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Wednesday, 20 March 1985
Page: 521


Senator TATE(6.14) —I have been preceded in the Address-in-Reply debate by two new senators, Senator Parer and Senator Brownhill, both of whom made excellent contributions. I am sure that their families in the galleries are well justified in the pride they must feel in the contribution made by those honourable senators to this debate. They have given very clear expressions of their interests and the stances they are going to adopt during their time in this chamber. I congratulate them on their maiden speeches. We look forward to their contributions over the coming years.

I take the opportunity offered by this debate to speak about the strategy that must be adopted if Australia is to combat the dreadful drug abuse which is such a scourge throughout our society. I make some comments and a contribution to the debate which I believe we all ought to engage in as we, amongst other things, move towards the drug summit to be held on 2 April. I believe that the time has come to bring to an end the various commissions of inquiry and committees that have been a feature of discussions concerning drug abuse in Australia over the years. It is time for parliamentarians, for politicians, to make some of the hard decisions that will be needed if we are to deal with the ever-growing problem of drug abuse.

The first thing to do is to clarify what drug abuse needs to be tackled. If we as a society confine our attention to illegal drug abuse, I believe we will be missing the mark in a very profound way. The fact is that drug abuse in Australia is not confined to illegal drug abuse, whether it be of marihuana or of opiates. We know, and I think it is becoming more widely recognised, that the abuse of alcohol, tobacco and analgesics is far more likely to lead to our hospital beds and graveyards being filled by its victims than the abuse of illegal drugs.

During Question Time today I was able to point to a statistic prepared by the Commonwealth Department of Health to the effect that in 1983 some 200 deaths could be attributed to the abuse of opiates and some 20,000 to the abuse of alcohol and tobacco-4,000 directly related to alcohol abuse and 16,000 to tobacco abuse. Fifteen per cent of our hospital beds are filled with the victims of alcohol abuse and another 15 per cent by patients with conditions indirectly related to alcohol abuse. Alcoholism is Tasmania's number one drug problem according to Dr Jacob George, the Director of the Alcohol and Drug Dependency Service of the John Edis Hospital at New Town. The Tasmanian situation is, of course, not unique and is mirrored in the other States of the Commonwealth. If we as a society become obsessed with the concern in the community or if we as politicians respond only to the very real fears in the community engendered by the robberies, some with violence, by the breaking and enterings that are such a feature of the larger cities such as Melbourne and Sydney and by drug dependent prostitution-in other words, if we as politicians respond simply to the concerns of those people who are affected by the drug dependent crime and social disintegration which is a feature of life in those cities-we could miss the mark because drug abuse goes across the whole spectrum of the drugs I have mentioned.

In 1983, a survey of weekly drug use by Year 10 students in New South Wales-Year 10 is what we in Tassie would call the 'Schools Board', the top of high school but before matriculation studies-found that 50 per cent used alcohol, some 34 per cent used tobacco, some 29 or 30 per cent used analgesics and some 10 or 11 per cent used cannabis. The fact is that drug abuse goes right across the board. Our hospital beds and graveyards are filled with its victims. However, in sheer terms of numbers the preponderance lies in the abuse of so-called legal drugs. At the drug summit, we as politicians must address the abuse of all sorts of drugs, otherwise we are not only missing a large proportion of the abuse but also we will appear to be hypocritical, particularly in the eyes of the young. When we come to those educational and preventative programs which are so essential the ears of those young people will be closed if they believe that society is conducting a witch hunt in relation to some of the drugs which young people are aware of in their semi-criminal subculture where they deal in these-I will come to that in a moment-and if they think that society is singling out the illegal drugs, continuing to shower honours on the tobacco tycoons and the brewery barons and continuing to foster the way in which, for example, the media can be used to push, if I may use that term, sales of these legal drugs. What we need is a comprehensive approach to drug abuse in Australia and a recognition of the damage that can be done by the abuse of all sorts of drugs.

Having identified the sorts of drug abuses which are a problem in our society, the question becomes how, nevertheless, do we deal with the abuse of illegal drugs? There, of course, the cry is that we as politicians should respond by imposing ever-increasing penalties in relation to the abuse of marihuana and drugs derived from the opium poppy, for example. They are quite distinct types of drugs and have quite distinct problems associated with them. I think it is now generally recognised that the victim, the user, is to be distinguished from the trafficker and the dealer. No doubt the drug summit to be held will serve a purpose if it rules out some of the anomalies between the different jurisdictions throughout Australia and recognises the distinction between traffickers and dealers on the one hand and users, or victims, on the other. Australia has just about exhausted the route of ever-increasing penalties by way of jail terms or ever-increasing fines which are applied only to a few of those who are engaged in the trafficking and dealing. Only very few are detected. Of those who are detected, only a few are prosecuted and convicted. In calling for a distinction to be made between users and traffickers, I had in mind a very famous quotation from Lord Justice Lawson in an English case some 10 or 12 years ago. He said:

The first thing to be said, and said very firmly indeed, is that Her Majesty's Courts are not dust-bins into which the social services sweep difficult members of the public. Still less should Her Majesty's judges use their sentencing powers to dispose of those who are socially inconvenient. If the courts become disposers of those who are socially inconvenient, the road ahead would lead to the destruction of liberty. It should be clearly understood that Her Majesty's judges stand on the road barring that way.

I believe that this Parliament and the other parliaments in Australia should stand with the judges in barring that use of the judicial and sentencing process against the users of drugs. The situation with respect to traffickers and dealers is different. In considering appropriate penalties, we should respond to the reports of Special Prosecutor Redlich and the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Ian Temby. They have called for civil remedies by which the confiscation of assets upon conviction could be used more extensively than at present. Further, they have said that assets should be frozen whilst investigation and prosecution is in train. Such a course has obvious dangers and would have to be approached with great sensitivity and care to ensure that those who are innocent, those who are not convicted, are not denied the enjoyment of their assets. Nevertheless, society does not want to have these assets dissipated, sent abroad, conveyed to or otherwise disposed of among friends, relatives and associates before the conviction upon which confiscation of assets should occur. Senator Chipp and Senator Lewis, who are in the chamber, will recall that when members of a Senate committee inquiring into the National Crime Authority we were told by Mr Costigan and others that one of the surest ways to deal a blow that really hurts drug traffickers and dealers is to deal with the cash flow, the profiteering and the assets that they accumulate by way of their latching on to those whom they use to generate these tremendous profits. As was the case during the prohibition era, they then use those profits to move into more nefarious criminal activities.

When considering the penalties for trafficking and dealing in illegal drugs we should consider the freezing or confiscation of assets as a very due remedy in relation to those activities. If we acted in conjunction with the Australian Taxation Office, which was prepared to use its powers and its ability to raise assessments against the accumulated assets of these people, we would do much more than merely give ourselves some sort of satisfaction by adding five-year jail terms to the list of penalties in our various statutes. As we know, without an effective, honest, honourable and incorruptible detection and prosecution system, such action will not come to much more than further listing of additional penalties in our statutes. We ought to consider penalties but we should also consider the new way that has been suggested by Mr Redlich and Mr Ian Temby. In doing so, we should clearly distinguish between the penalties to dissuade those who traffic and deal in drugs and those used to dissuade the users, abusers or victims of those drugs. I repeat the words of Lord Justice Lawson:

. . . Her Majesty's courts are not dust-bins into which the social services sweep difficult members of the public.

He said that we should stand barring the way against the use of sentencing powers to dispose of those who are socially inconvenient. That is a very important distinction that we should take up.

The views I hold in relation to various illegal drugs are reasonably well known to members of the Senate, but given the importance of the summit that is approaching I will repeat them. In relation to marijuana, I have taken the view that to adopt, as we do, a model that was discredited by the experience of the United States in relation to alcohol during the prohibition era of the 1930s is so manifestly stupid and socially unproductive as almost to beggar belief. I have exhausted myself for 10 years on this theme, but I want to say why I believe that system has proved ineffective. Some of the disastrous social impacts of that model are along these lines. First, hundreds of thousands of young Australians who indulge in the recreational use of marijuana suffer socially from that use. I do not use marijuana and nor do I advocate its use. I do not gainsay the fact that marijuana has ill effects but I am talking of the social impacts. Out of the hundreds of thousands of users a few are selected by the drug squads around the country from time to time. They are prosecuted and convicted. They carry the stigma of that conviction right through their lives. It is a blight on their records which can affect their career and employment prospects and can undo years of training. It can reduce their opportunity to travel abroad in so far as some countries will not grant a visa to persons with a drug conviction. It creates a sense of shame not only for the offender but also for the family. I have had heart-rending letters from parents speaking of a youthful indiscretion, as they see it, of a son or daughter that carries an impact throughout their lives. I will come to means of remedying that in a moment.

Secondly, it is also the case that by adopting the prohibition model many hundreds of thousands of Australians find themselves in a criminal sub-culture where they conduct their furtive dealing for the drug. Whilst there is no pharmacologically proved progression from soft drugs to hard drugs, from marijuana to heroin, it is nevertheless probably true that most heroin users started using marijuana somewhere along the line in the same way as most alcoholics would have started with an ordinary beer. The fact is that by placing these people in this subculture there is a chance of a sociological progression. They will be led to harder drugs because of peer group pressure within that subculture and because they are the more easy target for and prey of those who want to lead them to them. As anyone with any experience of real life knows, as I know from the north-west coast of Tasmania, when there is a drought of marijuana, somehow the hard drugs turn up. People who are in the network of dealing are then exposed to temptation. For that reason alone, to get people away from the possibility of sociological progression, we should lift the prohibition model.

Thirdly, use of marijuana is so widespread that one would be naive to think that law enforcement officers are not exposed to tremendous temptations in relation to the enforcement of the law. They must pick and choose. They must exercise discretion. In that situation, they are put under tremendous stress and the possibility of being tempted to corruption. I will not speak of a certain case because it is sub judice, but there has been a recent move against certain detectives in New South Wales in relation to this sort of matter. The general public will know to what I am referring.

Fourthly, unless brought before the courts for a driving offence, many young Australians may come into contact with the law only with respect to a marijuana matter. Because they regard it as a hypocritical exercise of society's penal powers, the law itself falls into disrepute. Not only do the drug squads and police officers come into disrepute; the courts, as law enforcers, and the parliaments that stand behind the laws also do so. If we were setting out to construct a system which put a stigma on the lives of many ordinary and decent Australians, which put them into a subculture leading possibly to their being tempted to take harder drugs, and which put law enforcement agencies in a situation of stress and temptation, and if we wanted to undermine respect for the law and bring the law making and law enforcement powers of society into disrepute, we would adopt a system similar to that we have now. It is time we abandoned the prohibition model of the United States in the 1920s in relation to alcohol and, at least in relation to marijuana, perhaps had a ticket offence like a parking offence. If society wishes to say that it is not entirely condoning a matter, something like that might at least be acceptable.

I cannot go into all my thoughts on marijuana except to emphasise that, if we are not to have full scale law reform in relation to it, we must at least accept a rehabilitation of offenders Act along the lines of the United Kingdom model whereby, after three years of good behaviour with no other proven criminal activity after a conviction, the conviction is quashed or expunged from the records to allow the person to be reintegrated into society. Rehabilitation is not simply a question of medical treatment. If we say that rehabilitation equals medical treatment we are missing the point. Rehabilitation must involve social reintegration into the whole of Australian society, and I believe that that can be well achieved by expunging a conviction after a certain time.

I do not take the same view in relation to heroin. I have come to the view from what I have read of the experience of the United Kingdom that, rather than providing free heroin to registered addicts, one should really emphasise and make accessible methadone programs. This is the experience now of the United Kingdom and Hong Kong. If free heroin is provided to addicts who must have their two, three or four shots a day, and if it is distributed at a clinic, there are all the dangers of congregation of addicts at those premises constantly throughout the day and the security problems which naturally attend the holding of heroin for that purpose. If it is distributed to addicts for self-administration, all it means is that government-guaranteed pure heroin, or a portion of it, finds its way on to the black market. So I feel that the distribution of free heroin to registered addicts is perhaps not the answer. I am inclined to think that methadone, even though methadone programs have their problems and it is in itself addictive, because it can be administered simply once a day by way of syrup, has fewer of the dangers I have spoken of in relation to the distribution of free heroin.


Senator Chipp —The problem is to get addicts to take it.


Senator TATE —That is true. That is the stage I have reached. I think it is a better alternative for society than the distribution of free heroin, although I am awaiting the drug summit and any other contribution in the chamber in relation to these matters to help me think it through a bit more.

I have spoken about the need to deal with drug abuse right across the spectrum and about the way in which we should deal with illegal drugs. Of course, in speaking of drugs right across the spectrum, one comes back to the fact that prevention education is far better than rehabilitation, conviction and so on. We know that recidivism in relation to heroin addiction is notoriously common and indeed the rule, so prevention by education and so on is essential. I believe that the education programs on which we might expend moneys, whether through the schools or through the media that young people particularly read by way of pop magazines or enjoy by way of radio or television, will, as I say and emphasise, be listened to only if the intended recipients of the message are convinced that Australian society is really tackling drug abuse right across the board.

I believe that we as politicians probably cannot come up with the answers in relation to prevention and education programs. We need to be very good listeners to those most closely associated with the very hard, concrete and practical work which is the lot of those who deal compassionately and effectively with the victims of drug abuse. Of course, I include the traditional agencies, spanning from the Salvation Army, which I know runs in Tasmania a program called the bridge program in relation to alcohol dependent persons, to the perhaps more novel, breakthrough areas fostered by people such as Brother Alex in the back streets of St Kilda in Melbourne or the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross run by Ted Noffs. I do not speak of them merely because they are the notorious ones, and I do not want, by mentioning them, to single them out to the detriment of the many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of voluntary organisations, community groups and individual persons who are trying to find a way to encourage our young people not to become part of the drug ridden society which we are. I mention them only because they stand out because of their perseverance in the face of tremendous odds in environments which are very hostile and personally dangerous. Unless we listen to them we will be missing out on much experience which has been accumulated over the years and which will be very useful to us, because they will be able to tell us the types of programs that need to be undertaken to be truly preventive.

They can tell us about the underlying reasons why people turn to drugs. They will be able to describe the boredom and alienation of the young, the financial worries, the peer group pressures, the disintegration of the family and various other factors. It is no use saying that these people are out on the streets. We have to ask: Why are they on the streets? Why are there homeless and destitute young people in a society such as Australia? Unless we get a very clear picture, as I believe the Institute of Family Studies in Melbourne is undertaking to do, of the scope of drugs in relation to families, we will be missing out on a dimension which is also very important.

I make this contribution to the debate in the hope that this subject will be taken up from time to time in this chamber. I believe that, in dealing with drug abuse, we need to be tolerant. I believe tolerance is a moral and political virtue which, if it is exercised by parliamentarians and by the courts, will be very valuable. I recall a submission made by the Catholic Diocesan Pastoral Council to the Tasmanian House of Assembly Select Committee on Victimless Crime. I make it clear that it did not advocate the decriminalising or legalising of marijuana, but in the course of its general submission it made a point which I think is worth while reiterating:

Law must keep close to the moral sense of the community and the moral sense of the community must inspire law. This is not repressive of minority opinion because in a civilised and Christian community tolerance of differing moral view-points and practices will be part of that general moral sense.

If we could create a structure of laws and their enforcement and a structure of programs relating to education and prevention which conveyed to Australians, young Australians in particular, the sense that they were in a tolerant society, I believe that some of the sense of paranoia, some of their sense of being victimised and some of their sense of being unduly and unfairly discriminated against, which reinforces or even causes them to turn to drugs as a solace, as a way out, as an act of rebellion or as an act of despair, could be mitigated and we would be well on the way to creating the sort of psychological environment that may help them to live in the way which is not drug dependent. When people are in a situation of pressure with perhaps a sense of discrimination against them they turn to drugs as a way of enhancing their possibilities of social intercourse with others and getting some self-esteem, however wrong that turns out to be as the abuse becomes an addiction. Not only is tolerance an important virtue from that point of view, but also it is a political virtue. In a democracy, tolerance is particularly valuable and is part of our sort of society. If one means by 'democracy' simply that the majority for the time being has the political power, one is not saying any thing more than that a dictatorship can be voted in. A democracy exists where minority views, as long as they are expressed in a non-violent fashion, and practices and ways of life which are not, perhaps, agreed to by the greater part of society are tolerated. It is the sort of society where non-violent viewpoints and ways of life should be tolerated. If we have that sort of tolerance as a mark of our Australian democratic society, we will be well on the way to creating the kind of environment where recourse to drugs is not so prevalent.

I hope that honourable senators, members of the other House and, indeed, members of parliaments right around Australia, after many years of many reports-including some distinguished reports from committees of this chamber-have come to a point where we can create a legislative framework and fund the sorts of programs which will lead to Australia not being a drug ridden society.

Debate (on motion by Senator Lewis) adjourned.