Therapeutic laws look headed for defeat


Legislation setting up a joint regulatory authority for therapeutic products looks set to fail after all parties outside the minority government said they would vote against it.

MPs from across the political spectrum met this morning to voice opposition to New Zealand signing a treaty with Australia to set up a regime to control therapeutic products.

The health select committee yesterday recommended that New Zealand draw up its own regulations and that Australia should recognise them, but Health Minister Annette King had already announced last week she was going ahead with the deal.

Therapeutic products are dietary supplements and alternative medicines such as herbal remedies.

MPs from National, ACT, Greens, New Zealand First and United Future held a very rare joint press conference in Parliament to express their frustration.

Today Ms King signs the treaty in Wellington along with Australian Parliamentary Secretary to the Health Minister, Trish Worth.

The MPs said "at this stage" their parties would not vote for the legislation that would result.

To change their minds the Government would have to implement the committee's recommendations instead of ignoring them.

The Government (Labour and the Progressive Coalition) only has 54 votes in Parliament and needs the support of one of the dissenting parties to pass necessary law.

All of the parties' spokespeople – National MP Lynda Scott, New Zealand First MP Pita Paraone, Green MP Sue Kedgley, ACT MP Heather Roy and United Future MP Bernie Ogilvy – complained bitterly of the Government's arrogance in ignoring their committee's report.

They said the joint regulation of the products was expensive and unnecessary.

The Government had also acted in a high-handed manner in ignoring the majority of Parliament and all the submissioners to the inquiry.

Ms King said the committee began its inquiry into therapeutic products 15 months ago with a predetermined outcome, and the Government had not sought the investigation.

The committee said in its report the Government should strengthen domestic regulation rather than set up a joint agency.

Associate Health Minister Damien O'Connor said the committee had been told many times to get on with the job and complete the inquiry.

"However, there were certain members on the committee who insisted on demanding more and more information which delayed the investigation," he said.

"The Government's priority is ensuring that all products on the market are safe."

The industry is reported to be worth about $200 million a year and retailers are worried about having Australia's strict regulations imposed on the products.

It is estimated that 70 per cent of New Zealanders have at least tried one of the products.

Ms King, and Mr O'Connor, insisted Australians would not control the joint agency and said the committee's work would not be wasted because its findings would be "fully considered" – after the agreement is signed.

The dissenting MPs, who walked out of a meeting of the health select committee to attend the conference, were united in their anger.

Dr Scott said MPs and the industry wanted regulation of therapeutic products but there was "disquiet" at the proposed model and the process to set it up.

Ms Kedgley said the committee and submissioners were offended at being "shafted" by the Government.

They all deserved an apology from Ms King and the committee's chairwoman, Steve Chadwick.

Ms Chadwick had voted in favour of the committee's report.

Mrs Roy said that report had found the Government's proposals would put up prices 15 per cent and local therapeutic makers with turnover of less than $15 million a year would "struggle" to survive.

Mr Paraone said the Government and the Labour MPs on the committee had never told them there was a time limit or said "it was a done deal".

Mr Ogilvy questioned whether the Government had thought about its actions as it was unlikely it could pass any legislation.

Ms Worth said she would be talking to National MPs tonight at a reception about their stance.

National had introduced the idea of joint regulation and appeared to be taking part in a "pre-Christmas" carry on.

Ms King said there was a "lot of water to go under the bridge" before the agency was set up in July 2005.

She said the parties were playing a "little bit of politics".

Once they saw the treaty and the legislation that followed dissenting MPs would find "most if not all" of the committee recommendations on a joint approach would be taken.

It had been silly to oppose a joint regulatory body because successive Governments since 1996 had been pursuing that and the committee knew that.