Hard News by Russell Brown


About last night's medical cannabis question

The medical cannabis question from a cancer survivor in last night's leaders' debate was an absolute gift for Jacinda Ardern, and she didn't miss. Her swift, succinct "Yes" was everything Bill English's uncomfortable, qualified answer wasn't. 

It was also effective cover for the fact that Ardern's Labour Party doesn't really have a proper policy on the issue.

Which isn't to say that Damien O'Connor's private members bill – which Andrew Little had already promised would be the basis of a law change within the first 100 days – wouldn't be a useful step forward. O'Connor's bill would remove the requirement for approval by the Associate Health minister or ministry officials for every prescription of a medical cannabis product.

But there has already been progress there since O'Connor's bill was drafted. Sativex, the only pharmaceutical-grade product with Medsafe approval, can now be prescribed by doctors without reference to officials. As of this month, products containing CBD will also be able to be directly prescribed by doctors – although CBD will (pointlessly, given that it's non-psychoactive) remain a controlled drug and approved products will remain expensive and difficult to source.

O'Connor's bill would also place the onus on the Ministry of Health to nominate non-pharma-grade products that could be prescribed. There has been progress there too, thanks to the patient, tireless advocacy of Medical Cannabis Awareness New Zealand (MCANZ) and an openness among ministry officials that wasn't there two years ago. MS sufferer Huhana Hickey has been legally using a cannabis-oil based product from the Canadian company Tilray and says it's better and easier to tolerate than Sativex. It's also a bit cheaper – that is, about $1000 a month for someone like Huhana. Which is still too much.

At this point, it's worth looking at the exact wording of Liz Morris's question to the two party leaders last night.

Recently when I went through chemo I had to consider the whole issue of cannabis. My question is this: pharmaceutical cannabis is inaccessible and very expensive. Would you consider legalising cannabis for medicinal purposes, for the extension of life and pain relief – so people like me don't have to consider being criminals and would know the quality of what they're taking?

That's what Ardern said an unequivocal "yes" to. And that "yes" goes well beyond any actual policy Labour currently has.

That probably actually matters less than it might appear, because there's already a medical cannabis bill – Julie Anne Genter's members bill – that will go to select committee during the next parliamentary term. As I noted when the bill was drawn, there are legitimate questions about the text of the bill. The vexed issue of grow-your-own provisions will be subject of considerable debate and the original draft of the bill will undoubtedly change.

But it's there, it's in the process already – and that's extremely significant. MCANZ has been quietly approaching political parties with a useful paper outlining policy options, including suggestions on how home growing could be regulated.

It would all be a lot easier, of course, if the general law on cannabis was changed. And happily, there's a pathway there too. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1974 is finally due for review in the next term. There's likely to be considerable interaction between the processes for that and Genter's bill.

Would the government of a Prime Minister Ardern go there? I think so. Little was conservative on drug law reform – which is why Labour doesn't have a coherent policy beyond chanting that drug use should be considered a health rather than a criminal issue. By contrast, last year Ardern was one of a handful of New Zealand public figures (Metiria Turei was another) to sign a public letter to the UN Secretary General calling for an end to the war on drugs.

It's actually somewhat similar to what's happening around capital gains tax  – Little's departure has allowed the issue to go back onto the table, but they don't have a policy so they're obliged to be vague. I don't expect them to magic up a policy they don't have in the month before an election – indeed, I'd rather they didn't. This stuff isn't trivial.

But I think the indications are promising. A couple of weeks ago, in the Media Take green room, I reminded Kelvin Davis that I'd interviewed him a couple of years before and he'd said that he didn't support decriminalisation and then gone on to hope for reform that was basically decriminalisation. He just couldn't quite say it.

And now? Things had changed, he said – he was all the way there. The time he'd spent involved with the New Zealand corrections system had seen to that. And in that show we recorded and in Māori Television's leaders debate, he said so. In the latter, he used the example of a whanau he knew who feared seeking help for their son's meth problem because they didn't want him exposed to the criminal justice system. It was powerful because it was practical.

On Wednesday on Back Benches, Wallace Chapman quizzed Peter Dunne on his proposal to legalise and regulate cannabis, and asked Labour's Chris Hipkins why his party couldn't go there. Hipkins repeated the usual health-not-criminal line – and then acknowledged that the logical end point of that philosopy was likely something like what Dunne proposed.

So I think that the intent is there – and that given the way the Parliamentary stars have aligned, intent is all that's required for now. There's a medical cannabis bill up for grabs and a once-in-two-generations opportunity to modernise our drug law. Realistically, genuine progress on either will only be possible if Labour leads the next government.

But even that's not a given. I interviewed Peter Dunne this week for a story I'm working on – and it was a conversation I simply couldn't have had with any other MP. A Labour-led government will need to find such a person. It may be that the list of requirements – senior enough to be an associate minister, policy nerd, affinity for the issues – can't be satisfied in any one person. That's okay, too. Put two people on it. And make at least one them Māori. No conversation on drug policy in New Zealand can be had without Māori. Bottom line.

However it's worked out, this needs to be taken seriously. It's time.


Media Take: Scandals, selfies and "social"

The ostensible topic of last night's Media Take show was Mike Hosking's awful performance over who can vote for the Māori Party (answer: anyone, of course). But, especially in the extended "open floor" korero, it developed into a frank, intriguing discussion of the nature of political campaigning in 2017 – and how to survive political scandals.

We had pencilled in the Māori Party's Tamaki Makaurau candidate Shane Taurima, but when his party's co-leader Marama Fox also became available, we decided to welcome them both on the show, on the reasoning that Shane would have a useful perspective on the Hosking debacle as a former TVNZ journalist. Then, having booked Shane Jones, Winston Peters' superannuation whoopsie (and its potential dirty politics storyline) rather fell into our laps.

The other guest was David Bowes, CEO of the social media research form Zavy, whose Election Tracker offers an interesting insight into the how the respective parties are faring on the social media platforms. Among other things, it vividly illustrates the "Jacinda effect" – both the volume and sentiment of interactions with the party's Facebook content soared from the day the new leader took over and that hasn't really stopped.

On Twitter, no party gets out of negative sentiment – although I do wonder about the parsing of language that creates that measure – but New Zealand First does surprisingly well. And the Greens just about have Instagram, that sunny space, to themselves.

The highs and lows of National's Facebook sentiment are also instructive. Its worst moment was this picture of Bill English congratulating John Key on his knighthood – and it is currently on an upwards trajectory thanks to "Hardworking New Zealanders are not an ATM for the Labour Party", which has been shared more than 2000 times. That line is working for them and you will hear variants of it from now until election day.

But something interesting happened when I put printouts of those graphs on the desk before we started recording. What are these, Marama Fox wanted to know. What's it say about us? How are we doing? She's keenly aware of the way social media can enhance her party's languishing public profile – globally, even.

She'll need every bit of presence she can muster – because the latest polls from the Māori electorates contain a cruel irony. Māori Party candidate Howie Tamati is showing a strong and unexpected lead over the Labour incumbent Adrian Rurawhe in Te Tai Hauāuru. If that holds, there may not be enough party vote to get Marama Fox back into Parliament on the list – and that would be great loss for Parliament itself. (And that is an if: as Gavin White has noted on Facebook, the Māori electorates are tricky to poll for various reasons).

It's something we say every election – but this time I think it's actually true. My sense is that all the candidates have clear instructions around "social". And a lot of that involves pictures. I'm not sure whether Jacinda's people set up the Miss Piggy encounter or just recognised a golden photo-op when they saw one, but ...

I was moderator for a Film Auckland forum on the parties' respective screen industry policies last week, and the moment I called time, the panelists whipped out their phones for selfies. Peeni Henare took one with Chloe Swarbrick – an MOU selfie, if you will.

That forum also included something that hasn't been a feature of many public discussions in this campaign: the presence of the National Party. We were quite unable to fulfill our promise to present a National candidate on Media Take this week. Working through a list, we thought we had Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross, but after "checking with Wellington" he was suddenly busy that evening. National is also not doing any of Māori Television's debates. The sense is that they've been consciously narrowing their message and who they talk to.

So I'm grateful to minister Maggie Barry for fronting at the screen industry forum. And it seems worth noting that even given her advantage with ministeral briefings, she acquitted herself well. Judging by the conversations in the room afterwards, she won votes.

We should perhaps pause to acknowledge how hard many other candidates are working in this campaign – most notably those from the Green Party, who will be keenly aware of the ground they need to recover. Chloe told me that she doesn't have a free night from here until election day. And James Shaw – who stepped in at short notice for Metiria Turei at our Orcon IRL event a couple of weeks ago – may need to take care he doesn't exhaust himself.

I like the fact that even as the process of persuasion goes more and more digital, we seem to be seeing more real-life interaction too. I think that's healthy.

Media Take Episode 12

Media Take Episode 12 extended "open floor" korero


Friday Music: Warming up for a night on K Road

Things are heating up ahead of next Friday's The Others Way Festival. Sneaky Feelings first album in forever, Progress Junction, is released on the day of their warmup show at Hamilton's Nivara Lounge next Wednesday. It's a canny collection of songs – three from each band member – that doesn't sound quite like any of their previous releases, but is most identifiably Sneaky Feelings.

(Note that there's a Hamilton sideshow featuring Disasteradio and All-Seeing Hand the following night at the same venue.)

Elsewhere in the lineup, I mentioned the great new Disasteradio album last week. There's also the new single, ahead of their debut album, by Hex (see an interview here on Under the Radar):

Jonathan Bree just released this dark, sumptuous new single:

Bespin have a trippy af new video:

The Friendly Poetntial crew have announced that they'll be joined at their show by k2k – aka Katherine Anderson, who makes this kind of smooth house groove:

Wax Chattels have a new single streaming on Under the Radar (along with an interview). It's about Gillian Anderson. The song, that is, not the interview. Well, okay, the interview too ...

And of course, there's the Going Global Music Summit running on the Friday and Saturday.

And here is the timetable for next Friday.


Oh, and The Others Way will also feature Silver Scrolls finalist Bic Runga, whose 'Close Your Eyes' was included this week in the awards' first ever all-female finalist lineup, along with Lorde's 'Green Light', Aldous Harding's 'Horizon', Chelsea Jade's 'Life of the Party' and Nadia Reid's 'Richard'.

If five women out of five is a first, it's not exactly a surprise: women have been been making much of the creative pace in New Zealand music. The Apra initiative to improve gender parity in its overall membership – announced three weeks ago – is well-timed.

PS: I am Team Nadia, and 'Richard' isn't even my favourite song on Preservation.


Next Friday is also the release date of Neil Finn's new album Out of Silence – which hasn't been recorded yet! That all happens live on the internet tonight on Neil's YouTube channel, from 7pm. These sessions have been my last few Friday nights, and I'm just full of admiration for Neil for what he's doing here.

To keep you going till then, here's the archived stream of last Friday's "gig night" in the studio, which featured an audience and a great cameo from Onehunga's Swdit:


Alan Perrott has done a really nice interview with Murray Cammick, whose exhibition of rock 'n' roll photography runs until Sunday at Black Asterisk gallery on Ponsonby Road. Murray will be DJing there on the final day from noon till 3pm, which is all the reason you need to pop in.

The story also features a great photo of Murray himself. And Murray has just shared this picture taken by Terence Hogan in 83-84 – which reminds me rather startlingly of how young Murraywas when he hired 20 year-old as deputy editor of Rip It Up.

And finally, the gallery has republished Murray's account of how Bob Marley invited him to play football, which includes this immortal memory among others:

Within 24 hours of arriving in New Zealand, the tour party had put out a desperation call, they’d used up all the herb.

Someone had grossly underestimated what Marley and entourage needed to keep the show on the road.


Dangerous Minds has a nice story on the last night of Iggy Pop's The Idiot tour, which was also the last night that David Bowie played in Iggy's band.

The New Yorker on how the "Golden Record" that 40 years ago went out onto the cosmos with the Voyager 2 probe, was compiled. It's by Tim Ferris, the science journalist who was part of the wonderfully-named  Voyager Interstellar Record Committee overseen by Car Sagan.

Ferris puts to rest the story that the committee tried and failed to license the Beatles' 'Here Comes the Sun', but also shares this:

I sought to recruit John Lennon, of the Beatles, for the project, but tax considerations obliged him to leave the country. Lennon did help us, though, in two ways. First, he recommended that we use his engineer, Jimmy Iovine, who brought energy and expertise to the studio. (Jimmy later became famous as a rock and hip-hop producer and record-company executive.) Second, Lennon’s trick of etching little messages into the blank spaces between the takeout grooves at the ends of his records inspired me to do the same on Voyager. I wrote a dedication: “To the makers of music—all worlds, all times.”

The occasion is the impending release of a 40th anniversary box set of the recordings. You can check out a sampler here:


Island Records has posted Keep On Running, the excellent 2009 BBC documentary about the label's history, on YouTube:



A swoony new serving of R&B out today from Leisure:

The pulsing 'If Only', from Racing's EP The Bass, out today and on the usual services:



Where are all the polls at?

There has, for obvious and understandable reasons, been much talk about polls in this election campaign. But amid the hubbub, a few key questions have gone missing. Primarily: where are all the polls at?

Since the last general election in 2014, there have been, with the sole exception of a Herald Digipoll poll in December 2015, only three companies doing public national polling: Colmar Brunton for TVNZ, Reid Research for Newshub and Roy Morgan Research. By some lights that's only two credible polls: Roy Morgan isn't a member of the Research Association of New Zealand and thus isn't signed up to the industry Code of Practice.

We haven't seen a Digipoll poll for the Herald in this campaign, and Fairfax does not appear to have renewed its relationship with Ipsos. There's an obvious explanation for that: full-scale polling is really expensive. Perhaps both companies anticipated a dull campaign – didn't we all? – and concluded that the investment wasn't warranted.

Instead, we've seen a shift to online market market research panels, where political questions can be tacked on as required. The Herald has spun a series of stories out of surveys conducted by ConsumerLink on the 120,000-strong Fly Buys panel. Most recently, one on who respondents would trust to manage a coalition government – which reported the results without matching them against voting intentions. Last month, there was a report on a question about who would be a good coalition partner for National – which fully a third of people polled couldn't answer. It's quite a good illustration of the shortcomings of piggyback polling.

Another thing most people seem to have missed is that Newshub/Reid have gone partially online too, drawing 25% of  their sample from an online panel operated by Survey Sampling International (who were used by The Spinoff during last year's Auckland local body elections).

As Newshub's political editor Patrick Gower explains in this exclusive video, they originally explored mobile phone polling but concluded that it was expensive and impractical. Paddy kindly recorded seven minutes on-set for tonight's Media Take show, but we were only able to use 90 seconds in the end, so I've uploaded the whole thing. It's quite a good explanation of what they're doing. And he notes that TV3, also, considered not paying for polling this year.

There are other polls. Māori Television will again perform the useful service of polling the Māori electorates. TVNZ's Q+A got Colmar Brunton to poll the Ohariu electorate and the results were enough to convince Peter Dunne to take his leave. Horizon is tacking on political questions for someone at the moment. And of course, Curia (National) and UMR (Labour New Zealand First) are doing private research for political parties.

And then there's Community Engagement, which is behind a robopoll conducted last week. Community Engament was the company behind a mildly controversial (but ultimately accurate) poll last year on the Wellington mayoral election. Rob Salmond looked at that last year. The controversy was related to the background of the company principals, Ella Hardy and Eric Goddard, with the Labour Party.

The current call announces itself as "a Community Engagement poll" which will take only 90 seconds (this was mercifully accurate) and cycles through voting intentions, voting history and issues of most concern (health, the economy, etc.)

But depending on their responses, voters may be asked if they'd like to volunteer for the Labour Party's campaign. It's fairly jarring, given that the poll does not announce itself as being associated with the Labour Party.

I asked Labour's general secretary Andrew Kirton, who confirmed that it was part of Labour's campaign activity.

"In the past and even now we do a lot of volunteer phoning just to identify levels of support for local candidates and the party. It's kind of an informal survey. It gives us an sense of what the issues are locally and generally it helps our campaign targeting. Robopolling replaces some of that work. It's bread-and-butter stuff for campaigns really."

So it's less a poll than canvassing – digital doorknocking, you could say.

Kirton acknowledged "trialling" an offer for people to get involved in the campaign "but I don't know what the results of that are so far". Again, this is a pretty standard thing for someone who knocks on your door to do – but that someone will be wearing a party rosette. Shouldn't there be a promoter statement incorporated in the robocall script?

Kirton thought there was, but I don't recall hearing one, and neither did other respondents I heard from. And unfortunately, my VOIP service, which records voice calls, didn't identify this as a voice call and didn't record it. Labour might want to make absolutely sure that statement is there.

I gather that National and the Greens are using similar services in this campaign – and I'd be interested in hearing here from anyone who's fielded such calls.

There will be more korero on polling with Aimee Matiu and Richard Pamatatau in Media Take, at 10pm tonight on Māori Television – along with an at-times fiery sit-down with Te Tai Tokerau rivals Kelvin davis and Hone Harawira.


Friday Music: The Return of Disasteradio

I confess, it had escaped me that there had not been a Disasteradio album for seven years. It's not as if Luke Rowell had been idle: he's made a bunch of records as his alter-ego Eyeliner in that time. But Sweatshop, the album released this week, has been a looong time coming. I mean, Kim Hill played the title track, the "first single from the forthcoming 2014 album"  in, well, 2014.

But the good news is, Sweatshop is out and it's really wonderful: a funky, infectious record with 80s pop in its heart and vocodered vocals and old-fashioned drum machine sounds all over the shop. What might look mad and gimmicky is actually a box of finely-crafted bangers with a depth that gives lie to its immediate appeal.

Take for instance, that title track. Its refrain references Foxconn and it's born out of Luke's unease that the gear he does his work with is likely the fruit of exploitative labour practices. You'd also totally bop around your kitchen to it. 

The songs are more melodic and, well, songlike than previous releases have been – Luke claims the inspiration of Tom Petty, among others, this time around – and I like that too. I'm really looking forward to seeing him play at The Other's Way festival on September 1.

If you can't make that, the other tour dates were announced this morning:

Hamilton, Nivara Lounge August 31

Christchurch, Darkroom, September 8

Dunedin, None Gallery, September 9

Palmerston North, Stomach, September 15

Whanganui, Lucky, September 16

Wellington, Meow, September 30

The album is on the streaming services, but if you buy it on Bandcamp and pay more than zero (it's on name-your-price) you also get a download code for the accompanying digital EP of instrumentals, Sweatpants. And Luke actually gets some money to fund his space travel hobby.


Speaking of which, Luke told me something nice this week. Way back when I my TV show was called Media7, we had access to enough budget for me to commission Luke to rework our original theme music by SJD. And he used that fee to buy the onstage laptop he played every gig with for the next six years. Huzzah!

If only such a thing were possible now. It's one thing paying for the use of music in your productions (a very good thing thing, might I add), but it's even better being in a position to commission work. Back in 2009, Media7 wrapped up its year by commissioning James Milne (aka Lawrence Arabia) to write and perform a song about a media year characterised by apologies. It was a very good song:

From memory, Luke played the season-ender the following year.

It's not entirely unknown now – the new Checkpoint launched with a theme commissioned from James, and the likes of Karl Steven and the Phoenix Foundation writers have forged parallel careers in writing music for the screen. But it does rather underline the way killing TVNZ 7 and freezing broadcast funding for nine years has had an impact beyond the obvious.


The Others Way made its second lineup announcement this morning, adding, among others, Tiny Ruins, Grayson Gilmour, the Friendly Potential crew and, yup, Eyeliner. Luke Rowell is going to be busy.

And tomorrow night, I'll be DJing with the brilliant Sandy Mill in the courtyard at Golden Dawn while Hopetoun Brown play inside. We'll be on the decks until 2am, so you if you're watching the rugby, you could still swing by before or after. It'll be funky!


One thing you can't accuse Lorde of is laziness. I don't quite get how she does it, but here, exactly two months after the release of Melodrama, she is returning to Electric Lady studios for Homemade, a "reimagining" of songs from the album, captured to video.

I like this for a couple of reasons. The first is that although I really enjoyed Melodrama, especially the back half of it, I did stop listening to it for a while out of fatigue at the loud pop production. In Homemade, the songs are stripped back and performed with acoustic instruments and a choir. It could be pretentious, but it isn't. The second reason is that it makes up for that diabolical video for 'Perfect Places'.

The singer talks about why she did it in an introductory video interview. Some songs work better than others. 'Writer in the Dark' was always going to be a starter, but I also like 'The Louvre', not least because the arrangement calls for French horns on the coda at the end. Cool.

Meanwhile, she's on her world tour, and here she is at Outside Lands festival in San Francisco, bringing Jack Antonoff on stage to play Paul Simon's 'Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard'. It's really sweet.

That's a pretty good fan video, but it's also here on the official festival video of the full show.



One of the fun things about Pure Heroine was the sheer number of remixes draped over its bare bones. Many of them were not good, but some of them were really good. Melodrama, which fills a lot more sonic space, is thus far not as fruitful. But its most spare track, 'Liability', has given rise to this lovely, dreamy hiphip version. It's even a straight-up free download.

Northlander WhyFi, an ally of Auckland Grow Room collective (The Wireless did a nice profile on him) dropped this track this week. The lyrical theme is dark, the bass is low and the tempo is loping. It's good.

In celebration of the solar eclipse visible in across America last Monday, some techno-hippie guy made a take on Pink Floyd's 'Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun'. The tune and the lyrics make several appearances but it doesn't sound all that much like the original. It's groovy though (and a free download):

A Nina Simone edit with a dressing of Grace Jones:

And RocknRolla Soundsystem roll back with this thumping edit of Robert Palmer's 'Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley'.

Those last two aren't downloadable yet, but they seem to be lined up for a free Nu Blends compilation out next month.