Key backtracks on medicine bill

By Audrey Young

State Services Minister Annette King is seeking a meeting with National leader John Key to "start again" on a joint transtasman therapeutics regulatory agency.

She made an approach to his office yesterday after controversial comments he made to the Herald that appeared to change National's position - something Mr Key denies.

Mr Key also denies having said that National would sign a proposal like that suggested by New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, despite quotes that appear to say just that.

Yesterday he issued a statement saying the report had misrepresented him but last night conceded that his comments could have caused confusion.

And after speaking to Australian High Commissioner John Dauth, Mr Key announced that Mr Peters' compromise proposal would be unacceptable to Australia and therefore "it was never a live option".

"The Labour Government and Annette King have bungled and obfuscated over this whole issue, while National has been consistent," he said.

Ms King said last night that when the controversy over Mr Key's comments had died down, she wanted to meet him.

"When the dust settles there ought to be a meeting to say, 'Let's start again.

This is what the Australians said they would do, this is what we could run in New Zealand. Are you prepared to look at it?"'

Mr Key said last night that if Ms King delivered National an amendment to the bill "we would look at it seriously".

He would also be prepared to meet her to discuss the wording of an amendment.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters said from Manila yesterday that the issue might be discussed when he had talks in Auckland on Sunday with Australian counterpart Alexander Downer.

Mr Key made his controversial comments in an interview with three Herald journalists on Tuesday.

He completed a segment of the interview by saying, "If they want to bring us a proposal in line with what Peters said on television, we'll sign it."

Mr Key maintains he was not talking about the Peters proposal when he said that, because he had never actually seen it, but was referring to a TV clip of Mr Peters saying it would remove complementary medicines from the bill.

Contrary to claims by New Zealand First earlier this week, a copy of Mr Peters' amendment had not been sent to National's shadow leader of the House, Gerry Brownlee, until yesterday.

The proposal is understood to have been drafted to meet National's objections.

Despite saying yesterday he did not know what Mr Peters' proposal was, Mr Key accurately described the essence of it in his Tuesday interview.

The original transtasman plan would have captured all pharmaceuticals and complementary medicines in a joint agency but Labour struggled to gain support for it.

Mr Peters proposed a compromise that took out complementary medicines from the joint agency but allowed manufacturers to opt in if they wanted - which they would have to do if they wanted to trade in Australia.

That proposal was never formally put to National.

But Mr Key repeatedly said on Tuesday that if he was a given a deal that took out complementary medicines but allowed a voluntary opt-in for them - essentially a description of the Peters proposal - he would sign it.

Mr Key issued a statement early yesterday saying the Herald's report had been misleading.

He said National's position had always been to keep complementary medicines out of the agency and that remained the case.

He was silent on his comments about voluntary opt-in the previous day - which effectively tally with Mr Peters' compromise.

Last night Mr Key conceded he might have confused people.

"I don't think I have changed any way through," he said. "I accept that I have confused people by saying 'voluntary opt-in' but I thought that a statement of fact."

Ms King said that Mr Key's reported acceptance of proposals to let companies selling complementary medicines voluntarily opt in to a joint agency was new policy and that was what prompted her to contact Mr Key's office at 8.30am yesterday seeking a meeting.

"That is a shift from where they were. That is why it was so significant."

National had always said complementaries should be kept out, full stop, she said.

Ms King expanded last night on her last discussion with Australian Health Minister Tony Abbott, and it now appears her two-tier system is not exactly the same as that proposed by Mr Peters.

IN OR OUT

John Key on the medicines rules
John Key denies backing Winston Peters' compromise. Make up your own mind from quotes he gave to the Herald on Tuesday:

* Key: "It's pretty straightforward isn't it? It's all very well people having a whack at us, but if they want to bring us a proposal in line with what Peters said on television, we'll sign it. I keep asking for it. No one has shown it to me."As for Winston Peters' proposal, a press release does not make a proposal. If someone wants to show us a proposal and it does what it says and carves out complementaries with a voluntary opt-in, we'll sign it."

* Herald: "If they came to you now, would you sign it?"

* Key: "Yep. It is parked on the order paper. Our position has always been carve out complementaries with a voluntary opt-in regime."The basic fundamental principle is carve out the complementaries which won't be exported to Australia so are of no concern to Australia. They are a domestic-only issue here in New Zealand. For the vast bulk they will voluntarily opt back in and that was what our understanding is of Winston Peters' proposal."

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