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Address on the occasion to launch the Sunrise Way Therapeutic Community Project, Toowoomba.

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24 APRIL 2007

• Mr Doug Harland, Chairperson, Sunrise Way Therapeutic Community Association

• Councillor Di Thorley, Mayor of Toowoomba City

• Members of the Sunrise Way Board

• Volunteers and donors

• Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you for your warm welcome this afternoon. It is a great pleasure to return to Queensland and to be in

Toowoomba on an outstanding autumn day on the Darling Downs. Congratulations to the students of

Harlaxton State School for leading us in the singing of the National Anthem - I am sure the audience agrees

with me that you are a great credit to your school and represent the very essence of bright, healthy young


Ladies and gentlemen, one hundred and eighty years ago, the great English botanist and explorer, Allan

Cunningham, ‘discovered’ the Darling Downs - what he saw was this magnificent, fertile region with its

beautiful landscape of grasslands, winding streams and ridges. He rightly imagined this as a place where

settlers could prosper and be happy.

Cunningham ranks among the great botanists and explorers in Australia’s European history - indeed his

courage and knowledge helped open up superb possibilities for settlement not only in Queensland but also in

southern and northern Australia. On his death in Sydney in 1839, it was noted that “he was distinguished for

his moral worth, singleness of heart, and enthusiastic zeal.”

It seems to me that we might similarly describe the Sunrise Way project. My impression of the organisation is

of an exceptional group of people whose work echoes clear thinking and compassion. And your commitment

has the ring of a familiar Australian story - service to others - not counting the cost - grassroots action at its

finest - being classic role models for other communities.

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This project is the brainchild of Councillor Di Thorley in which a model of treatment has been designed

encompassing short-term assessment, referral and rehabilitation of those individuals committed to recovery

from alcohol and other drug dependencies. This nicely refurbished house standing on two acres of beautiful

grounds can accommodate 26 residents and staff. One hundred and ninety local companies have supported

the initiative along with thousands of hours of voluntary work - all up valued at some $1.3 million.

Four years of careful, considered planning and hard work by Doug Harland and his committees have dealt

with the myriad complexities that shape an undertaking such as this one - analysing the magnitude of the

problem, understanding the needs, motivating and convincing others to get involved and support it, and

tackling the many challenges of implementation.

In our era of discovery, great science, education and innovation, we might hope that drug and substance

abuse could be readily overcome, banished or rapidly reduced. Sadly, as a society we are a long way from

achieving those desirable aims, as we reflect on the tragedy of drug misuse in society, including the waste of

precious human life, the substantial financial burden on the country and, in many cases, the undiluted

heartbreak for parents and families.

It hardly needs me to say that psychoactive substance abuse poses a significant threat to the health, social

and economic fabric of families, communities and nations. According to the World Health Organisation the

extent of the global problem is estimated at 2 billion alcohol users and 185 million illicit drug users. And of

those drug users, about 147 million people, 2.5% of the world population, consume cannabis. The most rapid

growth in cannabis abuse since the 1960s has been in developed countries in North America, Western Europe

and Australia.

Nationally, the use of illicit substances is estimated to cost the Australian community in excess of $6,000

million annually in health and treatment programs, policing, detention and social dysfunction. Earlier this

month the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released their report “Drug Use in Australia 2006” and

noted that 38 per cent of Australians aged 14 years and over had used an illicit drug - cannabis being the

most common. And 9 per cent in the same age group had used methamphetamine.

During an address to the National Press Club in Canberra in January this year, the Chairman of the Australian

National Council on Drugs, Doctor John Herron noted that almost one in ten Australians have tried

methamphetamines including an estimated 73,000 dependent methamphetamine users and 45,000 regular

heroin users.

There is however good news. Overall drug use in Australia has been declining since 1998. The overwhelming

majority of young people do not use drugs, and the number of fatalities from drug use has fallen by 70% in

the past 8 years. But, despite the use of illicit drugs generally declining since 1998 the level of

methamphetamine and ecstasy use in Australia has been increasing.

Ladies and gentlemen. It is both troubling and distressing to hear that two youth suicides occur each week on

average in the greater Toowoomba and Darling Downs region - and that they are mostly drug related.

Equally disturbing is that there are in excess of 13,000 needle exchanges in Toowoomba every month.

So why do Australians, especially young Australians, take illicit drugs?

Is it peer pressure?

Is it for the perceived ‘pleasure’?

Is it, for some, the result of sexual, physical and emotional abuse or poor parental example during a

youngster’s crucial formative years?

Does our ‘consumer culture’ encourage adventurous behaviour when making choices? What conclusions can

we draw from the fact that young people are bombarded with not so subtle advertising that links self-worth

with making bold, me-centred choices? As one commentator has observed, “is it this ‘sampling mentality’

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rather than motives such as peer pressure which best describes and predicts the growth of today’s

experimental drug culture?”

When we think about it, there are so many things for young people to deal with: relationships, appearance,

sexuality, stress, exam pressures, jobs and the frenetic pace of modern life. Is it any wonder that some just

want to bomb out?

However, impressions and examples do count and I am a great believer in doing all we can to try and pre-empt the problem as much as possible in the first place

In this regard, could we not do more to encourage strong family life through better relationship preparation

where parents set clear parameters for their children, especially through their impressionable adolescent

years? Can we do more to encourage young Australians to participate in well-led, well-organised youth

groups or programs? There is no doubt that kids participating in well-led sporting, cultural, volunteer or

adventure activities do improve their own sense of well-being and self reliance, where the drug culture is not

part of the scene.

What can we do to get healthy more top rate young role models on board for kids to emulate - those who

can be influential in talking about the effects and dangers of excessive alcohol and drug use within a context

that kids relate to - about damage to body organs, infectious disease, depression, relationship problems,

violence, job loss, financial pressures and homelessness?

But of course pre-emption is not a total answer. Some will always fall through the cracks and hence the need

for good treatment practices and facilities.

Ladies and gentlemen. Treatment is not a single episode. The reality is that the treatment journey can take

some years, with moves in and out of care. Recognising the scale of the problem is the start.

Getting information into the wider community means winning hearts and minds about treatment programs -

about filling in the gaps of misunderstanding about drug treatment and drugs misuse and by harnessing the

efforts of its community builders. Albert Bandura, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, California,

could have been writing about Sunrise Way when he said that “substance abuse is a social problem, not just

a personal one. We need socially oriented models that provide the social and structural means for

transforming drug-dependent lives into productive ones.”

The tasks ahead for Sunrise Way will not always be easy. It will face different, complex and at times difficult

challenges. But I think we should take heart from what has been accomplished in such a short period. The

board has raised the project’s profile in the regional community, attracted tremendous voluntary support,

advocated for the special needs of people with drug dependency, advanced the facts intelligently, and put the

work of this centre on the state health agenda. And the financial benefits of treatment are substantial, with

the UN estimating that for every dollar invested in drug treatment, seven dollars are saved in health and

social costs.

Projects such as Sunrise Way don’t happen by accident, nor are they successful simply by wishing them so.

And thus, I extend thanks to the executive for their countless hours of hard work and planning to get the

project to this point. Let me also draw attention to the many volunteers and donors who support Sunrise Way

- those generous individuals and organisations who have willingly raised their hands whenever the need has

arisen deserve wide community support and approbation.

Mr Chairman, I am grateful to you for your invitation to participate in this significant occasion - for giving me

the opportunity to reflect on a new and exciting concept to help people who are drug dependent to receive

long term treatment in a comfortable and caring environment.

I admire what you are setting out to do and extend my encouragement and appreciation for the commitment


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Good luck to you all and may this most worthy experiment in drug treatment achieve the success it most

surely deserves.

And now it is my great pleasure to unveil the commemorative plaque and to declare the Sunrise Way

Therapeutic Community Project officially launched.

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