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Thursday, 26 June 2003
Page: 17688

Ms LEY (2:52 PM) —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. I refer to the Global illicit drug trends 2003 report released earlier today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. What is the Prime Minister's response to the report's findings concerning illicit drugs in Australia?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the member for Farrer for her question and compliment her on her continuing interest in and support for the government's Tough on Drugs campaign. Today, as many members will know, has been declared the International Day against Drugs Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. The Global illicit drug trends 2003report released overnight by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has some very interesting things to say about these matters within Australia. That report confirms that, in relation to Australia, law enforcement efforts have been very successful in dismantling heroin trafficking; that more treatment services are available to help those with a drug problem; and that there has been a significant decrease—and this is the most important finding of all—in the use of heroin in Australia and, as a result, the number of heroin overdose deaths has fallen significantly. The report properly goes on to say that vigilance against any regression in these areas is needed.

I think it is a matter of significant achieve-ment that this report confirms that the objectives of the government's Tough on Drugs campaign are steadily being realised. Contrary to the doomsayers, we are making progress—albeit slow progress but nonetheless progress—in the long and hard fight against the terrible scourge of illicit drug abuse in this country. When we introduced the Tough on Drugs campaign in 1998, we had three objectives: we wanted to strengthen law enforcement, we wanted to educate young people against starting drug use in the first place and we wanted to provide alternative treatment for people who wanted to break the habit. We have now invested close to $1 billion in this campaign. What this report demonstrates is that, despite the people who said that a zero tolerance approach would not work, that approach is working: it is making inroads, it is reducing the number of people who die from heroin overdoses, it is resulting in people getting better treatment and it is resulting in record seizures of heroin. For those who care about the future of young people in this country, there is no more important fight than the fight against the scourge of drugs.

This government will continue the policy that it has followed over the last seven years. It will continue to invest resources in fighting the drug tsars, it will continue to revive alternative treatment, it will continue to work with state governments—and I thank them for their cooperation in relation to diversion programs—and it will continue to educate the young based on the philosophy of zero tolerance and encouraging people not to commence drug use in the first place. We still have significant challenges. There is an unwelcome rise in the use of amphetamines and ecstasy and, although the use of cannabis has declined, its use is still far too high. Let me, on the subject of cannabis, congratulate the New South Wales government for having started a radio campaign warning young people about the deleterious effects of cannabis use. There used to be a stupid notion around in this country that you could use cannabis with no damage and with no potential ill effects in the years ahead—that has now been conclusively disproved. It is not only a massive contributor to depression and suicide but it is also a drug whose use will lead to the use of harder drugs. This is the last question time of this sitting, and I cannot think of a more important social note on which to end than to re-declare and reconfirm the absolute determination of this government to continue quite unconditionally its Tough on Drugs campaign.