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Thursday, 18 May 1972
Page: 1795


Senator McMANUS (Victoria) - I am very glad that the Senate has been given the opportunity to debate the report of the Senate Select Committee on Drug Trafficking and Drug Abuse which inquired into the drug question and of which I was privileged to be a member. I think that in all modesty it could be said that it was a very hard-working committee. I am quite sure that in Senator John Marriott we had a most effective chairman who co-ordinated our work and acted as a medium between us. the Press and the general public in a way which did credit to him and to the Senate. I feel that a good deal has been achieved already by the. report, which we all know has had a considerable sale not only in Australia but all over the world. This question of drug addiction is arousing considerable concern in every part of the globe.

I believe that it will be found that one of the achievements of the report will be this: It has transferred the emphasis in regard to drug addiction to the point where the drug addict is regarded as a person who is ill and not as a person who has committed an offence. I believe that that is all to the good. I also believe that the report of the Committee has directed attention to what needs to be done if we are to prevent drug addiction from becoming a serious problem in this country. We were gratified to learn - the evidence to this effect was strong - that in Australia we have not yet a serious drug problem. But when we look at what is happening in other parts of the world we see that we must alert ourselves to the possibility that drug addiction will become a problem. We must do what we can to provide adequate treatment for those in this country who have succumbed and we must take measures to ensure that our young people, who are particularly prone to the risks of this kind of addiction, are adequately informed and protected against the possibility that they will become addicts. With the assistance of experts not only from Australia but also from all over the world, the Committee was able to amass a significant amount of evidence as to the right methods to deal with this problem.

There were certain aspects which obtained a good deal of attention. I felt that the evil of the taking of drugs to the point of addiction by middle aged people, the extent of which had not been realised before, was spotlighted. Already action has been taken by governments in this country to ensure that certain of those drugs are no longer as freely available in the community as they used to be. Not only have governments taken steps to make such drugs less accessible, but also they have seen to it that information is made available to the public to point out the dangers of becoming addicted to these headache powders, Relaxa-tabs and other powders. I believe that has made a big contribution to making people understand the dangers and making them realise that they have to be careful to avoid those dangers. 1 think that a disproportionate amount of attention has been concentrated on the drug marihuana. The experts who came before the Committee made it clear that there was, as yet, no confirmed medical opinion throughout the world as to the possible long term effects of marihuana addiction. In those circumstances I was one of those on the Committee who felt that until we have adequate evidence of the possible long term effects of marihuana addiction we should maintain the present restrictions. I think also that most if not all, of us were influenced in our attitude by the belief that there was some evidence - not overwhelming evidence, but some evidence - that indulgence in marihuana led to indulgence in other and more dangerous drugs. For that reason, we adopted an attitude of caution. I believe that that attitude is justified.

As Senator Wheeldon pointed out, there are different types of drugs. Some drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco, are socially acceptable. My feeling is that, from the point of view of young people, it is better not to make marihuana easily available to them. I am not one of those who feel that the use of alcohol or tobacco can be prohibited. But I do feci that an immense amount of money is being spent uselessly on those 2 drugs. I see no reason why we should add another drug, the cost of which would spiral as the cost of all these drugs seems to spiral as the public comes to accept them more and more. I remember that in the early days of the Australian Labor Party, leaders of that Party - men in prominent positions - advocated the prohibition not merely of alcohol but also of tobacco on the ground that the worker was wasting on them money which ought to have been spent on his wife and family. A different attitude now prevails. It is felt that these drugs have become socially acceptable and that therefore they cannot be prohibited.

But I still believe, as I told some of the students who appeared before us. that there is no reason why when they are spending so much money already on alcohol and tobacco they should spend money on something else which most of them admitted could never in any circumstances be regarded as a necessity. I think that the danger in adopting a more permissive attitude in regard to drug addiction can be seen from what has happened in the United States of America, where there has been a more permissive attitude. I was interested to read an article by Dr Margaret Wallner, a qualified medical practitioner who is attached to the university health service of the Australian

National University and who has just visited the United States. In the course of a very interesting article which appeared in the Canberra 'Times' she pointed out that at a narcotics round table conference she had met a group of responsible and articulate students from one of the best known high schools. She was amazed to find that every one of those students admitted that at some time or other, and even then, he or she had taken drugs. Most of them said that they felt that they had taken them perhaps for some years. A number had found that they could give them up. Others were still indulging.

A rather remarkable factor that we found in our considerations of the Australian evidence - it was pointed out fairly strongly to us - was that a considerable number of young students who indulged in drug taking found, when they reached what we might refer to as a more responsible age, in the twenties, and perhaps because of intentions to marry or because of family responsibilities, were able in most cases to give up the drug taking without, as far as they could see, any serious effects. But there is always a small number of people, as they themselves admitted, who are not able to give up the particular drug and who graduate to other drugs. They form part of the problem. The matter that impressed me in Dr Wallner's article was that in the United States while these older people said that they felt that they could take the drugs and leave them, the tendency was that the age at which young people experimented in drugs was falling to the degree that now - I quote her words - 'large numbers of children under 10 are being noticed in drug treatment facilities'. The drugs which they had been taking were marihuana, barbiturates and a number of other drugs which, she was told, the children had said they got from the bathrooms in their homes.

It is serious that young children aged 10 and under are experimenting with drugs. That makes it more important that in the community steps should be taken to guard and warn young people against the evil possibilities of drug taking. For that reason I am indebted to Mr Beazley, the Australian Labor Party spokesman on education, for his article on the dangers of 'The

Little Red Schoolbook'. In his article he pointed out that in the book the use of marihuana is excused. In fact it is stated to children that there is nothing very wrong with taking marihuana and that it probably will not do them much harm. But 'The Little Red Schoolbook', according to Mr Beazley, also states:

LSD is dangerous but the effects of mescalin and LSD (or acid) vary enormously from person to person. There are cases of people who have taken LSD regularly over long periods without any bad effects.

In view of the evidence that we had from medical men on what LSD can do to people, I think it is criminal that in our community there should be permitted a book which tells young children, who are not equipped to make their own decisions on these matters, that it is possible to take LSD regularly over long periods without any bad effects. If that kind of information is disseminated widely in the community and if it is accepted widely among children, I have no doubt that if we have not a drug problem now we will have one before long.

There are other problems. Alcohol is undoubtedly the worst. Some people say: If alcohol is the worst, why is it not prohibited? Instead of taking action as is intended in regard to tobacco - warnings, advertising and so on - why not take action in regard to other things?' Alcohol has become socially acceptable. While many people say that they take it for social purposes without ill effects, governments will always be loath to take action. I think I should mention another factor which has been brought to notice by Dr Wallner in her article headed 'Drugs and VD: twin perils of youth*. One of the dangers of 'The Little Red Schoolbook' is that it advocates or tolerates a permissive attitude in regard to promiscuity. It tells children that they may indulge in promiscuity and not let their parents know. It then suggests to the children that if they do that, they can avoid any of the consequences. Of course, they avoid any of the consequences by use of the contraceptive pill. I point out that in that book the statement is made that venereal disease, or social disease, can be irritating but it is not serious and it can be cured. I think it is criminal to tell young people that kind of thing.

Mr Beazleymade a very strong point about the seriousness of telling young people that they can avoid the consequences of promiscuity because of the pill. He spoke the truth when he said that there are strains of such disease which resist antibiotics and that that is not mentioned in 'The Little Red Schoolbook'. The fact that the children concerned might infect others is not mentioned either. To show the seriousness of this matter let me return to the article by Dr Wallner, who is attached to the university health service at the Australian National University. She said that the nurse at the junior high school nearest to where she was staying informed her that she was besieged with the problem of this social disease and that conservatively one-quarter of the ninth grade, aged IS and under, had the disease and had to be treated. She was informed that the Student Health Service at the California University which sees 500 students a day now treats as many students with that disease as it treats for the common cold. I do not think that it is too much to say that one of the main causes of the spread of that form of disease, which medically can cause blindness, heart trouble, sterility and insanity, is that young people have been led to believe that promiscuity is without danger because a particular form of drug is now available to them. When young children arc told it in 'The Little Red Schoolbook', I make no apology for saying that to condemn the availability of that book to young people is not bigotry or wowserism,; it is simply plain commonsense. 1 believe that the drug problem in Australia is not a serious one, but it is one which can become serious. All kinds of people say that if action is taken in regard to drugs and other social problems personal liberty is being interfered with. I have always been of the opinion that a great deal of the publicity in favour of permissiveness comes from people who do not care as long as they can make a quid out of it. It is the rattle of the cash register that they are interested in, not matters of personal liberty or the right of the individual to do his particular thing. Therefore I believe that the Government must take action to protect our young people and to ensure that they are warned in a sensible way, because they can be warned in the wrong way.

We must take action to warn young people in a sensible way of the possible consequences of experimenting with drugs and against other forms of licence. If the problem were put before them in the right way - in a rational fashion without scare headlines and without some of the media going to the extremes to which they have gone - I believe the young people of this country would be sensible enough to make the right decision. But, while they are making that decision, it is our duty as members of Parliament not to shrink from the task of taking action against those people who, because they think there is money in it, want to produce books, drugs and other things which could have grave social effects upon our community. It is our duty not to be bemused or scared by the fact that these people often contribute money to funds so that they can buy publicity in the media for the purpose of advocating their particular form of money making.

I am gratified, as I believe are other members of the Committee which inquired into this mater, by the manner in which the public has shown its interest in what the Committee has had to say. I am gratified by the fact that other countries have felt that Australia could contribute something of worth to the consideration of this problem. I believe that the Government was wise when it acceded to the desire of the Senate to establish a committee to inquire into this very serious problem of drug trafficking and drug abuse. I believe that inquiries of this nature enhance the reputation of the Senate. 1 conclude by saying that I was very proud to be a member of the Committee. I found my colleagues on it to be people with whom it was a pleasure to co-operate in doing something that we felt was for the good of the state. I am grateful to Senator John Marriott who, as I said before, was a most effective Chairman of the Committee. He did everything for the Committee that could be done.







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