Issue 524, 31 May 2019


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Expert Reaction: Budget 2019

Expert Reaction: Budget 2019: Wellbeing

Expert Reaction: Budget 2019: Mental Health

Expert Reaction: Government’s response to He Ara Oranga

Expert Reaction: Government use of Artificial Intelligence

In the News: Two flu deaths in Auckland

Blog: Measuring the Science Media Centre’s impact

New from the SMC global network

The 'Wellbeing' Budget 2019

The Government’s ‘Wellbeing Budget’ aims to tackle long-term challenges for New Zealand, including mental health, child poverty and homelessness.

Victoria University of Wellington's senior lecturer in health policy Dr Anna Matheson said it was "sobering" to have a national Budget focused on wellbeing.

"The challenges facing humanity globally – increasing inequality, rising populism and rapid environmental degradation, including the crisis with our climate – show how governments worldwide are missing the crucial and pivotal role they play in stewardship, and in creating and maintaining collective well-being.

"Child poverty, mental health, family violence and homelessness are areas where substantial resources and action is long overdue. But also important is the recognition of how we use land and its impact on well-being and the focus on incentivising businesses towards a low emissions future."

Motu Economic and Public Policy Research senior fellow Professor Arthur Grimes said wellbeing budgets had been delivered every year in New Zealand since the 1890s, with focuses on welfare.

However, he was disappointed with the lack of policy targets. "Outcome targets focus the mind by holding officials, ministers and governments to account. Crucially, they enable proper policy evaluation to take place.

"It is not enough to state what will be spent; one must also state what benefits one expects to reap as a result of making these expenditures. A government that is serious about improving wellbeing would wish to be accountable in this way."

Associate Professor Nicola Gaston, co-director of the MacDiarmid Institute, said the messaging was more important than specific numbers.

"To see a Budget in which wellbeing is intimately related to climate change, to our societal responsibility to support young people to develop and future-proof their careers, and to innovation BOTH for its economic impact and its ability to create step change in how we deal with natural resources and sustainability?

"The implementation is what this Government will and should be judged on, but the big picture that is being painted is one that gives me hope."

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the wellbeing aspects of the Budget, and comments around other science-related funding.

Quoted: NZ Herald

"This is the amazing thing - the immune system has the power to cure even the most severe cancer.

"And this is not just a result in a test-tube or an animal model – this is happening in cancer patients all around the world right now."

Maurice Wilkins Centre director Professor Rod Dunbar on advances in immunotherapy for cancer treatment.

Mental Health funding boost

The day before the Budget was announced, the Government released its response to a major mental health inquiry.

The Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry released its report, He Ara Oranga, in December, with 40 recommendations based on its work. On Wednesday the Government accepted, accepted in principle, or agreed to further consideration of all but two of those recommendations.

The Government rejected a recommendation to set a target of 20 per cent reduction in suicide rates by 2030, with Health Minister Dr David Clark saying “every life matters, and one death by suicide is one death too many”.

In its response, the Government reaffirmed plans to re-establish a Mental Health Commission, which Victoria University of Wellington clinical psychologist Dr Dougal Sutherland told Morning Report was sad but necessary.

"It shows the [health] Ministry, the DHBs, the whole sector really haven't taken up the ball and run with it since the disestablishment of the Commission.

"Under the Commission we were having clear leadership and the idea was that when it was disestablished that would continue but it has just stopped."

Addiction specialist Professor Doug Sellman, from the University of Otago, said the Government appeared to be "completely ignoring" the Inquiry's recommendation to take a stricter regulatory approach to the sale and supply of alcohol.

"Alcohol is the drug that is doing the most damage to New Zealanders’ well-being by far. Alcohol law reform is one of the most obvious and most effective single ways of improving New Zealanders’ well-being."

Thursday's Budget included a $1.9 billion mental health package, providing funds for a new frontline mental health service, $40m over four years for suicide prevention services and $200m ring-fenced funding for DHBs' new and existing mental health and addiction services.

Victoria University of Wellington's criminologist Dr Fiona Hutton welcomed "the recognition that addiction and mental health are often linked and that these issues are intensely complex".

"However, the Government could have further supported those who use illicit drugs by funding and expanding its harm reduction remit to make Naloxone (that reverses opioid overdoses) readily available through needle exchanges, prisons and pharmacies."

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the Government's response to the Inquiry report, and the mental health package in the Budget.

Regulating Government AI

New Zealand is a leader in government use of artificial intelligence, but researchers say regulation is needed to ensure the tech is used safety.

The Law Foundation-funded report, published on Monday, considered predictive algorithms and how they are used to make automated decisions.

University of Otago Associate Professor Colin Gavaghan, a co-author on the study, told Nine to Noon that while some decisions might be easy to automate, more complex decisions would still require human evaluation.

"Decisions about who gets to be a citizen, who gets to stay in the country, who gets to stay in prison, who gets to keep their kids - these are some of the most important decisions the government can ever make about you and that's where we think a closer bit of monitoring and scrutiny is called for."

The report authors recommended that New Zealand established an independent regulator to oversee the use of algorithms in government.

AUT's head of the department of computer science Associate Professor David Parry said a suitable regulator would behave like a medicine's agency, "requiring proof that the algorithm is effective from independent studies, proof that it is being used correctly, and surveillance of outcomes along with the right to stop an algorithm being used".

University of Canterbury Associate Professor Amy Fletcher said as society became increasingly reliant upon "Big Data, machine learning and social media platforms, it is crucial that citizens understand both the possibilities and limitations of these tools".

"Effective government use of AI could lead to more transparent, equitable, and efficient delivery of core services. However, without robust regulation and tech literacy across the public sector, we risk the reinforcement of bias, inequality, and systemic racism."

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the report.

Policy news & developments

Hep C treatment: Over 1500 New Zealanders have started a new hepatitis C treatment, Maviret, in the three months since it became available.

West Coast halt: DOC will halt the West Coast Te Tai o Poutini Conservation Management Strategy amendment process after concerns the correct legal process was not being followed.

Tohorā resurgence: The latest Marine Mammal Threat Classification Report has revised the threat status of tohorā/southern right whale from threatened to at risk, indicating a continued improvement of the population.

This week on the NZ Conversation.

Mental health wins record funding in New Zealand’s first ‘well-being budget’
Dougal Sutherland, Victoria University of Wellington

New Zealand’s ‘well-being budget’: how it hopes to improve people’s lives
Christoph Schumacher, Massey University

The paradox of happiness: the more you chase it the more elusive it becomes
Lorenzo Buscicchi and Dan Weijers, University of Waikato

High cost means more than half of NZ’s young adults don’t access dental care
Jonathan Broadbent, University of Otago

Call for independent watchdog to monitor NZ government use of artificial intelligence
John Zerilli and Colin Gavaghan, University of Otago

How the dangerous evolution of Pakistan’s national security state threatens domestic stability
Robert G. Patman and Dr Arshad Ali, University of Otago

See more NZ-authored content on the New Zealand homepage.

What we've been reading

With an abundance of news stories to read, watch and listen to, it can be hard to find the gems. Here we highlight some of the stories that caught our attention this week.

Is modern life poisoning me? I took the tests to find out
Emily Holden tries to establish how many synthetic chemicals she is exposed to in food, cosmetics and daily life as part of a Guardian reader-funded project on the toxicity of modern life.

Fear game?
Why does New Zealand's refugee policy discriminate against people from Africa and the Middle East? Jehan Casinader investigates for Sunday.

Troubled treasure
Mined in a conflict zone and sold for profit, ancient fossils in Burmese amber pose multiple ethical quandaries, reports Joshua Sokol for Science.

'A white-collar sweatshop': Google Assistant contractors allege wage theft
Google Assistant doesn't run on artificial intelligence - a team of underpaid human beings are doing the work that makes the technology possible, reports Julia Carrie Wong on The Guardian.

The streams beneath the streets
Freshwater ecologists tell Alison Ballance from Our Changing World that eels and fish live and travel along piped streams under suburban footpaths and roads in Wellington.

New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
Tracking CFC emissions: a scientific mystery story

Researchers are honing in on the source of suspected production of a particular CFC, the manufacture of which is illegal under the Montreal Protocol.
Lately, In Science
Game of Futures

No one needs telling that the Future is Coming. But there are different perspectives and attitudes toward it.

The Great Eclipse of 1919

Duncan Steel writes about eclipses and what was so special about the one in 1919.
Out of Space

Green electricity: Is it for real?

Just by switching power provider you can eliminate all your electricity-related CO2 emissions.
Planetary Ecology

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details.
  • Māori plant cultivation: 4 June, Dunedin. Dr Lara Shepherd from Te Papa will speak about two projects that use DNA sequence data to gain insight into past Māori plant cultivation. 
  • Issues with population health: 4 June, Auckland. Dr Ashley Bloomfield - NZ's Director-General of Health - will speak about big issues and grand challenges in population health. 
  • Data privacy: 4 June, Auckland. Prof Anne Cheung from Hong Kong will speak about data privacy protection, focusing on the challenges brought by profiling. 
  • Social inequalities of health: 5 June, Wellington. Estelle Carde will speak on how intersectionality can shed light on the social inequalities of health.  
  • Chinese laundries: 5 June, Auckland. Dr Joanna Boileau specialises in researching the history of Chinese in Australasia. Her latest talk is on the history of Chinese laundries in New Zealand from their beginnings in the 1890s.
  • Can You Show Me Where The Bathroom Is? 5 June, Dunedin. Prof Michael Schultz will speak about his research on inflammatory bowel disease and the interaction of a host's immune system with its gut microbiota.
  • Intimate partner violence: 6 June, Auckland. Professor Julia Tolmie will argue that defendants who have committed offences in response to their intimate partner violence victimisation may be automatically precluded from accessing the criminal defences that should be available to them. 
  • Child Well-Being Symposium: 6–7 June, Christchurch. The symposium brings together researchers from education, psychology, public health and speech language therapy, to highlight new research in facilitating young children’s success and well-being.
  • Falling Walls: Applications close 7 June: Early-career researchers can apply to represent New Zealand at the Falling Walls Lab Finale in Berlin.

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