Urgency deals with pills and Bills

Invercargill list MP Liz Craig speaks in support 
of drug checking legislation.PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
Invercargill list MP Liz Craig speaks in support of drug checking legislation.PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
Over the Christmas break, Wanaka will host the hugely popular Rhythm and Alps music festival.

A few weeks later, with the academic year poised to begin, Dunedin’s student body will party hearty at the annual Orientation extravaganza.

At both events, illegal drugs will be consumed.

This is not to suggest that fans of electronic dance music are of a type, or that students are wildly irresponsible pill-poppers: it is what happens.

There are strict rules concerning the sale of legal drugs, which are comprehensively tested before being deemed fit for human consumption.

The manufacturers of illegal drugs, not being bound by the same conventions, can and often do offer substances for sale which are not what they are purported to be.

Drug checking has been offered at many festivals in recent times; in 2017-18 testers found 20% of pills did not contain what those who intended to take them thought they did and a further 11% were a different drug entirely.

Unsurprisingly, more than half of those who availed themselves of the service and discovered they might been about to take a different trip to the one they had intended changed their minds.

This might all seem eminently sensible but for one crucial point: drug checking was at worst an illegal and at best a legally uncertain activity.

While a review of the nation’s entire drug laws has been much postponed and is well overdue — as the debate over the cannabis law change referendum showed — the new Government chose to move immediately on this narrow point.

First cab off the rank under urgency was the Drug and Substance Checking Legislation Bill, a law change to permit pill testing this summer.

While not a permanent law change, the Act — which was passed on Wednesday morning — allows the Government time to assess how the regime worked and whether the law should be changed permanently.

Labour Invercargill list MP Liz Craig was a frequent speaker in this debate, one which placed her in the curious position of backing a policy which as a politician she was obliged to support but which as a doctor might be one to pose ethical questions.

However, as Dr Craig explained in her second reading speech, it was her time working in emergency departments during weekends which made up her mind.

"Often we'd see young people coming in having ingested an unknown substance.

"I think the issue was having to spend time with those young people with often quite frightening symptoms and working out what it is that they'd taken and how best to look after them over the next few hours or days that they were in hospital."

For Dr Craig, harm minimisation was more important than any perception of condoning the use of illegal substances — one of the main arguments put forward by National in its opposition to the measure.

It was also a busy first week back for National Party list MP Michael Woodhouse, of Dunedin, who was in the vanguard of his party’s unsuccessful battle against the hiking of the top tax rate.

While Mr Woodhouse’s first exchange as finance spokesman with Finance Minister Grant Robertson is yet to come, he did have a robust battle with Revenue Minister David Parker on the Taxation (Income Tax Rate and Other Amendments) Act, in which he invoked prominent support.

"I'm minded of the words of Winston Churchill, actually, who said that ‘I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle’," Mr Woodhouse said.

"That's exactly what we're trying to do with this Bill."

Despite Sir Winston’s adage and Mr Woodhouse’s best efforts, the law change was passed.

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean begins her new job as 
assistant Speaker.
Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean begins her new job as assistant Speaker.

Madam Assistant Speaker

Tuesday was a momentous day for Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean, as she quietly slipped into the big seat at the front of the debating chamber during Marja Lubeck’s speech in the Address in Reply debate for her first stint as assistant Speaker.

With the House in urgency there has been no gentle easing in of Mrs Dean into the role: she was obliged to preside over several debates this week, many of them heated.

Despite her inexperience as Speaker Mrs Dean has not been afraid to step in, for example hauling Act New Zealand leader David Seymour up when he was about to speak on a clause not yet available for debate.

Jobs for all

Select committee allocations have finally been made, and proved a mixed bag for southern MPs.

Dr Craig will chair the health select committee, a job she is well qualified for, and will also sit on the newly created petitions committee alongside chairwoman Mrs Dean.

New Taieri Labour MP Ingrid Leary will be delighted to have got both the foreign affairs and finance and expenditure committee — where she will square up against Mr Woodhouse.

List MP Rachel Brooking, of Dunedin, recently appointed Labour’s caucus secretary, wanted to be on the environment select committee and will be as deputy chairwoman,a role she also has on the regulations review committee.

That latter committee is Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds’ sole role, her party, National, opting for its early childhood spokeswoman Erica Stanford as its second appointee to the education and workforce committee rather than Ms Simmonds, whose CV would have well qualified her for a seat there.

Southland MP Joseph Mooney, as befits his Treaty negotiations spokesman role, is on Maori affairs, a committee which should offer plenty of challenges.

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

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