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Insights 42: 10 November 2023
The Australian: Dr Oliver Hartwich on the need for a more streamlined government
Podcast: Israeli Ambassador Ran Yaakoby on the conflict in the Middle East
NZ Herald: Dr Matthew Birchall on the fading dream of homeownership and advice for the new government

Never again is now
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
Over a month has passed since the conflict between Hamas and Israel escalated dramatically. The death toll of the 7 October massacre exceeds 1,400, marking this as the most severe episode of violence affecting Jewish people since the Holocaust. And Hamas still holds more than 240 hostages. 

Understanding the full extent of such atrocities often takes time. We saw this following the attacks of September 11, the bombings in Madrid and London, and the massacre in Christchurch. People usually need weeks, if not months, to process the enormity of such events. 

However, in the aftermath of the massacre in Israel, political reactions were swift and, notably, lacked depth of compassion.  

Only hours after the violence, Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta called for “restraint from all parties in the region,” yet she did not acknowledge the victims directly. Compare this, for example, with her immediate expression of sadness following the earthquake in Nepal last weekend. 

Why is there such an apparent lack of empathy when the victims are Jews?  

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres delivered a clue. Only a few days after the attack, Guterres said that the events “did not happen in a vacuum.”  

Though technically true, this statement can be interpreted to suggest a broader context may partially explain, perhaps even justify, the violence.  

In this way, part of the blame is implicitly assigned to the victims. And as such, this rhetorical figure resembles classic antisemitic narratives which hold the Jews accountable for their own persecution. 

Responses to the events of October 7 have varied, with some focusing on Hamas’ aggressive stance and refusal to cease hostilities, while others have criticised Israel for its military response.  

Considering Hamas’ ongoing threats and actions, the criticism levelled at Israel’s response comes close to a denial of Israel’s right to self-defence – or indeed, its right to exist. 

Disturbingly, the aftermath has also seen a rise in attacks on Jewish people and symbols worldwide, independent of their connection to the state of Israel.  

Jewish-owned businesses, homes, and places of worship have been targeted solely based on religious identity.  

None of these institutions have anything to do with the state of Israel. They were attacked purely because they were Jewish. That is what we usually call antisemitism. 

The resurgence of this ancient scourge, as evidenced by these attacks, is alarming. It compels us to remember the catastrophic consequences of unchecked hatred. 

The world has seen what evil antisemitism caused in the Holocaust. Never again is now. 

In our podcast, Oliver Hartwich interviewed Israel’s Ambassador to New Zealand, Ran Yaakoby, on Hamas’ attacks and the global rise of antisemitism. 

A "Rule of Two" for faster access to safe medicines
Dr Eric Crampton | Chief Economist |
If New Zealand required local crash testing for every new car model, dealerships would be late to stock a small number of mass-market vehicles at higher cost. It would be stupid.  

Fortunately, New Zealand regulators instead decide which foreign standards are up to scratch and require that new cars meet at least one of them.  

Access to the latest pharmaceuticals is at least as important as access to the latest car model. But consider the effects of Medsafe requirements.  

Ozempic is a wonder drug for Type II diabetes. It earned FDA approval in December 2017. Approval from Canada, Europe, and Japan quickly followed. The drug’s success even markedly improved Denmark’s GDP statistics, where Novo Nordisk is based. 

By the time Novo Nordisk sought Medsafe approval in December 2021, Ozempic had already been successfully prescribed for four years overseas. Nevertheless, Medsafe took fifteen additional months to confirm what a host of foreign drug approval agencies had already found.  

New Zealand is too small to insist on these kinds of hurdles. 

Government likes to blame foreign pharmaceutical companies for being late to apply to Medsafe. But why would any pharmaceutical company put Medsafe at the front of its queue? We are a tiny market at the far end of the world, unwilling to pay very much for medicines. Pharmaceutical companies must decide where to allocate their regulatory teams’ efforts.  

The hurdles really do seem useless. What would happen if we simply approved any pharmaceuticals already approved by at least two trustworthy foreign approval agencies – a Rule of Two? Two teams of Canterbury University students investigated that idea for us. 

They found that Medsafe does not actively protect New Zealand against risky drugs: Drugs declined by Medsafe tend not to have been approved by at least two foreign regulators. And Medsafe moves in concert with other agencies to withdraw drugs from the market if they are found risky. But Medsafe takes longer to approve drugs – sometimes more than a decade longer – than it would under our proposed Rule of Two. 

It is possible that Medsafe provides accidental protection by discouraging the submission of drugs for approval – but that blocks safe drugs too. Besides, under our Rule of Two, Medsafe would keep an emergency handbrake for exceptional cases. 

A Rule of Two would mean faster approval for safe medicines while letting Medsafe focus its limited resources where it could add real value.

Dr Eric Crampton's report, Safe to Follow: Faster Access to Medicines for Kiwis, was published on 3 November.

Pay and dismay
Dr James Kierstead | Research Fellow |
Last week it was reported that Queensland public servants have been offered up to five days of paid leave to tend to their ‘social and emotional wellbeing’ in the wake of the results of the Voice referendum. 

This is an obvious step in the right direction. After all, Australia’s public servants have been known to need at least a day off when the votes in The Voice (the TV talent show) didn’t go their way, so how much more difficult must the referendum result have been?  

Over 60% of Australians, and over two thirds of Queenslanders, rejected the proposals for a special race-based advisory body to the Australian parliament and executive. And if there’s one thing that neutral public servants need to be protected from, it’s the views of the public. 

The principle that democracy needs to be kept safe from the masses is now so well established that we’re surprised the Queensland approach hasn’t been implemented elsewhere.  

So, since the third Insights column is our go-to place for serious-minded public policy prescriptions, here is our programme for political dismay pay. 

First, there’s no reason why Wellington wonks shouldn’t have the same protection as Brisbane bureaucrats when it comes to unmannerly irruptions of public opinions during the policy process. We suggest a half-day of leave every time a poll pierces the big blurry bubble of bias that seems to keep forming and reforming around central Wellington.  

For something as traumatic as a referendum – when ordinary people are (scandalously) allowed to have a direct say about something – we suggest an entire month off somewhere away from the crowds. 

But we need to protect politicians too. All that discussing and voting on the public dime seems as stressful as it is unnecessary. Don’t all right-thinking people these days already know the correct views on every issue anyway? We suggest one day off for parliamentarians for every day on, that is, in, Parliament. 

And what about the rest of us? There’s no doubt that thinking and arguing about where our country is going can be stressful. We’re surely not the only ones to think we deserve a beer every time we sit through another leaders’ debate. 

In fact, now that we think about it, maybe this whole democracy malarkey is just too much of a headache. Why don’t we just forget about it? Then we could live our lives stress-free, just like the citizens of North Korea.  

On The Record
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