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Government Agrees To New Public Health Legislation

1 November 2001

Health Minister Annette King today announced plans to introduce new legislation, which will improve the way risks to public health are identified and managed.

The Government has agreed to prepare a new statute to overhaul existing public health legislation that is, in some cases, more than 50 years old, Mrs King said.

"Much of our existing public health legislation is designed to deal with only those threats to public health and ways of managing them that we knew about in the middle of the 20th century. It is outdated, complex and inflexible.

"Approaches to public health have changed greatly in the last 50 years. The proposed bill will provide a framework for managing future health risks that are as unpredictable now as HIV/AIDS, passive smoking and toxic shellfish poisoning would have been to health officials in the late 1940s."

The decision to revise public health legislation follows consultation with the public and key players such as Local Government New Zealand.

Public health legislation covers the management of threats to public health from things like communicable disease and potential environmental hazards such as sewage and unsafe drinking water.

The new legislative framework will be set up under a Public Health Bill and cover the identification, assessment and management of risks to public health.

Overlapping roles between agencies will be clarified, the responsibility for follow-up public health action will be identified and changing ideas about human rights will be reflected in the legislation.

The bill focuses on communicable disease and environmental health, but will also provide a framework for dealing with any risks to public health not managed adequately under other legislation.

The Ministry of Health will be able to scrutinise activities by other government agencies that affect public health.

Mrs King said the legislation was likely to underpin central government's key responsibilities in public health protection for decades to come.

Also underway are plans for an amendment to the Health Act, to strengthen the existing controls on drinking-water. A separate bill will give greater legislative backing to the Drinking-water Standards for New Zealand 2000, which are currently voluntary. The drinking-water amendment bill will proceed in advance of the main bill. When the Health Act is eventually replaced by the new Public Health Bill, the revised drinking-water provisions will be retained.

Ends


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