DRUG SUMMIT LEGISLATIVE RESPONSE BILL
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
The Hon. P. T. PRIMROSE
[8.21 p.m.]: I support the bill, the exposure draft of which was tabled in Parliament on 23 September. As a consequence, the draft was made publicly available. A number of organisations commented on the bill and 10 amendments regarding the medically supervised injecting room were made at the request of the Sisters of Charity. The Young Offenders Act amendment also has been tightened.
I wish to discuss a couple of the amendments in detail. First it was proposed to conduct a single 18-month trial of a medically supervised injecting room, and that was agreed to. Part of the proposal was that no-one under 18 years of age was to be admitted to the injecting room. If someone under the age of 18 years wishes to be admitted, he or she will be referred for counselling and treatment.
The second amendment to the exposure draft related to unauthorised and unlicensed injecting rooms. A new summary offence was created for advertising or holding out unlicensed premises for use as an injecting room. The third amendment allowed the courts to impose bail conditions requiring drug or alcohol assessment and rehabilitation. The fourth amendment related to the extension of the Young Offenders Act 1997 to cover minor drug offences and allow warnings, cautions and youth justice conferences.
The fifth amendment provided for the use of sniffer dogs in drug searches in juvenile justice centres. The sixth repealed the Drug Offensive Act 1987. A number of other matters have been mentioned in the debate, all of which have been adequately answered by the Minister, who has also undertaken to answer other minor matters that have been raised. For example, one of the questions often asked is: What is there to stop the honey pot effect around the injecting room site?
The police guidelines issued by the Commissioner of Police specifically state that there will not be a no-go area, that police activity will not be restricted in the immediate area of the injecting centre, and that police will carry out normal duties. This means that police will remain free to actively pursue any drug dealers who operate in the vicinity of the injecting room.
Although there is much more I could say about this bill, I intended to speak only briefly to indicate my support for the bill. I was very pleased to have been the one to move the adoption of this proposal by the Labor caucus and endorse what the Minister has proposed. To enable us to move to the next logical step, I urge all honourable members to support the bill.
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS
[8.24 p.m.]: I support the bill and I commence by again congratulating the Government on the Drug Summit that was held in the New South Wales Parliament from 17 to 21 May this year. Honourable members will recall that the Summit brought together drug experts, parents, former drug users, some current drug users and community leaders to discuss the drug issue. During the five days of the Summit many honourable members were able to put aside at least some political differences and opposing views on this issue to discuss a problem that all honourable members agree is serious, no matter how much their views on drugs, particularly the use of heroin, may vary.
There was consensus on much that came out of the Summit. Since then the Government has issued different documents relating to its plan of action. This bill was first released as an exposure draft a month or more ago and it has been debated in the community. Partly as a response to feedback from the community, it has been varied, and it is now before the Parliament in this form.
I will comment on areas in which I believe the response might have gone somewhat further. However, I make it clear that the Government is to be congratulated on introducing this legislation and, indeed, on its whole response. One of the very important matters I wish to place on the record is that this legislative response forms quite a small part of the Government’s whole comprehensive response to the New South Wales Drug Summit. Of the 172 recommendations that came out of the Summit, by far the majority are being implemented in something like 500 separate projects.
Many of the projects - whether the expansion of treatment services, the renewed emphasis on supporting families to prevent drug use or the new funding to assist communities to take action in their own area - as well as many other initiatives in education and prevention constitute a creative approach to the problem and are very important. However, relatively few of the elements in the plan of action appear in the bill; nor does the Government’s substantial financial commitment, which is approximately $176 million in new funding over four years, appear in this legislation.
The legislation is important, but all honourable members need to note the range of other measures that are being undertaken as a follow-up to the recommendations that came out of the Drug Summit in May. In some ways the present debate is strange. I have heard a number of speakers and I have been struck partly by the fact that the Government has not been given much credit by some honourable members who have participated in the debate. But perhaps that is not a surprise; governments do not usually receive much credit.
However, one of the interesting features of this debate is the very wide spectrum of opinion criticising the Government from a range of quite contrary points of view. For example, on the one hand the Hon. R. S. L. Jones made a fairly fiery attack saying that what the Government is doing is a waste of time and attacking the Premier and the Government for being very conservative. On the other hand, Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile attacked the Government for giving in to what he called the drug lobby, which I regard as a fairly insulting term.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile said that he represented the side which he described as "zero tolerance". I represent the side which he would describe as "harm minimisation". It is interesting that the Government is being criticised by members who hold either point of view. The Hon. I. Cohen described the bill as a "small but significant step"; I hope that that is a bit more than damning with faint praise.
It has been suggested that the Government’s proposal for the medically supervised injecting centre is limited. However, it is well known that the Opposition has agonised for weeks over its position, and its indecision came to a head yesterday in Opposition party room discussions.
On the one hand there is a wide measure of agreement about the legislation; on the other hand there is disagreement about matters not contained in it. Obviously, major discussion centred on the proposed 18-month trial of the safe injecting room at Kings Cross. The terminology has varied and the Special Minister of State paid tribute to the Hon. J. F. Ryan, who, at the Summit, persuaded us not to use the term "safe injecting room" but to adopt the term "medically supervised injecting centre".
Other people describe it as a "shooting gallery", but I will refer to it as the injecting room. I congratulate the Government on establishing this trial; it is a big step forward, even though it is only one trial of one room in one location. A year ago we would not have expected that step to be taken. Participants at the Summit discussed the options and recommended a trial, and invariably showed how people of good faith were trying to come up with positive solutions.
No-one has all the answers to the drug problem, and very few people pretend they do. I regret that a trial will not be held in more than one location. I agree that if only one area is to be used, Kings Cross is probably the most sensible location. However, other areas would be suitable if we are serious about the trial, including the North Coast and western Sydney. The public will accept the Sisters of Charity conducting the trial, but that has disadvantages. People who most need that sort of facility may feel that it is not really open for them.
I have some reservations about the decision to not allow users under 18 years to access the facility, although I understand the reasons behind that difficult decision. It is important that users under 18 years be accommodated, because they are highly at risk. Drugs do not discriminate. Kids under 18 die from drug use and I would have preferred to allow young people under 18 years to be able to access the trial.
A third matter about which I have reservations is the no-go zones for police, which I agree is a difficult area. The trial’s success depends on the police guidelines and the ability of the local police to help facilitate the safe injecting room in a way that allows it to be used while at the same time not arresting or harassing people who go there.
This was a problem with the Wayside Chapel during its brief trial. The fear of becoming a police target could stop people from using the facility and may mean that the trial is affected. I have a problem also with the ban on self-administration. The fear of arrest may lead to difficulties in making this trial successful.
Nevertheless, as I said at the Summit, we might have been a little braver, given the range of views expressed in this House and by members of the community. However, what the Government is doing is better than nothing. The trial was discussed at the Summit and in the succeeding six months. I hope that the 18-month trial will be successful and that we are able then to move on.
I express my personal pleasure that the charges against Reverend Ray Richmond from the Wayside Chapel tolerance room were withdrawn from court. It is a pleasant coincidence that that happened yesterday. Obviously the establishment of the tolerance room aroused strong feelings, but it helped
to move the debate considerably forward in the period immediately before the Summit.
Reverend Ray Richmond and the people associated with the tolerance room should be congratulated. I will repeat a point I made in my brief speech at the Summit about a young man I knew, Matt. Earlier this year Matt was found dead with a syringe in his hand in his car at Potts Point. Matt was 23 years old and had been dead on the back seat of his car, unreported, for at least two days. At the Summit I read a letter from Matt’s mother. I will not go into the details of that letter but its major point that is relevant to this debate was the following:
My son would be alive today if he could have used drugs in a safe controlled environment, a legalised shooting gallery, not alone in his car.
Those who are opposed to this kind of trial should think about the death of Matt and other young people who would be alive if they had been able to go to a facility like the one about to be set up. Other excellent measures in this legislative reform package include empowering courts to impose bail conditions requiring drug and alcohol assessment and rehabilitation.
I applaud that provision because it will provide opportunities to divert users into treatment programs and remove recidivist offenders from the community. The Government is to be congratulated on that provision. Similarly, the extension of the Young Offenders Act covering minor offences and the provision for warnings, cautions and youth conferences are an excellent initiative.
If these provisions help keep young offenders who have committed relatively minor drug offences out of the criminal justice system, or gaol, and assist them to face their drug problems, they will have contributed a great deal towards the aim of harm minimisation and rehabilitation and go a long way towards solving the problem rather than making it worse.
The inclusion of extra services for young people, such as extra juvenile justice drug counsellors, extra rehabilitation programs, particularly in regional New South Wales, and an increase in home detoxification facilities, is good. They help to deal positively and creatively with the drug problem rather than taking the mindless, so-called zero tolerance approach, criminalising young people after relatively minor drug offences.
I have a few doubts about some of the provisions relating to the use of sniffer dogs in juvenile justice centres but, I suppose, this sort of legislation has to contain a few things for everyone. If people are thrilled by the notion of border collies and springer spaniels playing their role in juvenile justice centres, perhaps it is important to get those people onside as well. I see the need for more reform in some areas.
I hope the House will soon have the opportunity to debate the report of the social issues committee on hepatitis C. It is one of those reports of our standing committees that has not yet come before the House. In that inquiry the committee grappled with a number of issues relating to drug reform. One of the important areas we grappled with, and in some cases were unable to agree on, was the extent of the drug problem in gaols and the extent to which that problem was exacerbated by the lack of facilities such as injecting rooms, needle exchanges, cleaner equipment for tattoos and other things discussed at length in the report.
All those things are important in dealing with the initial result of drug use and in making sure that people in prison who use drugs - as we all know they do - do not contract hepatitis C or other diseases. Without them the drug problem in our gaols, as in our community, could be multiplied and magnified by the transmission of a disease with very serious, lifelong health consequences, for which there is as yet no cure and for which the maintenance treatment for many people is very problematic.
I could give numerous other examples but the hepatitis C epidemic emphasises the point that the problems emanating from the head-in-the-sand approach to drugs, whether in gaols or elsewhere, sometimes go well beyond what people first think of, and they have long-term consequences for young people - and, indeed, older people as well. Those people have long-term health costs that have to be met by the taxpayers, the people of New South Wales. Their use of drugs has a huge impact on their families, relatives and friends and on the human services our community provides.
I would like to see the reintroduction of the legislation we attempted to introduce in the previous Parliament to decriminalise the possession of small amounts of marijuana. That legislation almost passed this House. It would be very useful to return that legislation to this House. I am very interested in the suggestion relating to the establishment of a bail house, especially for women, and about day treatment programs for users and their families, because the residential programs are certainly not always appropriate.
Other examples could be given. No-one with any sense, in this House or outside, suggests they have the solution to the drug problem. The Government is to be congratulated on the range of steps being taken - something like 500 different projects as part of the whole response to the recommendations from the Drug Summit, in addition to the legislative response we are dealing with tonight. Finally, I turn to another issue and refer to the statistics on the use of other drugs.
We talk a great deal about heroin because of the publicity it gets and the seriousness of its effect. Nevertheless, yesterday’s Daily Telegraph
dealt with the issue of drug use in the 14- to 19-year age group and the number of teenagers who have experimented. It revealed that alcohol is at the top of the list - 91.7 per cent of males and 90.7 per cent of females. Tobacco comes second with 62 per cent of males and 67 per cent of females, followed by cannabis with 45 per cent for both young men and young women.
Most honourable members are aware of the tremendous cost to our community of alcohol and tobacco, but we have made very little progress in controlling them. If only a fraction of the anger, the outcry and the outrage - whether in Parliament, the media or elsewhere - that is associated with heroin use were directed at the use of alcohol and tobacco, we would really improve our community. The other drugs in the table I referred to include LSD, ecstasy, amphetamines and so on.
Heroin is right near the bottom, with an experimentation rate of 1.1 per cent for boys and 2.3 per cent for girls - a very worrying figure - followed by cocaine with 1 per cent for boys and 2.5 per cent for girls. When taking part in the drug debate, we should always bear in mind that we are talking about one or two particular drugs used by a relatively small section of the community. To really address the health and other issues associated with drug use in New South Wales we need to look at the major drugs of alcohol and tobacco as well.
Once again, I congratulate the Government on this legislative response and on the whole package. I have made the point that I think the Government could have gone further. I recognise that the package is a compromise between differing views in the community, and I look forward to a successful trial of the injecting room and the expansion of such facilities into other areas of New South Wales where they are badly needed.
The Hon. Dr P. WONG
[8.48 p.m.]: I welcome this legislation. I support the Government’s plans to create further legislative responses to the Drug Summit. The Drug Summit was a significant event, at which difficult community problems were discussed with courage and vision. Many things were to be learned from listening to expert opinions and the personal experiences of people involved in all sides of the drug debate.
As I am a general practitioner and a community worker, the issues and problems associated with the health and social impacts of drug and alcohol abuse on individuals, their families and the broader community were not new to me. I am only too aware of the negative impacts that the use of and trafficking in illicit drugs has on individuals and communities. I am closely involved in the Cabramatta community and I constantly witness the problems imposed on the whole community by the use of and trafficking in illicit drugs.
The drug problem, a complex issue, must be addressed with a multidisciplinary approach, involving the whole community, and government and non-government organisations. The Government and the community must make a commitment to resolve, or at least minimise, the harm that the drug problem causes. However, the primary point of our concerted approach must be to understand the drug problem for what it is: a community problem and a social disease.
As a community we must understand that drug addiction is not a personal choice and often it is not a pleasurable experience; therefore drug addicts should not be ostracised and marginalised from society and left to their own ailments because that is what they have chosen. Once we see their addiction and drug taking as a health problem and not merely a criminal issue that needs to be heavily sanctioned, and once we accept these people into the community and into our health system, just like everyone else, we will change the negative social image of drug addiction.
Only then can we consider that we are on a positive track to addressing the drug problem. The Drug Summit was particularly important because it highlighted the problem and to a certain extent educated a broader section of the public about the harmful negative image that society imposes on drug addiction and how that negative image can perpetuate the drug problem. The biggest contribution of this bill - it will result in the commencement of a trial project for a shooting gallery at Kings Cross - is that it addresses that negative social image.
It sends a message that the Government and the community acknowledge that there are real risks associated with drug taking, not only to the individual who is using the drugs but also to the community. We are now prepared to minimise those
risks. This pilot project will send a message that we want to save people’s lives. I do not believe that the pilot project will send a message that drug taking is all right. It is not. We are not encouraging people to take drugs. The message that we are sending is that we care. We care for drug users, we care for their families and we care for the whole community.
I have heard concern expressed in the community about the establishment of this pilot project. I understand the points that reputable organisations such as the Salvation Army and other community groups have made, which relate to the wrong message that this project might be sending to the community and especially young people. As I said earlier, I do not believe that that is the case. This pilot project addresses one aspect of the drug abuse problem - the safety of drug taking. The education and harm minimisation strategies that are already operating must be expanded.
We need a comprehensive approach to the drug problem which will send a message to schools and to the broader community that there are real health and legal risks associated with drug abuse and trafficking. I also accept that if we overemphasise the injecting room project we will miss the boat. I am concerned about many aspects of the drug problem. During the Drug Summit I said that we should establish a drug information centre to be operated along the same lines as the Poison Information Centre, which is managed by the Children’s Hospital, so that people addicted to drugs can ring up for counselling and establish where they can go to seek help.
I was amazed when told that it would be difficult to establish such a centre as it would be too expensive and there would be too many inquiries. Somebody might ring up that centre only to discover that there was nowhere to go for help. Concern has also been expressed about the safe operation of the injecting room, the purity of drugs taken in the injecting room, and the safety and security within the room. Those are real concerns and we might not have all the answers at the moment to address those concerns.
I believe that we should have appropriate measures in place, such as medical supervision within the room, to minimise the harm caused to those who inject drugs. I am satisfied that there is a concerted effort by the Commissioner of Police and the Director-General of the Department of Health to develop guidelines for the operation and review of the practices of the injecting room. Their work will be in synergy with the work of the evaluation committee, which comprises experts in various fields, including public health, epidemiology, criminology and health economics.
I understand that there are valid concerns about the policing of the environment around the injecting room so that a honey-pot effect is prevented. Although there cannot be a guarantee that drug trafficking will be eliminated or reduced in the area, I believe that the criminal sanctions for drug trafficking, together with the enhanced police guidelines and the co-ordinated across-government review procedures, will establish the appropriate strategies to address the policing problem.
We cannot claim with perfect assurance that this pilot project will succeed. We cannot even claim that it will definitely save the lives of those who use it and that it will result in detoxification and a reduction of drug addiction. However, by establishing a pilot project with appropriate evaluation procedures and safeguards we are taking a step in the right direction and we are trying an alternative to address the drug problem. I am satisfied that a comprehensive range of services, or referrals, will be made available within the injecting room, including drug and alcohol counselling, methadone treatment, blood tests, counselling on youth support and child protection.
Those services address the wide range of problems associated with drug taking. I will encourage the Government, the management of the injecting room and the evaluation committee to expand on those services throughout the trial. I will particularly encourage the development of screening and counselling procedures within the injecting room to raise awareness of the purity of drugs, in view of the fact that the risk of drug taking is increased enormously when drugs are mixed with a number of unknown chemicals - a matter referred to by Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile earlier in debate.
I was impressed with the overseas trial which led to the rehabilitation of up to 70 per cent of drug addicts. It is worthwhile for us to conduct such a trial. As a doctor, I encourage the commencement of the injecting room project. I believe that progress in any area, particularly in the areas of health and science, can be achieved through appropriately monitored and controlled trials. The importance of this trial is highlighted by overdose incidents among drug users. According to a report on the establishment or trial of safe injecting rooms, in the years 1994 to 1997, Australia had a significantly higher incidence of drug overdoses than other States. That is because half of the 2 per cent of the drug-user population is located in New South Wales.
The report highlights the result of the study of 197 overdose deaths in New South Wales in 1992. Eighty per cent of heroin-related deaths usually occurred among a dependent population of users; 68 per cent of deaths occurred in the home environment; and 58 per cent of deaths occurred in the vicinity of other persons. Yet in only 21 per cent of cases was intervention sought or treatment administered prior to the subject’s death. These statistics highlight the significance of this trial not only in preventing deaths through providing on-site intervention and treatment but also in changing the social negative image of drug addiction.
On the issue of the evaluation committee I was glad to be briefed earlier by the Government about the people who will be appointed to sit on the panel and who will be involved in augmenting the injecting room. The Government must look carefully at those issues. I refer to a matter mentioned earlier by Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile concerning an article in the Catholic Weekly
. I am sorry that the Hon. P. J. Breen is not in the Chamber tonight. Both the Hon. P. J. Breen and I are Catholics. I assure honourable members that the Catholic Weekly
does not represent the view of Catholics. The Hon. J. F. Ryan will agree with me that most Catholics do not read the Catholic Weekly
The Hon. J. F. Ryan:
It has been a while since I read it.
The Hon. Dr P. WONG:
I am not saying that the Catholic Weekly
is wrong; rather I am saying that the Catholic Church has no policy about the injecting room - at least not one that I am aware of. I say that with some authority because I conduct a choir every Sunday for one Catholic community. I am sure that the Catholic Church has said nothing about drug addiction or injecting rooms. However, I remember that Jesus Christ said clearly, "Judge not so that thou shalt not be judged and condemn not so that thou shalt not be condemned." The message of Christianity is that we should love our neighbours, care for them and forgive them. The message of Jesus Christ is that we should care for others.
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL
(Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [9.00 p.m.]: Many honourable members have spoken to in the debate on the Drug Summit Legislative Response Bill. All honourable members had the opportunity to attend the Drug Summit, and I presume most did. I am sure they would have received various degrees of information, changes of attitude and responses from the Summit as I did. It was worthwhile spending the week examining and properly understanding the drug problem. I will remember that week always as part of my parliamentary life.
The Drug Summit discussed real issues. The first I shall refer to is that drugs are a criminal and health issue. Many people have a perception that drugs are a criminal issue but they ignore the health problems and difficulties addicts must contend with. I had the opportunity of going to Kings Cross, as did other honourable members, to look first hand at the drug problem; to talk to those in the field who deal with this issue; to talk to the police and see the excellent work that Ingrid van Beek is doing at the Kirketon Road Centre. That visit gave me a better understanding of the drug problem and what we need to do to deal with it.
During the Summit I was somewhat attracted to the concept of safe injecting rooms. The arguments put forward were quite compelling. Certainly it was an extraordinary experience when the vote was taken as the Chamber was full of people and emotions ran high on that issue throughout the debate. I was sympathetic to the issue for this reason: people are dying in doorways and gutters, and on roads around Kings Cross and elsewhere in New South Wales because they are not getting any attention or assistance. They are self-administering drugs and are dying from overdoses.
That is a tragedy. It is not a criminal issue; it is a health and social service issue and one that we must be cognisant of during this debate. The idea of being able to take drug addicts off the streets, out of the doorways, out of the parks and into a more controlled environment where an opportunity exists to do something for them, and - I know it is a long shot - to perhaps counsel them and possibly rehabilitate them at some stage made commonsense to me.
The opportunity to do this through a safe injecting room or, as the Hon. J. F. Ryan called it, a medically supervised injecting room also made a lot of sense. The Opposition believes that this issue must be dealt with in its totality. An enormous contradiction or paradox exists about how those people will receive their drugs and where they will access them. That brings us to the criminal side of the equation. Those who wish to use the safe injecting room must acquire drugs from criminals as it is an illegal substance.
The Opposition and the National Party must come to terms with that issue in a commonsense way. I understand completely the concerns held by the police about the establishment of a safe injecting room. The Government has gone to much trouble to explain in the legislation how exemption from criminal liability applies for users of licensed injecting centres and those within its vicinity. The police will have discretion to charge people -
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile:
The police will have no discretion.
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL:
I will place my interpretation on the particular clause because I am sure police will have a discretion to charge someone with a drug offence. I will read that part of the bill to the House shortly. The police are concerned that they will have difficulty determining who is illegally carrying or pushing drugs and having nothing to do with the safe injecting room, and who is on their way to the safe injecting room or in the vicinity of it with drugs for the specific purpose of administering them within the environment of the safe injecting room.
Until we overcome this contradiction between the criminality element on the one hand and saving lives and doing something for those severely hooked on drugs on the other hand, it will be difficult for us as members of Parliament, certainly those on this side of the House, to approve such a concept. A safe injecting room will produce many positives. If we can save one or two lives just by getting people off the street and giving them access -
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile:
There is no such thing as a safe injecting room.
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL:
Well, safer. If Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile wants to compare the gutter of Kings Cross to a safe, medically supervised injecting room and say there is no difference, he has a lot of trouble in store. He attended the Drug Summit like many other members of Parliament with his mind made up. He was not prepared to listen to any of the debates or contributions of many experts from all walks of life. Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile made up his mind about the drugs issue and wasted a whole week attending the Drug Summit when he could have done something more useful. I am disappointed that he in particular, coming from a religious background, cannot see the problems in trying to assist those who are addicted to drugs.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile:
We did. We wanted to have a detox centre to get them off drugs.
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL:
The honourable member’s mind was made up from the start. I will not be distracted by the interjections because it is important that I conclude my contribution as a number of my colleagues wish to add their comments to the debate. They will add value to the debate unlike some other members of this House. I shall not speak at length about this issue but I point out that we have a responsibility to make the law work.
We must overcome this massive contradiction between criminality associated with the use of drugs and assisting people addicted to drugs. I do not know whether the Government has the numbers to secure the vote on this issue and I am not quite sure how some Independent members will vote, but if this bill is passed we will have the opportunity to examine the proposal to see how it will operate and how law enforcement agencies will deal with that contradiction. It is a major problem.
The National Party believes that the criminality side of the drug equation must be attacked with more vigour, heavier fines and greater penalties, particularly for those who push drugs. I reiterate that at the same time we must look after the other side of the equation and do everything we can for those drug addicts.
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE
[9.09 p.m.]: I join with the Minister in saying, as he did in his second reading speech, that people who have become drug dependent for whatever reasons or under whatever circumstances deserve our compassion and assistance to end their drug use and resume a more healthy life. I believe that view would be shared by every member of this House and, I hope, every member of the community.
How we achieve that is of much concern both in the community and in this House. It is why we are spending so much time debating the bill. It is not easy to resolve some of those issues. I listened very closely not only to what the Government said in this debate but to all the words spoken in the Drug Summit. I went into the Drug Summit with an open mind. I have never experienced or been offered illicit drugs. I have never had to face that dilemma either during my university days or at any other stage of my life.
As a parent I feel fortunate every day of the week. My children are 20 and 18. Fortunately I have not had to face the anguish and difficult decisions that other parents have had to face when dealing with children who have problems with drugs. If I had a formula that would make all parents lucky in the way in which their children deal with their lives and their choices I could bottle it and make a lot of money.
Among my friends drugs are not an issue I have had to deal with. As I said, I went to the Drug Summit with an open mind. I saw drug users and parents who have been through the anguish of losing children. Like most honourable members who attended the Drug Summit I looked at what I thought might work and I drew conclusions. I made some decisions at that time that were reported in the media.
But now I have to face the reality of a bill. Many of my colleagues have said to me that the Government’s proposal is not a good solution. I hope the Government gets it right. I hope that when we go down the path of setting up a medically supervised injecting centre - I understand the numbers will carry it - that it works. I hope it means that lives will be saved. But all honourable members have to accept that it is only an experiment. A select committee of this Parliament sent three of its members overseas to examine various approaches to the drug problem.
The committee drew conclusions that were not favourable to medically supervised injecting rooms. During the summit I was persuaded by many arguments. Not enough evidence has been produced either to me or the Opposition to enable us to say, as compassionate as we might want to be and as desirous of finding a solution as we are, that the bill is good enough.
The bill contains a lot of rhetoric but not a lot of reality. One month before the Drug Summit my Federal member, Dr Brendan Nelson - a medical doctor, a former president of the Australian Medical Association and someone who has given much time to this subject - gave a compelling speech to the Sydney Institute. He put some statistics on the record that, research wise, I would not be able to improve.
Dr Nelson stated that in the five months from April to September last year there had been 1,311 non-fatal overdoses in metropolitan Sydney, the Blue Mountains and the Central Coast, which he determined represented about one overdose an hour. He said that in 1979 there was one heroin death every five days. Now it is every 10 hours. Every ten hours a family receives a phone call or a knock on the door to advise them that someone they love has died as a result of a heroin overdose.
Dr Brendan Nelson talked about the methadone program and drug users contracting hepatitis C. He then went on to speak about some people in his electorate, people who could be like his family or my family, who faced the reality of losing children through drug overdoses, or who live every day with the fear of receiving a phone call telling them that one of their family members has died as a result of a drug overdose. He gave fairly graphic descriptions of some of the people who have come to him.
It is my sincere hope for those families, the people we heard from in the summit, and every drug user who is facing the prospect of heroin addiction, that the bill represents a way forward. But there is not sufficient evidence for us to draw the conclusion that that will be so. If this experiment represents a compassionate approach, if it means that fewer families will face the anguish of the loss of a loved one, particularly a child, I hope it is successful.
As I said, as a parent I have been lucky not to have had to face that sort of anguish. If my children happened to end up in a gutter in Kings Cross, I would hope that someone would hold out a lifeline to them, or offer a solution. As difficult as I found this whole issue, I do not believe we have yet found the solution, but I wish the experiment well. At the end of the day I hope an honest evaluation is delivered, not one simply to fulfil an agenda.
If lives are being saved I will be the first to stand up and say that I got it wrong. I turn to the use of sniffer dogs in juvenile justice centres. The bill is not needed because sniffer dogs have already been used in the juvenile justice system. In the estimates committee hearing I asked how many times sniffer dogs had been brought into Kariong, the maximum security centre. The answer available today is that they have been brought in once in the past 18 months.
The rhetoric is wrong because the families of some of the boys at Kariong or, indeed, some of the staff say that all the detainees and staff - drug issues are not restricted to detainees - were given 30 minutes warning before the dogs arrived. Honourable members can reasonably assume that they did not find much. If the Government is serious about the drug problem it had better reconsider some of the current practices.
I suggest that the Government read the estimates committee evidence about sniffer dogs, particularly the words of Mr Buttrum, Director-General of the Department of Juvenile Justice. This Government said it is interested in new programs, helping young people and getting young people into counselling. That is fine, but which young people, and who will make that determination? The director-general made it quite clear in the estimates committee hearing that more than anything else they just want to get rid of drugs. He said:
Mind you, we try to avoid it, because of the obvious problems [that is the use of dogs]. But if they are going to stop drugs being brought into centres or help us to detect drugs we will use them. I might add that we have introduced things like a dump bucket at all of our detention centres. We say to the kids, ‘if you have anything on you when you come back from leave or if anything has been brought in, you can put it in the dump bucket and that is the end of it.’
I said, "No questions asked?" and he said, "No questions asked." How are we to deal with young people who have drug problems if the director-general is only interested in getting rid of the evidence, no questions asked. It is about time the department becomes serious about drugs. This bill is not needed to enable the use of sniffer dogs. Sniffer dogs are already available and evidence of that is on the record because of questions asked by Ms Lee Rhiannon and me in the estimates committee hearing. We have heard a lot of rhetoric from the Government on that.
The Government is on the right track in cautioning juveniles. However, it should better inform the community on the cautioning system because many people believe that a caution simply amounts to a slap on the wrist and that is the end of the matter. It should be made clear that cautioning under the Young Offenders Act requires that a letter be written to the juvenile, that a response be received within 10 days, and that the juvenile admit the offence and attend with adults, in most cases the parents. That formal system is set out in legislation.
The sooner the Government publicises that information, the sooner will cautions act as true deterrents. I genuinely believe that a brush with the law, be it a caution or the use of the conferencing system, is sufficient to stop the activities of many young people.
Last year Don Weatherburn said that the statistics show that most young people do not believe they will be apprehended. They must understand that their actions are viewed seriously and that the cautioning system is part of a broader approach. If the Government uses that rhetoric, it will have greater support. I wish the Government well. The Government has not approached the prevention strategies talked about in the Drug Summit. I recall the academic from the University of Newcastle who spoke about early prevention. The bill is a half-baked solution. The Opposition does not believe it is a good enough and therefore cannot support the bill.
The Hon. A. G. CORBETT
[9.22 p.m.]: I welcome the Government’s legislative response to the Drug Summit. It is vital that we investigate new methods of supporting people who use drugs, especially those who inject drugs, a particularly dangerous practice. Recently members of the crossbench met with a number of parents whose lives have been tragically affected by drugs. They told stories of their children’s struggle against addiction, and some of them spoke of the grief they felt when their children died from an overdose. It was a very moving experience and I thank them for being so brave and committed to advocating law reform in an attempt to prevent other parents from experiencing the same loss.
Those parents told me that they hate drugs and what drugs have done to their families. The last thing they want is for drug use to become more common. They are bravely continuing to advocate a tolerant approach to the drugs issue even though drugs have taken such a terrible toll on their families. They said that if safe injecting facilities had been available for their children, some of their children might be alive today. It is only right that the Government takes the positive step of trialling a medically supervised injecting room. I must emphasise that it is only a trial and will not go any further unless the evaluation of the trial is positive.
This is why the official evaluation is so important. Evaluation must be structured to provide the best possible chance for the trial being judged in an objective manner. I was pleased to hear the Minister’s assurances in the second reading speech that the evaluation committee will be comprised of experts in public health, epidemiology, criminology, health economics, psychiatry and research methodology.
Today other members of the crossbench and I met with the convener of the evaluation committee, Dr Andrew Wilson. He listed key areas on which the evaluation of the medically supervised injecting room will focus. It will evaluate the effect on public health, including the incidence of hepatitis C infections, the effect on the rehabilitation process, any changes to the pattern of drug dealing in the local area, the impact on the community and its perception of drug use and, finally, the cost effectiveness of the trial.
I am pleased with the thoroughness of Dr Wilson and the evaluation committee in approaching their task. I am told that the evaluation will be objective and truly independent. It would also be beneficial for the trial if an interim evaluation report could be produced before the end of the trial. The evaluation committee is planning to release progress reports on some criteria every six months. This will enable the Government to make an early assessment of the likely success or failure of the trial and, should the interim evaluation be positive, allow the Government sufficient time to plan for the establishment of a permanent medically supervised injecting room.
I also have concerns about schedule 3.3 to the bill in relation to the Young Offenders Act 1997
which introduces the option of issuing young people with a formal caution or warning as an alternative to a harsher penalty. I support this move as it will give young people a chance to address their drug problems before they become closely involved in the criminal justice system. However, the bill will not treat young people under the Young Offenders Act who are found with "more than a small quantity" of a prohibited drug. It would be preferable if the clause could be changed to "a traffickable quantity" under schedule 1 of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985.
That would enable young people found with quantities of prohibited drugs - up to a traffickable quantity, for example, of three grams of heroin - to have access to the provisions of the Young Offenders Act. Such a change would enhance the harm minimisation characteristics of the bill. I understand that the Government is concerned that drug dealers may engage young people to sell drugs on their behalf, knowing that they may receive a lighter sentence. I also acknowledge that the Government is committed to sending a strong message to the community that drugs are harmful.
However, the limitation of the wording of the section to "a small quantity" will only penalise young people who are already being exploited. Many young people who leave home and who are drawn to the Darlinghurst area have few resources and are vulnerable to exploitation by adults. A person under the age of 18 years selling drugs below a traffickable quantity would most likely be involved in such illegal activity because they were desperate to support their drug habit and had no other means of earning an income. Harsher penalties for these young people will not deter drug dealers from finding other vulnerable young people to take their place. The amendment to the Young Offenders Act 1997 is positive but does not go far enough and may result in young victims being penalised rather than the drug dealers who exploit them.
Should the bill be approved by the Parliament I hope that the media does not become overly intrusive in the operation of the medically supervised injecting room. This issue is easily sensationalised and irresponsible reporting by the media may prejudice the operation of the trial. Also, I hope that members of the media show respect for people seeking access to the medically supervised injecting room and do not interfere with them.
I call on the Government to provide a full briefing on the operations of the medically supervised injecting room and of the evaluation procedure. That will enable the media to obtain information needed to report the progress of the medically supervised injecting room trial and to make a fair assessment of its effects. I am pleased that the Government has taken this initiative. I will support the amendments proposed by some crossbench members and I urge the Government to give them careful consideration. They should be supported in the interests of saving the lives of often young and vulnerable people dealing with drug abuse.
The Hon. J. F. RYAN
[9.28 p.m.]: My party does not support the bill. I respect that position, but I respectfully say that I disagree. As honourable members are aware, I was not an immediate supporter of injecting rooms. Prior to the Drug Summit I was totally opposed to them because I believed that they would lead more young people into drug abuse and that they would fail to do anything of any use in combating the rising tide of drug abuse. However, during the Drug Summit I was assigned to visit Kings Cross, where I was briefed by Kings Cross police and staff from the Kirketon Road drug and alcohol centre. I believe that when I visited the Kings Cross area the facts spoke for themselves.
Last Monday morning, just to make sure that I was not mistaken, I went back on a visit to the same areas of Kings Cross. I am grateful that the Minister for Police allowed me to have a private interview with Local Area Commander Superintendent Bob Mayatt at the Kings Cross police station. I had another opportunity to walk up and down the same area and deeply consider my views before my political party discussed the matter, just to make sure that things were no different from the way in which I had seen them, because it was what I saw in Kings Cross that had such a dramatic impact on me and made me change my mind.
I walked up and down Roslyn Street and a place that is known as Springfield Mall which is pretty much the epicentre of the drug trade in Kings Cross. To appreciate why I changed my mind, honourable members would need to understand that Kings Cross is a human sink. It is a six square kilometre human zoo as far as the drug trade is concerned. While I walked around in my suit on Monday morning, I saw two or three young drug dealers who were virtually on patrol at Springfield Mall.
I was walking up and down the street, and was nearly choked by the pungent smell of marijuana smoke, when I realised that just a couple of metres ahead of me was the cafe that has now been made famous by the Sunday Telegraph
, the Amsterdam
Cafe. I also saw two young people in stairwells in close proximity to the street. They were shooting up as plain as day. The drug trade does not get more open than that. All that I have described was taking place within a couple of metres of the Kings Cross police station.
I decided to take a vox pop of the attitudes of people who operate businesses in the vicinity, largely because my political party proudly considers itself to be the political organisation that represents small business and because I am particularly interested to find out what the views of small business people are. I guess they found it unusual for a politician to be introducing himself and asking to speak to them. I did not tell them my view of the matter. I simply wanted them to give me their unvarnished views. One of the things I discovered when I had embarked on this exercise was that even the Kings Cross business community is a fairly bohemian mixture.
I had difficulty in finding a few examples of what would normally be described as mainstream small business operators. I thought that most people would not find the tattooist, the strip club operator or the erotic book sellers to be representative of the mainstream small business view. I managed to find a newsagent, a fruit seller, a tobacconist, a boot repairer, a chemist and an optometrist. Interestingly enough, I discovered quite by accident that the optometrist is the immediate past president of the Kings Cross Chamber of Commerce.
Some honourable members may be surprised to learn that, having asked them their views, I found that only one business person was totally opposed to the injecting room of the type proposed by the bill. Many of the others had views that I am sure honourable members of this House would find fascinating, ranging from either full support to reluctant but nevertheless strong acceptance.
The only issue of controversy among them was where the centre would be located. As honourable members can imagine, some people may worry about what might happen to their business and I can understand that concern. Nevertheless, one of the small business operators said to me that one of the problems with the centre is that it will operate only from 4 o’clock in the afternoon until 11 o’clock at night. That person wanted the centre to operate for a longer period because it was felt that if the centre does the proper job that all people hope it will do, it would need to operate in the wee small hours of the morning and during the day. As I saw for myself, shooting up is something that certainly does occur outside the period between 4 o’clock in the afternoon and 11 o’clock at night.
Another person quite bluntly told me that he wished the centre would not only provide for injecting but also for the sale of heroin because he wanted to remove the entire drug trade from the street. I say that not because I support the sale of heroin. I simply report to the House that this is the view expressed by people who live in close proximity to the area. Some of them have an even more radical view than the legislation represents.
What I am trying to communicate to the House is that many people who are not drug users in Kings Cross are so desperate about the problem in which they find themselves, they are more than prepared to try something new to counter the drug menace. In speaking to them and appreciating their position, I came to understand why the provisions of this legislation might help. I do not say that it will help. I simply make the point that we do not have the information, despite what has occurred overseas, to try what might be envisaged by the legislation.
I believe that the bill is very distinctly different from many of the injecting centres that were visited by the committee of this Parliament that travelled overseas. But the particularly distinctive feature will be the tradition of the Sisters of Charity and the fact that the protocols for this injecting centre will be regulated. One of my concerns, which I share with many other people, is that the injecting room will turn the area in which it is located into some type of a honey pot.
During this debate it has been said many times that the very existence of the injecting room will turn Kings Cross into a honey pot. There is no way that an injecting room could make Kings Cross any worse than it is. It is already a honey pot; the honey pot is Kings Cross. Any person who wishes to obtain drugs knows that he or she only needs to do what I did yesterday, namely, visit Springfield Mall, hang around for 10 minutes in one spot and wait for someone who will make an approach to supply the drugs. In my view, the injecting room constitutes no extra dimension to the supply of drugs. I remind honourable members that the bill does not make the supply of drugs legal.
In common with many honourable members, I have a special concern for any young person who may be tempted to use drugs for the first time. I consider no level of risk acceptable in this regard. However, after some deep thought, I came to the conclusion that although it might be theoretically possible that an injecting room might weaken the resolve of a young person and non-drug user, in practical and real terms it would pose no such threat. In the first place, very few people begin their drug use by making an individual and spontaneous decision to start using drugs.
Most drug users are led to the habit by somebody they know, at a time when they are vulnerable, in a private setting, where the drugs have already been obtained. I believe that an injecting room at Kings Cross will have no impact on that situation. The facts are that drug sellers rarely recruit strangers in the street because it increases the seller’s chances of being caught.
Let us imagine the remote circumstances in which an individual - a heroin user - would go to a place such as Kings Cross alone, obtain drugs and then take them to the injecting room. That person’s inexperience will be easily detected by the trained staff who operate the room because it would be readily apparent by his or her lack of knowledge or confidence, and a short examination of his or her arm would tell anyone that person is new to the drug business. I am sure that responsible staff, operating according to the tradition of the Sisters of Charity, will do all they can to prevent the individual from going any further.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile:
They can’t stop them.
The Hon. J. F. RYAN:
That is a lie. They can stop them. They can stop them by saying to them, as I am sure they would, "Do you really want to do this?" I cannot believe that any trained health professional would see a new person walk into a centre like this for the first time and not say that. I am completely convinced that while that might happen in an injecting centre, it has absolutely no chance of happening if the young person had obtained the drugs, which he or she already would have done. The young person would go down to Roslyn Street, as young people do now, and shoot those drugs up his or her arm in public without any health professional offering them any chance of changing their mind. I would rather have that young person confront the circumstances of a health professional encouraging them to do otherwise.
It may not work, but at least it gives users a last chance. In areas like Kings Cross traditional zero policing is not enough; it is good and I have no doubt that the Kings Cross police do their very best. I discovered that from speaking with Superintendent Mayatt. The Kings Cross patrol area comprises six square kilometres and it is patrolled by 130 police. Earlier this year another 89 detectives were drawn from across Sydney to mount operations Elan and Poido. In late June police arrested 13 major drug suppliers and captured three guns, $250,000 of heroin and cannabis and more than $300,000 in cash.
I also observed, as I am sure Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile would remember, police regularly using video surveillance from the first storeys of buildings located above Roslyn Street and Springfield Mall. Police use technology, surveillance and their best knowledge of the law, but when they make drug arrests, the trade is interrupted for less than an hour. I want police to continue their work.
I support police having resources and doing patrols, I support police putting drug dealers out of business. But no matter how good their efforts are, nothing short of paramilitary occupation of Kings Cross will remove the drug trade. It is almost as if it oozes from the concrete buildings and captures people. I am convinced that despite the best efforts of the police they will not achieve the objective we would all want. The police are doing their best, but it is obvious to anyone who walks through Roslyn Street even half asleep that drugs are still sold and used extensively in Kings Cross, in public, by young people and others.
Commander Bob Myatt also told me that until March more than 50 heroin deaths had been recorded in the Kings Cross patrol. Half of those deaths occurred in streets or abandoned buildings. I accept that people who take drugs ought to take some responsibility for their actions, but as a member of Parliament I have a responsibility to counter that problem if I possibly can. That is what this bill is about.
I know that honourable members are concerned about the public acceptance of this legislation and whether it will translate into political acceptance. Political approval ought not be a major motivator in deciding policy but I accept that the reality of politics is that it is a consideration. I challenge, with evidence rather than rhetoric, the proposition that many gains are to be made from trying something new rather than opposing this measure with predictable cliches and a heavy measure of political aggression.
People are concerned about community support for this legislation. It may interest members to know that Steve Bracks, who was recently appointed Premier of Victoria, had a policy whose public acceptance, it might have been thought, would have stopped him winning seats in country areas. His policy included a trial of legal heroin in not one but five injecting rooms.
The Hon. D. J. Gay:
He didn’t win country seats on that. Don’t be stupid.
The Hon. J. F. RYAN:
My colleague the Hon. D. J. Gay, whom I respect, has interjected that that policy did not help Steve Bracks win the election. I did not suggest it did but one would have thought that, given how some people talk about this matter, the policy would have caused him to lose the election. If his policy had no level of public acceptability, Steve Bracks would not be Premier of Victoria.
The proposed trial is not a blind rush to decriminalise heroin; it is a trial on a very tight legal leash. The trial is limited to 18 months and cannot extend beyond that without the approval of Parliament. The trial is a licence to operate one room; any other room would be illegal. In one regard that makes the law clearer than it now is, because now it is not illegal to operate an injecting room.
It is illegal for people to use drugs, it is illegal to assist a person to use drugs, but it is not illegal to operate an injecting room. The only law that comes close to making the operating of an injecting room illegal is the Disorderly Houses Act. To some extent the law is clarified by this legislation, because only a licensed room can operate, and there will be only one licence.
Yesterday I heard that an injecting room may be operating informally within the Wayside Chapel. This bill will make that room illegal. The various operating protocols will also be a matter of law, not discretion; and they will be set by regulations that are disallowable by this House. The injecting room must be run by medical practitioners and staffed by appropriately qualified health professionals. It will be subject to the oversight of not only the Director-General of the Department of Health but also the Commissioner of Police.
The entry into the injecting room of young people under the age of 18 years will be strictly controlled and absolutely prohibited. Yesterday I confirmed in my discussion with Superintendent Myatt that police will have absolute discretion to charge anyone trafficking in drugs, right up to the front door of the facility.
The Hon. Elaine Nile:
The bill states that they can.
The Hon. J. F. RYAN:
The bill does not state that; again that is a wicked lie. The bill does not prevent police from exercising discretion for people selling drugs. That is absolutely untrue. The bill allows a level of police discretion for officers who accept that a person is on his or her way to the injecting room. One other furphy regularly raised in this debate is that somehow - because the bill allows people to use the defence that they are travelling to the injecting room - people in Cabramatta, Campbelltown or Lismore could claim that they were on their way to the injecting room at Kings Cross.
They may claim to possess an amount of drugs for their personal use and therefore the police will not be able to arrest them. Yesterday Commander Bob Myatt told me that police will exercise their discretion - and this will be made clear by the Minister - whether to charge a person in reasonable proximity of the injecting room. The police commander intends to have intelligence which allows him to ensure that the area is a no-go zone. Dr Ingrid van Beek, who supports that idea and operates the Kirketon Road Centre, told me that the operators of the room want police to move drug trafficking from the room.
Dr van Beek said that there would be nothing more counterproductive to the centre’s success than to have users enter the room, inject, receive a level of counselling and support, and walk out straight into the hands of a drug dealer. I have some areas of concern which I ask the Minister to consider.
The Hon. D. J. Gay:
Are you voting for or against this legislation?
The Hon. J. F. RYAN:
I am speaking for the bill, as the Hon. D. J. Gay well knows. I will explain how I am voting later. I respect his view but I wish my colleagues would cut me some slack and allow me to express my point of view.
The Hon. D. J. Gay:
We have a different point of view.
The Hon. J. F. RYAN:
I accept that and I respect it. I ask the Minister to clarify the meaning of "travelling to and from" and the exact level of police discretion; that is something of genuine concern to people who support this measure. One other area of concern which the Opposition has raised, and which I totally support, is if people enter the room and ask for drug rehabilitation counselling but none is available.
At the Drug Summit we heard that waiting times for drug treatment can be extensive. Participants at the Drug Summit talked about the golden moment when someone makes a decision to give up drugs and tries to shake the demon of drug addiction. It is imperative that they be put immediately in touch with resources that will help
them. I sincerely hope that the people who operate the injecting room will have resources available to them to allow them to rescue people, and to rescue them quickly.
Earlier I referred to hours of operation. I asked the Government, if possible, to extend the resources. That seems to me to be sensible. I have not been briefed on who is on the evaluation committee, but as much as I might respect Dr Alex Wodak, he has taken a number of hits in this debate. He is a person of scientific credibility but he is regarded as someone who has a specific agenda and, if the community is to have confidence, the evaluation committee must comprise people who have not already participated in the debate in such a way that locks them in to a particular point of view and makes people doubt their independence.
I personally support this bill because I am motivated by a strong sense of compassion, which I am sure extends across the House; I do not claim a monopoly on compassion. I accept that people who take drugs have made a foolish life decision. They are breaking the law, and the few drug addicts I have known are not, in the main, pleasant people to know. Often they are selfish and self-seeking.
However, I do not think any of us would expect them to pay for these misdeeds with their lives if it is possible to avoid that. There is no doubt that many in Kings Cross do pay for this misjudgment with their lives - on average, one a week. It is not time to give up the war against drugs but it is appropriate to show mercy.
As a committed Christian I believe it is about more than physical death. I believe no more catastrophic event can happen to any person than to die outside a state of grace, and a drug addict is highly unlikely to die in a state of grace, however one defines it - whether it is simply with human dignity or with God’s acceptance. If they have more time, things may change. I also add my admiration to the Sisters of Charity, who have agreed to endorse and support this operation.
Earlier in the debate it was suggested that the nuns were running away from the debate. The nuns are not prepared to give press conferences; nuns do not do that. Nevertheless, they had to endorse their part in this trial. Religious, trained nuns, who have made a vow to God and formed a committee of the conference of the Sisters of Charity, had to endorse this proposal before it could take place.
The Hon. Elaine Nile:
Pope John Paul said the opposite.
The Hon. J. F. RYAN:
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile read a letter from the Vatican. All that letter proved is that it is a Christian tradition and truth that using drugs is sinful. This bill is not endorsing the use of drugs; it is about rescuing the dying. The God that I understand says that the use of drugs is wrong and totally sinful. Nevertheless, I believe Jesus Christ died for drug users too and wants them rescued.
If I have been unable to move the House with what I have said, can I refer to a greater mind than mine. I can do no better than quote some words I have thought about greatly over the past couple of days. They are from William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice
, when Portia argues for mercy. I am sure all honourable members will recognise these words:
The quality of mercy is not strain’d;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless’d;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
I move on:
It is an attribute to God himself,
And earthly power doth show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore . . .
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.
Our Lord said it no better when He said:
Forgive them their trespasses as we forgive them who trespass against us.
I do not endorse drug taking. However, I see this as an exercise to rescue the dying. That is what it is about.
The Hon. Elaine Nile:
Give them detoxification.
The Hon. J. F. RYAN:
I do not disagree, but one does not "give" addicts detoxification; they have to want to give up. Honourable members know that making that decision is hard. All of us at some time, I believe, have been captured by an obsession and all of us know how hard it is to give it up, and the demon of drug abuse is so much harder.
From time to time I can be convinced that Bob Carr stands for nothing. However, I genuinely believe he comes to this issue with clean hands and a sincere heart, given that drug abuse and a drug
death has touched him and his family. I am trying to show, if I can, that there is decency in politics, that there is a capacity to reach across the table and work together in a bipartisan spirit. I hope I have demonstrated that that is possible.
Finally I come to the question of how I will vote. I have thought about this for weeks. I sincerely hope no-one in this Chamber will care to torture me about the decision I have made, but I accept that in the cut and thrust of politics that is legitimate. I have three options: I can abstain, I can cross the floor or I can vote with my party.
I believe I should never abstain from a vote in this House. I believe that is an abrogation of my responsibility as a member of Parliament. I was elected by the people of New South Wales to make decisions, and I have to make a decision on this issue. I then have the two options of crossing the floor or voting with my party. I believe this to be a very important moral issue and it touches the heart of my personal Christian faith - which I do not push on anyone else but which is obviously a part of me.
I also have to grapple with how I came to this House. I did not come to this House because the people of New South Wales knew this bloke called John Ryan who lives at 35 Plane Tree Drive, Narellan Vale. I was elected to this House because people ticked the Liberal Party box on the ballot paper, not knowing really who had been endorsed. I was endorsed by members of the Liberal Party and supported by Liberal voters. I am very grateful to the people for trusting me with that privilege.
I am cognisant of the fact that I have a moral decision but a great responsibility. On this occasion, even though I accept that my party disagrees with me, I have argued passionately to change the minds of members of my party. I am disappointed that I have not been successful.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile:
The party is correct.
The Hon. J. F. RYAN:
I really wish Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile would not interject in that fashion. I may be wrong, and my party may be wrong, but I am prepared to consider that in human frailty there are invariably different points of view. I respect both; I have held both.
However, I have decided to vote with my party on this occasion because my party went about making this decision in the right way. It is overwhelmingly the decision of my party; it was not a small minority. The Hon. J. H. Jobling will speak later in the debate, and just as passionately will contradict everything I have said. He went overseas using money from his own pocket to study this problem, and the Liberal Party is full of people who have approached this issue with the same level of earnestness that I have.
I do not believe I have a monopoly on the truth. I have a great deal of confidence, being a member of a political party, in the collegiate attempt to come to a conclusion and have my opinion tested in the crucible of debate against others. I respect the outcome of that decision more than making it on my own. One of the great strengths of the Liberal Party is that I am allowed to cross the floor without offending my colleagues or without in any way risking my continued membership. However, it is a privilege we exercise with great responsibility and great care.
I will vote with my party, but I extend to the Government my best wishes for the success of this bill. I do not know whether it will provide all the answers. I hope it will rescue the dying. I hope the best professionals and the best people who can be mustered together use it. If the trial is a success I am sure there will be bipartisan support to move further. It is possible that the trial may not be a success, but in an imperfect world dealing with imperfect men and women, it is sometimes necessary to come up with solutions that we see as less than perfect. I commend the bill for consideration by members of the House. I appreciate what has been said by all honourable members and I respect their views.
Ms LEE RHIANNON
[9.10 p.m.]: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this most important issue. The drug problem is certainly a very moving issue. I hope I am able to convey clearly my feelings and viewpoint and those of my party. I congratulate the Hon. J. F. Ryan on his speech. Although there were a number of points with which I disagreed I found it a most welcome speech in this place - one that was based on considerable principle. The Greens will move amendments to the Drug Summit Legislative Response Bill.
We welcome the Government’s commitment to a harm minimisation approach to drug taking. Crossbenchers in this place probably have many opportunities that are not available to members of the Opposition and the Government. We regularly meet with members of a number of organisations who convey to us their beliefs and their principles about the various issues that arise in this House.
Recently we met with the families and friends of people who have died from drug overdoses. The event was organised by Mr Tony Trimingham. I appreciated the insights he provided us on that day. Mothers, fathers, wives, and former users spoke to us most movingly about their lives. They spoke to us about people who had died - people who should be alive today. A major reason that those people are in such grief and that so many lives have been lost is our failure as a society to treat the use of drugs as a health and social issue.
Some of the people with whom we met were members of the Family Drug Support Group. They spoke to us about their work. Although this matter is not dealt with in this legislation, at the moment they need $240,000 to continue with their phone support line. They have 90 volunteers working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide urgent support - support that certainly saves lives. It would be money well spent.
Criminalising drug users is what is killing people. There is an urgent need to change legislation covering drug use. Unfortunately, the Greens believe that this bill goes only a small way towards achieving what is required. The Greens have a number of concerns about the bill and we will move some amendments and support other progressive amendments by other crossbench members.
We will move these amendments because of the widespread recognition in the community that our society must act. We must save lives and work with drug users rather than victimise and criminalise them. When the Government announced its intention to hold a Drug Summit the Greens hoped that the facts regarding drug use would move the Government to take decisive action. We had concerns about the division of professional and community representatives into 11 separate and artificially defined working groups, but we still hoped that the Government would work to change the laws relating to drug taking.
The urgency of this matter was highlighted earlier this year by a courageous group of people who provided a safe place for drug users. To its credit, the Wayside Chapel opened its doors to drug users, and offered a safe and supervised injecting room. We must congratulate people such as Reverend Ray Richmond and the many people he worked with for the courageous stance they took and how they helped to inform society of the urgent need for safe injecting rooms.
The action of the Wayside Chapel made us aware of the need to act immediately to save lives. The trial of one safe injecting room signals modest progress, but it is woefully inadequate in the face of the magnitude of unsafe injecting in New South Wales. The New South Wales Users and AIDS Association summed up the problem concerning the Government’s approach. A recent document by that association states:
The establishment of only one medical safe injecting centre is the narrowest possible approach.
We believe that in order to enhance the capacity to evaluate the efficacy of the trial, a multi site approach would be preferable. This would provide a large quantitative pool by which to demonstrate effectiveness in the reduction of overdoses and enable tracking pathways to treatment.
But the trial of only one injecting room is what is proposed by the Government. We have heard many government people say off the record that this is all they can do. They say that they support more but they argue that the community is not with the Government on this. We certainly agree that we need to move forward with the community, but there is clearly a wider understanding of this issue and many people believe there is an urgent need to act.
The Government must give a lead but, unfortunately, at the moment its response is limited. In fact, the Government is in a conservative mode. At times we see it try to adopt both a progressive and a conservative stance to cover its back for elections. Unfortunately, on this issue, it is not moving as far as it could.
The Hon. M. R. Egan:
Why do you assume everything is done for election purposes? Can’t you contemplate that somebody might have a different viewpoint from your own?
Ms LEE RHIANNON:
Yes we do, and that is why we are debating this issue. But so many of the Government’s motives are directed towards retaining power. The Government often claims that its approach is based on solid evidence that seeks to minimise harm and provide facilities to encourage rehabilitation. Yet the proposed amendment to the Bail Act works against the overwhelming weight of evidence that the treatment services forced on addicts have low levels of success. The proposed amendment to the Bail Act may seem to provide positive measures to divert minor drug offenders away from the prison system. However, an examination of the proposal exposes a flawed and coercive approach.
The Government is seeking to provide for compulsory drug treatment - a strategy that is largely thought will be unsuccessful in solving an
individual’s drug addiction. The most important point we must consider is that this amendment by the Government does not target offenders; it deals with those on bail who have been charged but who have not yet been found guilty of any offence. Many will eventually be found not guilty.
The Government is seeking to force people who may have committed no crime - who are guilty of no offence - into drug rehabilitation schemes as a condition of their bail. It is mystifying to the Greens that the Government is seeking to force unwilling people to undergo drug rehabilitation which is likely to fail, while many drug addicts are unable to gain places in voluntary schemes.
A defendant may find a program religiously, culturally or personally inappropriate. He or she may simply not be ready to give up drugs. There will be a high drop-out level in this coercive environment that will lead to a breach of bail conditions and a further deterioration in the defendant’s situation. A record for having breached bail conditions will make it more difficult should a defendant have to apply for bail in the future. So a defendant who is forced into a program and then drops out will be in breach of bail conditions and may well end up in prison.
We know that in prison very few people give up drugs. They are likely to be exposed to a most degrading life and a great possibility of rape and abuse. Close to 20 per cent of imprisoned injecting drug users first started shooting up in gaol. How does this scenario minimise harm or improve the situation of drug users - something we are still waiting to hear about from the Government?
We are also concerned that the additional bail condition of forcing a person into drug rehabilitation may prejudice his or her case, especially if the charges relate to a drug matter. Moreover, the supposed voluntary nature of the Government’s proposal is voluntary only in name. A defendant coming before a magistrate may well be given the voluntary offer to enter into drug rehabilitation. The defendant has the choice of rejecting the offer and possibly having the bail application rejected by the magistrate.
The defendant, not guilty of any offence, is forced to consider rejecting the voluntary offer while the magistrate considers the bail offer, hardly a situation of free and open choice. This court scenario is no environment in which to determine the drug rehabilitation needs of an individual. The power relationship between the defendant and the magistrate is so unequal as to force the defendant to accept what may be described as a voluntary offer to enter drug rehabilitation.
If the Government is serious about drug rehabilitation, sufficient services should be available for people to avail themselves of voluntarily, rather than imposing coercive orders on a drug user. To rectify this problem the Greens will move an amendment in Committee to delete schedule 3 to the bill. The Greens will seek also to amend the internal management protocols for the safe injecting room. We believe that access to referral services for emergency housing and shelter is an important provision.
People who use the injecting centre may require accommodation services and the centre, as a matter of course, should be able to refer people to appropriate places. We strongly oppose plans to allow police to use sniffer dogs in juvenile detention centres in the same way they are used in adult prisons. In the adult prison system drug sniffer dogs are used in cell searches and to search gaol visitors. We understand it is a distressing experience, especially for young and elderly visitors, to be searched by large dogs.
The Greens urge the Government to ensure the establishment of a protocol to allow only smaller dogs to be used for searches in juvenile detention centres. Searches of visitors by large dogs could act as an impediment to those who wish to visit young people in detention centres. The Greens believe it is vital to the rehabilitation prospects of imprisoned young people that they maintain supportive contact with families and relatives with minimal impediment.
The Greens are concerned that the Government seeks to impose the use of sniffer dogs and urinalysis without any evaluation of the success or otherwise of these strategies. A full evaluation of the impact of these strategies on drug use in gaol and the impact on prison visitors should be undertaken before these approaches are extended to juvenile detention centres. We believe that they are reasonable suggestions and hope they will be adopted. I urge my colleagues to examine the Greens proposals carefully as they will help to ensure this legislation works for all members of our community.
The Treasurer might like to comment on the minimalist approach taken by the Government in respect of handling drug reform, especially considering his interjections during the debate. This approach is evident from comments by the Drug Users Association that it had wanted to discuss some problems but was limited to discussing only one problem. This State has a minimalist approach also to industrial relations.
The Government is in its first year of a four-year term. One would expect that in this period the Government would bring forward those aspects of its legislative program that may be controversial so that it has time to work through them with the community and get approval for the important issues on which it was elected. The crossbench members could help to usher the Government through a progressive agenda on drug reform and industrial relations legislation, such as entitlements and wage equity, but the Government is not taking the lead.
The Government cannot argue that it does not have a sufficient majority in this House to enact improved industrial relation laws. Nor can it argue that it does not have sufficient community support for industrial relations or drug law reform. But the Government is not acting. It is interesting to ponder how far to the right this Government has moved. It certainly helps to provide an answer as to why the Coalition is having its problems: the Government is occupying its traditional territory!
The bill is a modest start and we are pleased that it is before the House. We urge members to pass it with the Greens amendment and the other progressive amendments from other crossbench members. This legislation will work to save lives and will go some way to enable all drug users to live with dignity rather than face harassment due to inappropriate laws.
The Hon. C. J. S. LYNN
[10.14 p.m.]: The object of the Drug Summit Legislative Response Bill is to amend the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 to allow the licensing and use of a single medically supervised injection centre for the self-administration of prohibited drugs for a trial period of 18 months, and to make other amendments that will allow the trial of the shooting gallery to proceed within the bounds of the law. The idea for the bill originated during the heat of an election campaign when a Sydney newspaper printed a photograph of a teenage boy injecting drugs into his veins in a laneway in Redfern.
The Premier expressed mock shock at what was hardly a revelation to anybody who is in tune with the real world. Nevertheless, the Premier’s election tactic of calling for a bipartisan summit to develop the concerted response to the drug problem was taken up by the Opposition. However, like everything this clayton’s Government does, it turned out to be a stacked deck designed to achieve outcomes that had already been worked out; outcomes that catered to the left wingers in the party and the extreme left wingers who kowtow to them - some of whom occupy seats in this Chamber.
That is a pity because some excellent contributions were made to the debate, which I emphasise was long overdue. Where was Father Chris Riley from Youth Off the Streets and where was Ron Barr from Youth Insearch? Father Chris and Ron work daily with the sad outcomes of the drug problem. Whilst they may not be versed in all the theories of human nature and might not be as well qualified as many experts who were invited to the Drug Summit, they have a grassroots feel for the problems and have strong views on some of the solutions we should seek.
I can assume only that their absence probably related to the fact that they had been checked out and found to be supporters of a zero tolerance approach to the drugs issue. This became evident as I listened to the debate and the constant mantra of harm minimisation. Whenever anybody had the courage to offer a contrary view, they were ridiculed. I felt ashamed at the reception given to Major Brian Watters from the Salvation Army for daring to suggest that zero tolerance to drugs in our society was his preferred approach given the experience of frontline people from the Salvation Army who deal with this insidious problem every day and night of the week.
Notwithstanding this intolerance by a large group of people preaching tolerance, the Summit brought people together and produced a better understanding of opposing views. The object of the bill, which is to allow a shooting gallery to operate with some legal protection on a trial basis, may satisfy the pro-drug lobby in our society but it will have absolutely zero impact on the problem. We do not need a trial to prove this. We need a whole-of-government approach that is based, firstly, on deterring people from experimenting in the first place, which is a social educational challenge; secondly, deterring people from dealing in the illegal drug problem, which is a law enforcement problem; and, thirdly, rehabilitating those who are addicted to drugs.
I do not doubt the intent of any of the participants at the Summit. I was moved often by the compassion many of them displayed during the debate. They had all attended for the right reasons. Unfortunately, it was carefully stage managed so that the politically correct attitude of harm minimisation prevailed. I challenge the approach we need to solve the problem. In her introductory speech to the Drug Summit the Leader of the Opposition clearly outlined our approach when she said:
The Opposition comes to this summit with an open mind.
We come to listen, and we come to learn.
We also come to contribute to the evolution of ideas and conclusions that will flow, hopefully, from the total experience of the week ahead.
We bring to this Summit a set of values that underpin our approach to dealing with illicit drugs.
Our starting point is that health and life are gifts we must all cherish.
This summit will deal with questions of life and death and the capacity of people to live fulfilled and happy lives free of illicit drugs.
The Hon. J. J. Della Bosca:
We will consider what resources - moral, financial and structural - are necessary to support individuals to live without illicit drugs.
I would like to be the Minister for happiness.
The Hon. C. J. S. LYNN:
Indeed. She went on to say:
There is no doubt we are facing one of the most serious social, economic and judicial challenges in recent history.
We are facing the agony and suffering flowing from the abuse of illicit drugs . . . the suffering of too many people . . .
It is the physical, mental and spiritual suffering of those addicted to illicit drugs and who spend their waking minutes obsessed about their next hit . . . or their last hit.
It is about the anxiety and suffering of a 16-year-old at each step on the trail between the first experimental experience and the desperation of hardline addiction.
It is about the love, grief, deprivation, fear and pain of parents, families, partners and friends.
It is about the commitment and dedication of carers, counsellors and health professionals.
And it is about the welfare and health of our total community.
I believe that the Leader of the Opposition encapsulated the spirit of liberalism in that introduction. Further on, she outlined the fundamental value held by the Opposition: that there is no safe or acceptable level of illicit drug use. This value was underpinned with a statement that was later to expose the Government’s Achilles heel in its approach to the problem. That is the issue of resources. The Leader of the Opposition said:
We believe that government, on behalf of the community, has a duty to provide financial resources, to put accessible services on the ground and to ensure that the package of laws dealing with illicit drugs provide the maximum level of deterrent.
She went on to outline the key strategies of the Opposition to address the problem. The first was education and early intervention, to try to address the underlying causes of drug abuse. The second was law enforcement. She was adamant that no mercy should be shown to criminals who use young people to push their trade in horror. The third was rehabilitation. I will speak briefly about each of those strategies.
On the prevention side, in education we need a mix of negative and positive education. We must educate people about the negative impacts of drug abuse. But an education program based on fear alone will not solve the problem. It will, however, inform people of the negative impacts of drugs. We also need positive education on drug abuse. That would assist people to find other avenues to get the same or similar feeling that addicts get from injecting drugs. I instance skydiving. It is only $25 a hit for skydiving, which produces the same adrenalin rush but is not as addictive.
The Hon. J. J. Della Bosca:
Yes it is.
The Hon. C. J. S. LYNN:
It is not. I did a skydiving course for my fifty-fourth birthday this year, and I have tried it again. With a few more jumps I will be able to offer to take honourable members on a tandem jump. Trust me!
The Hon. J. J. Della Bosca:
What is the point of a skydiver having a helmet? I cannot see that a helmet would do a skydiver much good.
The Hon. C. J. S. LYNN:
When I was in the United States of America I investigated all parachute deaths, which numbered quite a few. Each part of the process was analysed. It was somewhat amusing because, although many pages of investigative material were produced, the cause of death was always impact. I do not know what difference the helmet made. There are alternative activities to occupy the time of drug takers. They can be given other positive education activities to keep them away from the drug culture. That would be part of the early educative process.
Part of the prevention process is addressing the influence of peer pressures. These are pressures brought about by the influence of movies and television shows that promote the impression that drugs are okay, cool and part of our culture. We must consider ways to make the producers of movies and television programs more accountable for the impact they have on influencing negative attitudes towards drugs. Drug taking has to be seen to be uncool.
As part of the prevention strategy we need to look at the social environment of those who become involved in drug taking. Again, we must look for substitute activities, noting the families that they come from, and considering early intervention programs, to educate families and children in their early years. We must consider positive programs that could be conducted within communities. Those are the prevention aspects, to prevent people from experimenting with and taking drugs. One other vital aspect is law enforcement. The Premier himself said that we have to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Though the Premier has introduced legislation -
The Hon. J. J. Della Bosca:
That is what your advertising agency said.
The Hon. C. J. S. LYNN:
Our advertising agency may have said it, but your agency picked it up. This is where we probably differ in our approach, but I do not believe drug pushers should be given any mercy at all. They should know that if they get caught pushing drugs onto kids they will be dealt with harshly, with confiscation of assets, social alienation and severe gaol sentences. People should know that there are strong deterrents against pushing drugs. That should be our clear and strong message. Rehabilitation is another aspect of dealing with illicit drugs. I think we put the cart before the horse with this trial.
Fortunately, I have been able to raise my three girls without any of them having any drug problem at all, but as a parent my greatest fear was that one of my girls might become involved in drug taking and become addicted to drugs. As a parent, if that did happen, I would want to know that in our society are a range of programs that would work for drug takers. We learned from the Drug Summit that no one program will solve all the problems of drug addiction. Therefore, I would want to know that there is a total range of programs to deal with the problem. One may involve the administration of drugs for a while during the process.
I totally support the Drug Court. That moves the young person from the criminal court system and into a system based on rehabilitation. The Opposition supports that system. Part of the rehabilitation program should emphasise self-esteem, with personal development programs to help those who use illicit drugs to become more confident and able to resist peer pressures and drugs of addiction.
More financial support should be given to non-government organisations. I do not believe that government bureaucracies are the appropriate bodies to try to fix these problems. Places like Odyssey House, the Salvation Army, Youth Insearch and Youth Off the Streets are experienced in dealing with these problems. If programs under which people are administered with drugs were carried out under medical supervision, and those people then went to a health farm or became part of a program that was run under strict supervision, I am sure there would be a difference in the Opposition’s attitude towards this proposal.
The rehabilitation process should also involve training that will enable drug takers to be employed, particularly those from a background of unemployment. The key value to each of these rehabilitation programs is zero tolerance. This brings me back to the object of the bill, because providing a place for people to shoot up, albeit under medical conditions, will achieve nothing while there is no mutual obligation on the part of drug users to do something about their addiction. I would suggest the reason they do not want to do anything about their addiction is that they do not know what to do. There is nothing to guide and help them when they leave the shooting gallery; they just go back to their old habits.
This is where the Government has been caught short. The vital next step will need resources, but resources the Government is not prepared to commit. This is the most serious flaw in the proposal to trial a shooting gallery. If the trial included a procedure that led drug users into a rehabilitation facility, I believe the Opposition would be more inclined to support it. But such an approach would require a dinkum commitment to resources - resources that the Government obviously does not have. Just last week I was called out to Kingswood in Penrith to investigate the withdrawal of school bus passes from 10 schoolchildren.
The Government will save 95¢ per child per day. The fact that the Government has to be so miserly in its approach to young children in the west is a sign that it does not have the resources. As I said earlier, the bill represents a clayton’s approach to the most serious and social problem we have in New South Wales today. Until the Government decides to get real about tackling the hard issues relating to early intervention programs, serious law enforcement and effective rehabilitation programs, we will not be a party to it.
The Hon. D. F. MOPPETT
[10.30 p.m.]: If I recall correctly, in his first major contribution to debate in this House the Special Minister of State, and Assistant Treasurer referred to the resolution of a crisis in France by the convocation of experts who
came together to deal with the plague. I remind him and other members, and respectfully my colleague the Hon. J. F. Ryan, that despite the vehemence they expressed in support of their convictions they were no less wrong than if they had simply said, "I really do not know."
Today we heard a speech from the Hon. J. F. Ryan that will be long remembered, bedizened as it was with spiritual and literary illustrations, but if its basic content is wrong it is one we should certainly examine with the same rigour as if it had been expressed in the pedestrian language that I am wont to use. Until recently I, together with other colleagues - certainly the Hon. M. R. Kersten and, for a while, the Hon. C. J. S. Lynn - took lodgings in Macleay Street. It was all I could afford. During the time I was staying in these very respectable premises in Macleay Street I had the opportunity to visit and observe the haunts of drug users with which the Hon. J. F. Ryan had been so impressed.
Perhaps because my exposure to this subculture in our society was over a longer period, or perhaps because I had some introduction to the problems and lobby groups associated with the injecting drug community through the inquiry - the report of which on the hepatitis C epidemic has been tabled and has yet to be debated - I was less susceptible to the extraordinary change of view that the Hon. J. F. Ryan has so sincerely expressed tonight. I do not doubt the sincerity of what he said, but I challenge his conclusions.
All of us in this debate have to draw on our experiences and apply our deductive capacity to them to reach our conclusions. I refer particularly to the proposed experiment of safe injecting rooms, as they are euphemistically called. Like everyone else who has spoken in the debate so far, my experience is vicarious. At about the time of the Drug Summit a member of my family, not my immediate family, lost a 20-year-old child as the result of a drug overdose.
That person certainly would not have benefited from a safe injecting room, although it may have been claimed on his behalf by his colleagues in the habit of taking drugs that it would have helped him. The truth of the matter is that his mother, who was devoted to his welfare, would pick him up from all over Sydney. All he had to do was indicate where he was and she would pick him up. He died in his home, like so many others. The idea that somehow or another, in the life that he was living, he would be attracted to a safe injecting room is quite beyond my comprehension.
On the weekend I had occasion to visit a cousin of mine who presented himself at St Vincent’s Hospital with an arrhythmic heart. While he was there an individual, covered only in the coat provided for her by the male who brought her in, presented for treatment. The woman had taken a drug overdose and her life was threatened by the collapse of her system. I challenge those who are so keen on the idea of safe injecting rooms to imagine how this woman, wearing no clothes, whatever circumstances she was in, would decide to rock on down to the Sisters of Charity to get her shot. I do not think that would be the case.
During the Drug Summit I recall that one of the representatives of the Ambulance Service that operates in the Darlinghurst area was convinced of the appropriateness of this measure on the basis of an occupational health and safety consideration for ambulance workers: they had to go into squats that have no lights and where, very often, the staircases are unsound. He felt it would be an improvement in the working conditions of members of the ambulance service if a safe injecting room was set up.
I challenge all honourable members to consider whether it breaches the reality test to believe that people who, for whatever unfortunate reason, decide to take an overdose of drugs, a lethal cocktail of drugs, would be in a rational state of mind and would elect to go on down to the safe injecting room. I think those who use the safe injecting room will be those who are still rational in their drug taking and who are unlikely to take a drug overdose.
All honourable members are aware of the drug-related death that occurred during the experiment of the euphemistic tolerance room in Kings Cross. Despite the fact that this was a brave new experiment, someone died of an overdose in a lavatory adjacent to the tolerance room, inside the actual premises. One would have to be a real optimist to believe that somehow or another safe injecting rooms will offer some hope. That is not to say that I am critical of those who are moved by compassion, as they were in Paris. They wanted to do something about the plague, but their response, sadly, was wrong; wrong in equal proportion to their compassion.
I hope that I am proved wrong and that the safe injecting room will make some contribution. But I am yet to be convinced. The proposal certainly flies in the face of all my knowledge and experience of people who are drawn into this sad syndrome. When we questioned people who were involved in
drug taking and pointed out to them the obvious dangers of hepatitis C, which I know the Hon. Dr P. Wong knows well, they said, "Why would we be worried about the threat to the duration of our lives when in fact when you are a drug addict surviving the next half hour is what preoccupies your mind?
I doubt very much that a person, already destabilised and craving drugs, who is offered a shot will say, "I will stroll on up to the safe injecting room." My colleague the Hon. J. H. Jobling will speak about the disillusionment in other jurisdictions of the many people who have put their faith in this brave new experiment. I may be impugned for saying this. However, if we are going to be analytical, we must be frank in our criticisms. I was concerned at the Drug Summit about a phenomena that is often referred to as a supply driven solution, rather than a demand driven solution. I was engaged in a workshop where the major spokesmen were service providers. There is nothing wrong with that.
We rely on such people to take on the difficult jobs in our society, and it is proper that they should be appropriately paid by government or philanthropic programs. However, it is inevitable that they shift at times from being people who are influenced by the needs of their clients to people who are influenced by the needs of their program.
It seemed to me that many people who spoke at the Drug Summit felt that the solution to all of the world’s problems was a greater allocation of money to their area of activity. It also seemed to me that the people who were particularly keen about this experiment were those who had advocated this approach for many years. Perhaps in the first place they were satisfied with a modest experiment run by a charitable institution. But their long-range operation was the continual treatment of people permanently locked into drug addiction.
That is their life; that is what they do to fulfill themselves. I do not say this in a critical way, but we want to intervene in this vicious cycle of drug taking. The great hope that came out of the Summit was that there would be an extraordinary allocation of funds to analyse what makes people succumb to this craving.
For people who do irrational acts or initially put their foot in the mire, we might be able to assist in their rehabilitation or extend a hand to pull them back, but not extend their stay in that situation. I do not know whether it would be wise to quote the former Minister for Health. I heard the same details from one or two other contributors to the Drug Summit. The former Minister for Health said that the saddest part about the drug epidemic sweeping the world is that empirical data suggests that the rehabilitation of drug addicts is totally reliant on a person’s will and the resources around them, such as the strength of their family and the amount of finances available to them.
As to the various rehabilitation methods that have been advocated - whether they be naltrexone, methadone maintenance or cold turkey - the results of rehabilitation in the long term, say over five years, are much the same as doing nothing. That is a sobering thought. I am not advocating doing nothing. I am advocating substantially increasing the amount of money that is available to those people who believe that rehabilitation processes might help. I am opposed to the deployment of resources in areas that I believe will only encourage people to continue their habit of heroin use.
The only other aspect that I want to address tonight is the amendments to the Bail Act that have been proposed in this bill. I remind honourable members of the dangers of this approach. Many members will recall, with some pain, the two Fernando boys, one of whom was murdered in Lithgow gaol recently and the other who is serving a long prison term for the brutal murder of a nurse at Walgett. At the time those two individuals committed this crime they were in breach of an undertaking to the court to attend rehabilitation at Canowindra. They did a bunk at Canowindra, turned up momentarily at the new centre at Gongolgon and made their way without any impairment to their destination in Walgett.
The undertaking was in relation to their sentence; it was not a bail condition. Even so, the weakness of this proposal can certainly be seen in the risk that is taken in seeking such an undertaking. Ms Lee Rhiannon spoke about her horror that in some way a person’s right to bail may be blackmailed or bargained with. I assume that anyone who was not a real danger to the community could expect the normal presumption of bail. There would not be any question as to whether they undertook to attend a rehabilitation centre.
The undertaking would occur only in cases where the presumption of bail was void and they faced the real prospect of being held in custody because they were considered to be a danger to the public. In those circumstances it would be risky to say that if they volunteer to go to a rehabilitation course, if a place is available, bail would be extended to them. It is not a simple proposition at
all. The issue needs a great deal of examination, but certainly not from the perspective proposed by Ms Lee Rhiannon.
I listened with great interest to the contribution of the Hon. J. F. Ryan. I congratulate him on the way he expressed his views sincerely and with passion and colour. However, I am not persuaded by what he had to say about safe injecting rooms. I will oppose those provisions of the bill. Further, because I believe those provisions are central to the bill, I will vote against it.
Debate adjourned on motion by the Hon. J. H. Jobling.