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Tuesday, 30 March 2004
Page: 27544


Mrs ELSON (2:06 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Would the minister update the House on how the government's Tough on Drugs Strategy is helping to reduce the scourge of drug addiction? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?


Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank the member for Forde for her question. I know how committed she is to the government's Tough on Drugs policy. It certainly is not easy to win the war on drugs, but win it we must, because there is no safe way to inject illicit drugs; there is no safe way to manage a heroin habit. I am pleased to say that the government's Tough on Drugs policy seems to be working. We have had a 23 per cent reduction in the number of people using illicit drugs since 1998; we have had a 60 per cent reduction in the number of heroin users; and, most importantly, deaths from drug overdoses have fallen from over 1,100 to under 400—thanks, at least in part, to the government's Tough on Drugs policy.


Mr Melham —Oh, rubbish!


Mr ABBOTT —Unfortunately, as the interjection indicates, not everyone supports those policies. The Leader of the Opposition, for instance, said just last month, `Labor has said consistently that we will support trials'—that is, injecting room trials and heroin trials. Then the member for Grayndler, a frontbench member of the opposition, said:

... it is not the heroin per se that causes all these problems, it is often the criminalisation of the supply and use of heroin

So the member for Grayndler is not even sure that heroin should be illegal. The member for Gellibrand, the shadow Attorney-General, said:

We cannot simply say that our preference is for there to be zero drug use.

What is her preference? How much drug use is acceptable to the member for Gellibrand? I just say to members opposite that they should heed the advice of an extremely distinguished expert on fighting drug addiction—none other than the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Mr Mick Keelty, who was described in this House in the MPI last Thursday as `a great Australian'. Let me quote Mick Keelty on heroin trials, on injecting rooms. He said:

All these options take us along a path of saying that using drugs like heroin is okay, and where do we stop with a trial? Do we extend this to other drugs, such as cocaine which is now injected in many of our cities?

... ... ...

By opening up heroin trials this simply feeds the addiction rather than dealing with the problem, so it treats the symptom and not the cause.

He went on to say:

Both heroin trials and injecting clinics reinforce an ambiguity about the situation that shouldn't be there. How can we produce a drug-free generation and at the same time sanction the use of illicit drugs for a portion of the community?

On this matter, Mick Keelty is absolutely right. Many members of the opposition do need to rethink their position, and I respectfully call on the Leader of the Opposition to have another think about this and to move his party to a position where it is no longer soft on drug abuse.