The Kākā by Bernard Hickey
Cancer charities excoriate Government

Cancer charities excoriate Government

Cancer charities excoriate Govt in joint open letter to Luxon; Health system now paying 'poverty premium' at crisis points; Govt restricts spending on pipes and buses needed to 'go for housing growth'
Placards at a 2018 rally for better funding for new cancer drugs. National’s pre-election promise to do so may have won it votes, but the attempt to quietly drop the plan has now ignited a firestorm of protest. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

TL;DR: The Government is now being engulfed in a firestorm of protest over its decision not to fund 13 cancer treatments in this year’s Budget, breaking a clear election promise that will cost the lives of people who changed their votes to National on the basis of that promise.

An open letter today from 15 cancer charities to PM Christopher Luxon is politically devastating.

Meanwhile, there are more cases reported this morning of ‘penny wise and pound foolish’ decisions by the Government to freeze or block funding for water infrastructure and public transport infrastructure that will dramatically slow the building of new homes, in direct opposition to the Government’s avowed ‘going for housing growth policy.’

(Paying subscribers can see and hear more detail and analysis below the paywall fold and in the podcast above. We’ll open up the full article for public reading, listening and sharing if we get over 100 likes to indicate approval from paying subscribers. Update: achievement unlocked!)

Six things of note this morning

1. Cancer charities lash National on broken promise

A firestorm of protest is engulfing the Government this morning over its Budget 2024 to break its promise to fund 13 cancer treatment drugs from July 1 from the proceeds from reimposing the $5 prescription fees, which is still going ahead.

This morning 15 cancer charities published an open letter to PM Christopher Luxon eviscerating the broken promise. Here’s a sample (bolding mine):

"Cancer patients and advocates sat in disbelief when the budget was announced. We have now learnt that those 13 medicines may not be funded for at least a year. Patients don’t have a year to wait and will sadly have to look at all the heartbreaking scenarios your party wanted to put an end to. Bowel cancer patients have already been waiting for 22 years, the last time a new medicine was funded to treat them.

“We know many New Zealanders voted for you because you stated you would fund the new cancer medicines. They are devastated that you have not honoured this commitment of all the commitments you made. Unlike other promises, lives will be lost if these medicines are not funded."

Patient Voice Aotearoa, Breast Cancer Foundation, Cancer Society, Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition, Leukemia and Blood Cancer New Zealand, Lung Foundation New Zealand, Melanoma New Zealand, Bowel Cancer New Zealand, Prostate Cancer Foundation New Zealand, Gut Cancer Foundation New Zealand, Brain Tumour Support New Zealand, Head and Neck Cancer Support Network New Zealand, Ovarian Cancer Foundation New Zealand, Myeloma New Zealand, and Talk Peach in open letter.

2. Costs explode as Health crisis reaches critical moment(s)

The crisis in the Health system is now at that point where dealing with the immediate shortfalls is costing much more than simply solving the problems themselves. It's the result of decades of health underfunding in real and per-capita terms in order to keep a lid on the overall size of Government at or below 30% of GDP.

This morning, The Post-$$$'s Rachel Thomas reports Te Whatu Ora-Health NZ is now spending $5,600 a day on temporary doctors to keep the Kenepuru Accident and Medical Clinic open in Porirua. Some detail and a chart below:

It’s understood the centre’s overnight service is staffed almost entirely by casual doctors following staff resignations last year. This service has since been at risk of being replaced with a virtual health service.

Monthly figures spent on doctors since January 2023 have fluctuated but average just under $170,000 a month — more than any resident doctor, or two second-year nurses earn in a year.

Also in the category of our health system effectively paying a ‘poverty premium': The ODT-$$$'s Fiona Ellis reports Southern Health is now outsourcing up to a third of its knee operations to private providers.

3. Penny wise and pound foolish on Public Transport too

The Government's preference for spending on roads in Auckland is hitting Christchurch hard and education funding cuts are about to his school bus runs in Canterbury.

Oliver Lewis reports for BusinessDesk-$$$ this morning that $78 million committed to bus improvements under Labour, but not finally signed off, is being delayed indefinitely under National. This particularly perverse outcome seems obvious:

Councillor Sara Templeton said housing minister Chris Bishop had instructed the city council to proceed with a plan change enabling greater housing density, but transport funding was needed alongside this to plan for growth.

“The lack of transport funding for one of the fastest growing urban areas in the country is short-sighted and will leave our infrastructure inadequate for predicted future growth,” she said.

“There is significant transport funding available across the country, and the choice to fund public and active transport in Ōtautahi would bring much better value for government and the economy than many of the other projects tagged for funding.”

Also, The Press-$$$'s Keiller Macduff reports this morning almost a dozen Canterbury school bus routes are under review or have already been defunded as part of a Ministry of Education plan to cut school routes where public transport is available. The Government has set a target of increasing school attendance, but this would reduce it an increase living costs for poorer families.

And, Tina Law reports for The Press-$$$ this morning that Christchurch has allocated no money to fluoridate its water supply, and neither has the Government, despite Shane Reti saying he's concerned about the health effects. Again, this appears a decision that will cost taxpayers more overall in the long run through dental problems leading to hospital admissions, lower productivity et al.

4. Parliamentary committee going rogue with bank probe

Parliament’s Primary Production Committee looks set to launch a formal inquiry into rural banking, Rob Stock reports this morning for The Post-$$$, quoting ACT MP and committee chair Mark Cameron accusing banks of arrogance and hubris. Here’s the quotes:

“Across the Parliamentary divide there was universal agreement that the banks appear to have a degree of hubris, or self-congratulation,” Cameron said.

There was “an arrogance we felt the banks were offering”, he said.

Cameron said: “It’s clearly evident that as a committee we came away quite disenfranchised by the banking fraternity, and I think that mirrors what our constituency up and down rural New Zealand is telling us.”

Here’s the real story: banks have backed away from farm lending because it requires more capital, more intense staff management and faces risks from environmental regulation. They’re now much more focused on mortgage lending, which requires less capital under Basle III rules and effectively has a Government guarantee, as evidenced by Reserve Bank and Government intervention to stop home values falling during the GFC and Covid.

The end result? This chart shows what’s happening.

In my view, we have a housing market with bits tacked on for an economy. Fonterra’s decision last month to dump its overseas brands to return capital to farmers, facing demands to repay bank debt, was another example, as is yesterday’s news from Synlait that more than half its farmer-suppliers want their capital back.

5. ‘Fast-track would legalise killing of endangered species’

Various official advisers have warned the Government about the dangers of the Fast-track approvals bill, including that it gives three ministers the legal power to kill endangered species, Tom Hunt reported this morning for The Post-$$$ from advice documents released at the beginning of Budget week.

Three government ministers are set to get the power that would allow them to approve the killing of tūi, toroa, tuatara and more, newly released documents about fast-track consenting regime reveal.

Regional Development Minister Shane Jones was in December addressing Parliament about mining in stewardship land in the Department of Conservation estate, when he said, “if there is a mining opportunity and it's impeded by a blind frog, goodbye, Freddy”.

Newly released Ministry for the Environment advice on the Fast Track Approvals Bill shows that the new proposed powers granted to the New Zealand First MP, as well as National MPs Chris Bishop and Simeon Brown, are far more wide-reaching.

The changes mean powers under the Wildlife Act, to grant permission to hold, catch alive, handle, release, “and in some cases kill” absolutely protected wildlife, will be overridden by fast-track consenting – which the three MPs have power to approve.

The protest march scheduled for this Saturday in Auckland could be large.

6. ‘Go for growth, but we won’t fund for the pipes or buses’

In more news of short-term thinking and funding causing perverse effects, RNZ's Melanie Early reported this morning that new housing developments in Warkworth have stalled because of a lack of water infrastructure.

New housing developments in Auckland's Warkworth will be unable to be built or lived in until a new wastewater treatment facility is built.

The wastewater treatment plant on the Mahurangi River, which services the area, is nearing capacity.

While Auckland Council is still issuing resource consents to developers, no wastewater connections can be made to properties south of the river until the new facility in Snells Beach is completed.

The facility was due to be finished by mid-to-late 2025, but for developments north of the river, it could be years before homes could be lived in as a new Northwest growth pipeline needed to be made and this was still in planning stages, WaterCare said.

Climate chart of the day

PeterDCarter via X

Cartoons of the day

What were they thinking!

Emma Cook via The Waikato Times

What were they thinking!W@*?

Shaun Yeo via ODT-$$$

What were they thinking??!XX**!

Rod Emmerson for NZ Herald-$$$ and via X

This year’s Christmas window

Guy Body for NZ Herald-$$$ and via X

Timeline-cleansing nature pic

‘Who you looking at?’

Photo by Lynn Grieveson for The Kaka. Note to self: I need to get out on the ladder to clean the outside of the windows.

Mā te wa


The Kākā by Bernard Hickey
The latest daily snapshot of the news, detail, insight and analysis on geo-politics, the global economy, business, markets and the local political economy for citizens and decision-makers of Aotearoa-NZ.