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Turia: Therapeutic Products and Medicines Bill

Therapeutic Products and Medicines

Tariana Turia, Co-leader, Maori Party; Health Spokesperson

Tuesday 12 December 2006

Tena koe Madam Speaker, tena tatou katoa.

Yesterday the Crown commenced its presentation of evidence on the WAI 262 Flora and Fauna case to the Waitangi Tribunal. That’s the inquiry concerning the indigenous flora, fauna and cultural intellectual property claim lodged by Ngati Kuri, Ngai Wai, Te Rarawa, Ngati Porou, Ngati Kahungunu and Ngati Koata.

Over the next fortnight, all ears will be on that hearing, as the Crown responds to the claim by presenting evidence on the environment, conservation lands, intellectual property laws, health, contemporary policy, and legislation.

And yet here we are, just over the road and at the same time, debating a Bill in which there are issues central to this very claim.

The Maori Party has been well aware that Maori have been so concerned about the proposed agency for Therapeutic Products and Medicines that they called for an urgent application to the Waitangi Tribunal, specifically around the consultation process.

There were concerns expressed that the claimant groups were not consulted with during the three year development period for this Bill. Instead, they had to call an urgent meeting with the Waitangi Tribunal in order to get their comments on the record.

On the 3 October this year, the Tribunal confirmed that the interest claimed by Maori under the Treaty of Waitangi was legitimate, and well within the guarantee of tino rangatiratanga represented in Article two of the Treaty.

It is profoundly disappointing again, that this Government is found seriously lacking in their capacity to truly, deeply, fully engage in the process of consultation.

And so the Maori Party comes to this Bill with mixed feelings.

On the one hand, we want to give credit where credit is due, and acknowledge the impressive approach taken by the Minister and her officials throughout the long gestation period of this Bill. And although it is perhaps not usual to name officials, I do want to commend Selwyn Katene of Ngati Toa, for his excellent advice.

The Minister has engaged with the Maori Party over the last year, providing us with copies of the Draft Rules, listening to our views, and providing us with comprehensive briefings.

Indeed, it has, without exception, been the type of process that we would like to engage in with every Bill – being able to be fully informed of the detail, long before it comes on the Order Paper.

And we have greatly appreciated those efforts that were made. Indeed, I would reiterate the comments made earlier by the Minister of Health, in commending the Minister of Food Safety for her tireless commitment towards progressing this policy. Tena koe Annette.

That level of involvement however, has been eclipsed by the intensity of concerns expressed by tangata whenua about the probability of an Australia-New Zealand Therapeutic Products Authority.

As recently as yesterday, I had over thirty rongoa practitioners affiliated to Nga Ringa Whakahaere o te Iwi Maori travel from all over Aotearoa, to share their concerns about those taonga from our matua tupuna.

Their concern, and concerns we have frequently expressed to the Minister, are that the specific rights that flow from Article two demanded that there needed to be dialogue and agreement between the Treaty partners.

In their findings, the Tribunal concluded the Crown’s efforts so far to establish dialogue were disappointing, indeed, they described them as creating the conclusion that, and I quote, “the consultation process is little more than procedural damage control”; rather than the oft-quote principles established in law for the dialogue to be genuine, open-minded and aimed with a solution in sight.

Madam Speaker, this House needs to start talking seriously about the nature of consultation. Consultation is not about rubber-stamping at the end when all the decisions have been enforced. To be real about consultation, tangata whenua must have access to all relevant documentation. There must be a willingness to meet "face to face" and to know, that their views are respected.

Indeed, as I have heard it said from another political party - there is nothing to fear from tangata whenua – and maybe this is a message the Government may be prepared to accept.

Sitting with the rongoa practitioners yesterday, their concerns are clear.

They are concerned that the Therapeutic Products Authority will be above Te Tiriti o Waitangi; that it will set its own guidelines; it will be above New Zealand parliamentary authority, and that it will not recognise indigenous interests.

They fear it will cut at the very heart of sovereignty.

They are concerned that rangatiratanga will be further compromised by decision-making moving offshore. They are angry that there has been no consultation with hapu and iwi Maori; and consequently that there are no mechanisms to protect the appropriation of Maori and indigenous knowledge within the Bill.

Their concern is that there are no Treaty of Waitangi provisions included within the Agreement, and that the regulation of rongoa Maori, their taonga tuku iho, will be made by a non-Maori body.

Madam Speaker, tangata whenua have spoken passionately about the threat that the Bill poses in undermining the claim of kaitiakitanga made by whanau, hapu and iwi claimants.

I have been very clear with them, as the Minister has been clear with me, that non-commercialised rongoa Maori will be exempt from the proposed scheme.

In saying that, I am firmly of the view that all medicines and rongoa whether commercially prepared or not should be deemed to be safe - accountability and health protection should be our paramount concern. And we must never compromise on public health.

However, I cannot hide the truth, that there are a number of crucial qualifiers around this exemption which create uncertainty.

The Tribunal noted that the current exemption of rongoa under the Medicines Act cannot be guaranteed to continue. They described the exemption as ad hoc, and certainly not discharging the Crown’s Treaty obligations to rongoa producers and practitioners.

The draft Medicines Rules do not guarantee such exclusion to a satisfactory level, and for this reason the Māori Party wanted complementary medicines – including herbal medicines, other nutritional supplements, traditional medicines such as rongoa Māori and traditional Chinese medicines, homoeopathic medicines and aromatherapy oils – removed from the TTTGA. And we wrote to the Minister, recommending this.

And this is really the nub of the issue for the Maori Party.

It is the question of whether we can have faith in the Government, let alone the Australian Government, to adequately protect rongoa Maori, when those same Governments have not been able to support the rights of indigenous people at an international level.

The Crown has advised that Maori will be able to have input into the regulations which will determine the actual operation of the relationship. But the key issue is around trust.

Can we be sure that the New Zealand government will have the authority to continue to enforce the exemption on non-commercialised rongoa, and to uphold this in the future?

Madam Speaker, this Government’s own Maori health strategy, He Korowai Oranga, explicitly acknowledges rongoa (herbal remedies) as a valued component of Maori traditional healing. It is therefore disappointing that the policy intention has not yet benefitted from the resource to enact the commitment into real tangible strategies to support their developments.

I was interested in the comments of the New Zealand Health Trust, who saw the Government being determined to ram the legislation through.

We are concerned with the establishment of a regulatory entity to manage the development of medicinal and intellectual property rights for rongoa Maori.

Madam Speaker, rongoa is the manifestation of our tikanga and our kaupapa. It has been handed down by our tupuna. It has mana and tapu- and that is why it demands respect. A trans-Tasman body will have a limited capacity to appreciate what is meant by mana and tapu – this is not a judgment, but merely a fact.

Rongoa is about a total way of life, upholding tikanga Maori to achieve holistic health.

It is a healthy mind, a healthy body and a healthy spirit. Rongoa springs from an absolute belief in the total well-being.

Madam Speaker, the preservation and protection of rongoa, and traditional medicines, is of such critical importance to Maori, that we can not take the risk of supporting a Bill, when some fundamental questions are still uppermost in our people’s minds.

It is that uncertainty, which leads us to oppose this Bill.

Tena koe.


ENDS

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