Ground breaking Psychoactive Substances Bill progresses

The Psychoactive Substances Bill was back from the Health Committe in the House for it’s second reading yesterday. It is now the responsibility of new Associate Health Minister Todd McClay, but Peter Dunne has driven this bill from the start.

The bill is seen as ground breaking and world leading.

A very commendable cross party approach has been taken to the bill by the Health Committee, as McClay says:

 I want to thank the Health Committee for its thoughtful consideration of this bill, and also to the many people who made submissions on this important piece of legislation. I appreciate your broad support for, and the helpful comments on, the detail of the bill.

Because of the overwhelming wish of New Zealanders for the Government to act on the sale and use of psychoactive substances, so-called legal highs, the committee has had a shorter period than usual to consider this bill. I greatly appreciate the cross-party support that has enabled Parliament to expeditiously deal with this issue.

The desire to see the bill progress, the hard work and co-operation amongst MPs and parties were evident through most of the speeches.

Peter Dunne’s speech covered the history and the intent of  the bill. There were a number of interjections from John Banks, who looks like being the only MP to oppose the bill

Edited draft transcript (I’ll post separately on most of the exchange with John Banks).

Hon PETER DUNNE: I am delighted to speak on the second reading of the Psychoactive Substances Bill . I must confess that the debate this afternoon is taking place in slightly different circumstances from those I had originally imagined would occur when we talked about this bill proceeding at this time. None the less I am very pleased with the work that the Health Committee has done in terms of its consideration of the legislation and the bill that has emerged and looks like enjoying the unanimous support of this House.

Hon John Banks: No, no, no.

Hon PETER DUNNE: I am sorry. I should have known better perhaps than to presume that the ACT Party would be in line with public opinion.

The reason I sought to table this petition, very simply, is it is indicative of the wide range of community concern up and down New Zealand about the impact of psychoactive substances being sold through dairies and various other outlets with impunity by some very irresponsible retailers.

The Manurewa example was one, and I know the member for Manurewa and Dr Calder had been very vigorous in their local efforts, and I was pleased to receive this petition. I want to correct a myth that has been circulating about this bill. It did not actually arise as a result of the Law Commission’s recommendations.

In fact, the genesis of this bill came at the UN convention on narcotic drugs meeting in Vienna in early 2011. It became clear to me in discussions at that meeting that the British Government at that stage was seeking to move down this path. I thought that was a particularly good idea and as we were developing our interim regime I tasked officials in the Ministry of Health with finding out all we could about what the British were proposing and then developing a regime that met our needs.

Along the way, the Law Commission made its recommendations.

The irony is that when I went back to Vienna in March this year for the follow-up discussions, the British were curious to know where we were, because they were actually stalled in their efforts. In other words, we picked up their idea from 2 years ago, had the legislation almost before Parliament at that stage, and they were still working through their internal bureaucracy to get to that point and were asking us with some envy what progress we were making and how this would occur.

I acknowledge the comments by both the Associate Minister of Health and the previous speaker, Iain Lees-Galloway, about my own role, and I thank them for that. It is no secret that I was frustrated at the time that it was taking to get this legislation into the House, and I am delighted now that we are through the process and the bill looks like passing fairly quickly.

This is world-breaking legislation. The reason is it tackles the problem in quite a lateral way. It simply says to the manufacturers and suppliers of these pernicious substances: “You prove they are low risk, and if you can, we will let you sell them.” It is a very simple proposition.

Other countries—the Australians, the Irish, the French, the Americans, the Russians, the British, many of the European nations with whom I have spoken—have all been playing the same game of trying to define what a psychoactive substance is and how you ban it.

There have been many variations on that theme. All have come to the point of saying it is too difficult and asking what a way through is. New Zealand is being looked on as world-leading in this regard.

If this legislation is, as I believe it will be, successful, then we can expect to see that model picked up and implemented right around the world, because this issue is not just one for this country; it is one that is affecting every jurisdiction. When you look at the debates that are going on in those countries and you follow the tenor of the argument, it is exactly the same as we have had here over the last couple of years or so.

One of the great frustrations that I also experienced during my time as the Associate Minister of Health was the anger of communities who wanted to see action, and the sense that they had was often reflected in the comments that I would get asking why I did not just simply ban these things. Well, for various reasons that is not possible.

Their chemical composition is such that these things are almost indefinable. You ban one substance, and one element is changed and the same substance reappears.

In my time as Associate Minister, we banned 30-odd different substances, over 50-odd products, and we were vigorous in doing so. But you can go only so far down that path. That is why this legislation becomes vital and necessary.

I make no apology for the fact that we will set a deliberately high bar. I make no apology for the fact that those who want to go through the process will pay an exorbitant fee to get there. There are huge proceeds involved from this trade, and I think it is only fair and reasonable to expose those people to a very rigorous standard of testing and a very rigorous process before we even get to the point where they get on to the market.

Let me deal with one of the great red herrings of this debate, the animal testing issue. There was never any intention ever to embark upon a programme of animal testing associated with these products—never ever any intent. What happened was simply this—what happened—

Late last year an Official Information Act request was lodged with the Ministry of Health for a whole range of papers relating to this new regime. One of the papers was a paper prepared by Dr Leo Schep of the National Poisons Centre in Dunedin.

Dr Schep has done a huge amount of work in this area, but is at one end of the spectrum in terms of the debate. He is a purist. I acknowledge that. He is an exceptional toxicologist, but he is a purist. He produced a paper that was headed “Report to the New Zealand Government on Animal Testing”. It was his initiative.

Unfortunately, when we sought to release that batch of papers I did not check the title page. What appeared in the Sunday Star-Times was “Here is an official report to the New Zealand Government recommending animal testing.” It was an unsolicited piece of advice. That was why I ruled out—very immediately—the LD50 test. That was why I worked with the Health Committee through the expert advisory committee to make sure that the instances where animal testing might be even a possibility were minimised and reduced.

But I say to the House it was never the intention embark upon any form of animal testing. The expert advisory committee has given very clear advice to the select committee. The reality is that a lot of the stuff—and I am still getting emails today in Cyrillic script, in various different languages, from around the world from people saying “Don’t test psychoactive substances on dogs.” That was never the intention.

The bulk of New Zealanders want to see this legislation pass immediately. It will be, and I acknowledge the support of the Government. I acknowledge the support of other parties who take an approach in this particular legislation that is beneficial. This is the opportunity to make huge progress.

The world is watching us.

I think this Parliament will not only do the people of New Zealand and the young people of New Zealand a huge service in passing this legislation but set a standard that other nations will follow. Hopefully, working collectively at an international level, we can start to turn back the clock on this particular issue.

In The House: Psychoactive Substances Bill – Second Reading – Part 3 (Peter Dunne)

Hansard: Draft transcript – Thursday, 27 June 2013 

The Second Reading debate was interrupted when the House rose for the week and will be continued next week.


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  1. Banks calls Dunne “puppy-hater” on Psychotic Substances Bill | Your NZ
  2. Peter Dunne praised in Parliament | Your NZ

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