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Wednesday, 1 December 2004
Page: 63

Senator FERRIS (2:20 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Ellison. Would the minister update the Senate on recent successes in the government's fight against drink spiking and the trade in illegal drugs? Would the minister explain why the government will not be adopting alternative policies to the ones he is outlining?

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) —It is a timely question indeed when you consider we have thousands of school leavers around Australia who are now embarking upon their life after leaving school and are celebrating that occasion. Questions of drink spiking and the use of illicit drugs are indeed relevant. Earlier this year the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy received a report from the Australian Institute of Criminology which was conceived and commissioned by the Commonwealth. Fifty per cent of the funding for that came from the Commonwealth. I point out to the Senate that in this area the Howard government has given a high priority to the question of drink spiking. When you consider that that report outlined that each year there were between 3,000 and 4,000 drink spiking instances, that one-third of those result in sexual assault and that four out of five victims were female, it gives you an idea of the insidious aspect of drink spiking.

Illicit drugs are another threat that our young Australians face, especially at that vulnerable stage of leaving school. Earlier this month, Customs and the Australian Federal Police working together seized 820 kilograms of ecstasy, the largest seizure ever in Australia, with an estimated street value of $200 million. Millions of hits of the drug were saved from reaching the streets of our towns and cities—from reaching the community at a stage when thousands of students would be leaving school.

As well as that, just a couple of weeks prior to that, again Customs and the AFP seized 125 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine, or ice—another amphetamine type stimulant drug, a designer drug that unfortunately is targeted at young people. That was seized in Sydney, again keeping a large quantity of that drug off Australia's streets. What this means is that we are making progress in the fight against drugs. In relation to heroin, we have had international endorsement of the progress that law enforcement has made. As a result of cutting down on the supply of heroin, we have seen a reduction in the rate of deaths from heroin overdoses. We want to do the same for amphetamines and other illicit drugs. In fact, reports from such bodies as the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, the Australian National University and the United Nations—all independent reports—acknowledge the great work that is being done by law enforcement in Australia.

Of course, we fight illicit drugs on three fronts: education, health and law enforcement. But we can only succeed through education and health if we succeed in reducing the supply of illicit drugs. In relation to drink spiking, our strategy is the same: we have to target that. Yet we have from the opposition criticism that the Commonwealth government is going beyond the report that I mentioned by saying that we should have uniform laws. I have just seen in the last 24 hours an announcement from Victoria that they will introduce laws on drink spiking, and I congratulate them on that. Earlier this month New South Wales made a similar announcement. That is the sort of action the Commonwealth has called for: a national concerted effort on drink spiking. To have 3,000 to 4,000 instances of drink spiking in Australia each year is far too many, and we have to embark upon a program of education, law enforcement and targeting offenders, particularly when sexual assaults are involved in this sort of insidious activity. We are totally dedicated at the Commonwealth level to provide leadership in the fight against illicit drugs and in the fight against drink spiking, and we call upon the federal opposition to join us in that mission.