Helen Clark calls Government's World Health Organization policy 'cringeworthy'

  • 01/12/2023

The Government's policy to lodge a reservation against adopting World Health Organization (WHO) regulations has prompted a strong reaction from Helen Clark, who describes it as "cringeworthy". 

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon unveiled the Government's 100-day plan on Wednesday, one policy on the list being to lodge a reservation against adopting amendments WHO regulations to allow the Government to consider these against a "national interest test". 

The policy has perplexed some public health experts, with the University of Otago's Michael Baker calling it "incoherent".

Taking to X on Thursday, former Prime Minister Clark also heavily criticised the policy. 

"Cringeworthy," she said. 

"The international health regulations need strengthening to improve protection against #pandemic threats. 

"It's incomprehensible that any #NZ Govt would seek to block reforms." 

Clark went on to question whether the National Party understood what it signed up for in its Coalition agreement with NZ First. 

The policy was in NZ First's election manifesto under the section 'defending democracy and our nation's sovereignty'. The policy promised to require "a national interest test to stop us being dictated to by the United Nations and agencies like the WHO".   

"#NZ Govt's decision to enter a reservation on a minor 2022 amendment to international health regulations doesn't bode well for NZ playing a constructive role in broader reform of international law around #pandemic preparedness & response," Clark said in a separate post. 

Asked about the policy on Wednesday, Luxon said it was simple.   

"We just, as a new Government, want to be able to take a pause and make sure that it meets a national interest test," he told reporters.   

"There's a decision that needs to be made by December 1, we want to take a pause and make sure we understand, and it meets the desires."   

But former Health Minister Ayesha Verrall, like ex-Labour leader Clark, has slammed the policy. 

"Those health regulations are used to make sure that when there is a disease with pandemic-potential, there is an early warning given out across the world," Dr Verrall said. 

"It is incredibly important that we have international health regulations that work. 

"As I have said on many of the issues, the Coalition formed its agreement behind closed doors - so we can't say why they did that. However, I'm deeply concerned that I see that sort of rubbish about the WHO and international health regulations on the internet and, all of a sudden, it's in a Coalition document." 

Health Minister Shane Reti told RNZ the policy was "an interim position to give the new Government the opportunity to receive advice and fully consider the amendments".

The Opposition suggesting "the Government's commitment to international health outcomes has been compromised" was not justified, Dr Reti said.