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Will the real Health Minister please stand up?

Wyatt Creech

Opposition Health Spokesperson

3 May 2000

Will the real Health Minister please stand up?

Who is the real Minister of Health? Annette King or the Prime Minister's senior advisor Heather Simpson?

Opposition Health spokesperson Wyatt Creech said today papers obtained under the Official Information Act raise real questions about who is driving the Government's primary health policy.

"It's clear from the paper trail that Annette King wanted to release the Primary Healthcare Strategy on February 18 at the IPA Conference.

"But the release was pulled so the Prime Minister's office - specifically advisor Heather Simpson - could do further work on it.

"Annette King denied all this in Parliament in March - but the paper trail has caught her out. She has come close to misleading the House.

"The health sector expected the Primary Healthcare Strategy to be released in February. When questioned in Parliament in March about the delay Annette King denied it was due out in February, and denied that the Prime Minister's Office had a role in the delay. She instead told the House there was no official release date.

"The papers tell a very different story - and show clearly that Annette King went to Cabinet wanting to release the strategy on February 18. In fact she tried twice to get Cabinet to sign up to the release on February 18.

"The release date was delayed while Minister Simpson did more work on it.

"The papers reveal health officials working to the direction and demands of Heather Simpson as to wording, policy and contents in the primary care strategy.

"It's of deep concern that an advisor to the Prime Minister has veto power over the Health Minister's policy. So much for democracy and elected representation.

"Annette King is struggling with the reform programme she has initiated. She is stumbling and should slow the down and rethink the reforms."

Ends

PRIMARY HEALTH CARE STRATEGY - CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS

* December 1999 - Minister received Primary Care Summary from Health Ministryh

* 21 January 2000 - Ministry of Health report states that the Minister has asked the Ministry to prepare the discussion document for release in January - paper recommends that the Minister approve the document for release on 18 Feb at the National IPA Network meeting on 18 Feb.

* 31 January 2000 - Cabinet minute (para e) notes that the discussion document will be released in February 2000 following approval by relevant Cabinet Committee.

* 3 February 2000 - Annette King signs out paper to Cabinet Business Committee recommending that the committee approve the release of discussion document on 18 February 2000.

* 8 February 2000 - Cabinet Social Policy and Health Committee minute SPH (00) M1/1 invited the Minister of Health to revise the "Primary Health Care Towards 2010" discussion document in the light of the discussion at the meeting to more clearly reflect the new Government's policies.

* 14 February 2000 - Cabinet minute CAB (00) M4/2 noted the contents of the revised discussion document (amended following discussion at the SPH meeting of 8 February 2000). Cabinet authorises the PM and the Minister of Health to approve the final wording of the discussion document. Notes that the Minister intends to release the discussion document on 18 February 2000.

* 23 February 2000 - email from Judy Glackin (Ministry of Health) to Lloyd Falck and Stuart Bruce (Minister's office) and other Ministry of Health staff indicates that the Ministry is still revising the draft discussion document.

* 23 February 2000 - Internal memo from Dr John Marwick (Ministry of Health) to Lloyd Flack attached to version 8.2 of the draft discussion document. Memo seeks an early indication from Lloyd Falck of whether the document is "now covering the ground better and whether you (and perhaps Heather) think that it is doing what was intended.

* 1 March 2000 - King responds to an oral question from Wyatt Creech that there was never an official release date and says that she was unable to attend the IPA conference due to a death in the family. Denies that the PM's office has anything to do with the delay in the release of the discussion document.

* 14 March 2000 - Handwritten memo from "John" (presume that this is Dr John Marwick) to "Stuart" (presume that this is Stuart Bruce) - attached to version 8.3. States that "I have attempted in this version (8.3!) to incorporate changes that Heather was looking for... I also didn't use Heather's exact words...I hope that, if you think that this will be ok with Heather we should finalise it this week for Minister's decisions early next week and release the week after".

* 27 March 2000 - Discussion document released.


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