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Te Ururoa Flavell: Standards and Conformance Bill

Standards and Conformance Bill; Second reading

Te Ururoa Flavell; Member for Waiariki

As this Bill has moved up the Order Paper, a release issued from the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, described the commitment of both Governments to the establishment of the Australia New Zealand Therapeutic Products Authority.

And then last week, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne went to Sydney and Canberra to discuss the development of a national medicines strategy for New Zealand. A New Zealand strategy. In Australia.

This new Bill, is third strike lucky, at yet another attempt at a Trans-Tasman relationship. But for the Maori Party- it’s third strike, out.

As with many Bills of this nature, this Bill initially appears to be merely technical.

It amends the Standards Act and the Testing Laboratory Act to improve the efficiency of the Standards Council and Testing Laboratory Registration Council (or TELARC).

It also transfers authority to register certification bodies in New Zealand from TELARC to the Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand.

Well that all sounds very good.

The Maori Party, as the independent Maori voice of this Parliament, is absolutely committed towards standards being protected, maintained, reviewed and improved. And so the proposals to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Councils are welcomed.

But there are many questions that arise.

The Bill guarantees that a standard is set and met, but there is no guarantee of a quality focus. Technically, the conformance to standards doesn’t in itself guarantee a quality standard or improvement.

But the bigger question that has been exercising our mind is the context of the government’s programme of strengthening trade between New Zealand and Australia.

This is a major area of debate that we need to be having as a nation. What will the nature of the relationship be between the two jurisdictions?

What capacity will our Government here in Aotearoa have to retain our own independent processes of review on our domestic standards and protocols?

A number of the submissions to Select Committee, as I understand it, raised the irony of the bill going through before MED's review of New Zealand’s own standards and conformance infrastructure was complete.
Indeed, a number of submitters, including the Construction Industry Council are of the view that given there's nothing in the Bill requiring urgent attention, that it may be prudent to wait until the recommendations from MED's review are known before proceeding.

But there’s another element, of course, to the trans-Tasman relationship which the Maori Party wants to raise in this debate.

That is the aspect of consultation with indigenous peoples, to achieve social responsibility, to agree to specified standards, to guarantee the rights of tangata whenua as enshrined in Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

There is a very real school of thought which would suggest that the ceding of sovereignty to a trans-Tasman body not only limits the capacity of the New Zealand government, it also potentially enables the government to abdicate its obligations to tangata whenua under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

And why would the Australians include any references to Te Tiriti o Waitangi when this Government is supporting the removal of any references to it from legislation here in Aotearoa?

The other issue that is associated with the Trans-Tasman alliance, is its possible impact on current negotiations between Maori and the Crown relating to the use of native flora, fauna and their traditional applications.

Hearings of the WAI 262 'Intellectual Property, Flora and Fauna' Claim are currently scheduled before the Waitangi Tribunal. As this House will be well aware, the WAI 262 inquiry has resumed in the Waitangi Tribunal under the chairmanship of Chief Judge Joe Williams. Judge Williams has set a timetable to complete the hearings by the end of March 2007.

The inquiry will consider big issues for Maori. Issues such as whether the Crown has an obligation to protect Maori knowledge and indigenous flora and fauna.
And significantly for this Bill, it will also consider whether New Zealand’s obligations under any international agreements adversely affect New Zealand’s ability to protect Maori knowledge and indigenous flora and fauna. The Maori Party has reviewed some of the submissions to that body, including that from Nga Ringa Whakahaere.
They are increasingly concerned that the Crown and trans-national entities are presuming to own, regulate or use aspects of Maori cultural and intellectual property, and the native flora and fauna species of tangata whenua.

Mr Speaker, when we come to this Bill then, the Standards and Conformance Bill, we have to ask the question about whether the Government has consulted with its Treaty partner before signing trans-Tasman agreements.

We ask the House today- and we will be interested to hear the Minister’s call - as to whether tangata whenua will be specifically consulted.

Tangata whenua, as the partner to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, must be engaged in decisions about whether to sign trans-Tasman agreements.

Making sense of the Treaty in the context of this Bill’s proposals, would mean that tangata whenua would be consulted in developing and recommending specifications to minimise environmental risks and promote social responsibility - and in developing standards by which we can properly measure genuine progress.

When we took a call on this Bill at the First Reading, we supported it through to select committee in order to address issues of national sovereignty and Treaty obligations to consult.

The parliamentary record reveals that these issues were not addressed or raised in any way.
Summing up then, a transfer of authority lessens our sovereign ability within Aotearoa to determine our own domestic standards and conformance.

There are other wider and more important issues facing standards development in our jurisdiction than is dealt with in the Bill - and consideration of the Bill shouldn't be undertaken in isolation of these issues. Issues such as WAI 262, and the MED review.

Ten days ago, after a closely-fought 34-27 win at Eden Park in Auckland, the All Blacks clinched the Tri-Nations for another year and completed the clean sweep over their trans-Tasman rivals.

The match was full of dramatic tension. If you recall, the Wallabies dominated the lead for most of the match; until our boys got going. And then it was all on.

Richie McCaw was spear-tackled by Tuqiri in the 45th minute in an ugly incident that commentators thought should have led to Tuqiri being sin-binned.
Rocky Elsom looked to have knocked on but the try was awarded by the television match official.

Indeed, from the position of my armchair authority, I could be heard to mutter, where was the one standard for all?

It is an issue which we cannot abdicate in any trans-Tasman relationship.
Will aligning our functions with those across the Ditch, mean a lowering of our current New Zealand standards?

How can we assess and improve the overall quality of the standards, if we are not equal players?

It is in light of these curly issues, that as with Trans-Tasman agreements more generally, the Maori Party will oppose the Bill at Second Reading.

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