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New role for Paula Bennett under National reshuffle

Audrey Young, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 22 January 2019, 2:29PM
Paula Bennett will become the spokesperson for drug reform. (Photo / Getty)

National deputy leader Paula Bennett will become spokeswoman for drug reform ahead of the referendum on the personal use of cannabis to be held at the 2020 election.

Her portfolio of tertiary education, skills and employment has been assigned by leader Simon Bridges to Shane Reti, a large increase in responsibility for the 40th ranked MP for Whangarei.

Bridges has also made finance spokeswoman Amy Adams the shadow attorney-general, with the retirement from politics of Chris Finlayson.

Nick Smith becomes spokesman for Crown-Maori relations, and Mark Mitchell becomes spokesman for Pike River Re-entry.

The next person on National's list is Agnes Loheni and after she is sworn in to Parliament in February she will become associate spokeswoman for small business and associate spokeswoman for Pacific people.

Rankings will remain the same in relative terms.

Bridges said he had created the new drug reform portfolio because New Zealand needed a well-thought through and evidence-based approach to drug reform that balanced public safety with the need to help vulnerable people.

The role would co-ordinate National's work related to drug reform in health, education and law and order.

"It will build on our significant work in Government around the meth action plan, cracking down on drug dealers and stopping trafficking at our borders while ensuring those who need rehabilitation get access to the best services.

"There is no better person than former Police Minister Paula Bennett who has a thorough understanding of the issues to coordinate this work."

The Government last year passed a law allowing the medicinal use of cannabis - a move eventually opposed by National on the grounds that there were not sufficient rules in place.

The referendum on the personal use of cannabis was a result of Labour's confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party but the question is yet to be formulated.

Bridges described the legislation as "decriminalisation by stealth."
He said the tone the party would be aiming for was not ideological and while he opposed decriminalisation there would be different views on the referendum within National.

Bridges and Bennett held a press conference in Auckland about the reshuffle and were asked if they had taken drugs.

Bridges said that while there was marijuana around when he went to Auckland University he confined himself to alcohol in the student union bar.

"There was pot around but it was Export Gold up in the Shadows that I was drinking. I never had cannabis."

Bennett said she had not had hard drugs – she had smoked marijuana but didn't take to it very much.

"I was a girl of the 80s and grew up in Taupo and have tried it at a very light level. It didn't agree with me to be honest. I do like a party and I found it put me to sleep. I was much more interested in enjoying myself."

She said she was not sure how she would vote in the referendum - "I'm not a prude, I'm a Westie" - but later said that if the referendum were to be held tomorrow she would vote against personal use because there were too many unanswered questions on issues such as mental health, road safety and the cultivation and supply regime, advertising and tax.

Bridges said New Zealand could learn from Britain's experience of the Brexit regime and have the debate before the referendum, not afterwards.


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