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Thursday, 26 September 2002
Page: 5005

Senator COLBECK (2:53 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Ellison. Will the minister advise the Senate of actions the Howard government is taking to combat the growth in the illicit manufacture and supply of amphetamines and precursor chemicals?

Senator Hill —Finally, a serious question!

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) —That is a very serious question from Senator Colbeck and one which is of great concern to both law enforcement authorities and health authorities across Australia. The strategy of the Howard government in fighting drugs has been to fight on three fronts: health, education and law enforcement. Of course, we have seen success in relation to heroin in the shortage of heroin which this country has experienced since December 2000. But, of course, we cannot afford to stand still. The ABCI's Australian illicit drug report of 2000-01 states that the use of illicit amphetamines or speed in Australia is probably the most concerning trend in the illicit drug environment.

This is an issue which I addressed today at the chemical diversion conference held by the ABCI and attended by a variety of stakeholders from the states, territories, the Commonwealth, and health and law enforcement bodies. The problem we face is that amphetamine type substances are a potent drug. They are not only imported but can be manufactured locally. In fact, with the box labs that we have available, you can manufacture them in a motel room. The dangerous thing is that the precursors, which include pseudoephedrine, can be obtained from cold and flu medications which can be purchased over the counter at any chemist. Recently, we saw one bust where some 27,000 tablets of Sudafed were discovered. We are very concerned that pseudoephedrine can be extracted from legally obtainable drugs.

The problem we face is that this is a domestic situation. We have organised criminal gangs such as outlaw motorcycle gangs involved in the distribution of this. Today I have announced that the minister for health, Senator Patterson, and I will work together in a working group to bring together people such as the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the pharmacy sector, the private sector, the medicines people, the law enforcement people and, very importantly, the states and territories. We cannot afford to have a state or territory approach to this problem; we need a national approach to the situation so that we have in place a code of practice which applies across Australia.

As well as that, I will be raising this at the Australian Police Ministers Council in November and looking at ways that we can deal with this from a law enforcement angle across Australia. But this is unusual, because it is not just the normal situation where you have the importation of heroin. It is not like the situation where you have cocaine coming from South America. This is a situation where organised criminal gangs are extracting a precursor such as pseudoephedrine from a medication which up to 80 per cent of Australians take, especially during the winter months. It is not something that we can ban and it is not something that we can put on prescription, so we do have to put in place controls.

I acknowledge the cooperation that we have had from the private sector. In June this year we saw a code of practice introduced in relation to chemical diversion, but we need to do more. With my colleague the minister for health, we will work together in a working group to make sure that we move this issue forward very quickly. It is of great concern, particularly when you remember that the people who take up this sort of drug the most are young Australians.