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Date:
9 April 2013
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Psychoactive Substances Bill — First Reading

[Sitting date: 09 April 2013. Volume:689;Page:9132. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]

Psychoactive Substances Bill

First Reading

Hon PETER DUNNE (Associate Minister of Health) : I move, That the Psychoactive Substances Bill be now read a first time. I nominate the Health Committee to consider the bill. At the appropriate time I will move that the Health Committee report to the House on the bill by 14 June 2013, and that the committee have the authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting, except during oral questions, during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, and outside the Wellington area—

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): Order! Members, please show some courtesy.

Hon PETER DUNNE: —despite Standing Orders 188, 190, and 191(1)(b) and (c).

Over the last 20 years New Zealand and other countries have been facing an acceleration in the development of new recreational drugs. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1975—the legislation that protects the public from drugs that are known to pose a moderate, high, or very high risk of harm—was never designed for an environment in which dozens of new substances can be brought to the market in the space of just a few weeks. It has simply been unable to keep up. Scores of products with unknown effects and unknown risk profiles—indeed, some barely known to science at all—have slipped through this regulatory void and on to dairy shelves. The public has been rightly concerned as news reports have highlighted that young adults, adolescents, and even some children have been taking these so-called legal highs, and suffering as a result.

About 18 months ago this House passed an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act, which has allowed me to issue temporary class drug notices in the Gazette. These are time-limited bans, and the effect of a temporary class drug notice is to apply the same penalties as we do for cannabis, except that personal possession is not an offence. So far I have issued such notices for 33 of these substances, affecting more than 50 products. More are still available. But there is a game of regulatory cat and mouse afoot here, where an irresponsible industry seeks to elude authorities and circumvent the law by bringing new chemicals to the lucrative market of things that have not yet been banned.

Many people have asked me why we do not simply ban these substances altogether. Unfortunately, because the retail products are a combination of substances—some are harmful and some are not—it is simply not that simple. What the temporary class drug notice regime has done is make it possible to respond faster to new developments, but I freely concede—and did so at the time—that it does nothing to slow those developments in the first place. That can actually have the perverse effect of increasing the range of emerging drugs. This proliferation of poorly understood chemicals and their widespread use should concern all of us. We need an enduring solution, and that is what this bill is all about.

The Psychoactive Substances Bill ends this dangerous game of cat and mouse by banning the import, the manufacture, the sale, the supply, and the possession of psychoactive substances. It reverses the onus of proof by making all psychoactive substances illegal, unless the industry can prove their products are low risk. Psychoactive substances are broadly defined in the bill as substances, mixtures, preparations, articles, devices, or things that are capable of inducing a psychoactive effect, by any means, in the people who choose to use them. Substances already governed by other legislation—foods, medicines, supplements, herbal remedies, alcohol, tobacco, controlled drugs, and precursors to controlled drugs—are excluded from that definition. To avoid situations where the law is circumvented by people labelling products such as bath salts, incense, or plant food, as has happened here and overseas, there is a power for a declaration by Order in Council that a substance is or is not a psychoactive substance for the purpose of this legislation.

This law will not be mocked by fine print “Not for human consumption” words being placed on packaging. But it is not the Government’s intention to ban absolutely everything for ever. The meat of the bill is a pathway to a regulated market for psychoactive substances, if they can be shown to pose no more than a low risk of harm. I emphasise here that to say that a product poses no more than a low risk of harm is not the same as saying that a product is safe. No one will be allowed to claim that a product is safe. The Government has no intention of acting in a way that might be interpreted as an endorsement of party drugs.

What the bill does is create a Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority and an expert advisory committee. The authority will be responsible for granting licences for the import and manufacture of psychoactive substances, and, on the advice of the expert committee, approving psychoactive products for sale if they have been shown to pose no more than that low risk of harm I spoke of.

To bring a product to market, a sponsor will therefore have to demonstrate to the expert committee that the product poses no more than a low risk of harm. Practically speaking, this will involve providing the committee with evidence from clinical safety trials, similar to those required to bring a new medicine to market. That process will be expensive, and I make no apology for that. There will be no room under this regime for fly-by-night operators wanting to sell substances on the cheap that they do not fully understand.

Approved products will be made subject to comprehensive regulatory control. So even if they come through the hoop, people under 18 will be unable to buy, sell, or be supplied these products. For retail outlets, the packaging, the labelling, and the promotion of approved products will be strictly limited. There will be requirements for health warnings on the packaging, since even products with no more than a low risk of harm cannot be called completely safe. Manufacturing standards, disposal, and record-keeping requirements will be set.

In the legislation itself there is a requirement for product sponsors or licence holders to report all adverse events involving their products to the authority, which will have the power to suspend or cancel trading in a product. And, finally, the bill contains a transitional provision that allows products lawfully sold throughout the 6 months prior to the commencement of the legislation to remain on the shelves if—and only if—an application for approval has been lodged with the authority no later than 30 days after this legislation is enacted. I expect that provision to receive a reasonable level of attention during the select committee process, and I therefore encourage the committee to consider it in the light of the bill’s intention to minimise health-related harm and to place the onus of proof on the sponsor.

The penalties for infringing against this regime are strong but commensurate with the need to protect the public from unknown drugs. This bill is a necessary measure to protect the health of the public by regulating novel psychoactive substances in a way that is proportionate to the risks they pose. It is a world first, and when I attended the recent United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime meeting in Vienna, our legislation was the subject of considerable attention and interest. New Zealand is being seen as an innovator. We are seen as a country that is promoting, through this bill, a viable solution to a problem that many countries are similarly grappling with. I am therefore very proud of this bill, and I am very proud now to commend it to the House for its first reading.

IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North) : Let me say at the outset that Labour wholeheartedly supports this legislation, the Psychoactive Substances Bill, and we look forward to the select committee process and hearing what people have to say about the bill.

There are two aspects of it that I think are particularly worthy of praise. First—and this is the thing that many parents around New Zealand will be very pleased to see—it does provide a mechanism to get some of these substances that have been untested, that are unproven, off the shelf until such time as they are proven to be safe. I know that there will be people, particularly parents, around the country rejoicing at the knowledge that this legislation is finally being passed and that that will be the effect. The second aspect, though, that I think is particularly praiseworthy is the fact that for the first time in this Parliament we are expecting to pass legislation that proposes a mechanism by which some drugs can become legal and make it to market in a regulated—I hope a very tightly regulated—market. That, I believe, is a very positive step in our drug laws—

Mike Sabin: Don’t worry. We will never be doing that with cannabis. Don’t panic.

IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Sorry. Say that again, Mike Sabin.

Mike Sabin: I said we won’t be doing that with cannabis, so don’t worry.

IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I think this is a very positive step, and we may want to look more widely at how it could be applied to other substances. But I know that that is not the purpose of this legislation. That is not the debate we are having today.

We need to focus today on the issue at hand, and that is the issue of novel, particularly synthetic, psychoactive substances that are not covered by other pieces of legislation. Things like alcohol, tobacco, and those conventional drugs that are covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act and natural remedies—those sorts of things—are not going to be covered by this bill. This is particularly aimed at things like synthetic cannabis and party pills, which we know have unfortunately caused a lot of damage to young people because there has been no mechanism by which those substances can be proven safe before they go to the market.

I would like to point out some aspects of the Psychoactive Substances Bill that I think are particularly excellent. The first is that the possession of a substance that is not an approved substance will not attract a criminal conviction. There is no danger of a person being imprisoned. In fact it will be nothing more than an infringement that attracts a fine of up to $500. I think that, again, is a positive step, and one that we might want to reflect on in the future for how that type of arrangement might apply to other substances. Obviously this allows for the substances to be sold only to people who are aged 18 and over, and that will need to be tightly, tightly enforced.

Finally, it is an offence to employ someone under 18 to sell psychoactive substances. Again this is an issue that we have seen time and time again in the tobacco debate: youngsters, very young people—employed in small retail outfits, to be fair—have been in the position where they have been selling a substance that is restricted and to be sold only to people who are aged 18 and over. There is anecdotal evidence of those very young people being bullied—really—into selling tobacco to people who are aged under 18. It would be the same situation with psychoactive substances. I am very pleased to see that provision included in this legislation.

As the Associate Minister of Health the Hon Peter Dunne said, around 18 months ago he introduced the time-limited bans on certain psychoactive substances. Again we in the Opposition supported that. As the Minister said, he has issued notices regarding 37 of those substances. However, many more are still available, and, if anything, after the introduction of those temporary bans the pace at which new substances came on to the market to replace those that had the temporary ban applied to them increased. It was never going to be the lasting solution. The Minister freely conceded that. It is fantastic that we have finally got to the stage, 2 years after the Law Commission tabled its report Controlling and Regulating Drugs, where we are debating the lasting legislation that will deal with that situation.

There are a range of aspects of the bill about which we in the Opposition are looking forward to hearing what submitters have to say, and are looking forward to discussing at the select committee. Issues such as plain packaging of psychoactive substances, whether or not the display of psychoactive substances at the point of sale ought to be banned, and whether or not there should be in-store advertising of psychoactive substances are left in this bill to regulation. They are not dealt with in the primary legislation. Therefore, it is over to a Minister to decree by Order in Council whether or not we have such measures. I know that there are some people out there who think that is not robust enough, and that those aspects should be included in the primary legislation. I, for one, am keen to hear the debate for and against that. I want to hear what the officials think is the best approach, but I do believe that those aspects need to be considered closely.

There is a transitional period accounted for in this legislation. That would mean that for some substances that are currently available, to which temporary bans have not been applied, it would be potentially possible to carry on selling those substances after this legislation is passed. I do not believe that everybody in our communities thinks that is adequate. Many, many people will be expecting that, by passing this legislation, we will be removing all of those substances from the shelf until they are proven safe. We need to look closely at that transitional period.

This legislation requires people to acquire a licence to import and a licence to manufacture psychoactive substances. It does not require retailers to acquire a licence to sell psychoactive substances. We have a situation in New Zealand at the moment where we have a substance, tobacco, that retailers do not require a licence for in order to sell. We have another substance, alcohol, that retailers do require a licence to sell. Where do psychoactive substances fit in that spectrum? Ought we be leaning more towards a licensing regime? Or ought we, as this legislation allows for, not have such a licensing regime for retailers? That is another question that needs to be explored thoroughly at the select committee.

Although this legislation does adhere very closely to chapter 5, and the recommendations held in chapter 5, of the Law Commission’s report, one of the recommendations in that chapter was for price controls to be considered as a method of harm reduction regarding psychoactive substances. The Law Commission stated that, just as it found with alcohol, it believed that price controls would be a method that we could use to reduce the harm. However, this legislation makes no reference at all to price controls, whether they be through a minimum pricing regime or through the use of excise taxes. Again it is another issue that needs to be explored at the select committee.

In the short time I have left I do just wish to state that, although this legislation is a positive move, it is by no means the fulsome consideration of the Misuse of Drugs Act that is required. The Law Commission said that the Misuse of Drugs Act is outdated, it is not fit for purpose, and it needs to be thoroughly reviewed and replaced. This is far from a replacement for the Misuse of Drugs Act. Other issues canvassed in the Law Commission report such as the classification system for conventional drugs—one that actually considers the real harms associated with different drugs—regulation regarding personal use and possession of drugs, as well as the possession of utensils for drug use; regulation affecting offences and penalties; and exemptions from prohibition are all factors that the Law Commission made sound recommendations on, and are all ignored by this legislation. It is time for a comprehensive review, and a comprehensive replacement of the Misuse of Drugs Act. But on the issue of psychoactive substances, getting them off our shelves until they are proven safe, this legislation is good and the Labour Party is pleased to support it.

Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) : Thank you, Mr Assistant Speaker, for the opportunity to speak on this very important Psychoactive Substances Bill. It undoubtedly is an innovative, world-leading piece of legislation from an innovative, world-leading National Government.

Iain Lees-Galloway: Ha, ha!

Dr PAUL HUTCHISON: I am glad you agree, and I am glad that you are going to support this bill.

There is no doubt that over the last 22 years or so party pills and the manufacture of psychoactive pills have escalated enormously in this country. They have been extremely hard to control legally. We have seen all sorts of attempts at this, particularly since about 2002, as there have been changes in 2005 with the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act and then further changes to that. It came particularly to the notice of the public with benzylpiperazine, which I think people could manufacture easily from sheep dip, which was cheap and easily available in a country like New Zealand. Sadly, we had to grapple with the spectre of many of these party pills being available in our dairies to young people and being sold in a pretty frivolous way by all sorts of people to a variety of people, in particular young people, for whom these pills, when mixed with alcohol, could lead to all sorts of disastrous consequences. The trouble was they were legal, they were cheap, and they were readily available. As I mentioned, the Misuse of Drugs Act amendment came in in 2005 and it gave a ready mechanism to be able to categorise drugs such as these as controlled drugs. But the problem was that as soon as one was categorised then another variety, just with a slight change in the compound, would be made, and off and away, once again—it would be legal, it would be cheap, and the manufacturers were taking great advantage of this situation.

By 2008 another wave of party pills emerged. These were cannabinoids and synthetic cannabinoids. Of course, there were a whole variety of these that could be smoked or vaporised, and a whole variety of utensils and other things that were associated with them, so that literally dozens of new psychoactive substances, containing a huge new number of ingredients, were being brought on to the market in a matter of weeks, and the existing legislation just could not keep up. The Law Commission, as was mentioned, completed its review in 2011 and came through with a very, very comprehensive variety of solutions. It was not entirely clear, but certainly the very important concept of requiring the manufacturer to show that the product was of low risk of harm, or to prove that the product was of low risk of harm, is the essence of what this bill is all about. That is where it is innovative; that is where it is world leading.

In the meantime, of course, the Hon Peter Dunne introduced temporary class drug notices, and they have met with quite an amount of success. I think he said 33 substances had been banned under these temporary class drug notices. This has worked well, with a 75 percent fall in the number of calls received by the National Poisons Centre over incidences around synthetic cannabis in 12 months alone. This bill is to replace these current notices. The current notices are due to expire, I think by about August this year, so, indeed, it will be important to get the legislation through in a fairly rapid way. New Zealanders, indeed, deserve to know that products available to them are safe and that they are not being put in harm’s way with untested, risky substances.

Hon Phil Heatley: I think so.

Dr PAUL HUTCHISON: I am glad the Hon Phil Heatley agrees with this.

One of the important things to emphasise is that the cost of testing will be borne by manufacturers and not the taxpayer. This manufacturing group of people who have been involved with party pills have made a lot of money in a very, very dubious way for a long period of time, so I think that it is good to see that they will have to work extremely hard to show that the products are low risk.

The bill will seamlessly replace the current temporary class drug notices regime. This regime has made it possible to respond faster to new developments, but does nothing to nip them in the bud in the first place. So the bill will, indeed, hopefully be a much more durable, long-term solution. It has considerable support from organisations like the New Zealand Medical Association and the New Zealand Drug Foundation, and I must say I look forward very much to the select committee process, so that hopefully we can get it into optimal shape. Thank you.

Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai) : I am pleased to rise and support the Psychoactive Substances Bill, because it does one very significant thing: it regulates unregulated psychoactive substances—in other words, party pills and legal highs. It does that by shifting the onus of responsibility to the manufacturers, who will now have to demonstrate that the substance that they are putting into the market poses no more than a low risk, and they must do that before the substances go on the shelves, and into the pockets, and the parties, and clubs, and pubs around New Zealand. That makes sense. Why should New Zealanders not know that a substance that they are going to take is, as far as possible, a low risk to them? We expect that with our pharmaceuticals. We expect that with our food. Why would we not expect that from party pills and other substances?

You see, I believe that many New Zealanders had no knowledge of the effect of party pills on them, they had no knowledge of the content of them, and in many cases they were playing Russian roulette with substances that they were taking. The substances were being sold—some of them—by people who were more interested in making a fast dollar than they were in the quality of the product that they were providing, to young New Zealanders in particular.

Mike Sabin: Fast millions of dollars.

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, as the member across said, making millions of dollars out of these products. We expect high-quality standards for products that are sold in New Zealand. These substances should not be exempt from that. So it is a good bill as far as it goes.

But I agree with my colleague Iain Lees-Galloway that there was a chance to completely overhaul the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. It is an old Act, it is out of date, and there was an opportunity to do a proper overhaul of this Act. The Government did start long enough ago so that this could happen, but it failed to. Work was done by the Law Commission, but only one of its recommendations has been picked up. It seems to me that this is almost a repeat of the Government’s response to the Law Commission’s report on alcohol reform. That work—that tremendous work—done by the Law Commission would normally provide a bill as well, but it was stopped by the previous Minister of Justice and then the new Minister of Justice picking the eyes out of the alcohol reform report from the Law Commission, and, in my view, not taking the comprehensive approach that was needed to make major changes to alcohol legislation. I was very interested to hear on the television yesterday members of the New Zealand Police and the judiciary—a judge in New Zealand—saying that we have not gone far enough with alcohol reform. So I am concerned that we have not taken the opportunity to do a major rewrite of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

It is a lost opportunity. Everybody knows that the law has not kept pace with the rapidly changing environment that we have in this area. As the member Paul Hutchison has just said, the ability to produce one of these substances, and then quickly change it by adding something else to it, has meant that it has been very hard for the legislation we have to keep up with it. So in March last year Iain Lees-Galloway called for urgent action. We are talking over a year ago when he was calling for urgent action, particularly in unregulated synthetic cannabis. So what the Government did at that time was to put in place an interim measure to ban new substances for 12 months. Now we are at this stage, where we are having to race to pass legislation.

You see, this whole process started in July 2007, under the previous Labour Government. We invited the Law Commission to review the Misuse of Drugs Act, in response to concerns that the safety of substances that people were taking was not required before sale. As is well known, the Law Commission carried out a first-principles review, and in that first-principles review it took into account issues such as international obligations, and in February 2010 it published its issues paper. It then went through quite an extensive public consultation process. There was some targeted consultation, but also public consultation, and I believe there were over 3,800 submissions to the work that was done by the Law Commission. In May 2011 the final report of the Law Commission was tabled in this House. That is almost 2 years ago, and the urgent need to do something was known back in 2007.

The Law Commission identified two key issues. One was that there was little or no control over potentially harmful psychoactive substances in the ingredients, in the dose, in the place of sale, or in the purchase age—quite fundamental things, I would have thought. There was little or no control over it—what was in it, what the dosage was they were taking, where it could be sold, or the purchase age. The second issue that it identified was that the onus is on the Government to identify that substances are available, and then to determine whether they are harmful before placing restrictions on them. In September 2011 the Government responded to the Law Commission. As we know, here we are now, quite a long time later.

So what is the objective of the bill that we have? It is to develop a regime capable of dealing with the rapidly evolving market in psychoactive substances, balancing the risk of harm to individuals in society with the demand for access to such substances—and let us face it; there is a demand for such substances. Maybe in the 1950s and 1960s it was Rochdale cider; today there is a demand for party pills and other substances. What they say—

Shane Ardern: Taranaki Bitter.

Hon ANNETTE KING: Taranaki Green? Well, I have never heard of that, I have to say. This regime is what this bill does. It provides a mechanism for effectively regulating the psychoactive substances before they reach the market. It provides public confidence about the risk profile of these substances. It places controls on the availability of psychoactive products, including purchase age and also place of sale. It places controls over the product’s contents—the dose, the potency, and so on. So it does have quite a number of parts to the bill, in terms of what it wants to do.

When you read the regulatory impact statement, you see it was prepared for Cabinet, and it was given four options to address the two problems that the Law Commission identified, which I have just mentioned. It has agreed on the approach that is in this bill. There are several things that this bill also does. It sets up the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority and the Psychoactive Substances Expert Advisory Committee. The authority itself is going to be the Director-General of Health. It also establishes the expert advisory committee, and it is going to be its job, its main function, to evaluate the psychoactive substances and products, and then to advise the authority as to whether these products should be approved for use by individuals. The members of that advisory committee are appointed by the authority after consultation with the Minister, who will be responsible for the administration of the bill.

There is also a licensing regime, and there is part of that I would like to mention. My colleague mentioned there is no requirement for a licence at the retail end. I would also like to ask what happens if these substances are produced overseas and then imported. I ask because the bill requires the authority to issue a code of practice for the manufacture of psychoactive substances, and the authority may conduct an audit of the manufacturing facility where the substance has been manufactured. If they have been manufactured in another country, how is that going to happen? What resources are going to be put in place for the authority to be able to travel to another country to check out the manufacturing of these substances? The bill also provides for appeals, so it enables an appeal committee to determine whether the decisions of the authority for licensing and approval are correct. There are also put in place offences when there are unapproved psychoactive substances on the market—quite a hefty fine. So it is comprehensive. It could have had more in it, but we will support this bill. It is good as far as it goes.

KEVIN HAGUE (Green) : Regulation is a good thing, is it not, particularly when people’s health and safety are concerned, and it is great to be able to take a call in this debate on the first reading of this bill, the Psychoactive Substances Bill, which I think will be supported by members of all parties. The Green Party welcomes the bill. We in particular welcome the fact that it is, really, the first significant modern attempt to have a rational, principles-based framework for the regulation of drugs, and in particular to have a framework that regulates on the basis of health and in proportion to the harm that is posed by a particular drug. So it is proportionate, it is health-based, and it is the direction that our drug policy and drug laws need to move in. I would support the comments that have been made by other members in relation to the overhaul that is required for the whole of the Misuse of Drugs Act. We too believe that that is overdue and look forward to that occurring in the near future. We particularly note the draft National Drug Policy, which we expect to see pretty soon. That is going to be a very interesting exercise.

There are some issues that the Green Party has with the bill as drafted, but we believe that these are ones that can be addressed in the select committee process. I will come to those in a moment, to just signal the kinds of issues that we will be looking for in the Health Committee’s scrutiny of the bill. We look forward to engaging with the Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne on this. I must add our particular tribute to Minister Dunne for being prepared to take this bold and appropriate move in the field of regulation of psychoactive substances. Synthetic drugs are a global problem, and New Zealand has probably been dealing with that problem for longer than any other country, or certainly longer than most. So it is fitting that we are leading the charge in actually trying to solve that problem. I note the Minister’s comments at a recent conference that he attended in Vienna about the eyes of the world being upon New Zealand and how we address this problem.

As others have set out, in the early 2000s, the issue of not being able to stop these hazardous substances coming to market with New Zealand’s existing law was highlighted when people started buying and taking drugs containing benzylpiperazine (BZP). In a survey conducted in 2007-08, 13.5 percent of adult New Zealanders had tried BZP at least once. However, when the Government moved at that time to make BZP illegal, it was immediately replaced by another substance, highlighting the problem that others have spoken about. Previous debates in this House, indeed, have reflected that the ability of the industry to develop very similar products that are not captured by the specific legal sanctions we place on a particular product is apparently infinite, and I believe the number of temporary bans that we have seen is 33, covering in excess of 50 substances. And, as Iain Lees-Galloway has said, actually, one of the main effects of that approach to trying to deal with the problem has been to accelerate the process of replacing products, not to solve the problem at all. In the last year alone, 57 new psychoactive substances were identified by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, compared with only 13 in 2008. So that is more than one each week.

We have all seen the stories in the media, and we may, indeed, know personally of people who have been harmed, who have suffered serious health and mental health effects from using these substances. And these are not effects that the manufacturers and distributors of these products care about. We cannot therefore rely on self-regulation or a form of self-regulation to ensure the safety of New Zealanders. Regulation by this House is what is required.

The use of party pills, as Annette King has said, is popular. It is estimated that 50,000 four-pill packs are sold every month in New Zealand and that the industry has sales of $24 million each year, so it is important that we move to tackle this problem. It is also important to recognise that not all of these substances actually cause harm, or cause significant harm, and I will come to that in a moment. As others have said, this follows a Law Commission review, and we believe that we want to see the other recommendations of that review also implemented.

So some of the issues that we want the Health Committee to deal with—the first of those is that we believe that the principles in clause 4 of this bill must include health and harm reduction, and they currently do not. Those form the very heart of the purpose of this bill and they should be reflected in it. We are looking forward to that being taken up by the select committee. The second point is around the definition of low risk. This is going to be absolutely critical. The select committee, I believe, is going to need to try to put some parameters around what the nature of the risk is that is being assessed. For example, is it the substance itself or is it the delivery mechanism of that substance? So the smoking of a particular substance—is the health effect of that also included in the risk that is to be assessed? And “low risk”—what does “low” actually mean? If the threshold is set too high and no substances actually make it to market, what will occur then is that the existing situation will just be perpetuated—actually, the illegal trade in psychoactive substances will boom—and that is an outcome that we do not wish to see occur. If the threshold is set too low, then we will not be controlling the harmful effects of these substances. So just leaving that to chance is inadequate.

We have already addressed—and my colleague Mojo Mathers will address further—the risk to animals from animal testing of the substances. We believe that those should be prohibited by the bill. We also want to address this transition period, because we believe that the length of the transition period has been set too long. We expect the law to come into effect in August, but there will not at that point be an authority for applications to go to. We believe the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority must be convened much sooner than a year out, otherwise we will have an unregulated period of a year in which very substantial harm could be sustained. We support the calls for the bill to also address plain packaging and point-of-sale marketing. These are significant problems. We would also like to see the select committee explore the other methods of control that we have seen in the Alcohol Reform Bill around venues, around hours, and around all of those other aspects—and, indeed, price and taxation—as mechanisms for control.

So, in conclusion, we do believe that this bill will reduce harm and stop unsafe substances being sold, and that is absolutely a laudable goal. It provides exactly the controls that communities have been calling for. There are some significant issues that must be addressed, and we are looking to the select committee to do that. We are very happy to support this bill at its first reading to allow the select committee that opportunity. We note, in conclusion, that the international community is watching with interest what we do here. Let us give them a model that is worth emulating.

SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki - King Country) : It is a privilege, as a member of the Health Committee, to rise and speak on the first reading of the Psychoactive Substances Bill. I was interested to listen to Kevin Hague, the last speaker, because for the first time we have actually had a Green spokesman stand up in the House and speak with some clarity and a clear direction. It may be because the member had an involvement in the health system prior to becoming a member of Parliament, but he showed absolute clarity about what needs to be done and showed his support for it. So I do congratulate the member on that, because that has not been the consistent position of the Green Party in the past.

Can I also say that most of us, the constituent MPs and list MPs, in their role as MPs have encountered an example or an anecdote somewhere or other of people who have been badly affected by psychoactive substances of various different types. The anecdote that I would like to share with the House briefly is this. My good friend and colleague the Hon Chester Borrows called in recently to an outlet in the Taranaki - King Country electorate on his way through and discovered that this outlet was selling these substances, or these drugs. Someone had alerted him to that. As a former police officer and an Associate Minister of Justice, he said to the proprietor: “Look, do you think it is sensible and fair that you sell this stuff into our community, which potentially could cause the kind of damage that people are suggesting to me that it is causing?”. The response was: “Well, look, it’s none of your business. It’s not illegal. If we want to sell it, we can, and if we can make a dollar from it, why shouldn’t we?”.

You know, Chester’s response to that was similar to my own, which is that we need to do something about it. So it is a pleasure to be here today with a bill before us that will at least attempt to address some of the issues that have been raised by members of the public with regard to the trading and selling of these drugs and the effects from them.

In this regard members of the community decided they would take action. They protested outside the establishment and suggested that it was unacceptable that this outfit traded in this stuff, and I think—but I am not sure—that the proprietor withdrew the substance from the shelf and it is no longer sold from that outlet. But obviously, if it is going to take a community response like that, there is a need for regulation. So to that part I agree, once again, with my Green colleague that regulation can, at times, be a good thing, and this is one case where it is.

There is an inconsistency as it stands with what is illegal and what is not illegal, and what harm can be caused by certain substances if they are used in a way that they were never intended to be used. So I commend the bill to the House and look forward to listening to the submissions in the select committee.

BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) : I stand on behalf of New Zealand First today to support the Psychoactive Substances Bill. This bill has been a long time coming to this House and we are really pleased that at last it is finally here. We need to front up to the problems caused by these legal highs. We know that, actually, they are happening right across the whole country, and we are looking forward to working on this legislation.

We in New Zealand First have regularly, consistently urged the Government to actually make a start on this legislation, and we realise, of course, that this particular problem is a worldwide challenge. Week in, week out, we see reports of these substances leading people into crime. I know that in Hamilton I regularly get reports, and I have no doubt that two other MPs from Hamilton, David Bennett and Tim Macindoe, also get the same reports. Sometimes these are—

Kris Faafoi: They don’t read them, though.

BARBARA STEWART: —oh, people come into our offices to tell us, too—whether they are about petty offences or more serious crimes in the community. The effect that these substances have on one’s physical, mental, and social well-being are widely documented, and I know there was a television documentary on it just recently.

Under current legislation the Government has had very limited means to prevent these substances from being sold, manufactured, or even imported into New Zealand. Basically, what has happened is that we have been putting these manufacturers ahead of the health and well-being of everyday New Zealanders, and of course there has been a high cost on the health system.

These companies have been able to bring in new legal highs and herbal highs, or manufacture them just at will. The Government has had to continually try to monitor these drugs to try to protect New Zealanders. Each substance has had to be placed on the Misuse of Drugs Act when it became a problem. Consequently, the Government has always been left two steps behind the legal high industry. It is timely that this situation was changed. We cannot afford, as a country, to be behind on this particular issue.

So of course the health and safety of New Zealanders, particularly young New Zealanders, is a priority in this area for New Zealand First. A lot of the time nobody really knows what is in these substances or the effects that they have on people. We are very happy that this bill is going to change this situation. It needed to be changed.

Legal highs are often marketed blind, without the purchaser knowing what they contain. However, we do know that these products encourage dangerous behaviour and can make people seriously ill and even endanger their lives, not only in the short term but also in the long term. We always read stories in the newspaper about how easy these drugs are to actually obtain. Recently the Nelson Mail reported that a dairy near a high school was selling legal highs to students and minors. This is totally appalling, particularly when these under-age pupils would have gone into the dairy in their school uniforms to make the purchase. We also had a recent example where the legal highs were being sold at a dairy and free sweets were given away with the purchase. So something definitely has to be done.

These substances are increasingly associated with mental health issues. Over the past few years we have seen a growing number of violent incidents and mental health issues presenting at emergency departments around the country, and these synthetic drugs can be related directly to this violence. We have had paramedics speaking out about the legal highs and how these are beginning to be a much greater problem for New Zealanders than illicit drugs. We know what some of the problems are with people on these legal highs, from being hyperexcited to psychotic and emotional. We had one Nelson paramedic saying that hyperventilation was becoming quite common after someone had taken these particular drugs. Of course, we have got other instances of episodes where patients have had convulsions, periods of unconsciousness, and seizures—they are not safe. It is timely for the Government to clamp down on this particular problem.

New Zealand First also supports the tough new penalties that this bill will introduce: 8 years in prison for importing, making, or supplying banned substances, and 2 years in prison for importing, making, or supplying untested substances. We do, however—and we will follow it up in the select committee process—question the choice not to make possessing an unapproved substance a criminal offence. The individuals possessing the substances are putting themselves and others at great risk. We understand the decision not to criminalise the individuals possessing the substances is because so many young people do not want to jeopardise their job and their travel prospects but people, under this bill, will actually be committing an offence.

Like the other members, we believe that the purchasing and the advertising restrictions of legal highs are a little less than adequate, and could go further. We will be looking for that during the select committee process. We in New Zealand First have always supported greater transparency for consumers. We would, however, take some extra steps in restricting the purchasing of these—more than what the Minister has done at this point in time. We believe that these highs should be further restricted than alcohol, rather than being aligned with alcohol.

The bill will ban sales at dairies and advertising, except at point of sale. We would actually like to see a step further to prohibit advertising altogether and look into increasing the age for purchasing psychoactive substances—18, we believe, is totally inadequate. Perhaps we could look further at the plain packaging of these products. As other members have already said, we would like price to be considered, and, perhaps, an increase in the taxation of these particular items. They are not substances that we want to see all of our young people have free access to.

We in New Zealand First support the provision to make manufacturers who wish to sell these legal highs in New Zealand pay an application fee and testing costs. This has been missing for far too long in this type of legislation, and it should be done. Substance testing will ensure that the ingredients are safe for people to consume. At this point in time we do not know that they are. We worry about the effect that they are having on young, developing brains.

We are happy with the labelling restrictions that will require all products to have a label listing their active ingredients, the phone number for the Poisons Centre, and the contact details for the product’s New Zealand manufacturer or supplier. That brings it in line with other products that are currently on the market. Of course, it also helps those who take these products to have a better idea of the dangers.

Despite seeing some areas as lacking in the bill—and we are looking forward to working on them at the select committee as well—we believe that the positives of this bill actually far outweigh the negatives. This bill is a much-needed start, regulating the use of psychoactive substances, and something that we have been calling for, like other parties, for a long, long time. We are looking forward to working on it, and we will support this bill.

Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) : I too am delighted to speak on the first reading of the Psychoactive Substances Bill. It is not surprising that it has been perceived as a world-leading move, and I congratulate Minister Dunne. The bill will regulate psychoactive substances so that only those products proved to be low-risk will be able to be sold.

The fact is that the current situation is unacceptable. Basically, current legislation has not been keeping up with the rapid growth in this market. As soon as substances are banned, there are others coming on to the market. Playing catch-up is not acceptable, it is not appropriate, and this bill, I am pleased to see, is getting support across the House today. It is much more appropriate that the manufacturer will have to prove to a regulator that its product is safe, rather than the current situation with the Government proving harm before controlling the substance.

Importantly, the cost of the testing will be borne by the manufacturers and not by taxpayers. A regulatory authority will be set up within the Ministry of Health, and this bill will also establish an expert advisory committee to provide technical advice to the authority. It will set offences and penalties, which include up to 2 years’ imprisonment and up to half a million dollars in fines. This is an excellent bill. I look forward to it coming to the Health Committee. Thank you.

KRIS FAAFOI (Labour—Mana) : Talofa lava. Malo e lelei. Bula vinaka. Thank you for the chance to speak to this Psychoactive Substances Bill, and those specific greetings will become relevant to the House a little bit later in my contribution. Can I just join with a number of other speakers—on both sides of the House, to be fair—and say that this is a significant bill. I think there are lots of times that law is debated in this House where mums and dads at home will think it is not necessarily overly relevant to them. But I think a bill like this will certainly be relevant to a lot of mums and dads out there who are very concerned about the effects of these drugs, these party pills and other substances, that give legal highs to people—not only just young people, but mostly young people—in New Zealand, and think that they need to be cracked down on. I certainly know that it is a live issue, as Barbara Stewart has said, for a lot of MPs.

I want to note a couple of people in my constituency of Mana. The principal of the Porirua Alternative School, Laz Tausaga, is very concerned about the sale of party pills to his students. His students face enough challenges as it is. He was on Facebook just a couple of weeks ago talking about the bad influence that those pills are having on some of his students and about cracking down on some of the retailers in that area who think it is fit to sell those to his students. Also, the principal of Bishop Viard College, Teresa Cargo, a couple of weeks ago did raise the issue of the sale of these party pills, not just in dairies but on the street. Young people from her school were being approached to buy the likes of K2 from people who were not necessarily shop owners but were just people on the street approaching her students to try to sell these substances to them.

I would like to acknowledge the Minister responsible for this bill, the Hon Peter Dunne, who I thought made a very good contribution to the earlier debate about troops in Afghanistan, when he said that that issue touches the lives of Kiwis very dramatically. I put down those words, because I knew we were going to be debating this issue, and I know that this issue of party pills and legal highs certainly does touch very dramatically the lives of a lot of people in communities right around this country. The influence of technology is also very apt in this debate in terms of our youngsters. I think it was the Minister who said it was a cat-and-mouse game, because the technology and the ability of manufacturers to produce different types of party pills and different types of substances make it very difficult for the legislation governing this to try to keep up. So I think this new law is absolutely a move in the right direction, so that we as a Parliament and we as a nation can respond faster to the challenges that this industry has put forward because of its ability to change the make-up of its drugs.

In April 2011 the Law Commission released its report Controlling and Regulating Drugs: A Review of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. In that report it highlighted two issues: first, the harm that these psychoactive substances are doing because of their availability with little or no control over their ingredients, the strength of them, where they are being sold, and the age of people to whom they are being sold; and, second, that the onus was on the Government to figure out just how harmful these substances were. The Law Commission made a number of recommendations, and the Government has picked up on this one, to crack down on psychoactive drugs. Again I want to praise the Minister for putting through this law, but I do have a little sympathy for him. I imagine that he, as someone who has been very ardent on this issue, wanted to get this issue through a lot more quickly than the 2 years it has taken since April 2011 for this legislation to come to this House.

This is not a new issue at all. My colleague Iain Lees-Galloway, who spoke on this issue earlier, did say, I think it was back in—and I am looking to him here—March 2012, I believe—

Iain Lees-Galloway: Yes, I did.

KRIS FAAFOI: He was asking for a bit more urgency from the Government to make some moves against these psychoactive drugs. To quote him, he said: “We think it’s ridiculous that we’ve basically been experimenting on our kids by allowing the substances to come on the shelf and then trying to constantly chase our tails trying to get them off the shelf again.” I am not saying this is a bad bill; I am saying this is actually a very good bill that Mr Dunne has brought to the House, but Labour believes much more is needed. We do not believe that this Government has taken the opportunity for a much more comprehensive overhaul of the Misuse of Drugs Act, as the Law Commission proposed back in April 2011. This bill addresses only one of the recommendations that the Law Commission made. We do look forward to the select committee process. I understand that the issue of consideration of the bill by the Health Committee will be debated at length a bit later.

Also, to go back to my greetings to the Assistant Speaker, I think one issue that we have thought about, certainly on this side of the House, is whether or not kava will be included as a substance in this bill. I did hear someone giggle, but that is actually not a funny issue at all. There is a lot of cultural significance attached to the ‘ava and the kava ceremonies. For the Tongan community, for the Samoan community, and for the Fijian community it will be a psychoactive substance, and we wonder whether they would like to make a submission on this bill, to make sure that this bill does not cover their cultural rituals. It is a serious issue, and I see that the Associate Minister of Health the Hon Peter Dunne is certainly nodding his head, so he may be able to speak to that at length a little bit later on.

There are some other issues that a number of other members have raised around advertising, plain packaging, and point-of-sale displays of psychoactive drugs that are covered by this bill. We certainly look forward to having some discussion around that, considering that the House in the last term went through some very robust debate on the Smoke-free Environments (Controls and Enforcement) Amendment Act around the advertising of tobacco. We believe that leaving that matter under regulatory power is an interesting move, given what we did in this House in the previous term. We certainly look forward to debate on that at the select committee, to see whether or not we think it is appropriate to leave that decision on regulatory power to be made by someone other than this House.

The bill also establishes a couple of bodies. It establishes the Psychoactive Substances Appeals Committee, which will look at some of the decisions that are made by the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority and the Psychoactive Substances Expert Advisory Committee, which are determining whether or not some of these substances are legal. [Interruption] Mr Williamson might need a bit of a pick-up over there—someone get him a lolly. I think it is a good move to set up the authority and the body to have a look at what will be deemed to be safely sold, to have a low impact on people using these drugs.

I do understand that if people are caught with non-approved substances, they will be up for an infringement fee of $500. As Iain Lees-Galloway said, that is a very good move, and we should perhaps look at expanding that beyond just the psychoactive substances listed here. I also note that anyone who is caught selling or supplying the substances that are not approved, offering to sell or supply a substance that is not approved, or possessing a substance with intention to sell or supply will be up for imprisonment of 2 years and a fine of $500. That is pretty serious punishment for anyone who is caught selling or preparing to sell psychoactive substances that do not have approval.

Labour does support this bill. It does a lot of good. There are some lost opportunities, because of the Law Commission recommendations that the Government has not taken up. We are a bit disappointed that this issue was highlighted by the Law Commission back in April 2011 and now, in April 2013, this legislation has just been introduced to the House.

MIKE SABIN (National—Northland) : Firstly, I commend the work of the honourable Minister Dunne on this Psychoactive Substances Bill. I want to just touch on a couple of the points that have been raised by members, particularly from the Green Party, and ACT in this case, who talked about the importance of regulation and broadening what we do in this space, intimating that we really look at the issue of cannabis.

I find it highly ironic that we are discussing this issue in the House, and a member from the Green Party was on the television programme Native Affairs talking about cannabis as legitimate income support—legitimate income support—and that there are some real entrepreneurial skills of those growing cannabis to support their families. The House will reflect on that. How can members from that party honestly get up and make comments and expect people to take them seriously, when they make comments like that about cannabis?

Let us at least make this very clear: this is about synthetic drugs. This Government’s position on cannabis is very clear, because we do know the harm of cannabis. We do know the harm of cannabis. There are more hospitalisations in this country as a result of the psychotic impacts of cannabis than of any other drug. So let us put that on the—[Interruption] We are talking about illicit drugs. I know that member’s position on cannabis; he might like to get up and share it with the House.

Let us make it quite clear: the only safe drug use is no drug use, and that is not something that has been discussed. The only safe drug use is no drug use. The world has gone through some concerning evolutions in terms of its fascination with drugs in the last 15 years. Over that time we have seen what has happened in New Zealand with the advent of methamphetamine. Well, Logan Millar and Matt Bowden made themselves multimillionaires out of the benzylpiperazine (BZP) market, selling it on the notion that if there are these safe alternatives, then people will not get into P. Yet, over the course of the 8 years that that drug was legally available, there was a huge growth in methamphetamine and other synthetic stimulants. Benzylpiperazine was sold alongside lollies and ice creams in dairies, and that really created the notion that if a youngster wants to go out and have fun, then they should be popping a pill or smoking a pipe to do that. I want to challenge that, and this bill, the Psychoactive Substances Bill, should go a long way towards challenging that, because when BZP was criminalised, what Logan Millar and his other backyard chemist friends did was they synthesised other analogues and created other synthetic drugs, and used New Zealand youngsters as the guinea pigs, while they were counting up the dollars on their money machines.

This is at the core of what this legislation sets out to do. It is to say that if people are going to produce a substance, and people out there choose to take that substance, then the people producing it should be able to show that it is low risk. The select committee will need to work very, very carefully on what that low risk is, because I would submit that there would not be many medical practitioners who would suggest that smoking anything is safe. So that will have to be tangled with by the select committee.

I welcome this legislation; I do not welcome the comments by some who seem to intimate that we should shift all drugs into a space where they are regulated, because that is not the case. This is dealing with synthetic stimulants and the cat-and-mouse game that we have seen. I hope that for those who are producing the K2s and the synthetic drugs out there, and experimenting on our young people, that this sends them out of business. I hope it is part of turning the culture round in this country, that if people want to go out and have fun, it does not have to be by popping a pill, smoking a drug, or getting off their heads. I commend this bill to the House.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Lindsay Tisch): I understand the next call is a split call.

Hon MARYAN STREET (Labour) : I am pleased to take a shared call on this bill, the Psychoactive Substances Bill, this afternoon. First of all, I would like to note that legislation in this area is notoriously difficult to get right, and I commend the Minister of Health for the efforts he has made in this bill to modernise a system of legislation and regulation around harmful substances—in this case, psychoactive substances.

I would also like to put on record a tribute to my colleague Iain Lees-Galloway, who has been assiduous about this issue in particular since he came into this House, and who, when he held other portfolios, has been outspoken and prompt in his wish for greater protection of people, particularly young people, from harmful substances. I commend him for that and thank him for his contribution, which could be highlighted by a media statement he made almost exactly this time last year. On 30 March 2012, I think, Iain Lees-Galloway put out a media statement exactly on this issue, and called for a more comprehensive approach to the Misuse of Drugs Act.

In the event, what we have got is an interim measure. We had interim measures introduced in 2011. We supported those, in lieu of a comprehensive review of the Misuse of Drugs Act. Those interim provisions were rolled over in 2012, and they are about to expire again. So, again, in lieu of, or for want of, a comprehensive review of the Misuse of Drugs Act, Labour will be supporting this bill. We would rather have this, and I accept the Minister’s efforts in this regard that the comprehensive review may in fact be something separate.

However, in the Law Commission’s report that the previous Labour Government called for in 2007, the commission’s recommendations in its final report recommended criteria against which psychoactive substances could be assessed. These are, first, the nature of the harms and the benefit of the product; second, whether the harms can be effectively managed through regulation; three, likely consequences of regulation compared to prohibition; and, four, potential displacement issues.

I hope the Health Committee, of which I am no longer a member, takes those criteria from the Law Commission’s report and measures the bill up against them. I am sure that that is what the Minister has intended to have happen, and I hope that because this bill’s primary objective is to render ineligible for legal sale the products that cause common adverse reactions, impact on a user’s health, and may cause societal problems such as aggression, that the bill will be suitably scrutinised and measured against those recommendations and against its own objective.

Young people think that psychoactive drugs are safe because they are unregulated, because they are available for sale in shops. They know when things are illegal. They know when there is an impending punishment for taking something that is illegal. They know when they cannot buy something and they know when they are committing a crime when they do. But these unregulated psychoactive drugs, or previously unregulated psychoactive drugs, are readily available, and they morph and transform with every new generation of chemical expertise that the peddlers engage in. So they tend to think that if they can buy it, it is safe. Nothing could be further from the truth. I commend this bill to the House, and the Labour Party will be supporting it.

MOJO MATHERS (Green) : It is with some mixed feelings that I rise to speak to this bill, the Psychoactive Substances Bill. The Green Party strongly supports sensible regulation of party pills, legal highs, and other psychoactive substances, for the reasons covered previously by my colleague Kevin Hague. However, we do have significant concerns about the nature of the testing regime being proposed for these substances.

Last year I tabled in Parliament a report commissioned by the Ministry of Health outlining a possible testing regime. All of the proposed tests in that paper involved forcing animals, including dogs, to ingest the substances by the same route that humans will be ingesting them, which means that for some substances, such as synthetic cannabis, they will be forced to wear masks to inhale them. Even with the notorious LD50 tests ruled out, it is clear that the level of pain and suffering involved in the proposed test will be incredibly high.

Whenever animal testing is proposed, we need to be sure that the benefit to society justifies the level of suffering involved and that all non-animal means of testing for safety have been properly considered. So far, neither of these criteria has been met. It was incredible that there was no consideration in the Ministry of Health report of non-animal tests and their effectiveness. Furthermore, recreational drugs are not medicine: no one has to take them daily to remain alive or to stay healthy.

The Green Party supports the call for a clause to be added to this bill that prohibits animal testing for these drugs. Such a move would be in line with public opinion and within international trends towards reducing animal testing.

In the 1990s the United Kingdom banned all animal testing of tobacco and alcohol for ethical reasons and put in place a new system to approve such products for sale. As a result there has been huge progress in the development of non-animal toxicity tests. Innovative substantial advances in cell-culture technology and computer modelling mean that microchips and models can be made to mimic the effects of drugs on human organs like lungs, liver, and bone marrow to understand the effects that certain substances will have on human health. Although no test is 100 percent accurate in predicting the impact of drugs on humans, non-animal tests are increasingly being shown to be significantly better predictors than animal tests. Recent research, for example, has shown that non-animal tests involving cell lines to be 80 to 97 percent accurate in predicting the impact, as opposed to 40 to 60 percent accuracy for rodent trials. The main reason that animal tests are still being done is that legislation and policy making have not kept up with the science.

We also need to rule out animal tests, to prevent the exporting of animal testing to overseas. The two main countries involved in contract testing are China and India. Both countries have little or no animal welfare protections in place for laboratory animals and there is evidence showing that the way that these animals in the labs are treated falls well short of anything that we would allow in New Zealand. Without a clause ruling out animal tests it is very likely that many New Zealand companies will simply opt to have the testing done in these countries, partly because it is cheaper to do so, but clearly it just shifts the moral problem elsewhere.

New Zealand has often been described as a world leader in animal welfare and it forms an important part of our international reputation. Let us not comprise this reputation by allowing cruel animal testing for psychoactive substances. I strongly urge the ministry to listen to public views on this issue, review the evidence, and insert a clause to exclude these cruel, outdated, and unnecessary tests from this bill. Thank you.

TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) : This is a very significant and contemporary issue and the public are rightly looking to Parliament to respond quickly and appropriately. So I want to thank the Associate Minister of Health for the work that he has done in bringing this Psychoactive Substances Bill to this House and for all the efforts that have gone in, leading to this point. I thank all members for the very intelligent and constructive debate that we have had this afternoon. I wish the Health Committee well in the work that lies before it, and I fully support the bill.

  • Bill read a first time.
  • Bill referred to the Health Committee.

Hon PETER DUNNE (Associate Minister of Health) : I move, That the Psychoactive Substances Bill be reported to the House by 14 June 2013, and that the committee have authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting (except during oral questions), during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders 188 and 191(1)(b) and (c). Can I briefly offer an explanation why that truncated process is necessary. The first of the temporary notices expires in early August. That was the one, from memory, that deals with the product Kronic. If this legislation is not in place by that time, then those products will be back on the shelves.

I know I am not allowed to refer to a previous debate, but if I could refer to some themes that were raised there and just correct one or two assumptions that were stated. When we introduced the temporary amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act nearly 2 years ago, it was always on the basis that we would follow it up with this legislation. That temporary legislation contains the power to issue a temporary notice for a period of 1 year, which is able to be extended for a maximum of 1 further year. So that is the importance of the April 2013 date. There will be some products that will start to expire in terms of their ban, and it is necessary, therefore, to have the permanent regime in place by then so that we can achieve the objectives that the House has agreed to, by agreeing to read the bill a first time.

The period before the select committee will be about nearly a couple of months from here. It is an issue that has been well canvassed. I say with no disrespect to submitters that I suspect the issues to be raised will not be extensive, in that there are not a lot of new issues; we have dealt with this over the last 2 years. The sort of issue that Mr Faafoi raised, and one or two others have raised, about specific issues might be where the select committee will focus its attention. It is in that context, therefore, I consider that the 2-month period is not unreasonable, and I also have considerable confidence in the ability of the select committee to do the job thoroughly in that time. That is why I have moved the truncated process.

IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North) : Can I say that I appreciate the comments made by the Associate Minister of Health the Hon Peter Dunne in opening up this debate regarding the period of time that the Health Committee will have to consider this Psychoactive Substances Bill. Labour will support that period. There was a suggestion last week that it might have been considerably shorter than that. That might have been an error, and we appreciate that. But, having said that, 2 months is considerably shorter than the standard period of time a select committee is given. For people who do not read the Standing Orders closely and who might be watching this at home, the normal period of time is between 4 and 6 months, and 2 months is considerably shorter than that. Of course, the reason given by the Minister is absolutely correct. We need to have this legislation completed before August this year, so that those temporary bans issued under the amendments made to the Misuse of Drugs Act some 18 months ago are not allowed to lapse and we do not see products like Kronic, Spice, Dream, and those sorts of things coming back on to the market. However, it is important to point out that completing the legislation before August did not require a shortened select committee period; it simply required the Government to get on with the job an awful lot sooner than it has done.

Let us look back at the process that has been taken to get to here. This bill was introduced back in February this year. Some people say that it took an awfully long time for the bill to get to the House, but the bill was introduced in February this year. If this had been a priority for the National-led Government, if this Government was organised, and if it thought that it was a priority to protect children and youngsters from the substances that are on the shelves that we think are not safe, it could have got itself sorted and got the bill through its first reading a lot sooner than today. If Gerry Brownlee as Leader of the House was worth his salt and was actually able to organise his House and organise his Government, then this bill would have been passed through its first reading a lot sooner than today. If the National whips over there could get their team organised, then this bill would have been passed a lot sooner than today.

This is an important piece of legislation and I actually reject the statement made by the Minister that the issues that people will want to consider at the select committee will be narrow. In this debate alone we have canvassed a range of subjects that we believe the select committee is going to need to consider: plain packaging, display bans, in-store—

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Lindsay Tisch): Order! [Interruption] No, no. When I am on my feet, there is silence. In this debate any special powers or provisions are restricted to only the reasons why there is a truncated report-back period from the select committee. You cannot get into the substantive matter of the debate like objects and provisions. You cannot do that, so I will come back—and there is a Standing Order on this. So just refer to the truncated period of the report-back period.

IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I accept the Speaker’s ruling, but I wished only to list the very large number of issues that were raised in the first reading debate alone that members want to consider at the select committee. That requires a reasonable length of time to give those issues full consideration. I know that at the Health Committee we will do our very best to give this bill the full consideration that it needs in the very short period of time that we have been given.

The fact is that this is an important piece of legislation that marks a significant change, and we need to get this right. We do not want to come back in 12 months’ time and say that we got this wrong. It is extremely unfortunate that this Government has not placed the priority required on this piece of legislation to get it through the first reading in a timely fashion, so that the select committee could give it a more fulsome consideration than what we will be allowed to do.

Let us be absolutely honest about this. The Government has left this until the last possible minute. In fact, it has gone past the last possible minute. It did not have to quite go around the Standing Orders, but it has had to use the full width of the Standing Orders in order to allow the select committee to consider this bill. I think that is a very, very poor reflection on this Government’s priorities, and it is a very poor reflection on this Government’s ability to organise its own business. It has been said several times in the last few weeks that this Government is looking a bit shambolic, and this is just another example of the shambles that this Government has become. Let us lay the blame squarely where it belongs. This belongs to Gerry Brownlee. As the Leader of the House, he should have been more organised. He should have prioritised this bill. It was introduced in February. We could have debated it back then, we could have got it to the select committee, and we could have given the bill the time that it deserves. This is not an appropriate use of process.

People are getting sick and tired of this Government, led by John Key, riding roughshod over the democratic process. We have a process set out in the Standing Orders for a reason, and that is to make sure that, one, we get legislation right so that we do not have to come back to it in the future; and, two, we give people an opportunity to have their say. I know that this is an issue that is a real hot-button issue in our communities. I think that people will want to come and have their say, but because they know that the select committee is not really going to have time to look at this properly they are probably going to shy away from coming forward. I think it is sad that this Government is sending a message to New Zealanders not to bother submitting on a piece of legislation, not to bother coming to Parliament, not to bother speaking to MPs face to face about what the impact of a piece of legislation might have on them or their communities, and not to bother coming to us and giving us some good ideas. We do not know everything. Some of us might like to think we do, but we do not know everything. We should take advice from the public and we should give the public the opportunity to come and speak to us about bills like this one.

We do not want to be an obstructive Opposition. We do want this legislation passed by August because it has to be passed by August, so we are not going to get in the way. But I think it is important to point out why we have got into this situation. The reason is that this Government has not prioritised getting these substances out of our stores, and the other reason is that this Government is a shambles and it cannot get itself organised.

Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai) : We have learnt today that there is a report-back date from the Health Committee in 2 months’ time—the Psychoactive Substances Bill needs to be back before August. We understand that, and you have heard from my colleague Iain Lees-Galloway that we will support that, but we do have to point out that the gestation of this bill has taken longer than the pregnancy of an elephant. It was in July 2007 that the Law Commission was asked by the previous Labour Government to look at the misuse of drugs, particularly this issue. We know that in February 2010 the commission had submissions on such a measure, and that its final report came out in May 2011—almost 2 years ago. The Government then responded in September 2011, and finally we got a bill in February 2013.

I believe that the Minister in charge of this bill, the Associate Minister of Health, would have wanted this progressed much faster than it has been. I know Peter Dunne, and I know that he would have been pushing to have this bill brought forward at a much faster pace than it has been. He has not had the opportunity to bring forward a bill that the National Party members of the Government are saying is so urgent, that they really support, and that is needed in our community. Peter Dunne has had his bill blocked because they had other measures they believed were more important. Well, I think this bill should have been ahead of a lot of other bills. This bill should have had the priority that the Minister in charge of it wanted for it, but he has been thwarted and he has had to wait in line while other Ministers dabbled around with their legislation.

So when we hear members opposite saying that this is a very urgent measure, I believe they are shedding crocodile tears, because this bill should have been debated a lot earlier. It was introduced in February. Now we are waiting and we are going to have to report on it in a fast and truncated manner. We do need time at the select committee to look at all the issues. Minister Dunne, I did raise an issue around the overseas manufacture of these drugs and whether the authority is going to be able to audit those places of manufacture that are outside New Zealand. These are some of the measures that are going to need to be looked at. We need the time to go into them. I know the select committee will try to do its very best. Government members actually should be ashamed of themselves. You cannot tell the public of New Zealand that you really care about this issue, that you are really worried about the substances that young people, in particular, are taking—saying that they are not regulated, people have no idea of the dosage or what is in the substances, and there are no age restrictions or restrictions on where they are sold—and then delay this bill for so long.

Well, I say congratulations to Minister Dunne on bringing forward a piece of legislation that is going to address the issue and, I think, ensure that we have safe products on our shelves. That is what New Zealanders want—safety and as low a risk as possible. But, Minister, you have been thwarted by your coalition partner in getting this bill to this House and passed. I hope we can do it justice in 2 months. We certainly want the public to have its say on this bill. There will be many, many views on it, and I hope we come back to this House with an improved bill.

But Gerry Brownlee and his management of this House are getting worse by the day—worse by the day. You cannot say something is a priority and then delay it and put other bills before it. It is either urgent and a priority, or it is not. So do not give us the crocodile tears; give us the action. We will do our best and we will support it, but I have to say that this is very poor management of an urgently needed bill.

KRIS FAAFOI (Labour—Mana) : I guess what I am going to say is best summed up as that it did not have to be this way. The Law Commission put forward its report on this issue in April 2011, and here we are in the year 2013, in April, and this legislation, the Psychoactive Substances Bill, is being put through this House. Although we are supportive of the referral motion that the Associate Minister of Health is seeking—to bring the select committee period for submissions from around 4 to 6 months, which is the usual term, down to 2 months—we are very concerned that that really takes away the time for public scrutiny around this bill. There will be plenty of public scrutiny, as has been said in earlier contributions. Members from right around this House were talking about the numbers of stories that they had in their own communities around concern around the use of party pills and legal highs, so we expect there to be a significant amount of scrutiny and comment from the public. To have that window of opportunity for people to make their submissions reduced from around 4 to 6 months, which is the usual amount of time, down to 2 months, is a concern for us, as we would like to have the submissions listened to in a meaningful manner.

As the Hon Annette King said, you have got to have some sympathy for the Hon Peter Dunne, who is in charge of this bill, because he has been pushing for this bill for some time. As I said, the Law Commission report came out in April 2011, and I am sure that behind the scenes he would have been pushing the Government very hard for this legislation to get in and be passed by the time the temporary legislation runs out and becomes invalid in August of this year. So now we have found ourselves in a situation where the Minister has to come to this House and ask for us to truncate the select committee period in order for his law—a very good law, we are saying—to come into effect so that there is no window of opportunity for the likes of Kronic, K2, Dream, and the other substances, all sorts of substances, to go back on the shelves.

Again I will just reiterate that it would not have had to be this way if the Government had acted faster to get this legislation to the House. It was introduced in February 2013—this year—despite the Government making recommendations in 2012, I believe around September, that legislation would be made available to this House. So it has taken a considerable amount of time, and I am sure a considerable amount of lobbying has gone on behind the scenes by Peter Dunne to get this legislation to the House. But it has taken another 6 to 8 months for it to be introduced, and Mr Dunne now has to come to this House and ask us to truncate the select committee period. Well, we do not think that is good enough in terms of the management of legislation by the Government in this House.

As the honourable member said in his opening address to this referral motion, he does not believe that there will be a lot of issues raised during the select committee process, but one of the issues that he did refer to was one that I mentioned in the first reading, around the classification of kava, which is a serious issue. Although I mentioned it, members on the other side of the House said that it might not necessarily be included in this bill. There is nothing in this bill to say that kava may not be included, so I believe that that is one of the issues. And Sam Lotu-Iiga will be interested in this, because he is never shy of an ‘ava ceremony. So if you read the bill—

Hon Maurice Williamson: It covers synthetic. It covers synthetic only.

KRIS FAAFOI: If you read the bill at clause 9, “Meaning of psychoactive substance”, it does not say anywhere in that part of the bill that it is just synthetic substances. So that is something that I think needs to be addressed at the select committee. I am sure there will be a lot of interest in the Pacific community around making sure that they put their legitimate questions and their opinions to the select committee. But because that select committee submission period is going to be truncated from the usual 4 to 6 months to 2 months, that is going to make it a little bit more difficult for those communities to put their argument across.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Rubbish. Scaremongering.

KRIS FAAFOI: It is not scaremongering. It is actually the truth, because those communities will now have a smaller window of opportunity to make—

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Read the bill, if you can.

KRIS FAAFOI: I have read the bill. I have read the bill. You go to clause 9 and you tell me where it says that this covers only synthetic materials. It does not, so that is one of the valid questions that I think the Pacific community can put to the select committee, to make sure that their rituals around the ‘ava and kava ceremonies can be protected for their own cultural identity.

Paul Hutchison said in the first reading debate that this Government wants to get the law through in a fairly rapid way, which, as Annette King said, was crocodile tears from the Government, because it has not moved in a very rapid way with this legislation, at all. On this side of the House we do want to make sure that we get this legislation through in a rapid way, but nothing that this Government has done in terms of the passage of this legislation has seen it moving in any faster way at all. The Minister said it was cat and mouse in terms of the particulars around the technology and the fast-moving nature of this industry, but this Government has moved more like turtles in terms of the way in which it has introduced this legislation to the House. Again, we do have some sympathy for Peter Dunne, because I am sure he would have wanted to make this legislation get through this House much, much faster.

We will support the referral motion to reduce the submission time to 2 months. It is not without concern. It does mean that the window of opportunity for submitters is much smaller, and that the public will not get a much more fulsome opportunity to debate this issue.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) : I rise to take a very short call in this debate to record my support for the position that the Opposition has set forward, which is to conditionally support this bill, the Psychoactive Substances Bill, proceeding to a select committee process of not less than 2 months. It is worth recording that the Government’s preference was a very shoddy 1-month process, and that under discussion with the Opposition—

Hon Peter Dunne: No, that’s not true. That’s not correct. That’s not correct.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Oh, that was a mistake? Oh, now it is a mistake, like so much else that has been happening lately, like the appointments of senior and very sensitive Public Service positions, like the protection of personal, private information, and a whole lot of other mistakes.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! Order!

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I will come back to the bill. Labour supports in principle the shifting of the burden of proof. This is an issue that my colleague Iain Lees-Galloway, our associate health spokesperson, has spent some time on over the years. He has led a debate within our caucus that shows the value in ensuring that those who would wish to put on the market potentially psychoactive substances are required to meet the full cost and the full standards of medical integrity of providing for those tests. I also wish to just briefly record, as a member of Parliament with a large Pacific Island community in my electorate, the sensitivity around the issue of kava taking. It is a traditional substance, it is part of traditional routines, and we will want assurance from—

Hon Peter Dunne: Wrong bill. The natural products bill covers it.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: —well, we will wait for the Minister to go on record when he is in the chair, and we look forward to that—the Government that traditional cultural practices will not be inappropriately affected by this legislation. I will look forward to hearing Pacific members opposite taking up that banner in support of those constituencies. It seems to be the Labour members so far who have been championing that issue on behalf of our Pacific communities.

So summing up—and I do not wish to detain the House—Labour conditionally supports the passage of this bill through to the select committee process. We hope that the public will have as much opportunity as possible to make submissions. The Health Committee will carefully consider those. It is strange that the Government, which has had this bill in development for such a very long time, has brought it to the House with such a rushed timetable—only 2 months, it has now been clarified, shall we say. That is against the normal practice of a full 6-month select committee hearing timetable. That is not ideal. It is part of a trend that New Zealanders are seeing where this Government is playing fast and loose with the legislative process. New Zealanders are becoming increasingly concerned and increasingly disappointed in a Government that is not protecting their rights—not protecting their rights to have their say on legislation, not protecting their rights to the privacy of their personal information, and not protecting their rights to keep them from the prying eyes of the State. New Zealanders are asking what it is going to look like to live in John Key’s New Zealand in a couple of years’ time if these trends continue. It is something that all New Zealanders would wish to guard against.

So although we have no problem with the principle of this bill, which is the reversing of the burden of proof here to ensure that the proposed manufacturers and retailers of potentially psychoactive drugs are meeting the costs and the due diligence of proving their safety, we are seriously concerned about the shortage of time for submissions, and we have been very active in pushing back on the Government for any further shortening. Thank you.

  • Motion agreed to.