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Gordon Campbell on our underfunded Syrian refugee intake

Gordon Campbell on our underfunded Syrian refugee intake, and dairy industry carnage

Once again, our little show pony Prime Minister is prancing around the world offering to take in refugees – from Syria, from Nauru – while providing no extra funding to ensure these refugees receive adequate medical care once they’re here. Most of these refugees have come from war zones, where they’ve suffered trauma and torture. Yet our systematically underfunded health system – which has just been forced into a further round of cost cutting – is being expected to (somehow) cope with their needs.

Last night’s events in the Hutt Valley shone a useful spotlight on the inadequacy of government support. Here’s the RNZ report:

Ninety Syrians are due in the capital today but the 30 in the Hutt Valley will not be able to enrol with a GP at Hutt Union's two centres in Petone and Pomare, even though it has the most experience with refugees… A last-gasp offer made by its main funder, the primary health organisation (PHO) Te Awakairangi Health Network, was not good enough, according to Hutt Union Health's manager Sally Nicholl.

"Currently we have 450 refugees with no funding, and there's new refugees coming in, and we've been offered $500 per refugee over two years. It's a short-term fix, it's insufficient. The DHB is paying nothing, they're putting nothing towards refugee primary health in the Hutt Valley."

Reportedly, Hutt Union Health gets $60,000 over 15 month period to meet refugee need. Wellington DHB by contrast puts $500,000 annually into the medical care of its refugee intake. Incredibly, on the eve of the Syrians’ arrival, Hutt Valley DHB and the Ministry of Health were still talking about the funding for the new arrivals, but “no decisions had been made.” This hasn’t stopped the Ministry from issuing a press statement saying it was "confident that the health care needs of these new arrivals will be met, just as they have been for refugees in the past". Yeah, right.

In the general spirit of the government washing its hands of responsibility for the refugee intake, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman was unavailable for comment to RNZ this morning. Refugees will have primary healthcare needs, mental health service needs for trauma counselling, and translation services so that diagnosis and treatment can be carried out intelligibly… but none of this has been adequately funded, while the Prime Minister dashes on to his next photo opportunity. Out of his way – this man has a $26 million flag referendum to promote!

Footnote : In Australia, the extra intake of 12,000 Syrian refugees has been funded via an extra allocation of $700 million over four years – which will encompass housing, education, healthcare and where necessary, trauma counselling. As the Australian Refugee Health Network has advised:

All new Syrian arrivals should be offered a comprehensive refugee health assessment including screening for anaemia, Hepatitis B, strongyloides, and non-communicable diseases (as per Australian guidelines). Consideration should be given to screening for other conditions such as Latent Tuberculosis, Hepatitis C, Vitamin D deficiency and HIV based on emerging prevalence data and risk factors. Be aware of the very high rates of mental health conditions expected. Vaccination catch-up needs to be undertaken, particularly in children. Always offer an interpreter and consider whether there is a gender preference for care provider or interpreter.

No sign of that sensible system in place here, or the provision of the extra funding adequate for such tasks. Yet enough of this nattering negativity! Here’s a recent clip of the nation’s leader, winning hearts and minds wherever he goes:

Dairy: Don’t Bank On It

Oh and talking about other stuff that’s not getting any traction with this ‘good news’ virtual government…. Last week, dairy farm debt hit nearly $38 billion.

Bummer. Mindful that this country earns much of its living from agriculture, and because farm debt is steadily drifting into what the Reserve Bank has delicately called a ‘severe scenario’ …Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy met last week with three major banks to discuss a mercy pass for the farming sector. Gamely, Guy insisted that the medium to long term outlook for dairy is still ‘incredibly rosy.’

Many dairy farmers would probably like to have whatever it is that Guy is ingesting to reach such a happy conclusion. A recent Federated Farmers poll found that one in ten dairy farmers are now feeling under pressure from their banks, over their mortgage obligations. At a $4 or even a $4.50 per kilo of milk solids payout level, some 80% of our farmers will soon need to be borrowing just to keep going, according to industry analyst Alison Dewes, who has farming experience on both sides of the Tasman.

As Dewes told RNZ yesterday, the most recent tranche of debt to come on board last year amounted to $3.7 billion, or the equivalent of ten million dollars a day of what she classifies as ‘really bad debt’ – where the borrowing occurs simply in order to roll over the debt. Clearly, many farmers are now struggling to survive, since their combined cost of their production and debt financing is running at about $1.30 a ton above what they will receive this year, and next year. For many, this will comprise three straight years of that kind of shortfall. “So while we’re talking about 12.5 % of loans being non-performing now – and non performing means the bank may never recover its own equity - we’re potentially looking at the number being more like 40% in a couple of years time. So that is really sobering, and it depresses me.”

Dewes finds it hard to share Guy’s optimism that – in the longer term – the dairy industry will simply bounce back to the white gold days of yore.

She said one of the reasons why New Zealand was getting into difficulty was that it was no longer as competitive on the global stage. "New Zealand's no longer a low-cost producer, and there's nothing holding back further production coming out of the States, who can produce milk cheaper than we can now ... similar situation in Europe, and Australia - you can purchase farms, rain-fed, land there for half the price of New Zealand and be receiving a $6 to $6.50 milk price." She said there was no reason to believe New Zealand would suddenly capture more of the global market when its competitors were able to produce more quantities and cheaper milk.

Fonterra already has a large amount of inventory stored around the world, which will have to be shifted beforehand, somehow. Foreign competitors meanwhile, as Dewes says, can produce at a cost potentially a dollar a kilo less than New Zealand’s current average cost of production. Unfortunately, our fond belief that we are the lowest cost, most efficient, and most productive dairy farmers in the world is a myth. And that’s even before you start costing the externalities involved with our over-intensive dairying…. such as the overworked, monoculture-degraded land, the declining water quality, and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Key government, via Guy, has discounted any bailout package for farmers. Sure, they may have been encouraged into dairy farming via subsidized Primary Growth Partnerships by this government back at the height of the boom….but now, the government is simply walking away from them. I guess you could take it as a bracing lesson in small government.

But hey, what’s to worry about? May Key’s new single has just hit number one on Spotify! …

No, not worldwide…but on something called the New Zealand Viral 50 playlist. Hmmm. They say sing while you slave, but I just get bored….


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