Herceptin’s only the tip of the iceberg

Tui Allen
Good luck Tui. I hope it's going well.

Before the 2008 election, TV3’s Campbell Live looked at Tui Allen’s battle with breast cancer . They concentrated on the fact that there was an almost $40,000 annual cost saving for Tui to fly monthly to Palmerston North for the half hour treatment than to have the same procedure carried out at Auckland Hospital.

The cost differential was put down to different cost structures in the two centres. While it’s obvious that some costs will be higher in Central Auckland, it’s difficult to believe that such a huge difference is justified. I wonder how the bureaucracy ratio compares between Auckland and Palmerston North.

Tui is an obviously brave and positive woman. She and her husband have spent their savings on her Herceptin treatments and raised a loan to boot. I hope and pray that she and her family successfully beat this challenge. Tui’s problem could easily be yours and mine. It’s not just relative costs between two centres. It’s not just about Herceptin and the many other things we can’t afford. It’s not even just about health.

Why don’t we have a decent railway permanent way? First World broadband? Cheap power for the oldies? Why are 20% of New Zealanders living overseas? Why is it necessary for Tui to pay anything at all for treatments which are freely available in many of the countries with which—as Michael Cullen continually reminded us—we like to compare ourselves?

It’s necessary because, as a nation, we don’t have enough cash in the till to pay for everything that’s available and desirable to help people like Tui.

It’s necessary because we don’t earn enough. We aren’t cutting the mustard. We have too many people being paid to produce nothing.

New Zealand vs Luxembourg GDP graph. We're not doing well.Consider Luxembourg“

Luxembourg?” I hear you cry. “Who cares about Luxembourg?”

The good people of Luxembourg, a country not much more than twice the size of Greater Auckland, with 500,000 population, earn more than 2½ times what New Zealanders earn.

For every hour of paid work in 2006 New Zealanders produced US$28.30.

For every hour of paid work in 2006 Luxembourgers produced US$72.20.

Luxembourg has next to zero natural resources. One thing they do have is a bunch of people who work effectively. Even more pertinent to our sad situation: a high percentage of those people work in jobs which give a high return on investment.

You work it out.

Next time a politician knocks on your door, ask them why this is so and ask them why they’ve done nothing about it, ask them what they intend to do about it now. Write to a few of them and give them a rev-up. If they bother to reply they’ll lie in their teeth but if enough of us hold their feet to the fire they’ll get the message.

We need to make a noise about this. The answers lie in many areas. Here are just a few:

  • increasing R & D by business and government;
  • creating a climate which encourages innovation and providing training to enable entrepreneurs to develop and market their ideas;
  • reducing the cost of doing business;
  • making it easier to employ people and for employers to get rid of those who wouldn’t work in an iron lung;
  • improving our education performance;
  • providing meaningful work for the employable unemployed:
    • Our forests are full of pests and noxious weeds;
    • huge areas of land in need of afforestation;
    • thousand of miles of coastline and roadsides need cleaning up;
    • The work has not all been done so why are we paying people not to work?
  • Reducing bureaucracy…
  • introducing a capital gains tax;
  • increasing the New Zealand Superannuation age of entitlement;
  • and a thousand other things that we’ll address in coming weeks…


If you think Luxembourgers are doing well. Wait till you hear about Liechtenstein.

It’s enough to make you weep.