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Heather Roy's Diary – 16 March 2006

Heather Roy's Diary – 16 March 2006

Private Members Bills

Opposition MPs have only one avenue open to them to put legislation forward - Private Members Bills. When a space becomes available on the order paper a ballot is conducted and if one's 'lotto ball' is selected that bill goes forward for debate on the next Members Day. Members Days are every alternate Wednesday when parliament is sitting and my lucky number came up on Wednesday this week. In fact this weeks members' bills are all worth a mention.

New Zealand Public Health and Disability (Enhancement of Competition) Amendment Billin the name of Heather Roy.

This bill would remove the current exemption PHARMAC enjoys from Part II of the Commerce Act.

PHARMAC is the government's medicine purchasing agency. It has a formidable reputation for reducing cost but concerns have been raised about the unavailability of new treatments on the New Zealand market. If a private company used its monopoly purchasing power to rig the market it would quickly fall afoul of the Commerce Commission. But PHARMAC has an exemption.

The exemption gives PHARMAC 'carte blanche' to engage in anti- competitive behaviour when buying pharmaceuticals for New Zealanders. Several sole supply contracts have gone sour and have resulted in shortages of various medications, some of them life threatening, because few supplies of alternatives medications were available.

PHARMAC does deals with pharmaceutical firms to artificially drop the price of some medications in return for listing of other medications. This effectively eliminates other suppliers from the market because most people cannot afford to pay full cost for alternative treatments that may be more effective in treating their condition. This exemption means less choice for patients and for their doctors when prescribing. It has driven good quality research out of New Zealand. A further problem is the lack of exposure for our doctors to many drugs available in other countries.

To view my full speech go to - www.act.org.nz/news- article.aspx?id=27533/.

The National Party, United Future, Maori Party and ACT all supported this bill: 57 votes in favour and 64 against. New Zealand First who have repeatedly called for PHARMAC reviews for years and frequently raise the issue of drug unavailability in parliament - for reasons only known to themselves - voted with Labour to oppose this bill. Sending it to select committee for public scrutiny would have given the opportunity for proper examination of the role of the exemption and whether or not it was necessary in today's environment, which is very different to when it was first introduced in 1993.

PHARMAC, more than anything else fears being held to account by the legal process. I contend that PHARMAC, like every other player in the economy should be subject to the jurisdiction of the courts. PHARMAC should certainly not be above the law.

Electoral (Reduction in Number of Members of Parliament) Amendment Billin the name of New Zealand First MP Barbara Stewart

The effect of this bill would be to reduce the number of MPs from 120 to 100 - a move that would seem to be very popular with most people. In 1999 a Citizen's Initiated Referendum on the size of Parliament was held in conjunction with that year's general election. This followed a petition by Wellington woman Margaret Robertson which was received at Parliament by Richard Prebble. The voters were asked whether the size of the House of Representatives be reduced from 120 members to 99 members - 81.5% of voters voted in favour of a reduction. This bill passed its first reading with support from ACT, National, Maori Party and New Zealand First and will go to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee.

The bill would leave the number of constituency seats the same at 69 but reduce the number of list seats from 51 to 31. Thankfully I would be safe at number 99 in the current line up!

Employment Relations (Probationary Employment) Amendment Billin the name of National MP Wayne Mapp

This bill will introduce a 90-day probation period for all new employees. Trial periods are something ACT has promoted since the change from the Employment Contract's Act to the Employment Relation's Act when Labour came to power in 1999. New Zealand is one of only two OECD countries that doesn't have a probationary period for new employees.

Act's Muriel Newman had a very similar bill in the ballot, which was never selected - the only real difference was that Muriel's bill suggested a 6-month probation period. We believe that employers are much more likely to take a chance with new employees if they don't face long, expensive personal grievance procedures when things clearly are not working out. It will enable young people, those with little previous work experience and those re-entering the workforce to get a job more easily. Act supported this bill wholeheartedly and we look forward to its speedy passage through the select committee and parliament.

Breaking Health News

Found - buried in the Auckland DHB Disability Support Advisory Committee March agenda - the following comment from a submitter to the consultation process: -

"There is a group family meeting held by the DHB on the 3rd floor of the big building down in Great South Road and not one of our phobic people could attend. When my stress level gets that high, I cannot go in it(the lift). That should be noted, very intelligent people who cannot go into these lifts"

If this is meant to be therapy I don't think it will work and these people have probably been done a disservice. Staging a meeting on the third floor for people with a phobia of heights and lifts does seem a bit on the tough side.

ACT Annual Conference

ACTs Annual Conference will be held in Wellington from 24-26 March. The new President and Board will be announced at the AGM on Friday evening, working sessions on Saturday and the Leaders address and guest speakers presenting on Sunday 26 March. For a full programme and registration details see www.act.org.nz/conference2006. Conference Dinner on Saturday night will be held at the legendary Backbencher Pub with guest speaker Sir Roger Douglas. Members and others interested in the future of New Zealand are all welcome.


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