims that the Crosby astroturfers have specifically sought to influence the public towards a hard Brexit and to undermine Theresa May. And it includes this passage:

There are also questions over how Crosby’s firm uses arm’s-length companies to run its digital campaigns. Since 2016 it has outsourced work to two rightwing New Zealand political activists called Ben Guerin and Sean Topham through their Auckland-based consultancy Topham Guerin, which bills CTF Partners for the work they do on behalf of Crosby’s company.

Guerin and Topham, both in their mid-20s, are regularly based in CTF’s Mayfair office. They also ran the digital campaign for New Zealand’s National party in the country’s 2017 general election, ultimately failing to stop the Labour leader, Jacinda Ardern, becoming prime minister.

Documents seen by the Guardian suggest Topham Guerin was also involved in running online pro-coal campaigns on behalf of mining giant Glencore to encourage the construction of coal-fired power stations, in addition to working in India and Malaysia.

Topham was previously the chair of the National party’s youth wing, while Guerin was a digital adviser to the office of the former New Zealand prime minister Bill English.

Topham Guerin told the Guardian it would not comment on “fundamentally inaccurate claims” made about its work with CTF Partners, but declined to say in which way the claims were inaccurate. It did not respond to further questions about its work with Crosby’s company or whether it had ever been involved in online Brexit campaigns.

Topham and Guerin, both young men making their way in the booming industry of digital persuasion, may not feel that they're doing anything wrong here; that it's all in the game, that working on contract for Darth Vader is just a hell of a career opportunity. But the rest of us might feel that the material involvement of politically-connected New Zealanders in such a deceptive and deeply cynical covert politics project brings things a little too close for comfort.

Anyway, if you've read this far, please do schedule an additional 15 minutes to watch Carole Cadwalladr's TED Talk about what happened in the Brexit campaign, the law broken and the lies told – and Facebook's role of the non-cooperating custodian of a crime scene – and what it means for democracy. Sean Topham himself retweeted Cadwalldr's hailing of the New York Times' report on Facebook's battle to avoid accountability for Russian "active measures". But as he says in his Twitter bio, "RTs ≠ Endorsements" ...


Splore 2019 – Please Don't F*ck This Up Part 3: Harm Reduction

This is the third excerpt from the panel looking at the next two years' pending drug policy reforms at the Splore Listening Lounge in February this year.

Those reforms include a new amendment guiding police discretion in the case of drug possession (effectively requiring the police to justify prosecution), new medicinal cannabis regulations, the possibility of onsite drug checking getting some legal cover, a new focus (and funding) for addiction services and treatment and next year's referendum on legalising cannabis for adult use.

The panel was called, in recognition of the historic opportunity these reforms embody, Please Don't Fuck This Up.

Panelists were Chloe Swarbrick MP, Wendy Allison of the volunteer harm reduction service Know Your Stuff, Otago University researcher Geoff Noller and David Hornblow, who works for Waipareira Trust and independently as an addiction practitioner.

This section of the panel covers harm reduction – and specifically festival drug-checking of the kind conducted by Know Your Stuff. The organisation's work was stukl underway at the time of the panel, but this week, Know Your Stuff announced that it conducted 880 tests over summer – twice as many as the previous summer.

The last of those rounds of testing, during O-Week in Dunedin, was potentially the most alarming. After initially identifying a white powder presented in capsules presumed by the holder to be MDMA as the cathinone n-ethylpentylone – which put several young people in hospital last summer – Know Your Stuff determined that the powder was in fact a different, previously-unseen cathinone, identified only as C86. The Otago Daily Times duly relayed a warning.

It's a warning that would not have been possible without Know Your Stuff's work. But the Misuse of Drugs Act continues to hamper that work. Section 12 of the Act, which puts event organisers at risk if they allow this kind of harm reduction, has been widely discussed. But the organisation is also asking for changes to Section 7, which currently prevents volunteers handling samples (technical possession) or taking them away for lab testing. The problem is particularly acute in the case of new and unknown substances like the sample in Dunedin.

But back in February, I opened the topic by observing to Wendy Allison that the Minister of Police, Stuart Nash, had spoken after Rhythm and Vines and said he would like to see permitted drug checking at events as part of a harm reduction practice. Had the comments made any difference?

Wendy: Okay, so the first thing that happened when we heard that was we all did a little happy dance around the room. Then we sat down and we thought about it, because the second thing that happened was festivals and events started ringing us up and going, well if the Police Minister is supporting it, then we want you.

And we've had to turn down six events since then. The reason being that we have access to two spectrometers, we have 50 volunteers, and we run entirely on donations. So essentially, we have not enough money, not enough equipment, and not enough people.

So if Minister Nash's vision is to be realised by next festival season, then some sort of support and framework for that support needs to be forthcoming. So we rang him up, and went, Okay, you said you wanted to know how this works. We know how it works, let's talk. And we got together with him, and said, your vision is great, we love it, but support is needed – and the response is that the government is not in a position to provide financial support to a service like ours without a change in the legislation.

Because they need it to be explicitly legal, or the public will not support any financial support to us. And we can't charge events for our service because they can't put us on their books. Because of the legislation. So the next question is, how is the legislation going to change, and when is it going to change?

"Before next season" is a lovely happy thing to say, but in order to actually get a trained, well-supported, well-equipped team out there next season at all of the events, we need the law changed by June. So that's what we're pushing for. We're advocating for what we do to be explicitly legal, for the ability to provide support and also small things like being able to actually touch the substances – because if we're going to go to an event like Rhythm and Vines, which has 20,000 people, with several spectrometers, we're going to need to be able to process that stuff ourselves.

At the moment, we're making everybody do it in front of us – so every single person is new to it, and we have to teach them how to do it, and that means it takes way longer than it needs to. So realistically, a lot of work needs to happen, but the main one is changing that law and changing it quickly. 

Chloe: If I can just talk on what Wendy's just saying, and Wendy obviously knows this inside out, but for the sake of background, the barrier is Section 12 of the Misuse of Drugs Act. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 is a carbon copy of the UK legislation, Misuse of Drugs Act 1972.

The general premise of it is that any use of a drug is a misuse. But it also essentially prescribes certain levels of substances where, if you have over a certain amount then it's presumed that you have it for supply, at which point there is a reversal of the burden of proof – which is absolutely contrary to the Bill of Rights Act, but we do not have a supreme codified constitution. But that's a whole other point. 

The issue with Section 12 of the Misuse of Drugs Act is that it essentially says that it is illegal to knowingly provide a place where people will consume illegal substances. So theoretically actually all festivals are kind of in a grey area there, as are all bars and clubs.

W: And hovercraft.

Wendy's not joking. It specifically says in Section 12 that if  you knowingly allow people to take drugs in your hovercraft …

W: Don't do it, kids.

You're in some significant criminal peril. And the short version here is that it's all very well for politicians to say the nice things.

C: I mean, this is the point that, I didn't come into parliament to advocate for drug law reform, it just struck me when I inherited Julie Anne Genter's medicinal cannabis bill that nobody else was advocating in this space generally. And the more research that I looked at, and the more evidence that I looked at, I just found out how grotesquely fucked up it is that we've had these laws for 40 years and they've only perpetuated harm. They have pushed substances into the shadows, and they have made them more dangerous as well. And they have made them controlled by people who you do not want the illicit supply of substances to be controlled by.

Geoff: Just to add to that too Chloe, we have a national drug policy, and the central plank of the national drug policy is harm reduction, and the key element of that is that it's accepted that people will use substances, so the aim of policy is to reduce harm as much as possible. And if you change policy, whatever you do, even if the use of substances increases, as long as there is a net reduction in harm. 

C: And it's one thing to say that there's a policy, and there's another thing to have legislation, which is to Wendy's point. So it's awesome for the Police minister to be saying this stuff, and I've been working a lot with Stuart. There's kind of like a holy trifecta of ministers who have responsibility for drug law, and it's Minister David Clarke, who's Minister of Health, Andrew Little, Minister of Justice, and Stuart Nash, who's Minister of Police. So they have a lot of chats about the future of things.

But speaking to your point, leading into this whole chat, there is massive reform coming in the Misuse of Drugs Act this year, and what I'm trying to hold politicians' hands through is the fear of the blowback from the general public. But based on my experience talking to the general public about this stuff, people are far ahead of politicians, and they kind of always have been. 

W: From our perspective, all of the feedback we've had on our service has been 100% positive. You get the odd Australian ranting at us on the internet, but apart from that, we have never had anybody come up and say, This is a stupid idea, you shouldn't do it.

Something else that's going on in this space that is related to this, is that New Zealand's early warning system is finally starting to get moving. And we are involved. They've finally realised that we exist and we have information that could help with this.

They've rung us up, they've got us round the table, and the potential framework for this is a database in which everyone who collects information about substances that are out there, puts it into this database. And a group of people who have specific knowledge in the area – for example, we would be the representatives for the festival and events sector – then makes a decision about whether an alert is worth putting out and how it should be worded, so that people actually know what's out there, instead of just finding out when we put something on Facebook. Because that's not good enough.


Splore 2019 – Please Don't F*ck This Up Part 2: The Reeferendum

This is the second excerpt from the panel looking at the next two years' pending drug policy reforms at the Splore Listening Lounge in February this year.

Those reforms include a new amendment guiding police discretion in the case of drug possession (effectively requiring the police to justify prosecution), new medicinal cannabis regulations, the possibility of onsite drug checking getting some legal cover, a new focus (and funding) for addiction services and treatment and next year's referendum on legalising cannabis for adult use.

The panel was called, in recognition of the historic opportunity these reforms embody, Please Don't Fuck This Up.

Panelists were Chloe Swarbrick MP, Wendy Allison of the volunteer harm reduction service Know Your Stuff, Otago University researcher Geoff Noller and David Hornblow, who works for Waipareira Trust and independently as an addiction practitioner.

It seemed timely to post this part of the discussion today – covering next year's referendum – given that the Prime Minister was questioned in Parliament yesterday afternoon and clarified one thing about the question to be put to New Zealand voters.

Which is that Cabinet will decide on what the question is. Everything else: the timeline, whether a bill will be put to Parliament in advance, the likely shape of any information campaign and, of course, the question itself, is yet to be determined. 

Given the topic, Chloe does most of the talking in this one. (That's me asking the questions in bold, obviously.)

Chloe, the reeferendum, where are we at? What's the timeline?

Chloe: Kia ora, good question. So I guess to provide a little bit of context to everybody, you'll possibly know the Green-Labour confidence and supply agreement has a commitment to hold a referendum on or by 2020 on the legalisation of cannabis. Just to clarify, the legalisation of cannabis. Paula Bennett asked a question in the House last week, asking the Prime Minister if it was going to be on legalisation or decriminalisation, and the Prime Minister said that it would be following the lines of the confidence and supply agreement – ie legalising cannabis – and she put out a really confusing tweet, saying that the Prime Minister had confirmed that there wasn't confirmation whether there would be legalisation or decriminalisation. 

To be fair, the Prime Minister could have given a better answer as well.

C: I will leave that with you. So we are working through my proposal, and you'll understand that this is politics, which is a bit shit, but the reality is that we have to work in that framework, so we are trying to, and I'm advocating for us to have legislation first.

Which means that we'll hopefully pass it through the House this year. It'll have a clause in it, which says that with a majority vote of New Zealanders it'll come into effect. So that is how we will avoid the Brexit-type situation. I found it really funny that Simon Bridges has started saying that, because he's essentially advocating for legislation first. So I went and talked to him and Paula this week, and I got the impression that they really don't care too much about the legislation, they just want to play politics with it. So that was a bit gutting.

It's extremely depressing. 

C: But I was just going to confirm as well, it is happening in 2020, and it will be tied to the General Election, and it will be binding, our best version of binding is legislation.

Just to explain what legislation means, it's that Parliament debates and passes a bill that will define what the legalisation is. So there's no question about what we're voting for. The idea is that we will get the chance to vote yes or no on a fully worked-up piece of legislation that we give the tick or not to. There is a right way of doing this, and I've spoken to constitutional lawyers about it.

C: And the other benefit to it is that it means that a future iteration of Parliament doesn't have to work out what a yes vote means. And it also means that we deal with all of the arguing prior to that point. So Bob McCoskrie can't wave around gummy bears again and go 'this is what's going to happen'. 

Geoff, as a former Norml board member, you have some insight into the cannabis reform community, which has suddenly got the prospect of this thing it's been chasing for 30 years. What do you make of the way that lobby is getting its act together? It's been a fractious group in the past. 

Geoff: Yeah, the cannabis activist community, or lobby, has always been a fractured community. You get these very strong personalities, probably like politics, isn't it, without the mandate. You get this really strong set of identities, and they're always struggling to, they want to put their agenda forward. So you're going to get this factionalism, and I think that's certainly held us back.

Right at the beginning I think of the introduction to these talks Russell, you mentioned this idea of the reform, the reeferendum as people are calling it which I quite like, as being a sort of generational opportunity, and it absolutely is. Make no mistake about this, we've never been closer to any possibility of meaningful reform in this country ever. We just haven't. And it's a real opportunity for you folks out there to think about this, and to educate yourselves, and there are a number of groups that are providing information.

There's a group called Make It Legal, and you can get on to their Facebook page and they are working quite vigorously, currently behind the scenes, but setting up a process to provide education and information to people, and one of the big issues that we're going to have to think about is the actual question of the referendum. What format is that going to be in? Maybe Chloe might like to respond to that, because that's an issue that we really do need to get right.

C: So that's why I'm advocating for legislation, because if we have the legislation first, it can be literally as straightforward as, 'Do you want to see the legalisation of cannabis as per (insert name of act)'. That can be the question, simple, straightforward, binary yes or no. 

"Would you like to see the Legalise and Regulate Cannabis Act become law?"

G: Does that mean that everything about what that question means is already set out, so people know what it is?

C: Yes. That's what I'm advocating for. 

G: Obviously people will have a sense or input into that process before it goes to select committee or something like that? 

C: There's a lot of different ways to do it, and it was floated in the general public, and I put it forward to the minister, Andrew Little, who then said that it could happen publicly. But to be perfectly frank with everybody, there's not much time left. There's the notion of a citizen's jury, which is what happened in Ireland around the abortion referendum. But what I think could work, and this is just an idea, it's obviously not set in stone, is to have a specialist select committee that works on it. 


Music: The urgency of Mr Arabia

In Sunday's Star-Times interview with Grant Smithies, James Milne explains that one of the motivations for embarking on his one-song-every-month Singles Club process was that he realised he tended to produce good work when he was given a commission and a deadline.

I can testify to that. Back in 2009, when such things were possible, we commissioned James to write a song for the Christmas special of Media7 – a year in which is seemed many public figures had been obliged to apologise for things they said and done. The result, performed live in the studio with an audience singalong to close, was rousing indeed.

And I think we can hear a similar energy in the resulting Lawrence Arabia's  Singles Club album. Ironically, having urged you all to pitch in and crowdfund the project (in a post wittily titled Rolling Funder) – and indeed, put down money myself for the future vinyl LP – I kind of slipped off the process. Getting my free track every month just seemed like a lot of admin.

So when I went along to the recent invite-only "open rehearsal" where the expanded band looked to get its head around the songs before embarking on tour, it was (apart from what 95bFM had played) pretty fresh to me. It all sounded pacier and more urgent, even in its dreamy spells, than its 2016 predecessor, Absolute Truth.

I was put in mind of Revolver, not least for the role of the bass guitar in the hands of James's longtime collaborator Hayden Eastmond-Mein. "Great bass-playing by Hayden there," I remarked to the woman next to me at one point. "I agree!" she said. "But I am his mother."

On the album, you have the guitar rave-up of 'A Little Hate', the Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd pastiche of 'Cecily' and, to conclude, the gorgeous sweep and trill of a Van Dyke Parks string arrangement on 'Just Sleep (Your Shame Will Keep)'. I've been playing it a lot.

The album is available on your chosen streaming service, here on Bandcamp or at an actual record shop, and the release tour begins tonight at Blue Smoke in Christchurch and concludes with two nights at the Hollywood in Avondale on the 26th and 27th.


So a while ago, Matthew Davis at Flying Nun asked me to write some notes for the forthcoming reissue of Headless Chickens' album Body Blow. Flattered to be asked to write sleeve notes, I pitched in to the job and got together a thesis that mentioned as many tracks as possible. But in a hilarious mix-up, it turned out that Matt actually only wanted some words for a press release, and not sleeve notes after all. Oops.

But a good freelancer never lets a screwup go to waste, so here's the text I wrote:

Body Blow is a complicated tale.

It's the middle child of Headless Chickens albums and, as two major releases with quite different track listings, not only kicked off the band's most successful years – all but one of their chart hits can be found on one or other of the releases – but represents the whole span of those years.

One song here, 'Cruise Control', was a hit in two different versions, each in a different country. Another, 'George', the Chickens' only chart-topper, actually appeared on the third album, Greedy. There wasn't even room on this collection for songs from the first Body Blow('Road Train') and the second ('Inside Track'), let alone a swathe of subsequent remixes (half a dozen of 'Cruise Control' alone). And yet it covers more sonic and thematic ground than most bands get to in a lifetime.

Body Blow began as a kind of reclamation of control. A substantial cash prize to record its predecessor, Stunt Clown, had instead become a headache, one structured so as to sink the band into debt. But by 1990, they had somewhere they could do what they wanted and spend as long as they needed: Incubator, a central-city flat, drop-in centre and recording studio known for good coffee and great parties.

All but one track (the transitional single 'Gaskrankinstation') on the original Body Blow was recorded there, including a new one with a loping bassline and a memorable keyboard motif: 'Cruise Control'. Fiona McDonald was invited in to sing the chorus. It worked so well she joined the band. 

That in turn helped set in motion a striking expansion of the Headless Chickens' audience, which eventually saw them do what Mushroom Records had wanted all along: record at a big studio in Sydney. As Incubator had been the home base for the first version of Body Blow, thus Platinum Studios was for the second. 'Choppers', 'Mr Moon' and 'Juice' came from those sessions and were added to the album along with remixes of 'Choppers' and Incubator spawn 'Donde Esta La Pollo' and 'Railway Surfing'. Amid it all, Eskimos and Egypt, an obscure group of Kraftwerk fans from Manchester, remixed 'Cruise Control', which duly broke into the Aussie chart.

And the rest: 'George', 'Super Trouper' (recorded for the Flying Nun Abba tribute Abbasolutely), the mad, forgotten b-sides 'Attack of the Killer Androids' (from 'Mr Moon') and 'Bestiary' (from 'George'), and 'Kitchen Sink Theme' and 'I'm Talking to You' from the pitch-perfect soundtrack for Alison McLean's surreal 1989 horror short Kitchen Sink. Yes, it's all a bit confusing. But the Headless Chickens never set out to be simple.

In a further hilarious mix-up, the launch party for the album was to take place last Friday at the Flying Out store in Pitt Street – but for what has been described as "various reasons" (mostly, the shipment of vinyl was split by the pressing plant and instead of all the boxes arriving on the promised date, only one did) it had to be postponed.

So now it's on Record Store Day, Saturday April 13. I'm happy to say I'll be there playing records suitable for the occasion at 3pm, with similarly suitable sets from Pennie Black and Miss Dom to follow.


Other Record Store Day action includes, Southbound Records, which has 95bFM DJs playing music live to air all day; Marbecks, which is putting on a bunch of bands and offering discounts (I got a fistful of Prince 12"s for not much last year); Conch, which turns back into a record shop for the day, with new and second-hand records on sale from the crates of Cian, Frank Booker, Dubhead, Stinky Jim and others; and Rebel Soul in Cross Street Market, which is always a family affair.

There's a nationwide list on the official RSD site.


I may have mentioned once or twice that I occasionally enjoy playing records with the awesome Ms Sandy Mill. When we got asked to play Splore this year, we thought we'd best come up with a name for ourselves – and we both came up with the same name. We are Mum 'n' Dad Disco.

Splore went pretty well, so we thought we'd bring the show to town. We're playing Cupid bar, 1218 Great North Road, Point Chevalier this Friday – 7pm till midnight or whenever.

Night owls can also catch us on Saturday April 13, doing the 11pm-3am shift at Ante Social on Ponsonby Road. I might have to have a little post-RSD lie-down before that ...


If you're in Auckland and you're interested in the new documentary about Martin Phillipps and The Chills, Saturday May 4 at the Hollywood in Avondale looks worth marking down in your diary. Martin will be there, not only to do a Q&A, but play a few songs. And it's only $25.



Volume 7 of the On U Sound compilation series Pay It All Back was released last Friday – 23 years after Volume 6! It would be trivial to say it's been worth the wait, but what this colossal collection does do is emphasise the fact that On U occupies its own space in music. There has simply been nothing like it. And this is just an amazing, adventurous collection of tunes. This mighty call to arms is just the beginning ...

Then there's this bewitching cover of Bob Marley's 'War' by the Japanese singer Likkle Mai:

The album itself is available here on Bandcamp. Get in.

DiCE crew have posted this edit of 'Once I Had A Love', the 1975 Blondie song that became 'Heart of Glass', with the note that it "makes us think of the beloved Pacific islands." It's wicked. And a free download!

And the BBC Music channel on YouTube is currently stuffed with clips from the 6 Music festival. Some of it's pretty average, truth be known, but Hot Chip are still great.

And this Jon Hopkins clip might just take you back to Laneway, even if you didn't actually go to Laneway. Turn out the lights and play it on your home theatre system ...


Splore 2019 – Please Don't F*ck This Up, Part 1: Treatment and Health

This is the first excerpt from the panel looking at the next two years' pending drug policy reforms at the Splore Listening Lounge this year. Those reforms include a new amendment guiding police discretion in the case of drug possession (effectively requiring the police to justify prosecution), new medicinal cannabis regulations, the possibility of onsite drug checking getting some legal cover, a new focus (and funding) for addiction services and treatment and next year's referendum on legalising cannabis for adult use.

The panel was called, in recognition of the historic opportunity these reforms embody, Please Don't Fuck This Up.

Panelists were Chloe Swarbrick MP, Wendy Allison of the volunteer harm reduction service Know Your Stuff, Otago University researcher Geoff Noller and David Hornblow, who works for Waipareira Trust and independently as an addiction practitioner. Given the topic, David does most of the talking in this one. (That's me asking the questions in bold, obviously.)

Thanks again to Emma Hart for transcribing a panel in which a lot of ground was covered in an hour.

David, in the report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction, many of your peers said that criminalising their clients was not helping them. Is that the widespread view in the profession?

David:Yeah, absolutely. I think the main stumbling point in treatment is harm reduction over abstinence, actually. Listening to your panel beforehand, there's a lot of really good stuff coming through, treatment modalities, and treatment types that hit a wall of entrenched interests in the treatment industry that go, 'No, it's abstinence or nothing'. And harm reduction is still something that's only filtering through. I think it's very confusing for the public, because they get a lot of information about harm reduction, about using less, using less – they get into a lot of trouble, all of a sudden it's, 'No you give up completely now.'

There is the prospect of considerable extra money coming into treatment services, but is that going to work if we don't at least broaden the kinds of treatment, the kinds of assistance available? Because pretty much all there is, if you are clinically addicted to drugs or alcohol, is 12 Steps, is some flavour of an abstinence-based programme. Those programmes work for a lot of people, but why don't they work for everyone?

D: It's an all or nothing approach. You buy a new family of recovery people, and for some people that's really powerful and it totally works. For Pacific Island or Maori whanau, removing someone from their family – saying that their old life was the bad thing, and that they must change and have this new family now – becomes really problematic. And working at Te Whanau o Waipareira, I've seen that I'm not willing to make a moral judgement on why someone got addicted. I just want them to get better.

And if that means they stay in their house and they work harder there instead of going away into a residential place for six weeks, learning a whole new language of recovery, and then coming back to a bunch of people that don't know anything what happened, that's a recipe for failure for me. I think it is not working as well as it could be. Luckily, Northland has had Te Ara Oranga– that's a really good program.

Chloe: And that was funded by the Nats, to begin with.

National should own that program because it's been …

C: They don't want to.

D: Dr Hinemoa Elder has come up with a really good set of tools about how to actually embrace and keep Maori, PI, minority people in the healthcare industry – because it's still very white and very abolitionist, when it gets up to the high level. I think we need to mature, because there's a whole lot of people being taught about harm reduction at university level, then they get into the industry, and it's captured by 12 Steps. Absolutely captured.

How do you feel about the Alcohol and Other Drugs Court, which is still in trial after five years? It has clearly helped people, and yet it's predicated on criminalisation as the way in, and on abstinence as the way out.

D: Speaking as an individual, if you read the preamble to actually signing on to the program, if you don't agree to attend NA and live by all their precepts, they won't take you in. So that means that if you're not willing to have a spiritual awakening, then you're not getting in. And they might dance around the problem by saying, you can say that your spirituality is this pen or that chair or whatever.

To an atheist, that's just belittling. And not the way we should be doing it as a progressive society. 43% of us are atheists. It should be reflected in our treatment. The court is amazing, it is a little step towards a fairer judicial system, don't get me wrong, but there's a lot more it could be doing. I think it could go broader.

Where would you like to see more money go? There's been all kinds of hints that there will be new money.

D: Community, Whanau Ora, for a start. Give it more, thanks. Holistic, tapa wha based … I don't know  if anyone knows what tapa wha is, the four po, the four pillars of your health: your community health or spiritual health, your family health, your body health, and your mental health. If they're not acting in concert, it's going to be hard, that's a basic precept of it. And I think that can translate really well into Pakeha society. And that's a lot of what I do, is translating the precepts of it into Pakeha society, because we take all comers. So I think things like that. More in-home. More harm reduction, not just prohibitionist stuff, is where we need to send the money.

Geoff: One thing about the money too, that people sometimes don't understand, is that in New Zealand drug policy is budget-neutral, there's no money in drug policy. So any money that comes from somewhere, if it's going to go to health, it has to come from a Health budget line.

C: Which is a nightmare.

G: Often people will think, oh we're going to change drug laws, that means the cops are going to miss out on, you know, 10% of their budget. They're not, and that's actually good for the police to know. And obviously the higher-up guys do.

What that means is they've got $100 million – or probably more, actually – to put into other aspects of their work. And I think it's really important for that narrative to be out there, because it's all well and good for us to sit around here nodding heads and going, this is great, we all agree with this, but actually it's the people that don't agree that we need to be talking to, whether it's your work colleagues or whoever.

David, one thing we've started to hear, not always in entirely organised, rational ways, is concern about the health risks of cannabis – which are real. Do you see that at the addiction treatment coalface? How many people are developing problems with cannabis that need treatment?

D: Everything kind of goes hand in hand, when someone is at the critical end. Addiction is a spectrum, and as someone gets further and further into it, then they'll take anything to alleviate pain at the last end. If you're throwing synthetics into the mix, if you're throwing over-the-counter medications and a whole lot of alcohol, cannabis harm is not up there with the pharmaceutical types.

Who are most of your clients? Where are you seeing the harm? Is it synnies, is it meth, what?

D: No, it's still alcohol. It's still the most pervasive, damaging thing in our society.

G: Some stats from the AOD help line, looking at the proportion of clients, even at the peak when we had the so-called legal highs – that's a whole separate thing compared with the different legal highs we've got now, which are killing people – alcohol was 70-something percent. Cannabis was around 15%, and that was at its peak.