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JORDAN WILLIAMS: We can't afford cancer drugs, but can afford this?

While cancer patients wait for the Government to "find the money" to fund desperately needed modern drugs, the very money meant for health research and saving lives is being flushed down the toilet.

At our weekly staff meeting this morning, the research team took me through the latest batch of grant funding decisions by the Health Research Council.

My heart sank.

But first, let's remind ourselves what the Health Research Council is.

According to their website, their purpose is to "support high-quality, high-impact research by investing in People, Ideas and Priorities." They describe themselves as "the home of health research in New Zealand" and "here to improve the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders through our process of identifying and supporting high-quality, high-value research that delivers far-reaching impact within the health and science landscape."

Here are a few examples of just the first round of 2024 funding:

Hapai te hauora: Breathing your ancestors into life

"Hāpai te hauora’ as ‘breathing your ancestors into life’, captures the breadth & connections of a generation – rangatahi Māori–a generation moving forward together. This proposal builds on an HRC funded project (18/651) exploring the ways rangatahi Māori make sense of & live hāpai te hauora through navigating journeys of hauora & wellbeing."

Approved funding: $649,992

Sounds like high quality science!

Timely access to rongoa Māori in cancer care services for Māori

"Prior to Europeans arriving in Aotearoa, traditional Māori way of healing was the only hauora practice Māori knew. Today, traditonal Māori healing is known as Rongoā Māori. Rongoā Māori is diverse and can include karakia [prayer], wai [water], waiata [music], himene [hymns], access to the ngahere [forest] and whenua [land].

For Māori health consumers, patients and whānau accessing cancer care service; seldom they are made aware of or referred early to rongoā Māori practitioners at the beginning of their cancer care journey.

Using tikanga Māori methodology and codesign with Māori health and iwi providers, our method will include interviews, and hui with rongoā Māori practitioners, Māori and Iwi providers, Māori health consumers, patients, their whānau, and health professionals in primary and secondary care in the MidCentral region to explore ways for timely access to rongoā Māori in cancer care services for Māori."

Approved funding: $398,771

Rather than fund the actual cancer medicines, the Government is funding "timely access" to cancer treatments witch-doctor cancer treatments. Ka pai!

If that doesn't work, there is always music therapy:

He Whiringa Māramatanga: Kaupapa Māori Music and healing

"‘He Whiringa Māramatanga’ examines Kaupapa Māori music theories and practices as a pathway to accelerating Māori well-being. Music theory is primarily located within Western music notation, harmony, and tonality. However, Māori Music, particularly through oral forms such as waiata, karakia, ruruku, haka, pūrākau and whakapapa, illustrate that Māori have unique key elements of musical theories to create oral legacies and that traditional Western definitions of ‘music’ may be confining for true Māori creative expression."

Approved funding: $377,550

Or maybe barbershop is more your [cancer's] thing?

Health Promotion Interventions for Pacific men in a Barbershop

"A rapid review and qualitative interviews with Pacific men, Pacific heath promoters and Pacific barbers will inform the development of a Pacific health promoting behaviour change framework and intervention programme in a barbershop setting owned by a Pacific health provider. This first of its kind research in New Zealand brings together an underserved population, a non-traditional setting for health promotion and culturally unique health promotion interventions delivered by an unconventional health and wellbeing workforce (barbers)."

Approved funding: $150,000

Or how about, rather than fixing hospitals, or building nicer family waiting rooms, we splurge $150k on a study to understand the space?! Thanks to the Health Research Council, a very well paid 'space cadet' is coming to the rescue:

Building room for equity: Culture centred design of hospital waiting rooms

"Hospitals in Aotearoa New Zealand have a legacy founded in colonialism and are designed to Eurocentric principles of health and well-being – as such they are inequitable by design and represent culturally unsafe spaces for many people who need to access them. Hospital waiting rooms represent one such space. Our project is premised on understanding how physical spaces in hospitals shape people’s experiences of care."

Approved funding: $150,000

For our religious taxpayers, there's one for you too!

Research into Hine te Iwaiwa (who was the wife of Tinirau and is known as the spiritual guardian of childbirth who assists at the entrance into, and the exits from this world) is, as we understand it, worth a lot of money as cutting-edge science.

Guided by Hine te Iwaiwa: Exploring Maramataka [traditional Māori lunar calendar] influence on pregnancy Outcomes

"This research aims to explore the effects of incorporating the maramataka, a traditional Māori lunar calendar system guided by the goddess Hine te Iwaiwa, into the context of pregnancy care for wāhine Māori and Maori Midwives."

Approved funding: $400,000

And then there's the help for our Pacific friends.

Remember, these grants are not for front-line services to help Pacific communities, but rather to "support high-quality, high-impact research"...

Development of a Fijian Model of Health

"The research seeks to develop a Fijian Health Model to address Fijian peoples health in Aotearoa New Zealand."

Approved funding: $649,561

Here's a thought: why not get New Zealand's own health model right (to serve everyone living here) before we start ethnic segmentation of our health system?

Then there's this grant, for nothing other than to support an academic's professional development!

He Kaakaakura Whakamaatau [Translation: An Experimental Green]

"This programme of senior leadership research and training for Dr Belinda Borell will build on her expertise in kaupapa Māori research and enable her to pursue a development and capacity building plan to grow both her expertise and that of emerging researchers. Focusing on historical trauma, mixed methods will explore poverty and abuse in care."

Approved funding: $649,997

We had a quick look into Dr Borell. If you thought her work was, well, scientific, I've got some bad news.

This is her Massey University profile:

Belinda (Ngati Ranginui, Ngai Te Rangi, Whakatōhea) has recently completed her PhD, The Nature of the Gaze: a conceptual discussion of societal privilege from an indigenous perspective. The thesis explores how Kaupapa Māori paradigms can make important contributions to research topics that may not be of direct or immediate relevance to Māori communities. Insights gained from a Kaupapa Māori investigation of white privilege in Aotearoa New Zealand are discussed. The thesis argues that cultural hegemony is maintained through structured forgetting, silence, and suppression of dissent which has dire consequences for dominant cultural groups as well as marginal. Structural racism and privilege are amenable to analyses utilising similar frameworks albeit from opposite sides that can provide valuable insights to understanding inequity more broadly. I also examine ways in which Kaupapa Māori analyses of white privilege can illuminate pathways of redress that will benefit all New Zealanders and provide more embracing perspectives of nationhood.

Dr Borell was also recently awarded the Hohua Tutengaehe Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Health Research Council of New Zealand to further her research into societal privilege.

Congratulations to Belinda for the $649,997 for her 'professional development'. Who knew naval gazing paid so well!?

These are just a selection of the nutty grants that the Taxpayers' Union will be highlighting over the coming weeks.

But make no mistake, while we can laugh about the decisions being made in Wellington, for the parents of those kids sitting on oncology wards, there is no humour in this.

More than $30 million of the Health Research Council's annual budget of $125 million seems to have very little to do with health. That money alone is nearly half what is needed to fund the 13 cancer drugs that weren't in last month's budget.

The cancer drugs are not unaffordable, it's a matter of priority.

While Nicola Willis can shift some of the blame for the underfunding of Pharmac onto the last Labour Government, it simply isn't good enough to suggest there isn't enough to plug the gap, when we are still spraying money up the wall on nonsense like this.

She needs political pressure to make the tough decisions and push back against the woke bureaucracy and academic establishment making these decisions.

The money isn't going to where they say it is.

Jordan Williams is a constitutional and commercial lawyer who is Executive Director & Co-founder of the Taxpayers' Union. You can support the Taxpayers' Union to uncover, publicise and advocate against waste here

4,690 views221 comments

221 commentaires

Why fund anything for Maori when they claim they own all resources? It will never stop and pushover Luxon will just keep on being an indigenous open wallet. Its time to stand up as Maori are on auto claim treadmill.

In the meantime - Māori and ethnic diversity of public sector boards has also continued to increase since data collection for ethnicities on boards began in 2019.


Remember, these grants are not for front-line services to help Pacific, Māori or other communities, but rather to "support high-quality, high-impact research". Nor can research funding money be diverted toward cancer drugs, in the same way that money for medicines cannot be used for research grants.

The claim that more than $30 million of the Health Research Council's annual budget of $125 million seems to have very little to do with health is ludicrous. Perhaps you consider enabling a researcher “to pursue a development and capacity building plan to grow both her expertise and that of emerging researchers. Focusing on historical trauma, mixed methods will explore poverty and abuse in care” is not related to health. Perhaps you should first…

Peter Y
Peter Y
23 juin
En réponse à

Yes, they should be "for high-quality, high-impact research."

As I responded to you earlier, if you can't see a problem with this, then you are part of the problem. From your comments, it sounds like you've been supping on the kool-aid of woke for too long and have been suckered by the hyperbolic narratives rather than the reality?

You also give the impression you work for the HRC, Pharmac, or some related body that supports this taxpayer funded largesse?


Rex Ahdar
Rex Ahdar
21 juin

Excellent, revealing article. It would be amusing if it was (a) not involving such large sums of taxpayers' money, and (b) not at the opportunity cost of directing the money to treat cancer sufferers.

Rex Ahdar
Rex Ahdar
22 juin
En réponse à

The particular "allocations" by the bureaucrats and ministers cannot obscure the larger point. It is all taxpayer funding. Yes, the restrictions imposed within the walled-off categories technically do prevent the flow of money from box A to box B. The taxpayers puts the dollars into box A and box B.


Have you ever heard of the 80/20 rule? Only 20% of people ever learn to resist their unconscious, primitive emotions and think rationally. Learning to reason instead of being misled by their silly feelings enables the 20% to do much better than the dopey 80%. Less than 20% of the people understand or participate in the GAME OF TRONES we call politics. They know that only the influential members and financial supporters of the main political parties get what they want at the expense of the rest of the people. These cunning "deciders" understand POLITICS 101. That is the strategy of DIVIDE, CONQUER AND RULE. There are 2 main teams in this game. Red and Blue. They both use IDENTITY POLITICS to divide, conquer and rule. The majority of…

En réponse à

Huh, do you think prayer, water, music, access to nature and herbal remedies can provide no benefit to recovery from serious illness?


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