Northland Māori are calling on the Government to extend the submission deadline on the proposed Therapeutic Products Bill due to concerns about the potential regulation of rongoā Māori (traditional Māori healing practices).
About 50 people including tohunga (Māori healers), practitioners, Māori business owners and whānau met with the Manutu Hauora (Ministry of Health) and Te Aka Whai Ora (Māori Health Authority) at Parawhenua Marae last week for the region’s first and only hui (meeting) to discuss the potential implications of the bill on Māori.
The hui was organised by well-known Ahipara organic gardener, Maramataka (Māori lunar calendar) practitioner and sometimes controversial Te Tai Tokerau figure Rueben Taipari (Ngāpuhi), along with Ahipara local Trish Fabling in response to feedback from the Northland community about the new bill.
The controversial new Therapeutic Products Bill was introduced in November, with the intention to replace the Medicines Act 1981 and the Dietary Supplements Regulations 1985.
All natural products are regulated under the old Medicines Act (1981), with the new act seeking to provide regulation of therapeutic products, such as medicines, medical devices, natural health products, and active pharmaceutical ingredients.
Rongoā Māori is not mentioned in the bill but has drawn criticism from many Māori, who claim tangata whenua were not adequately consulted before its introduction to Parliament.
Ngatiwai Trust Board CEO Huhana Lyndon (Ngati Wai, Ngāti Whatua) said while she understood the importance of upgrading the outdated legislation, her main concerns lay with an alleged lack of face-to-face consultation and visibility of Te Tiriti principles.
“We have challenged the consultation process and asked Te Aka Whai Ora to come back to the north as we need more time,” Lyndon claimed.
“This is the only meeting with the ministry that I’m aware of in Te Tai Tokerau and was organised by us, not them.
“We’ve just had Christmas, next is Waitangi Day and we are being inundated with policy reforms, so we just don’t have the capacity to respond adequately by February.”
Lyndon claimed while a new rongoā Māori workstream had been set up by Associate Minister of Health (Māori Health) Peeni Henare to work alongside the legislation, no one knew much about its role or function.
“In the bill there isn’t enough compliance or Māori perspective embedded into the legislation to ensure the new regulator takes into consideration Te Tiriti in its way of doing things,” she said.
“We also know nothing about this new workstream or who is leading it.
“For us this is a red flag and means there isn’t enough assurity that rongoā Māori will be protected.”
According to MOH, it will provide advice to the minister in April, following targeted engagement with key stakeholders, Māori partners and expert groups over the next few months.
In parallel, Te Aka Whai Ora was said to be leading a programme of work to build on investments made so far and to support the future sustainability of rongoā Māori.
Hinerangi Himiona (Te Uri Taniwha, Ngati Hineira) was the host of last Monday’s hui and shared Lyndon’s concerns about an alleged lack of authentic consultation and information about the bill.
She said this had led several people to ask about the potential return of something similar to the Tohunga Suppression Act, which had caused widespread pain and suffering for Māori.
“Rongoā does not belong in the Therapeutic Products Bill as we have an entirely different philosophy around healing than the Western model which last week’s hui affirmed,” Himiona said.
“Te Tiriti needs to be tangibly taken seriously so as to not compromise or suppress tohunga inside or outside the bill as there is still a fear this could just be another version of the Tohunga Suppression Act.
“Tangata whenua co-governance must therefore be established above the regulator so that everything that comes down to that person or entity has already passed through a filter.”
A Manatū Hauora (Ministry of Health) spokesperson said while the Therapeutic Products Bill was before Parliament, the ministry was limited in its ability to provide commentary on the bill or any future regulatory regime.
“Rongoā is not mentioned explicitly in the bill. However, because the regulation of natural health products (NHPs) operates through a permitted ingredients list (clause 29 and 30), some products manufactured by rongoā practitioners or used in the practice of rongoā will be captured by the bill,” the spokesperson said.
“Manatū Hauora conducted targeted engagement with stakeholders during 2022, including a number of online hui and face-to-face meetings, including with tāngata whenua, where rongoā Māori issues were raised and discussed.
“Alongside the introduction of the bill to Parliament in November 2022, the Government announced a separate workstream on rongoā.
“As part of this work, Manatū Hauora and Te Aka Whai Ora are engaging with Māori, rongoā practitioners and stakeholder groups.”
The spokesperson said the ministry was expected to provide advice to the Associate Minister of Health in April.
Te Pāti Māori is taking things a step further by calling on the Government to withdraw the Therapeutic Products Bill, alleging it had brought “rongoā Māori into Pākehā law without the active consent of Māori”.
“This is a dangerous bill. The regulation of rongoā poses huge risks to the protection and restoration of mātauranga Māori and would remove the power for decisions relating to rongoā from whānau, hapū and iwi to the state”, Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said in a statement on the party’s Facebook page.
“While we are open to a discussion about protecting rongoā through regulation, this needs to be driven by tangata whenua or at the very least have the active consent of our people.
“This bill doesn’t protect rongoā at all but brings it into Pākehā law, which puts rongoā practitioners at risk of civil and criminal penalties.”
A panel discussion on the Therapeutic Products Bill will be hosted in the Forum Tent at 4pm on Sunday, February 5, at Te Tii Waitangi Marae.
Anyone wanting to be involved in the engagement process on the Therapeutic Products Bill led by Manatū Hauora as part of the rongoā workstream can contact: email@example.com.
For more information and background on the Bill, go to the Manatū Hauora website: https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/regulation-health-and-disability-system/therapeutic-products-regulatory-regime.
For those wishing to make a submission, go to:
Submissions to the health select committee on the bill close at 11.59pm on February 15.