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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1974

Mr SNOW —I ask the Minister for Health whether he is aware of claims by a group calling itself the `coalition drugs task force' that a survey by that group shows the national campaign against drug abuse to be a flop. Can the Minister inform the House as to the success of the national campaign against drug abuse?

Dr BLEWETT —My attention has been drawn to a new appearance by the so-called coalition drugs task force. I must say that we have not heard of it for about the last nine months and that in a total of 18 months it has not put forward a single constructive suggestion about drugs in this country. It is really typical of the approach of these people opposite that they set up a coalition drugs task force but it does not make to the community a single constructive contribution about how we should deal with the drug problem in this country.

Of course when they attack the drug campaign it is a further indication of the division in their own ranks because this drug campaign is not, in fact, solely a Commonwealth Government campaign; it is a campaign in which we have worked with all the States and have been supported by all the States. I am not prepared to make a political issue of the drug campaign. I want to say now, as I have said regularly on the public record, that the co-operation in this campaign from the conservative governments of Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory has been excellent. When we have these attacks honourable members should remember that those opposite are attacking not just this Government but all of the governments in this country which are working to deal with this problem.

The Opposition has produced another survey. We treated its survey last year as a complete and utter joke and this is likely to be a survey of very much the same order. There is no evidence as to how the cohorts are drawn or of any proper sampling. As we found on the last occasion, the Opposition probably just phoned up a few of its mates. Even if it did phone up its mates, if we look at the figures we find quite effective support for the drug campaign. Indeed, I find the figures astounding because they suggest the effect of the campaign has been so great. The survey shows that 40 per cent of those surveyed say that they know more about drugs than they did before the campaign. To get a change of that order in a society bombarded by so much material is really quite surprising. Another 30 per cent of those have changed their attitude. To get that kind of change in this society is pretty impressive. Even given the shoddy basis of this survey, when it is analysed it makes some quite interesting points.

The next point made by this rum collection was that the campaign would backfire. The Opposition's drugs task force achieved that conclusion by getting freedom of information material, freely supplied by this Government and by the most deliberate and selective quotation. Indeed, every agency that the Opposition's drugs-task force quotes recommended to us that there was value in an advertising aspect to the drug campaign. I received a letter today from one of the agencies, Forbes, Macfie, Hansen Pty Ltd. The coalition drugs task force quoted:

Drug abuse programs can and have been counterproductive.

That is all it quoted. Let me put that statement in context just to show how dishonest it is. The full statement was:

Drug abuse programs can and have been counter-productive. Therefore, our first recommendation is that the first priority must be to get the right program rather than to get a program.

The letter goes on to say that this recommendation was accepted. It continues:

In over 20 years as an advertising practitioner I have not been involved in a program as thoroughly researched as The Drug Offensive.

It is a practice of deliberate and dishonest selective quotation. Let me just tell honourable members a little about what the campaign has achieved. First of all, the public education campaign on drugs has been an essential activity to background the rest of the work done by the States. There has been a significant change in the perceptions in this country about drug abuse. Again, today there is a much wider realisation that the problem of drugs encompasses not just the hard drugs but also the problems of alcohol and tobacco. Since April 1985 the Commonwealth and the States have funded over 138 new or expanded cost-share projects in treatment, rehabilitation and education. Total expenditure at the grass roots has been nearly $50m.

One of the big pleasures I get as a Minister going around this country and talking to people in the drug area is the enthusiasm that they show for the benefits that have flowed through to the grass roots out of this campaign. Indeed, the Opposition totally discredits itself by the attitude it has taken. In addition, we have established another 39 ongoing research projects--

Mr Reith —I rise on a point of order. The Minister has now been speaking for well in excess of five minutes. It is an abuse of Question Time and I ask you to request the Minister to wind up his answer. If the coalition's drug task force requires such a long statement of rebuttal, perhaps he ought to make a statement to the House.

Madam SPEAKER —The question has been asked of the Minister and I find him in order.

Dr BLEWETT —It is quite clear that this Opposition has shown no interest in the drug problem and is not interested in the details of that issue. As I was saying, the Government has established 39 ongoing research projects in the area of drug abuse. We have established two new centres of excellence for drug research-one in Western Australia and one in New South Wales. We have established for the first time in this country a drug information centre for the collection of data from all jurisdictions. One could give many lists of individual projects, but let me take just two in the electorate of the honourable member for Gilmore. We have spent $194,000 on the We Help Ourselves organisation, a drug-free therapeutic community in, Goulburn in the middle of the honourable members electorate. We have also supported Oolong House, a residential alcohol rehabilitation centre at Nowra--

Mr McGauran —Madam Speaker, you have ruled in relation to the point of order raised by the honourable member for Flinders that the answer is relevant. On 1 March 1984--

Madam SPEAKER —I did not rule that the answer was relevant, I ruled that I found the Minister in order.

Mr McGauran —I now wish to raise a point of order on the length of the answer. On 1 March 1984 Speaker Jenkins said:

I observe that at times the Chair does not have any power over the length of answers. While the Minister's answer was completely relevant, I hope Ministers will co-operate with me in trying to have brevity of answers.

Madam Speaker, are you prepared to make the same appeal to Ministers?

Madam SPEAKER —At times the Chair has asked Ministers to draw their answers to a close. It is a request that the Chair makes; it has no authority whatsoever. I once again suggest to members of this House that they give such authority to the Chair through the Procedure Committee. I call the Minister in conclusion.

Mr McGauran —Madam Speaker, on a further point of order: We all realise that you have sought refuge behind that bland statement that you do not--

Madam SPEAKER —The honourable member for Gippsland will resume his seat. He is now reflecting upon the Chair.

Dr BLEWETT —I think it is peculiarly relevant to the answer to note the projects which have been supported in the honourable member for Gilmore's own electorate. The second of those is Oolong House, a residential alcohol rehabilitation centre at Nowra, to which $28,000 this year has come from the National Campaign Against Drug Abuse and $80,000 from the New South Wales Government. When I visited Oolong House on 28 January, I found the honourable member had not visited that centre in his own electorate. That is how serious those on that side are about the drug problem. The honourable member has a centre in his own electorate that he has not visited.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Minister will draw his answer to a close.

Dr BLEWETT —I think that the evidence I have shown shows what has been achieved by the drug campaign in this country and shows how superficial and insincere are the types of attack mounted by the honourable member for Gilmore.