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

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 17 August 1972
Page: 177


Senator MARRIOTT (Tasmania) (Assistant Minister assisting the Minister for Health) - Following the remark of the distinguished Leader of the Democratic Labor Party (Senator Gair), I begin my closing speech in this Parliament on the work of this Committee by reminding every one of us that following consultation between the party leaders, a motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy), seconded by the Leader of the Democratic Labor Party, and agreed to by the Government, to set up a committee of 8 senators came before this House. That Committee was the one effective and constructive action taken by Parliament on 25th November 1969 - the one-day meeting of this Commonealth Parliament. The Committee got to work. I have previously paid a tribute to my fellow members, but as a result of the intercession of Senator Gair, I feel I ought to say that from the moment I was elected Chairman of that Committee, I received the greatest nonparty support and loyalty that any senator could hope for from any 7 other senators from different political parties with different outlooks on life. I believe we were successful. On 6th May 1971, as was our right, we presented a report to this Senate. We were in effect reporting also about Australia to Australians, and, as it happened, to the world. Our report has been both widely received and acclaimed overseas in universities and by leaders of the World Health Organisation, and by many academics and medical experts and other professional people in this country. So whenever the Senate reviews the work of its committees, it can say that the Select Committee on Drug Trafficking and Drug Abuse, thanks to the Senate itself, did a job for Australia. The report was presented some 18 months ago, and I have said that as well as reporting to the Senate, we were in effect reporting to Australia about Australians. That means that our report was a report for action by State governments, local government authorities, the Federal Government and by the people themselves. To those various governments it was a report for action by the health authorities, education authorities, social welfare authorities and law enforcement authorities. For the Commonwealth Government, in addition to the Department of Health, the Department of Customs and Excise is deeply concerned with it.

None of as should think that nothing had been done or that nothing had been known about the drug problem either in Australia before this Committee was set up. It was set up because Senator Murphy and his colleagues and Senator Gair and his friend or two realised there was a problem in Australia from drugs; as a result of their reading they were aware what a terrible problem it was in other countries. They wanted to help stem the tide of drugs from flowing across this lucky country. There is no doubt that governments were acting to prevent the misuse and the abuse of drugs, and from the moment our Senate Committee began, its public hearings, the good that was to flow from them began, though perhaps only as a trickle. I sincerely believe that the news media throughout Australia reported those hearings widely and fairly; the media gave a very good and a fair coverage to the activities of the Committee which brought home to the people, far better than we could from this parliamentary building, the problems and the dangers of the drug situation in Australia. The good flowed all the time and has continued to flow throughout Australia; more and more interest is being evoked as more people realise that the misuse of drugs can be so harmful in so many ways to their kith and kin. Since I was privileged to be Chairman of that Committee and since I am now privileged to hold the position of Assistant Minister to the Minister for Health, I am called upon to visit the States and to address various seminars on the subject of drugs and the misuse of drugs in Australia.

I have noticed that the attendances at the seminars are becoming larger. The questions are becoming more learned and more on the ball, and people are more interested to know how they can learn means of helping in their family life, personal life or social life when drug problems are met. Regardless of governments, even regardless of the news media, the impetus given to informing the people of Australia of the problems of drug misuse is increasing and is being effective. I say without hesitation and without knowingly over praising our report that it is a living document that can still be up to date in 10 years time. It can help any person who has a problem or who knows anybody with a problem. It is a document that can help anybody who is man enough or woman enough to wake up to the fact that he or she has a problem. It will give them the encouragement that recovery, if not cure, is possible. It will lead them to know that recovery is something for which they can be grateful.

The report can be read with profit at any time by any unbiased learned member of the medical profession. Any doctor could gain some help and realisation of his responsibilities in the community. Educationists could read our chapter on education and consider curriculums and education systems necessary in the years ahead. All social workers could read the report and add to their learning and understanding of a problem with which they must be dealing each day of their working lives.

Pharmacologists could read the report and gather, if they read it with a desire to learn, that theirs is a very great responsibility to impart to the medical profession and all those people who prescribe drugs a knowledge of the pharmacology of drugs, the effects of mixtures of drugs and the requirement to warn people against mixing medicinal drugs with alcohol. I 'believe that there are people in most of the professions who could read our report at any time in years to come and learn something of value.

It is often suggested that after committees are set up, they report to the Parliament,, and the reports are pigeonholed. It so happens that the Federal and State governments have taken our report very seriously. In response to our recommendations they have taken decisive, helpful and preparatory actions in their own fields of responsibility. I was hoping that my Minister, Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson, would make a statement in this debate but he is indisposed at present. I therefore believe it to be fitting and proper that I should inform the Senate from a paper that has been prepared for me of some of the actions taken on the recommendations of our Committee so that the information will be on record in Hansard as we debate the report.

The first recommendation in the report - it is by no means the most important but it is a very important recommendation - concerns the statistics on drug dependent people in Australia today. We found it necessary to discover how many drug dependent people there are in Australia, the main drugs on which they are dependent, and any other information concerning numbers and types that could be made available on a reliable basis. In any field in which we looked we could not find reliable statistics'. This recommendation has been fully considered by Federal and State government departments. They have decided that they want to produce an Australiawide system. The Victorian Government has undertaken to evolve a system and has set up a committee under the direction of Dr Alan Stoller, a learned and widely known and respected man in the field. The committee is undertaking a pilot study and we hope that it will produce a plan for a system of maintaining reliable statistics. We are hopeful that it will tell the nation how improvements can be effected in respect of dependence on drugs.

I can assure honourable senators that there are many problems. People do not report. Doctors do not like dobbing in people. Understandably, doctors do not like to tell their friends that they are dependent on this drug or that drug. They do not like to number them in the statistics of drug dependent people. I am dealing with these recommendations in the order in which they appear in the report. The second recommendation relates to law enforcement in Australia and other countries. It is pleasing to know that a meeting of enforcement agencies of 14 nations in the area particularly applicable to Australia and representatives of the United Nations and Interpol met in Canberra in November last year further to develop the already existing chain of communication on law enforcement as it applies to trafficking in illegal drugs.

I stick by our third recommendation but in my fondest dreams I did not expect it to be put into operation overnight. We recommended that in time a special coastguard service be established to help to stop drug running around Australia's 12,000 miles of coastline. Just as Australia is the new frontier for tourism, so is this affluent country the new frontier for the drug runner and the drug trafficker. So devious are their methods, so great is their cunning that almost every mile of our coastline will have to be surveyed if we are to apprehend the would-be smugglers. At present the Government feels that all it can do in this respect is to leave the problem as part of the responsibilities of our Navy and Air Force.

The fourth recommendation concerns bromureides which we suggested, because of the danger of misuse, should be available only by prescription. In Queensland, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory bromureides have been sold only on prescription for some time. Victoria now also has limited sales of bromureides to prescription. Similar action has been taken in New South Wales. The matter is still under consideration in both Western Australia and South Australia, but I believe action is contemplated.

Our fifth recommendation was that tablets should be individually foil wrapped. Tricyclic drugs under regulations issued as from 1st August have to be wrapped. Under its own resources the pharmaceutical profession is seeing to it that this is done with a great number of types of tablets which, are available. So we can say that this recommendation has been adopted and is being put into operation gradually and satisfactorily. As another recommendation we did request action on the labelling of drugs so that people who could be in a position to use them would be able to know of the dangers and the side effects. This recommendation is being given serious consideration by relevant committees and people. However, the problem arises as to how much can wisely be put on the label of a small container so that it will be read by the person using it. There is also the difficulty of language. But I can assure the Senate that it is realised that this is a problem and some work is being done in this regard.

Senator Turnbullsurprised me by one of his comments. I bow to his superior medical knowledge, but I heard him say - he was questioned on the figure - that to take 80 aspirins a day was quite all right if one wanted to take 80 aspirins a day. This is contrary to any evidence the Committee received on the taking of aspirins or minor analgesics. We received a lot of evidence on this matter and from other reading it is quite obvious that the medical profession throughout the world believes that aspirin is the cause of a tremendous percentage of kidney trouble. This Government has made funds available for research on this problem to be carried out by one of Australia's greatest experts in this field of medicine, Dr Priscilla Kincaid-Smith.

Our eighth recommendation, which is perhaps one of the most important to be considered right across the spectrum of human endeavour, referred to the living environment:

The priority being placed on growth, development and material wealth should be critically examined so that greater resources may be devoted to improving the living environment of the community.

This is not a health problem and it is not altogether a government problem; it is a social problem and it is a problem that leaders in the social field and educational field should be considering. I believe that we hit the nail on the head - we have not been alone in making this opinion known - when we said that a lot of the problems of drug misuse and drug abuse are the result of our living environment, the age in which we live and the manner in which we live in it. On that aspect of the whole inquiry I wish to say that it became evident to me, and a surprise to me, that in fact there are more potentially drug dependent people than there are drugs of dependency. In other words, the human personality or lack of personality - the human make-up - is more liable to cause an above average, healthy person to become dependent on a drug than is the drug itself. I except heroin and morphine from that aspect. So if we are really to try to beat the drug menace in Australia it is important that we get to people not only through education but also through the environment in which they live. We have to take from them the stresses and strains so that they do not fall to the habit of taking drugs which, because of their own personality and other defects, will lead them to be prone to addiction to them.

The Committee's recommendation concerning advertising has not been adopted by the Government. I say quite frankly that I regret this. It is my belief - and the Committee seemed to feel the same way - that part of our problem is accentuated because of the over promotion of all drugs - both therapeutic and socially and legally acceptable drugs such as tobacco and alcohol which we found to be the greatest harm doers in Australia today. We suggest that money spent on the advertising of any or all drugs in any way in Australia should not be subject to taxation rebate. My thinking on this was that if this recommendation were adopted by the Government we would more than halve the amount of advertising and we would increase Commonwealth revenue because there would be no taxation rebates. Government revenue would be increased to such an extent that we would have all the money we wanted to spend on treatment centres and treatment facilities. The Government has seen fit not to adopt our recommendation. Having heard no argument whatsoever against the recommendation, I see fit to say here in the Senate that I am disappointed that it has not been implemented. I want to say one other thing in respect of this matter. Since this Committee's report and that recommendation were made known - I mentioned it in my opening speech on 6th May 1971-


Senator Wright - What is the substance of the recommendation?


Senator MARRIOTT - That the granting of tax concessions for all drug advertising should be discontinued. I have spoken on this subject at seminars throughout the country. One such seminar was held at the Wayside Chapel of the Cross. The Reverend Ted Noffs and I challenged the news media of Australia to give publicity to this recommendation of ours and have it debated publicly through the news media. Not a word to Bessie. I myself have not seen any public reference to this aspect of the Committee's report, and I cannot help but say that I regret it.

Our next recommendation concerned the reporting by the news media of certain aspects of drug misuse and the bizarre effects of drugs. I am glad to say that this evoked the interest of the news media and a conference was called. As a result, a seminar, which was criticised at one time in the Senate was held in this capital city of Canberra, and I had the privilege of speaking to it. Quite frankly, it took 2 days for us to get an understanding on the direction in which we were going and why we wanted to go in that direction. It was a most fruitful seminar. As a result committees have been set up in several of the States - in other States they are being formed - on which the news media and the health authorities, governmental or private, are able to get together and talk about drug education through the media and drug reporting in the media. I am not having 2 bob each way with the media because there are 2 different aspects - advertising and reporting. Advertising is done by those who are looking after the finance, and reporting is done by those who are deciding what the paper will publish and how it will be published. I have high hopes that the newspaper reporting of and education on the drug situation in Australia will continue to improve and that governments will get great co-operation from the media.

The Committee recommended that as much publicity as possible should be given to the whole problem of drug dependency and misuse of drugs so that the people become aware of the problem. This enlightening of the public is done by education, by speeches from people who know about the matter and by the holding of seminars. I have already said that, in my view, this enlightenment is being done. The Committee has no cause to worry that that recommendation has been left unnoticed.

The next recommendation referred to voluntary organisations. The report stated that every encouragement should be -given to the development of voluntary organisation in the community available for counselling those with personal problems and for providing emotional support to those needing it in times of stress or crisis. Those times are the times when persons, young or old, need help. I like to call the places at which persons can get help ports of call. There is the Buoyancy Foundation in Melbourne, the Bomb shelter in Queensland and the Reverend Noff's show in Kings Cross. There are others throughout Australia. I cannot recall the names at the moment, but in each capital city work is being done by voluntary organisations.


Senator Davidson - Life Line.


Senator MARRIOTT - That is one of the leaders. I want to see big business, private enterprise and individuals come to the financial help of the organisations. They should not have to rely on government money. If government money is provided there has to be supervision. If there is government supervision the young people will not come to these places. They want to go somewhere where Big Brother will not know about it. They want to go where they can receive help and encouragement and a bed for the night, if possible. There is a home in Sydney, Wistaria House, which is run by a great doctor, Dr Stella Dalton, where men live while they are recovering from the effects of their dependency on drugs. They get back into life and into jobs and when they have recovered fully, or as fully as possible, and have saved some money they can get back into normal life and normal social activities. In my belief, we want this help to come from the people for the people, not from the Government. In my belief, persons with a drug problem will not go to a government instrumentality for help because they feel that they will become names on a list of suspects, that they will be treated as probable criminals and that they will be followed for the rest of their lives or until the authorities can catch up with them. Therefore they do not feel that it is worthwhile reporting. If they could go to a port of call where they could get help, I believe that many young people and old people would be quickly cured of their dependence.

Senator Turnbull,who is a doctor, was critical of the Committee's comments about over prescribing of drugs by the medical profession. The Committee's recommendation was based on evidence. I was amazed at the lack of numbers of doctors who gave evidence to the contrary. I still believe that the medical profession has to consider its responsibility. Does a doctor prescribe a drug or does he give a sociological talk to the patient whom he thinks may be a potential drug dependent person?


The PRESIDENT - Order! The time appointed by Senate resolution made this year for the consideration of Senate reports has now expired.


Senator Murphy - Senator Marriott, I am informed, will be only 5 minutes. Then we could finished the whole debate.


Senator Cotton - I have to respond to the debate. I have 3 things to say. If the Senate wishes to set aside a standing order to allow this matter to conclude, I shall co-operate. Senator Marriott was Chairman of the Committee. If he wishes to continue, I would want him to continue. How long will he be? Who knows? I would be doing less than justice to the Chairman of the Committee if I did not make some response. I want time to do that.


Senator Murphy - Senator Marriott indicated that he would be 5 minutes.


The PRESIDENT - Order! That must be by leave of the Senate. I am in the hands of the Senate.







Suggest corrections