Proposed RMA reforms

The National Government have wanted to make significant changes to the Resource Management Act, in part to streamline and speed up RMA applications for developments.

In particular they want to make it easier to make land for subdivisions more readily available in Auckland and other parts of New Zealand where there are housing shortages and rampant proprty inflation.

At the beginning of their third term National had two problems, United Future leader Peter Dunne and National MP Mike Sabin.

Because of their slim majority in Parliament National needed Dunne’s vote and Dunne didn’t want to budge on core environmental protections in the RMA. Then Sabin suddenly resigned, just after the election. And then National lost Sabin’s Northland electorate in a by election, cutting their majority by one.

So now National had two problems – Peter Dunne still, and also the Maori Party because National need both  their votes plus Dunne’s to pass RMA reform. And the Maori Party have also insisted on retaining the core environmental protections that are a feature of the RMA.

I think it is important, like Dunne and the Maori Party, to retain strong environmental protections in the RMA, and reform the Act’s processes to speed things up, and to standardise more across the country.

National have had to put their pragmatism hats on and have negotiated with the Maori Party to get a promise of their vote to get the RMA amendment bill at least to the committee stages.

The Goverment’s announcement Resource legislation introduced to Parliament:

The Government introduced to Parliament today its substantive Bill overhauling the Resource Management Act (RMA) to support business growth and housing development while also ensuring more effective environmental management, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith has announced.

“This Bill is about reducing the bureaucracy that gets in the way of creating jobs, building houses, and good environmental management. It provides for greater national consistency, more responsive planning, simplified consenting and better alignment with other laws,” Dr Smith says.

The 180-page Resource Legislation Amendment Bill comprises 40 changes contained in 235 clauses and eight schedules. It makes changes to the Resource Management Act 1991, the Reserves Act 1977, the Public Works Act 1981, the Conservation Act 1987, the Environmental Protection Authority Act 2011, and the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012.

“The Bill addresses the significant problems with the cumbersome planning processes of the Resource Management Act highlighted in recent reports by the OECD, Local Government New Zealand, the Rules Reduction Taskforce and the Productivity Commission. Standard planning templates will be introduced so we don’t have every council reinventing the wheel and having dozens of different ways of measuring the height of a building. Plan-making, which currently take six years, will be sped up and made more flexible. A new collaborative planning process will encourage different interests to work with councils on finding solutions to local resource problems,” Dr Smith says.

“The Bill simplifies the consenting process. It narrows the parties that must be consulted to those directly affected – meaning a homeowner extending a deck only has to consult the affected neighbour. Councils will have discretion to not require resource consent for minor issues. A new 10-day fast-track consent will be available for simple issues. Councils will be required to have fixed fees for standard consents so that homeowners have certainty over costs. Consents will no longer be required for activities that are already properly regulated by other Acts. These measures will reduce the number of consents required each year by thousands.

“This Bill will deliver improved environmental management. It will enable national regulations that require stock like dairy cows to be fenced out of rivers and lakes, with instant fines for breaches. It strengthens the requirements for managing natural hazards like earthquakes and sea level rise from climate change. It requires decommissioning plans for offshore oil and gas rigs. It will improve the transparency of New Zealand’s clean, green brand by ensuring consistency in council environmental reporting on issues like air and water quality.

“The Bill contains dozens of provisions that will improve the process of resource management decisions. There will be millions of dollars in savings from simpler, plain language public notices that enable the detailed information on plans and consents to be accessed on the web. The Bill recognises email communications and online filing. It also encourages early dispute resolution on cases appealed to the Environment Court.”

The introduction of this Bill has the support of the Māori Party after intensive discussions over several months. Some reform proposals, including changes to sections six and seven, are not in the Bill. The proposals consulted on publicly in 2013 on improved Māori participation in resource management have been included in response to the Māori Party’s strong advocacy. Discussions between the National and Māori Parties will continue in response to public submissions and debate as the Bill progresses through Parliament. National will also be seeking the support of other parties in Parliament, noting that all but the Greens have publicly stated that they recognise the need for reform.

“This is a moderate reform Bill that will reduce the cost and delays for homeowners and businesses, as well as improve New Zealand’s planning and environmental controls. I thank the Māori Party for their support that will enable this large and complex Bill to pass its first reading and be referred to select committee. We look forward to hearing public submissions on the detail so we can deliver on our shared objective of reducing unnecessary bureaucracy, while ensuring we have good systems to protect the environment,” Dr Smith concluded.

Related Documents

Radio NZ – Govt gets Maori Party backing for RMA amendment bill

A compromise on new resource management legislation is necessary for the government to progress a significant overhaul of the current law, the Environment Minister says.

The Maori Party has agreed to back proposed changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA) through to the select committee stage, finally giving the government the numbers to progress long-awaited legislative changes.

Afterwards, the party said it would continue to work with the government in good faith.

The Maori Party said iwi were not looking to introduce more barriers to development or planning, but wanted to be involved from the outset to avoid problems later down the track.

The party’s co-leader Marama Fox gave the example of the Whaitua project in the Wairarapa.

“The Ruamahanga River has suffered… so iwi were consulted after the fact, and then that consultation was ignored about the use of the water and the local council’s decisions about the use of that water. They now have come at great length to an agreement to clean up that river with regional council.

“But if they’d been included in the planning at the beginning we could have avoided the level of deterioration in that river right now, and the involvement of the iwi at the beginning could have ensured a better planning process going forward.”

Yesterday Peter Dunne reiterated his position:


Labour response: RMA changes must protect the environment

RMA changes must protect the environment

A Government bill to reform the RMA must not be used as a chance to tinker with its key role of protecting the environment, says Labour’s Environmental spokesperson Megan Woods.

“We will have to look at the proposed changes carefully as there are 200 pages in this Bill. We will be watching to make sure there is a decent chance for people to have their say through the select committee stage over what will clearly be a complex piece of legislation.

“The RMA is New Zealand’s core environmental protection and those protections must remain. That is our bottom line.

“Our offer to work together on sensible reforms is still on the table. This offer stands.

“We will be concerned at any changes around appeals to the Environment Court or any undermining of case law around the environment.

“We will be looking to see if the Bill elevates private property rights above wider community interests.

“This new Bill must meet these environmental bottom lines. We will be looking carefully at the Government’s intentions,” says Megan Woods.

Also from Labour: RMA changes skim surface for Maori participation

Protecting the environment and getting the right balance for sustainable development will be a core test of the proposed RMA changes, says Labour’s Maori Development spokesperson Nanaia Mahuta.

Related coverage:

Green Party response: RMA changes must not risk what we hold dear

Proposed changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA) appear on first reading to be a boon for seabed miners and property developers, the Green Party said today.

The National Government today released a new Bill which proposes changes to the RMA, laws governing conservation lands, and the Exclusive Economic Zone.

“The Government has repeatedly attacked the RMA to weaken its environmental protection, reduce public participation, and fast track high impact development. The more than 200 proposed changes in the Bill need to be carefully scrutinised to ensure New Zealand’s natural environment and sustainable urban development are not compromised for short-term financial gains,” said Green Party Environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage.

“The Bill appears to significantly increase the Minister’s powers at the expense of local councils and to further politicise environmental decision making by having the Minister, rather than the Environmental Protection Agency, appoint hearing panels for developments in New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone,” she said.

“The Bill risks having a chilling effect on councils’ ability to regulate in the community’s interest. For example, under proposed changes, councils could be reluctant to protect native plants and trees on private land as the Environment Court could require the council to purchase affected land if protections were deemed to put an ‘unfair and unreasonable burden’ on landholders.

The Greens are always going to strongly oppose the use of many natural resources.

From The New Zealand Initiative’s Jason Krupp argues that Nick Smith should visit Montreal to see how shifting infrastructure costs can improve housing affordability

In the cut and thrust of politics it was no surprise that Environment Minister Nick Smith denounced the Labour Party’s new housing policy. After all, while it is the opposition’s job to oppose government policies, it is just as much the incumbent’s job to shoot down ideas coming from across the house.

Scoop: RMA Reform Underwhelming And a Broken Promise

“Underwhelming” sums up the initial impression of the Taxpayers’ Union to the Government’s reform legislation of the Resource Management Act, introduced this afternoon. Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director, Jordan Williams, says:

“The RMA is the largest regulatory tax on innovation, growth and living standards currently on the books. Our lawyers are still trawling through the detail, but it appears that rather than the promised reform this would be better described as ‘tinkering around the edges’.”

No party’s election policies and proposals can be regarded as ‘promises’ for the simple reason that Parliament works on majority votes and not on election promises.

All a party can do is promise that if they can get sufficient votes they promise to introduce legislation. That is MMP 101, so anyone claiming that election promises have been broken when compromises have to be made to succeed in getting legislation introduced is either ignorant or deliberately overstating their criticism.

Thanks to Mefrostate for providing links for this post.

Dunne on Labour, Little and poll responds

In his weekly blog post Peter Dunne has criticised Labour for being too negative and having lost their soul.

Sadly, today’s Labour Party is but a shadow of its bold predecessors. There is no sense of future direction or purpose, and even in its rare positive moments, the Party’s best offerings seem to be a hankering for yesteryear.

The boldness in politics is now coming from the National Party – formed primarily to oppose the first Labour government – with no more striking example than its Budget decision this year to lift basic benefit payments, the first such upward adjustment in over 40 years(including the 3rd to 5th Labour Governments). Labour, the traditional friend of the beneficiary, was left gasping in its wake.

Labour’s challenge today is to recover its soul and its place. In this post market age, there is a still a role for a radical reforming party of the left, if it is prepared to be bold.

There is the opportunity to pull together the threads of the Labour heroes and promote a new commitment based around strengthening New Zealand’s national identity through constitutional and social reform, and encouraging diversity.

There is still a place for a progressive party promising a new, more co-operative economic approach in today’s globally digitally and free trade connected world. And there is still a place for a progressive party to promote new, innovative approaches to education and social services.

But rather than grasp these opportunities, Labour has become predeterminedly negative. While it supports a new New Zealand flag, it opposes the current referendum process, essentially because it is a National Prime Minister’s idea.

Its approach to economic policy is stalled because it cannot make up its mind on the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Its stigmatising of people with Chinese sounding names buying property in Auckland has robbed it of any credibility in the diversity stakes, and its capacity to champion meaningful education reform is zero while it remains the plaything of the PPTA.

Andrew Little responded – Stuff reports Little says Labour’s job is to ‘contest and challenge’ the Government:

Little rubbished Dunne’s comments saying in Opposition there was a job to be done and that is to “contest and challenge what the Government of the day is doing”.

“This is from a man who left the Labour Party and is now a party of one,” he said from Sydney where he is visiting New Zealand-born detainees at Villawood Detention Centre.

“You’ve got a job also to come up with the alternative ideas but you’ve got situations like this, a bunch of Kiwis who are looking for a voice, and somebody’s got to step in,” Little said.

And Dunne responded to that on Twitter:

Poor old angry Andy, just proves my point

And Stuff have run an online poll (take with a grain of salt):

Has Labour lost it’s way?

  • Yes, it’s too negative 26%
  • Yes, It’s not innovative or bold enough 12%
  • Yes, both of the above 41%
  • No, it’s fine 21%


Help drug users learn safe limits?

Rather than just saying no to recreational drug use Peter Dunne is exploring the use of government experts to help drug users learn safe limits to minimise harm.

This seems a pragamatic approach to drug use.

Stuff reported on Friday: Illegal drug-users could get government-backed expert advice to get high safely

Experts could one day advise Kiwi drug-users on how to get high without harming their health.

The government says it’s open to considering the idea, amid criticism that it’s not doing enough to keep users of illegal drugs safe.

Unlike with alcohol – where there are government-endorsed guidelines on standard drinks and safe consumption – no safety advice exists in New Zealand on how to take drugs while minimising the harm.

It’s an area that Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne says the Ministry of Health could explore.

“I think particularly around some of the more serious drugs, there is some capacity to look at whether the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs might give us a recommendation around that,” he said.

“You wouldn’t want to be encouraging [drug use], but on the other hand, you could give some guidance about what, in those circumstances, might be safe behaviour.”

Dunne said he sees the issue in a similar light to the Needle Exchange programme, which provides sterile needles for users of injectable drugs.

Global Drug Survey founder Dr Adam Winstock said…

…instead of banning drugs, governments should be helping users learn their limits.

While the only way to avoid all harm was to avoid drugs, the risk could be “massively reduced for most people” if they followed the right health advice, Winstock said.

“The problem is there aren’t really any sensible guidelines on how many drugs you can do in any space of time without running a high risk of ruining your life.”

And today Jane Bowron gives her opinion in Treat drugs as a health issue, not a moral one.

Last week’s announcement by Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne that government experts may be able to offer advice on recreational drug-taking will probably go down like a cup of cold sick with conservative Kiwis.

More important is how it might be viewed by conservative National Party MPs.

The floating of Dunne’s latest idea for government experts to help drug users learn safe limits to minimise harm is a hard call for any politician in government to make.

And it signals how far attitudes have changed since Nixon declared war on drugs and Reagan instigated his hypocritical “Just Say No” campaign (during Reagan’s administration the CIA were accomplices to a large narcotics smuggling ring to the US by the Contras, a counter-revolutionary group fighting against the Sandinistas to return the corrupt US-backed Somoza regime to power in Nicaragua).

Dunne wants to look at using the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs to offer the kind of government-endorsed guidelines existing for standard alcohol drinks and safe consumption and apply it to more serious drugs.

Historically the success of the government-backed needle exchange programme providing sterile for intravenous drug users dramatically reducing the rate of HIV and Hepatitis C infections, and is an excellent example of a common sense approach to the problems of illegal drug use.

While some may view the government dishing out of tips on how to get high safely as cynical and degenerate, surely this is a health issue rather than a moral one?

Dunne’s suggestion that the Government might support a drug-checking service at night club and festival venues, where users can have their pills and liquids tested, is enlightened and would protect young experimenters.

Is there a down side?

On the flip side, in the law of unintended consequences it could be argued that drug-checking services might encourage indulgence in drug use because it had a government testing safety net.

I think that is a weak argument. I doubt that needle exchanges create drug addicts. Giving sensible drug taking advice is more likely to reduce the “stuff the law/government” attitude on recreational drug use

Dunne’s proposal for government guidelines is welcome – and unexpected from a Government that has, along with previous administrations, removed all support from rehabilitation treatment centres such as the world renowned facility at Hanmer Springs.

Better to be at the top of the cliff offering expert advice than carting off the comatose corpses at the bottom.

Dunne has recently promoted a more pragmatic approach to dealing with drug use. The legal high law change was ground breaking but National panicked when media highlighted the sadder side of legal high retailers. He has been cautiously pushing for more consideration of access to medicinal cannabis products.

Too much alcohol is harmful in many ways and creates many problems in our society, so we have laws and guidelines on what is relatively safe to consume.

The same approach with other relatively low harm recreational drugs seems very sensible. Can the current Government back this?

Dunne on Christmas Island

Peter Dunne is not on Christmas Island, but he’s written a reasonable assessment of how things have been and what should be done from thbis side of the Tasman.

Somewhere along the way this week the plot got well and truly lost. Uproar in Parliament, walk-outs, protests and people shouting at and over each other may be all good theatre, a modern form of gladiators in the arena if you like, but after it is over, the fact remains, nothing has changed as a result.

Moreover, the issue itself seems to have become secondary to the noise it has generated. And the issue here is simple: Australia is treating people in its detention camps – in the main New Zealanders awaiting deportation – in a way that is appalling, no matter which way you look at it. Yes, there are definitely very evil people amongst them who have committed unspeakable crimes, with whom we would not usually wish to associate, but they still have the same basic human rights as the rest of us. The argument should be focussing on how these rights are being upheld in the detention camps. On the strong face of it, the detainees are now worse off than when they were in prison, even though they have presumably paid for their crimes in Australia. This cannot be just.

And that is the real issue here. Are these detainees being justly treated, and if not, what can we in New Zealand reasonably do about it? There has always been a more frontier approach to justice in Australia, as the treatment of their indigenous people has shown, and the current treatment of boat refugees continues to show. I suspect most New Zealanders are far from comfortable with the notion of holding such people captive on offshore islands, and would not let a New Zealand government even consider doing so.

That different approach is where our focus needs to be. The modern concentration camp approach Australia has taken is simply wrong. It was wrong when the British tried it in Northern Ireland in the 1970s; it is wrong in Guantanomo Bay, or in Israel today. Australia is no different. The right to due process and fair and open trials is inalienable. So New Zealand needs to be asserting basic human rights and freedoms, not stooping to the name-calling and abuse that has passed for debate over the last week.
Australia is a sovereign state. We cannot automatically require it to change its laws, just because they affront us. The Prime Minister is right on that score. But we can, and should, be speaking out as loudly and frequently as we can against abhorrent practices, especially given the mantle of family the Australians like to drape upon us. After all, most families are blunt with each other and speak out about what they do not like. We should be as well.

The political civil war of the last week has done nothing at all for any of the detainees on Christmas Island. Rather than turning their guns on each other to pointless effect, the Government and the Opposition need to be turning on the real villains of the piece – Ministers like Peter Dutton and others in the Australian Government who continue to promote and support such savage and inhumane policies.

John Key may or may not doing as much as he can to quietly push for better treatment of New Zealanders in Australia, but more should be seen to being done.

It may be that Key is not wanting to put the building of realtionshiops with yet another Australian Prime Minister at risk but his first priority should be the well being of New Zealanders.

Dunne, Hager, Westpac and ‘greater good’

Peter Dunne’s weekly blog post looks at the issue if Westpac giving Nicky Hager’s banking data to the Police when they were investigating Rawshark – Dunne Speaks: Westpac’s Strike Against Personal Privacy.

In it he says:

The Westpac case is a good example of what happens when either systems fail, or more likely, the people operating them seek to make a moral judgement about the worth of the information they hold and how it might contribute to what they see as a greater good.

While is fair to question Westpac’s willingness to hand over data without a court order the Privacy Act may allow for what they did.

And Dunne raises an interesting issue.

Westpac may have justified handing over the data for ‘greater good’.

There are many claims that Hager wrote up and published the Cameron Slater data that seems to have been unquestionably illegal obtained by the hacker, whoever that was, and in fact Hager may have received stolen property and made a pecuniary gain through his actions. Some of his supporters claim a ‘greater good’ or public interest defence.

So how do these two actions compare.?

Cannabis Party versus Peter Dunne

Cannabis Party leader Julian Crawford has taken issue with things Peter Dunne said on Q & A on Sunday – in fact he claims Dunne lied.

Dunne and UIC ‘misleading the public’

The Cannabis Party is accusing Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne of misleading the public over medical cannabis.

Dunne told TVNZ’s Q+A programme that although “we talk about medicinal cannabis, actually there’s no such thing”.

Cannabis Party leader Julian Crawford said Dunne was lying when he claimed that raw cannabis was not medicinal unless it was packaged into a pharmaceutical product.

“In 23 States of the US they have legalised medical cannabis in its raw form, without the need for any involvement from the pharmaceutical industry. The pharmaceutical industry has a vested interest in keeping medical cannabis illegal,” Crawford said.

“Peter Dunne has deliberately deceived the New Zealand public when he claimed that raw cannabis was not medicinal. In reality around 40% of New Zealand’s cannabis users are using it for medical reasons. Even when smoked it has medicinal benefits.”

The Cannabis Party are calling for patients and their caregivers to be able to form non-profit organisations to grow and dispense medical cannabis in New Zealand, without all the delays and costs involved with clinical trials.

“Dunne is simply a glove puppet of the pharmaceutical lobby, he has not softened his stance one bit regarding the medical use of cannabis in its natural form,” Crawford said.

The Cannabis Party has denied that it wants to use the medical cannabis issue as a backdoor for recreational use.

“The party wants medical cannabis in its natural form available now so that thousands of patients with hundreds of illnesses can find some relief,” Crawford said.

“Dunne and United in Compassion have muddied the waters with misinformation that is preventing meaningful dialogue around the medical cannabis laws.”

TVNZ press release of the interview with Dunne:

Health Minister open to medicinal marijuana

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne told TVOne’s Q+A programme that he’s open to the possibilities cannabis based medicines offer.

“I think it would be a really good thing if we could get clinical trials in New Zealand, because that way we can work through exactly what the formulations might be, what the product should look like and who the patients who it will benefit could be, because at the moment we’ve got very general talk. We talk about medicinal cannabis. Actually, there’s no such thing. There’s medicinal cannabis products. And I think it would be very, very good to get some much more specific and scientific evidence about the efficacy before we can make decisions,” said Mr Dunne.

Both Mr Dunne and campaigner Toni-Marie Matich said there was still a stigma attached to cannabis based products:

Absolutely. We’ve written to and approached 300 organisations this year to have really logical, responsible discussion for their patients said Toni-Marie Matich. Look, it took six months and three banks to get a bank account she said.

Video of interview: Dunne open to Medicinal marijuana (13:19)

Asking for medicinal cannabis

The Dominion Post had an article yesterday on The patients asking for medicinal cannabis.

Huhana Hickey has multiple sclerosis and has been in a wheelchair since 1996. She is in pain every day.

“I’m on tramadol, morphine, Paramax and codeine.”

The medicines she takes for her condition make her tired, so now she has weaned herself off most of them.

“I’ve had to come off it, but I got all the withdrawals.”

“The tramadol gets me through that bad time and then I get on with it.”

“I’ve got a headache today, I know I’m going to be exhausted tonight, and I know that I’m going to need to take some morphine just to have a break from the pain tonight.”

“I don’t like it, I don’t want to, but I have to, because there isn’t the alternative.”

The alternative, Hickey says, is cannabis.

Her doctors have told her medicinal cannabis could help.

“They are all in favour of it, my neurologist, my pain specialist, they all want it to be legal,” Hickey says.

Under current law they could ask the Ministry of Health to be able to use it.

There is now a powerful lobby seeking more widespread public access to medicinal cannabis. It includes Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills, a paediatrician, who saw a dramatic change in one patient with intractable epilepsy after she got access through her mother to cannabidiol (CBD) oil.

“The child had a 50 per cent reduction in seizures as well as a substantial improvement in quality of life,” Wills told The Dominion Post.

Patients report that cannabis and medicinal cannabis not only relieve pain and stop seizures, they can transform their quality of life.

But Wills –  and the Government – are cautious. The science of medicinal  marijuana “is still in its infancy,” says Wills.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne says the issue is about giving people “access to a high quality, pharmaceutical product that is safe, reliable and that will alleviate their ailments.”

Dunne tweeted a couple of corrections about the article.

Generally good piece on medicinal cannabis in today, but with two gating errors: my approval is not required for Sativex and 1/2

Australia has not legalised medicinal cannabis – they have merely announced they will permit clinical trials, something already ok here

There will be an interview with Dunne on Q & A this morning about medicinal cannabis, along with CEO of United in Compassion, Toni-Marie Matich

Do you think more New Zealanders should have access to medicinal marijuana?

We interview Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne and Toni-Marie Matich, a mother who has started a campaign for medical trials and better cannabis based medicines.

Watch Sunday 9am on TVOne

Matich has been working heroically for a sensible approach to enabling the use of medical cannabis in New Zealand.

Is it too much to ask for medicinal cannabis? As long as it proves to be safe enough then no. It should be a given.

A link to the interview: Dunne open to Medicinal marijuana (13:19)

ACT in Ohariu?

In their Free Press newsletter ACT say:

ACT to Contest Ohariu?
Like Epsom, Ohariu voters are aspirational, successful, and understand the power of using their candidate vote to get an extra MP into Parliament.  The voters there might well be open to an energetic ACT candidate.  National might be open to cooperating with a candidate who actually believes in the National Party’s values.

With the possibility that Dunne is just about ready to retire anyway this could be a smart move by ACT. And National probably wouldn’t be unhappy.

Dunne on the medical cannabis situation

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has blogged this week on the current situation regarding the availability and prospects for future availability of medicinal cannabis in New Zealand.

Forget the past and facts and fiction about Dunne and his position on drugs. There are people trying to establish a better way of dealing with medicinal cannabis that are finding that Dunne is receptive to positive change as much as our current law allows and as much as the reluctance of our current Parliament may allow.

In New Zealand, medical practitioners can prescribe medicines approved and registered under the Medicines Act. Registration occurs after a rigorous clinical testing process, and PHARMAC separately decides whether to fund the product. One medicinal cannabis product, Sativex, is currently so registered, and PHARMAC is currently considering whether to subsidise it. No other medicinal cannabis products have been submitted for registration in New Zealand.

Where medicines are unregistered and therefore unapproved, there has been a procedure set out in the Medicines Act for many years now to allow the Minister to approve the prescription of such an unapproved product, upon the application of a medical practitioner or specialist.

That application has to be lodged with the Ministry of Health, stating the product, the purposes for which it is being sought, the dosage, along with general clinical assessments of its likely clinical efficacy and safety. The Ministry then makes a clinical assessment of the case, and recommends a course of action to the Minister. To date, only one application ever has been made for a medicinal cannabis product, which was the case I approved earlier this year.

I am not a clinician, so therefore, in considering any such applications, I have made it very clear that I will be strongly guided by the clinical advice which I receive. The reason for the decision in such cases being made at a Ministerial level has nothing to do with cannabis, but is simply because the applications are being made as an exception to the existing law.

This is the current law and it requires Ministerial approval, but in effect the doctors and the Ministry of health determine whether medicinal cannabis can be used or not.

So, patients seeking access to medicinal cannabis products need to consult their medical advisers in the first instance. If Sativex is not deemed suitable, then they need to discuss what other alternatives might be best for them, and whether an application under the Medicines Act is the appropriate way to proceed.

If patients or parents of patients want to obtain cannabis products for genuine medicinal purposes then they should find a doctor who is prepared to seek approval for them.

Again, there is nothing unusual or particular to medicinal cannabis in that – we do not make any prescription medicines available without the support of the specialist or medical practitioner, for obvious reasons, and medicinal cannabis should be treated exactly the same way.

However, I would be concerned if it became clear that personal antipathy to cannabis was causing some doctors not to seek approval for medicinal cannabis products for their patients, in cases where it was potentially beneficial. My strong plea to them is to always put the best interests of their patients ahead of any personal views they might hold, when considering such cases.

We are watching closely the clinical trials being conducted in the United States and Australia, but they are not likely to produce results before 2016-2017 at the earliest. It is possible that were the FDA or the Therapeutic Goods Agency to approve medicinal cannabis products as a result of these trials our regulator Medsafe would look to follow suit here, but that is still some time away.

Things are moving fairly quickly now on testing and potentially approving of cannabis products, but it takes time to ensure it is done properly.

One of the worst things that could happen would be to rush access to a product that turns out to be ineffective or worse, detrimental to health.

What is clear, however, is that any approval is likely to be for a very limited range of products in highly specific and regulated circumstances, and certainly not the open slather situation some seem to be expecting.

The current attention is towards medicinal products that exclude intoxicating ingredients. This is not a back door to widespread smoking of cannabis.

Meantime, the provisions of our Medicines Act will continue to apply, including the opportunities for doctors to seek access to these products in the general interests of their patients. For my part, I will consider any case that comes before me on its particular merits, and without any reference to whatever external noise there might be at the time.

So anyone who wants medicinal product should try to find a doctor who will seek approval and will present a good case for it.

Refuge quotas – a little will help some people a lot

Pressure is building on the Government to increase our refuge quota from a level of 750 set in 1997.

All parties other than National have stated support for an increase as a refuge crisis grows around Syria and in Europe. John Key wants to kick the can down the road, saying the number will be up for review in 2016.

Each of National’s support partners want an increase.

  • UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne said the Government had “got it wrong” on the refugee issue. There was a strong case for lifting New Zealand’s annual refugee quote to at least 1000, Dunne said. That was “the very least” New Zealand could do as a good international citizen, Dunne said.
  • Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox said New Zealand could afford to take on more refugees as part of its global citizenship, and the Maori Party thought the yearly quota should increase from 750 to 1000. “We want to be sure we are able to cater for the people that come in – we call that manaakitanga – are we able to care for them and their needs?”
  • ACT leader David Seymour said he would not pick a number for how many refugees New Zealand should accept, but as a principle said the quota should be “pegged to our ability to support refugees”. It could be pegged to population – which would have it somewhere between 1000 and 1100, Seymour said.

What New Zealand can do is always only going to be a small drop in an ocean of humanity searching for a safe place to live.

Lebanon has a similar populatio to New Nealand but due to proximity to Syria have been burdened with 1.2 million refuges. That’s a huge influx, proportionally.

Germany is set to accept 800,000 refuges this year – but that could blow out with the increasing pressure of refuges currently on the move.

Increasing our quota from 750 to 1,000 won’t make a huge difference overall, but it may make a huge difference for 250 people. It’s a little to ask of a country that has the advantage of distance and a huge moat in protecting ourselves from people desperate to re-settle somewhere safe.


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