What are they smoking?

by intheloopnz

It appears that the Herald’s tactic of diversionary journalism has paid dividends. Last week that great bedrock of New Zealand journalism somewhat ignored the political shenanigans of its longed-for government and ran a week-long series of front page stories on the War on P. That’s right, no front page stories decrying the Death of Democracy in Auckland vis a vis the appointment of a transitional authority to oversee Auckland for 18 months; no front page stories on Waterview or the languishing of National’s Mt Roskill by-election candidate, Melissa Lee.

Instead we got daily colourful reminders that methamphetamine is not a nice drug. If you hadn’t worked that one out then, well… maybe you have holes in your brain from all that meth you’ve been smoking. But it speaks volumes of the integrity of a newspaper that 18 months ago was running front page editorials declaring Democracy Under Attack when reporting on the (then) Electoral Finance Bill. Why not the same outrage when the Minister of Local Government appoints a non-democratic panel of business people to oversee democratically-elected mayors and councilors for the next 18 months?

So it was with astonishment that I read that John Key is considering banning pseudoephedrine, the main precursor chemical in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Where did this come from? It certainly doesn’t appear in any of the National Party’s pre-election pledges. So why now? The only reasonable conclusion is, obviously, that our PM is responding to the Herald’s series of not-so-investigative journalism. Activist journalism, in fact.

Evidently the Herald will laud Mr Key for being “sensible” and probably even praise him with their most over-used plaudit for him: “pragmatic”. But still, methamphetamine abuse has been a problem and will continue to be a problem in New Zealand until we tackle the demand side of drug abuse adequately. Teaming up with the likes of self-promoter extraordinaire Mike Sabin – the anti-drug lobby’s equivalent of Garth McVicar and Bob McCroskie – will do nothing to solve the problem.

Nor will banning pseudoephedrine being sold in New Zealand pharmacies. Which brings me to my next point: where are all those “personal rights” freedom fighters, willing to die in a trench for their right to purchase pseudoephedrine? Well, there are at least a few over on Kiwiblog who appear not too happy with Mr Key’s latest prounouncement. DPF, however, claims not to know enough about the subject and kicks for touch along with Mr Key; one should note that a lack of expertise in certain areas never stopped him aggressively opposing “nanny statisms” of the previous Government.

Memo to Key: remember all that guff about light bulbs and shower heads? You should, because you were right up there leading the charge. You may very well be thinking you’re on to a winner here – that tackling the scourge of P and playing the “OhMyGodCrime!” card is a worthy political pursuit. But proposing a ban on a product that many New Zealanders use safely every winter is going to piss off a lot of people. Just like the light bulbs and the shower heads.

The issue here is that this example is symptomatic of Key’s thinking: that he is more guided by what he thinks people think or want, and a desire to please them, as opposed to any objective public policy good or doing what he believes to be objectively right. But being the Prime Minister is a job in which you have to make tough decisions which will annoy many people.

And John is hopefully starting to learn, from the mess that is becoming of the Auckland transition (it really is like watching the beginning of a train wreck in slow motion, isn’t it?), that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. A strategic retreat on this proposed pseudoephedrine ban is the likeliest of actions. It will, of course, come in the form of “advice” from his newly appointed scientific advisor. I should hope that he also takes from this experience that it is unwise for the PM to think aloud around journalists.

Finally, and most importantly, do we get to call this National Government ‘nanny state’ now?