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Wednesday, 8 December 2004
Page: 15


Senator GREIG (10:22 AM) —I also want to reply briefly to some of the comments the minister made about supply reduction being an important part of dealing with the drug issue. I do not disagree with that but we need to be reasonable, balanced and objective in terms of these arguments because there are also negative impacts of supply reduction. The government argues that it successfully removed a lot of heroin from our streets, and the data suggests that there has been a significant drop in heroin, although Police Commissioner Keelty has said that, in his view, that has more to do with the heroin drought in South-East Asia than the legislative response, but that is open to debate.

One of the things that happens with supply reduction is that the cost of those drugs which are available but which are fewer in number then skyrocket. As a consequence, those people with addictions then resort to more frequent and often more violent crime. There is a strong correlation between drug use, addiction and crime in our society. That opens up the question of whether as a community we need to have serious discussion on the provision of clean, regulated, government-provided heroin to those people who are addicted. That is a program that is practised in some countries to some effect. To some degree, we have had that debate about the heroin injecting rooms which exist in Sydney but which do not provide the drugs to people; they are merely a safe and clean space to use them.

Another thing is that it is wrong for the government to claim that supply reduction immediately leads to people not using drugs. When the government was trumpeting roughly 18 months to two years ago that the data was showing a significant drop in heroin use and heroin deaths, I received a phone call from a rehab centre based, I think, in St Kilda in Melbourne who put it to me that the very same people they were seeing over and again who were heroin addicts were still coming to them, only they had shifted their addiction to methamphetamine. In many ways, that was a more dangerous practice and a more dangerous drug. The quality and quantity of drug was much harder to determine, people were injecting much more unclean drugs and the adverse effects, particularly with anxiety, mental health issues and schizophrenia, were in many ways worse with methamphetamine than heroin. So we were simply seeing a shift in drug use rather than a reduction in drug use. For me, that brings home the point that we Democrats maintain very strongly—that is, we must first and foremost approach this as a health issue rather than a legal and legislative issue, although I accept the minister's argument that it is a three-pronged approach.

Finally and perhaps more importantly, the minister touched briefly on the issue of alcohol. Let us keep all of this debate in context. Alcohol, far and away, is the most permissive, dangerous, costly and violent drug that permeates our society. But in response to that, our state and federal governments continue with relentless programs advising people about sensible drinking and against binge drinking, proper education programs in schools and good adverts on the television alerting people to dangers such as dangerous driving. I commend all that. I do not think any of us would not. But what we Democrats would like to see is the very same approach taken towards methamphetamine and ecstasy use in terms of resources, funding and education.