What reports has she received on the Government’s decision to introduce legislation which will impose tougher laws on people who drive under the influence of illegal drugs?
I have seen several reports supporting the Government’s decision, but perhaps the most compelling information is the preliminary findings from the long-term research being conducted by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd and the New Zealand Police. An analysis of 400 blood samples from deceased drivers shows so far that 87 of the samples were tested positive for drugs only—both illegal drugs, and prescription drugs that could have impaired driving—and another 61 were tested positive for alcohol and drugs. The research will eventually cover 2,000 samples. The Government does consider it essential that we take measures to combat drug-driving on our roads, as well as drink-driving.
What other reports has the Minister seen on the Government’s decision to introduce tougher measures against drugged drivers?
I have seen a transcript of an interview with Simon Lambourne from the Automobile Association, who said that there is obviously a significant problem with drug-driving in New Zealand that needs to be addressed. I have also seen a report in the Sunday Star-Times in which the National Party spokesperson on transport, Maurice Williamson, said that National would support any sensible measures to stop people driving while impaired. However, this is in direct contrast to a media release from his colleague Otago MP Jacqui Dean who says that new law will do little to make our roads safer. Jacqui Dean says that tougher drug laws for those behind the wheel are unlikely to have any major impact on safety. I suggest she tells that to the families of the 87 confirmed victims of people who were driving under the influence of illegal drugs, or prescription drugs that could have impaired driving.
Is the Minister aware of the reported statement of Helen Poulsen, forensic toxicologist from the Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd, who is in charge of the study she referred to, which is that: “New Zealand appears to have one of the highest drug-driving levels in the world”; and if she is aware of that statement, does it not indicate to her that some action should have been taken years ago to address this problem, and can she perhaps explain why it was not?
Yes, I have seen those comments. They are from a person who is involved in the research, as the member has identified. The question could be asked as to why there has not been action sooner. I cannot address the past, but we certainly are addressing the present. The legislation will be before this Parliament very soon, and I am hopeful that it will receive the endorsement of the House.
What other reports has the Minister received that impact on the credibility of commentary on drug-driving legislation?
In general the commentary has been supportive and sound. However, Otago MP Jacqui Dean has once again shown that she speaks before she thinks. Miss Dean has written a letter to the Associate Minister of Health Jim Anderton asking whether the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs would consider banning water.
She wants to ban water. She is happy to ban water, but she is not happy to ban driving while impaired by illegal drugs. Of course, this is the same MP who said National would not borrow for tax cuts; it would simply get the money from offshore. [ Interruption] I have to say, Madam Speaker—and they do not like this answer because it is true—that I believe the editorial in the got it right when it said the National Party is like a party sniffing the political wind rather than offering itself as a credible alternative Government.