It was good to conclude Parliament last week with two important wins for Nelson on Nikau House and roadside drug testing.
The proposal to close Nikau House was bizarre. This 30-year-old community based mental health service is a life saver that provides support for hundreds of our most vulnerable Nelsonians. The closure was at odds with the recent Mental Health Inquiry and the widely acknowledged need for more, not less community services.
I was shocked to hear of the proposed closure at the Nelson Market on June 6 and provided leaked documents. I choose to make it public when the Nelson Marlborough DHB advised they would not be consulting the community.
I must acknowledge Daniel Timms who lead the opposition and petition on closure. It takes real courage to be open about struggling with mental health and suicide attempts. I also must thank Katrina Marwick, Josh Wilkinson and Francis Riley who biked to Wellington for the cause to present Daniel’s petition signed by 4,500 Nelsonians.
I am also grateful for the support of National Mental Health Spokesperson Matt Doocey MP who publicly committed to National requiring our DHB to keep Nikau open. He questioned the Health Minister Chris Hipkins on the closure but could not get any support.
The focus of this campaign has been on saving Nikau House, but the real service is its staff. They are all to be retained in the re named Nikau Hauora Hub with improved access for Maori and youth.
The controversy over Nikau has highlighted the cuts in other mental health services. The number of clinical psychologists has been reduced from 24 in 2017 to 19 and consultant psychiatrists from 11 in 2017 to 8. This completely contradicts the Government’s promise of hundreds of millions more for mental health. My next challenge is to restore and grow these specialist services.
A second important win last week was Parliament unanimously supporting legislation to introduce roadside drug testing. This has been a long battle dating back to the horrific New Year’s Eve accident in Appleby that killed Mathew Dow. The Government previously rejected roadside drug testing saying it was too intrusive and expensive. Labour, NZ First and the Greens all voted against it in November 2018 and blocked my three further attempts to make progress since.
Two things changed the Government’s mind. The powerful petition in Mathew’s name signed by over 5,000 Nelsonians and the appalling increase in the road carnage. Deaths from drug driving have dramatically increased from 18 in 2014 to 107 in 2019.
I am determined to get drugged drivers off our roads. I owe it to Mathew Dow, his family and the hundreds of other innocent victims. I was part of the Government that controversially introduced random roadside alcohol breath testing in the 1990s. It worked, halving drunk driving fatalities within three years. Saliva testing for drugs has been shown to be equally effective in Australia and the UK. If re-elected, I will push to get this Bill through Parliament as quickly as possible.