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First Days Of The New Administration

First Days Of The New Administration

Hon Heather Roy, ACT Deputy Leader 
December 12 2008

It has been a busy week, with Parliament sitting for the first time since the election and formation of the new National-led Government.

The week began with the Commission Opening of Parliament - where all MPs were sworn in - and the election of Lockwood Smith as Speaker of the House on Monday.  Tuesday saw the State Opening of Parliament, where the Governor-General delivers the 'Speech From The Throne' and outlines the Government's agenda.

Already the country has been given a taste of what to expect from the new government, with National and ACT policies on the Order Paper - positive steps to deliver on the promises made to voters during the election campaign.

To date the House has considered the Taxation Bill, the Employment Bill - aka the 90-day probation bill - and made changes to the bail provisions put in place by Labour.  It will soon debate a Bill to strengthen school enrolment and attendance and introduce literacy and numeracy standards.

ACT is especially pleased with the formation of a special Select Committee on Climate Change, and the options that New Zealand could employ to incentivise against increasing carbon emissions.

National Takes Step Forward On Herceptin
It was extremely heartening this week to hear Prime Minister John Key confirm that a full 12-month course of the drug Herceptin would now be made available to New Zealand breast cancer sufferers.

Used to combat the aggressive HER2 positive form of breast cancer, Herceptin is extremely expensive and many sufferers are unable to pay the cost of the drug themselves.

Prior to the election, 33 countries funded the full 12-month course.  But in New Zealand debate raged for years over whether Government drug-buying agency PHARMAC should fund a nine-week Herceptin course, a 12-month course - or even at all.
The tragedy was that, although it could find $25 million to save endangered snails - which turned out not to be endangered at all - Labour couldn't seem to find $25 million to save endangered women.

National has now taken positive steps to ensure that, over time, up to 300
The Problem Of PHARMAC
The Herceptin problem is part of a much wider issue - that of the monopoly that Government drug-buying agency PHARMAC currently holds over the supply and distribution of drugs and medications to the country.

PHARMAC was established with cross-Party support in 1993 to control pharmaceutical costs, and was granted an exemption from competition laws to purchase pharmaceuticals for the four regional health authorities.  This was considered necessary to allow regional health authorities to purchase medicines at the same price.

PHARMAC was owned by the four regional health authorities - later disbanded to form a single health funding authority.  This single authority continued to own PHARMAC - and, while this move made its existence questionable, the Commerce Act exemption remained.

Today the scope of that exemption gives PHARMAC carte blanche in its commercial dealings, free from any scrutiny or liability under the Commerce Act.  PHARMAC now has a monopoly on the purchase and supply of pharmaceuticals for New Zealand - it decides what medicines are subsidised, negotiates prices with manufacturers, and operates other cost control strategies.

Although there have been cost savings, this lack of competition has led to a lack of choice for consumers - as seen with Herceptin, PHARMAC called the shots and New Zealanders effectively had to 'like it or lump it'.

It was for reasons like this that I drafted the New Zealand Public Health and Disability (Enhancement of Competition) Amendment Bill - a piece of legislation to make PHARMAC subject to the Commerce Act and competition, giving New Zealanders an opportunity to access the medicine that best suits them at the lowest possible cost.

Unfortunately, my Bill was voted down in 2006, by the then Labour Government.  Given that it was only narrowly defeated however - with ACT, National, United and the Maori Party all supporting it - I hope to re-visit this Bill to ensure that New Zealanders are able to access better health choices in the best time at the best cost.

Lest We Forget
On December 11 1907 New Zealand's wooden Parliament House was destroyed by fire, along with all other Parliament buildings but the library.

Prime Minister Joseph Ward launched a competition to find a replacement design in 1911.  A total of 37 designs were entered in the competition, which was won by government architect John Campbell.

As another of Campbell's entries won fourth place, the actual design is a combination of both entries.  The design was divided into two stages: first, a new structure for both chambers; second, an extension and new library to replace the existing one.

Despite cost concerns, Prime Minister William Massey allowed construction of stage one to begin in 1914, but without much of the ornamentation or the roof domes.  The start of WWI, however, created labour and material shortages that made construction difficult.

By 1917, the top floor of the first stage was completed and, although the entire first stage was far from complete, MPs moved into the building in 1918 to avoid having to use the old and cramped Government Building.

Construction ended in 1922, with stage two never being built.  The building was officially inaugurated in 1995 by Queen Elizabeth II.


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