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Dunne Speaks: Smiles and Pixie Dust are Not Enough

Just a year ago, as the pixie dust gently fluttered down, and the smiles flashed, there was nothing the new government could not do. With kindness and relentless positivity, everything was suddenly possible, inspired by the clarion call, “Let’s do this!” Nine years of apparent stolid inaction had given way to an exciting new vision and enthusiasm that would suddenly melt away all the country’s problems.

Public servants like teachers and nurses who had been so oppressed under the previous government would be fairly and substantially remunerated without the need to resort to strike action. But a year later there have been more strikes in the last few months than in the previous two decades, and more lie ahead. A year ago, people’s living costs would be reduced by better economic management - today inflation is rising and energy prices are at record levels. Homelessness would cease to be - today Kiwibuild is bogged down and homelessness has never been higher. The only thing that has happened has been that the “smile and wave” politics Labour accused Sir John Key of have given way to “smile and Neve”.

For its part, the National Opposition has now ditched unity, strength and purpose, and the opportunity to present a clear and attainable alternative to maintain economic growth and enhance long term prosperity in favour of internecine bloodletting.

One of the most obvious areas of this government’s failings has been that of drug reform. A year ago, a compassionate government was, as a priority, going to move swiftly make more cannabis based medicines available to more people, more rapidly, and more cheaply. Today, despite a muddled, poorly drafted Bill being introduced early in this Parliament’s life, nothing has actually changed. The Bill has not yet passed into law, nor is likely to do for up to another six months, and the government now says it will be mid 2020 at the earliest before there are any changes.

The issue of recreational cannabis was going to be addressed, with the public to be given their say in a referendum. Today, no one seems to know when the referendum will be held, what form it will take, and whether its result will even be binding on the government. Indeed, the only certainty appears to be that the issue will remain unresolved when the country next goes to the polls in 2020. The 1975 Misuse of Drugs was slated a year ago as old fashioned and out of date. Today, the Act remains unchanged, and it is not even certain whether the review of the Act the previous government had foreshadowed for 2018 has even got underway, let alone been completed and new legislation developed.

Another issue stated to require a fresh approach was psychoactive substances. But today, apart from an as yet unimplemented and likely unworkable proposal to reclassify a couple of substances, the promised bold new approach is completely missing in action. And more people are dying than ever before.

While the Prime Minister waxed eloquently, if somewhat deceptively, at the UN General Assembly about New Zealand’s bold new approach (which was in reality nothing more than a restatement of the existing National Drug Policy presented to the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs just over two years ago, New Zealand showed its real commitment to change by not even bothering to send a Minister to this year’s annual meeting of the UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs, for the first time in almost a decade.

There are many other areas of government activity like this, where the achievements to date have fallen far short of the pixie dust and flashy smiles promises of just a year ago. They should have galvanised the largest Opposition ever into clinically exposing, as a first step towards deposing, the government. Instead, National, for now, has embarked on a bitter, internal struggle from which there will be no winners. It owes the country far better than that.

Meanwhile, petrol prices and household costs will continue to rise; unlawful psychoactive substances will continue to kill those using them; and, there will be still be those sleeping out at night. Expressions of profound concern and compassion, alongside the smiles, will not stay enough to overcome these.


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