I think this is a good example of what is wrong with our whole treaty-making process. I had a member’s bill in this Parliament a couple of years ago that was unfortunately defeated. I think the reasoning behind that bill has been shown to be correct in the debate we have had tonight.
One of the problems with treaty making being done only by the executive is that the executive, particularly under our system of MMP Government – and this has happened since the beginning of MMP – represents the minority in Parliament. That is what we see here: the majority of Parliament is against this treaty and against any subsequent implementing legislation. Yet the minority of this Parliament, which constitutes the executive, is signing a treaty against the wishes of Parliament and against the wishes of the people of this country. That is not democratic.
That is why my International Treaties Bill should have been approved by Parliament, and is why the parties that did not support it, such as National, should now rethink. Surely we should move one step forward towards true parliamentary democracy in this country, and give treaty approval powers to Parliament.
I think the Health Committee has done very good work on this report. The whole point is that a regulatory situation has been proposed by the select committee. It is not as if anyone is saying we should let anything in wholesale. The select committee has proposed an appropriate regulatory system, but not one that is based in Australia and is under the control of another country. That is the difference.
I think one of the most telling points was made in Steve Chadwick’s speech. She said that she could not imagine how a future Minister of Health could betray the sovereignty of New Zealand. I do not have the same illusions about future Governments of New Zealand, future Prime Ministers, and future Ministers of Health. We have had a variety of Governments in this country, and we have had people betraying our sovereignty to one degree or another – even the Labour Party has said that in the past in relation to wars that New Zealand has gone into, such as in Vietnam. Mr Simon Power of the National Party quite recently said, in effect, that where America goes, we go. A Labour member said that he or she trusts further New Zealand Governments to be in control in the ministerial council. Surely that is in contradiction to what Labour members say when they criticise National and other parties for going along with some other country’s policies without criticism.
I think it is very important that we have an appropriate regulatory structure, particularly in the areas of complementary medicine, diet pills, herbs, and all the rest of it. Research has shown that most of those remedies – certainly the overwhelming majority, though whether they have an effect we can debate in each individual case – do not have any serious downsides, compared with pharmaceuticals, in particular, many of which have side effects that we are still investigating.
The arguments of the people involved in dietary supplements and those sorts of products are saying: “Give us evidence that our products cause a lot of harm and need this strict regulatory control, and all the compliance costs, and all that to be done in Australia, and all the other disadvantages that the other speakers have referred to”. It is just not good enough.
It is fortuitous, but very good that we have had this debate, because it shows the contradiction between the MMP system we have developed in this Parliament and the old style, executive, signing the treaties system that is inappropriate to a pre-MMP era, and must be changed.
[The Health Select Committe Report being debated is available at:
International treaty examination of the Agreement between the
Government of New Zealand and the Government of Australia for the establishment of a joint scheme for the regulation of therapeutic products
(PDF 325 KB 41 pages).