The Public Health Bill

I’ve yet to blog much on this, but the Public Health Bill before Parliament is unimaginably bad. It starts with an incredibly flawed premise – that conditions such as obesity should be treated the same as communicable diseases and health bureaucrats should have the same powers.  Now communicable disease such as SARS can spread throughout a population through normal every day contact, and kill hundreds and thousands in its wake. You need pretty draconian powers in reserve for such an eventuality.

But you do not, I repeat do not need those same powers because kids are exercising less, and obesity and diabetes are increasing.

The Commonwealth Press Union has opposed the Bill:

The Press Union’s media committee (MFC) told Parliament’s health select committee it was alarmed about the broad powers the Director-General of Health would have under the Public Health Bill. …

“Editors fear that this bill as drafted will give the Director-General of Health the power to impose a code of practice on any matter deemed to be of interest to public healthcare policy makers.

“It could include the reporting of suicide, the issue of healthy foods, fatty foods, different lifestyles, alcohol and so on.”

He said if the director-general could not get agreement from all sectors of the media, he or she could ensure the code was enacted by legislation after the prescribed three-year of how the code was working.

This is all true. The Director-General of Health will become the most powerful person in NZ.  He or she can just impose codes on any industry or sector. Big issues of the past such as advertising of alcohol have been decided by Parliament with (normally) consicence votes after six or more months of consideration of an issues. Under this Bill, the DG of Health can now simply impose a new as a regulation without even a debate in Parliament.

And it gets truly scary for retailers. They could have health bureaucrats marching into their stores and instructing shop owners where to place any product they disapprove of.  They could even ban some foods from certain shops, because for example they are within say 500 metres of a school. Easter Eggs could have size restrictions placed on them or be banned totally.
Reducing obesity rates in New Zealand is a worthy goal. But if one was truly serious about it, then one would just extend school for an hour a day, and have one hour a day of PE and exercise – that would do far far more good than having the state take over the running of dairies and supermarkets. And for adults, you could allow doctors to prescribe free gym memberships for  poor overweight people. Our authorities seem obsessed with blaming everything on food choices, and nothing on exercise choices. I’m not saying the above suggestions are what should happen, but the powers in the Public Health Bill must be pared back or preferably removed.

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