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Heather Roy's Diary 23 June 2006

Heather Roy's Diary 23 June 2006

Returning to Parliament from the Territorials has been an interesting experience. In the Army everything revolves around teamwork and at Parliament the opposite is often true, although there was an exception this week with co-operation from across the political spectrum to defeat the government on the microchipping of working dogs. In most respects though, nothing has changed. I have returned to boisterous Question Times and Winston Peters still unreservedly supporting Labour's every move while making multiple Points of Order complaining about the behaviour of the opposition.

He is well placed to know about such things - just a year ago Winston was the badly behaved opposition. The word hypocrite may spring to the minds of some but while I was away the use of this word in the chamber was banned and is now referred to conspiratorily as the 'H' word.

I had many responses to last week's Private Roy's Diary and one, from one of my fellow recruits, reminded me that I had left out some of the finer points of Army activity: digging holes to sleep in which are connected to even deeper holes, fighting pits (one does lots of digging in the Army), erecting barbed wire fences in the dark and an all night long simulated battle followed by filling all the holes back in again. I have also had several enquiries about how to go about enlisting. The army website is the best place to start and can be found at www.army.mil.nz

Microchipping

Dog microchipping legislation has preoccupied parliament since 7 year old Carolina Anderson was mauled by a dog in January 2003. The government bit back with a knee-jerk response - mandatory microchipping of all newly registered dogs. This move will, of course, spare no child the same experience, and those who already fail to register dogs will hardly be rushing out to have their dogs microchipped. This is not a safety measure and will just add extra compliance costs on to kiwis who already do the right thing.

Former Minister and Historian Michael Bassett has been vocal on the issue.

The decision to microchip all dogs tell us much about the current Cabinet. They keep dealing with the symptom of problems, never their causes.

And

Microchipping dogs is a pathetic political distraction to disguise the paralysis that afflicts this government, preventing it from doing anything worthwhile.

The full article is well worth a read, and can be found at http:// www.michaelbassett.co.nz/articleview.php?id=130

This week in parliament we debated the issue yet again as part of another Local Government Bill. The government has been intent on compulsory microchipping of all dogs and a number of amendments were put forward by various members. National's David Carter put forward an exemption for working dogs and United Future had a similar amendment. This passed by 61 votes to 60 with National, ACT, Maori Party, United Future and four of the six Green MPs voting in favour of the exemption.

Ideally, no microchipping should be compulsory, but the exemption is a step in the right direction and the passing of the amendment was a significant defeat for the government. National deserved the victory for bringing parties from across the House together, and this should serve as a reminder that under MMP the two large parties cannot take their 'small party' colleagues for granted. Nothing is absolutely certain under a minority government.

Gap between Public and Private Healthcare to widen further

As of 1 November 2006, anyone referred for laboratory tests by a private specialist in Wellington or the Hutt Valley will be charged a $13 'encounter fee' as well as the costs of the lab tests. Charges won't apply to tests ordered by GPs and DHB specialists.

No matter who refers a patient, the tests are identical, so what will happen when a fee paying service competes with the free service?

Some private specialists have already told me they intend to send patients back to their GP for the ordering of tests that will not then incur a fee. While private patients will have to choose between paying lab fees and paying for another GP appointment, for many people - especially those on low incomes or with high health needs - it will mean the difference between prompt private assessment and a long wait to see a public specialist.

Don't feel left out (or safe) if you're not in Wellington - since the Minister of Health gave the arrangement his endorsement on Wednesday, other DHBs are likely to make similar arrangements soon.

Junior Doctors Strike

There is no doubt that the junior doctors' strike has caused disruption, but the issues at stake have been little discussed. This is because the doctors' union - the Resident Doctors Association (RDA) - and the employers are still locked in negotiation and both sides have been close-lipped about where the negotiations are stalemated. Some young doctors have been challenged by seniors to explain what the strike is about and have been unable to answer. My own advice to them is to refrain from striking unless they can give a coherent account as to why they are striking. A feeling of frustration by senior doctors is entirely understandable.

I have to say that the RDA have got a genuine case even if it is being poorly communicated. The employers, representing all New Zealand District Health Boards, are proposing to set up a committee that will look at innovative work practices.

This committee will have decision making power and won't be bound by contract because the employers propose to replace the national contract with a "Memorandum of Understanding". The RDA fear that innovative work practices will see a return to the situation where there was no limit on the hours they worked. They are quite right to resist such a move.

At the moment Health Boards face a $500 financial penalty if doctors work more than 72 hours per week and a further penalty if they exceed 140 hours in a fortnight. Given the evidence that sleep deprivation worsens decision making this is an issue in which we should all, as potential patients, take an interest.

ENDS

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