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Monday, 22 November 1999
Page: 12258

Dr NELSON —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Would the Prime Minister inform the House of progress in relation to the commitment by the Commonwealth, states and territories to work together to put in place a new national initiative for the diversion of illicit drug users?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I am delighted to inform the House that there has been a great deal of cooperation between the Commonwealth and state governments across the normal political divide in relation to the diversion strategy that was first outlined at a meeting of the Prime Minister, premiers and chief ministers on 9 April. At the premises of a marvellous organisation called We Help Ourselves at Lidcombe in Sydney last Thursday, I was able to announce that agreement had been achieved between the Commonwealth and all the states.

The Commonwealth is making available $110 million to fund a diversion program which essentially provides, for first-time drug offenders in particular, the option of undergoing treatment and rehabilitation assistance or, alternatively, being caught up in the criminal justice system. We believe that this represents a major breakthrough and step forward and one that recognises that for first-time drug offenders incarceration and being captured in the criminal justice system is not a desirable alternative. If a proper choice can be afforded to those people, then they and society will gain the benefit.

Diversion is built on the concept of early intervention. We want to prevent people entering into long-term drug abuse where they face serious health problems, financial destitution, social dysfunction, a criminal record and, in some cases, acts of violence and property crime. In many respects, this approach is another expression of the philosophy of mutual obligation. We have an obligation to provide people with a way out of the path to drugs. But they must make the choice to accept treatment and rehabilitation services or face the consequences of being caught up in the criminal justice system.

I thank the state governments of all political persuasions that have cooperated with the federal government on this issue. I was pleased to see represented at the announcement I made in Lidcombe last week the police forces—not only the Australian Federal Police through the commissioner Mr Mick Palmer but also the South Australian Police through its commissioner, who has played a leading role in the law enforcement side of the campaign against drugs.

I have said before, and I repeat, that you need resources for law enforcement, you need resources for education and you need resources for treatment and rehabilitation. In an unprecedented way, to the tune of more than $500 million, this government is providing resources in each of those areas. Over time, I hope that those initiatives will make a contribution towards reducing the scourge of drugs within Australian society.