by Karl du Fresne
A striking example of textbook Labour kneejerk-ism is Health Minister Andrew Little’s action plan (I use that term sardonically) for mental health.
It bears all the familiar hallmarks of Labour box-ticking: a Maori name, Kia Manawanui (apparently it means “have patience”, which seems apposite given how long the mentally ill may have to wait for anything to happen); a blizzard of empty buzzwords (two examples: “joined-up investment” and “a digital eco-system of support”); a 10-year plan (Stalin and Mao were fond of visionary plans too); and the creation of yet another new bureaucracy, in this instance an “external oversight group” headed by a dependable Labour favourite in the person of Professor Judy McGregor.
All this is intended to create the illusion of decisive, meaningful action, but it’s merely the announcement of a plan that has yet to be formulated. It contains nothing substantive or concrete – not even any goals or targets (they’ll come later, presumably). It will provide work for lots of highly paid consultants and hangers-on but do nothing in the short term to help people suffering from mental illness. In short, it’s a disgrace and a travesty.
It’s not as if the government hasn’t had plenty of time already to assess the problem. It commissioned a mental health inquiry (another thing Labour’s good at) that produced a doorstop of a report in 2018, and it has budgeted for $1.9 billion to sort things out – money that it doesn’t seem to know how to spend. Responsible governments decide what needs to be done then work out what it’s likely to cost. But this one appears to work backwards, plucking a sum out of the air then wondering what to do with it.
In the meantime, Little continues to huff and puff over National’s supposed neglect of mental health (which may have been a fair criticism in 2018, but voters allow governments only one term to blame the previous lot; after that the excuse just doesn’t cut it) and wrings his hands in frustration at his inability to get anything done. Pardon me, but isn’t he supposed to be in charge?
And now, after all that, it seems we’re being told that what’s needed is more talk, more planning and … oh yes, a layer of “oversight”. If words and reports were all it took to solve the problem, New Zealand would be the most mentally robust nation on the planet.
Someone who has monitored the deepening crisis in mental crisis over many years is Andy Espersen of Nelson, a regular commenter on this blog who spent his entire working life in psychiatric hospitals. Following the announcement of Labour’s mental health “plan” he wrote the following letter to Little: