Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 11 September 2003
Page: 19935

Mr DUTTON (10:26 AM) —Shortly I will address, as part of my response to the report, Road to recovery: report on the inquiry into substance abuse in Australian communities, some of the comments made by the member for Lalor, which in the very least were misleading and naive and perhaps indicated, sadly, the fact that she has not read the report from cover to cover. Her comments were selective and I think that they misrepresented the work of this committee, which has taken place on a bipartisan basis over two parliaments.

But I will start on a positive note. I record my great thanks and gratitude to my fellow committee members and indeed the secretariat, including Bev Forbes and Margaret Atkin. I also acknowledge the contribution of the chairs of the committee—in this parliament, Kay Hull, and in the 39th Parliament, Barry Wakelin. I also want to, in a very positive way, congratulate those people who provided evidence to the committee over both parliaments. It takes a great deal of guts, I suppose, for many of these people and family members who have been afflicted by the dreadful curse of, particularly, illicit drugs and who have been afflicted perhaps in circumstances of domestic violence as a result of the use of alcohol and, in some cases, even tobacco use and the resulting problems of that abuse, particularly further down the track. I found much of the evidence that we took from young people, in particular, at many of the residential facilities very inspiring, and I think I speak for other members of the committee in that regard.

I mentioned the member for Lalor's contribution. I do think it was naive and ideologically based and I do not think it took into account the balance of the evidence that was provided to us, which resulted in the recommendations and conclusions that were reached. One of the misleading aspects which the member for Lalor concentrated on in her contribution was her suggestion that there was a partisan position in relation to the outcome of this report. The reality of this situation is that the Labor Party was split in three different directions in the final outcome. There was not a partisan position from the coalition parties and a partisan position from the ALP. Only two members of the ALP formed the substantive dissenting motion. Indeed, the member for Throsby agreed with the substantive part of the committee's recommendations, as did Mr Harry Quick, the member for Franklin. I commend, in particular, those two members of the opposition for their positive contribution—in stark contrast to some of the other members from the Labor Party—to this committee's inquiry and report.

All of that leaves a sour taste in the mouths of some of us who were involved in what was very much a genuine attempt to try to reach a reasonable, compromise outcome. I might inform the House today that, right up until the eleventh hour, members on both sides negotiated and compromised. It was not possible in this circumstance to reach a united position. It is a very emotive issue. We all hold preconceived ideas. We can all interpret the evidence that we received over a very lengthy period of time and get different outcomes. In my view, up until the eleventh hour we did reach an agreed position, in a bipartisan manner, that we thought would be of benefit to the Australian people.

When I walked out of parliament house in New South Wales, where the committee had deliberated for some time, my understanding was that we had agreed upon the recommendations that you see in the substantive part of this report. Regrettably, the next morning we discovered that, overnight, the member for Fowler—who was obviously involved in some sort of preselection in her own seat—had all of a sudden conceived these ideas. I do not know what the influences of those ideas were, but this needs to be noted, because those ideas were not present in the meeting the day before in which we reached agreement. In the 12-hour period which elapsed until the next day, these conflicting views came about. That does need to be noted on the public record. The member for Fowler's constituents need to understand the true motivations, in my opinion, for the minority report. I do not want to dwell on that any more because, frankly, I have devoted more time to it than the member for Fowler deserves.

I do want to talk about the very positive outcomes that this report provides and I want to talk about this problem of illicit drugs in particular. In my view, this is a supply and demand issue in many regards. Drugs are traded in our community like any other commodity. Our community certainly has a greater tolerance for the consumption of alcohol and tobacco than for, say, the use of illicit drugs. In my view, that is at least due in part to the immediate and sometimes fatal outcomes of illicit drugs use, particularly amongst younger people. It is the reason that, in the short time that I have today, I want to concentrate my comments on that aspect of our report.

The road to recovery report comprises 350 pages, providing 128 recommendations. It expresses, in many parts, my view and the view of the majority of the committee members that the government needs to continue the holistic approach to this problem. The member for Lalor was throwing around the phrase `zero tolerance', saying that that was the direction that the government was headed towards—as though that is some sort of a scare tactic towards the Australian people. She may or may not have the correct political read on that. I will leave that to the Australian people to decide at a future time.

This government is not about a zero tolerance. It is not about a liberal situation such as that which operates in some other countries. This government has been providing a holistic approach. We say—and this report produces outcomes to this effect—that people who are afflicted by drug use, who are at the user end of the equation and have fallen victim to the use of illicit drugs, need every support. At that end of the equation it is very much a health issue. We need to continue to provide the funding that we have provided in years gone by for rehabilitation and for services that provide for an appropriate outcome for those people. We need to provide a circuit-breaker at some stage for those people. For the majority of people, providing them with eternal methadone dependence is not ultimately an outcome.

Some of the members of the Labor Party had a view—and I heard it summarised by the member for Lalor—that we need to park people on methadone. We took evidence that some people have been on methadone for up to 20 years; they are maintaining a lifetime on methadone. That is doing them no long-term favours: we took evidence from many people who are in a state of permanent depression. For some people, the methadone outcome is appropriate—there is no denying that. We are not suggesting otherwise as part of this report. We are saying that we do not park people onto methadone for evermore as some way of pulling them away from other programs that might be appropriate to provide for an abstinence outcome. That should ultimately be where this government and the Australian people are headed.

If we can provide an outcome of drug-free status for people, that should be the outcome, and that is our debate surrounding harm minimisation. That is what our debate is about, and that is the proposition that we have put forward. We are not talking about ripping out from under these people the services and the safety net that is provided; but bear in mind that the methadone program and similar programs should be a safety net for people who cannot otherwise find a definite outcome. That is why we spoke about naltrexone and that is why we took some of the evidence: if we are serious about providing a permanent and positive outcome for these people, we should be providing the option. I say today that we should be open to the suggestion of naltrexone. I know that the member for Fowler, in particular, is opposed to this idea, despite the evidence that we took—which was very clearly in support of it—and the evidence that has been adduced from overseas. I know that the member for Throsby is one who is very supportive of the naltrexone program.

I want to touch very quickly on the link between drugs and crime. From the evidence that the committee took, the links are undeniable at every level of crime—from the street dealer to organised crime syndicates which operate commercial businesses trading in human tragedy. They are the people at the other end of the spectrum for whom I believe we need to look very seriously at increasing sentences. I note that a recent study shows that almost 90 per cent of Australians support increased sentences for those supplying drugs—for that trade in human misery. We took that evidence and it forms part of this report. That comes as no surprise.

Our view is that a holistic approach is needed. At one end, we need to provide outcomes for those people who are afflicted by dependence. We need as a society to look very seriously and very sternly at those people at the other end of the scale who trade in human misery. That is nothing about harm minimisation or zero tolerance, which the member for Lalor earlier tried to confuse the debate with. I think that point needs to be made very clearly. I commend the work of the National Council on Drugs, under the direction of Brian Watters, because the Tough on Drugs strategy that this government has been very strongly behind has seen a reduction in the number of heroin deaths. The Labor Party can throw up all the propaganda that they like to try to dilute those outcomes, and it hurts them incredibly, particularly the member for Fowler—who is sitting opposite me—to accept those outcomes. They will throw up any sort of propaganda to try to dispel what have been legitimate and real outcomes for people in that category. That needs to be noted very clearly today.

On the links between drugs and crime, evidence from Graycar found that, of 1,770 offenders arrested in 2001, 70 per cent of those arrested for violence, traffic or property offences tested positive to an illicit drug. We know about the causes of crime and we know that drug-dependent people in particular are prolific offenders—particularly in property crime, as they try to gather the money to purchase drugs. That is an undeniable fact and it is one that we as a committee needed to take into consideration in arriving at some of the outcomes that we have.

I want to say to the Labor Party today that the answer is not to be part of the problem. It is not the answer to suggest to these people that harm minimisation is the only solution to this very serious affliction on many people in our society. People who say that we need to sit down with these people and give each other a warm hug and talk not about positive outcomes but about how we can maintain dependence through methadone programs and the like are, I think, kidding not only themselves but also those who are seriously in most need of our assistance.

One of the highlights in this report regards the use of marijuana, and I want to finish quickly on this. It is a theme that I want to educate my local area in Dickson about over the coming years—in particular, the young people and school students—because there are a lot of misnomers about drug use, particularly with what people term as `soft' drugs, such as cannabis, in our society. Cannabis is something that we need to educate the public about because it is a mind altering drug. The report on page 169 at 7.70 states:

One of the problems encountered in attempts to prevent and intervene early in cannabis use is the widespread belief, to which Australian Parents for Drug Free Youth referred, that cannabis is relatively harmless. This belief was formed 20 or more years ago when, according to Professor Saunders, there were lower doses of the psychoactive ingredient in the cannabis used then and few serious health effects were evident. Current users receive a dose of the psychoactive agent, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is, on average, 3.5 times greater than 20 years ago, and evidence is accumulating about the deleterious health effects of cannabis.

It goes on—and I could quote from it—for some pages about the serious problems that cannabis use will bring to our community in the years ahead. It is not a soft drug, and the younger people in our society need to continue to understand that. Amphetamines are put in the same category. Much of our debate was concentrated on heroin, and it is a dreadful drug. But the availability of amphetamines and our determination to knock them out of Australian society must continue unabated. I commend Road to recovery: report on the inquiry into substance abuse in Australian communities to the House.