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Thursday, 11 September 2003
Page: 19941

Mrs DRAPER (10:53 AM) —Before I speak to this report, I would like to acknowledge that today is 11 September 2003. It is two years since 9-11 and the destruction of the twin towers in the United States of America by terrorists, when 3,000 people lost their lives. There can be few issues of greater importance than the fight against the use of illicit drugs and the abuse of legal substances by young Australians. I am on the record as being a strong supporter of the Howard government's Tough on Drugs strategy, which is the largest single national initiative ever taken in Australia. Tough on Drugs fights illicit drugs on three fronts: health, education and law enforcement. The Tough on Drugs strategy was launched by the Prime Minister in November 1997. The Commonwealth government has since allocated $625 million to the strategy for a range of supply reduction and demand reduction measures. This includes the $109 million package of measures to expand the strategy, announced by the Prime Minister at the last election. The package includes $4.7 million over four years to expand the successful National Heroin Signature Program to include the profiling of cocaine and amphetamine type stimulants.

Today—as a nurse, a mother of three teenage sons and the member for Makin in the federal parliament—I welcome the release of the final report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Community Affairs into substance abuse in Australian communities tabled in the House on Monday. As a member of the committee, I can attest to the value of the report, which is the culmination of a great deal of research and effort by the committee members and staff. I particularly want to acknowledge the efforts of Barry Wakelin, the member for Grey in South Australia and the original chairperson who commenced the inquiry in the previous parliament; our current chairperson Mrs Kay Hull, the member for Riverina; and the support staff of the committee secretariat—Dr Sarah Hnatiuk, Bev Forbes, Margaret Atkin, Belynda Zolotto, Debbie Irwin, Rachelle Mitchell and Jill Miller.

The committee took the view that we can win the war on drug use and abuse and this is reflected in the in the title: Road to recovery. Indeed since the Howard government's Tough on Drugs strategy commenced in 1997 there has been an unprecedented increase in the detection and seizure of illicit drugs by the Australian Federal Police and other law enforcement agencies in Australia and overseas. Over seven tonnes of drugs have been prevented from reaching Australian streets, including over 2,000 kilograms of heroin, 2,000 kilograms of cocaine, 1,400 kilograms of MDMA and 932 kilograms of amphetamines. By comparison, the five years preceding the Tough on Drugs strategy saw some 2.5 tonnes of illicit drugs seized.

Recommendation 52 of the committee's report deserves particular mention. I am of the strong view, based on extensive research and having spoken to people who are working at the forefront of the fight on drugs, that methadone drug substitution programs should not simply be a heroin substitute program, a means of replacing an addiction to illegal drugs with addiction to methadone. This so-called parking of drug users in methadone programs was of particular concern to committee members. This is clearly reflected in this recommendation which states that the ultimate objective must be to help people become free of addiction to all drugs, including methadone.

I believe that there should be a review of clients on methadone drug substitute programs after 12 months to see how they are going with their lives with a view to their being drug free after a period of 24 months. How do we do this? Recommendation 52 states:

The committee recommends that, when providing:

methadone maintenance treatment to save lives and prevent harm to people dependent on heroin, the ultimate objective be to assist them to become abstinent from all opioids, including methadone; and

in addition comprehensive support services must be provided to achieve this outcome.

I say at this juncture that a key theme or element of the entire report was the committee calling on federal, state and local governments to work together to put in the support services in rehab and detox to achieve those outcomes. Whilst the committee's report generally affirms our positive belief that we can win the war on drug use and abuse, it remains a concern of mine—and I know this concern is shared by many of my constituents—that there are some influential individuals and groups in our community who are advocating retreat and surrender. Sadly, these people are damaging efforts to persuade young people not to experiment with harmful substances.

Evidence of this was seen during a recent issue concerning the funding of a heroin addiction rehabilitation centre. Shay Louise House, in the northern suburbs of Adelaide. It was founded and is run by Ann Bressington whose daughter, Shay Louise, tragically died from heroin addiction. Ann has spent the years since her daughter's death undertaking extensive research into heroin addiction and developing effective treatment and rehabilitation programs. In this time she has had to contend with the usual bureaucratic resistance to her program despite the fact that she has helped many young people overcome their addiction. Ann acknowledges the tremendous support and assistance provided by the previous state Liberal government, and in particular by the honourable Dean Brown MP who, in a recent media interview, stated that he had had to deal with opposition to Ann's program from within the state's Department of Human Services.

So what makes Ann's program the cause of so much bureaucratic angst? It is simply that it provides addicts with the means by which they can break their habit and not have their addiction transferred from one drug to another. Ann believes that addicts can stop their addiction with the right help and support and does not support the legalisation of illicit drugs. DrugBeat South Australia—the name of her organisation—until funding was denied recently, offered detoxification using temgesic, a symptom-free detox; naltrexone for relapse prevention; and 16 weeks of residential care for those in early recovery. Drug use, of course, was not permitted. But, as I have just said, sadly, due to lack of funding, this program is no longer running.

Mr Bill Rixon, MP for Lismore in New South Wales, visited Andre Waismann in Israel in 1997 and then visited Shay Louise House in South Australia and stated that Shay Louise House has the best detoxification regime in the world. As Ann herself explains:

Shay Louise House is not a 12-step program—it is a running leap into reality. You have 16 weeks to get the job done. The groups and workshops are about self discovery and forgiveness of self and others. We do not do bible classes and we do not expect that you take God as your savior, but demand that you have the willingness to save yourself.

With the support of Ann and her team, many lives have been saved. However, the Adelaide health bureaucrats recently attempted a rearguard action against Shay Louise House, threatening to renege on the promised funding. With the change of government and with the naivety of the new minister, they probably felt they could finish off this troublesome program that did not fit in with their world view. But the resulting public outcry was such that the minister has said she will review the situation, and we are indeed hopeful that sanity will prevail.

Unfortunately, it is this sort of behaviour by people who should know better that weakens the fight against drugs. To those who say we cannot win the war, it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some in the community advocate such things as the so-called safe injecting rooms and drug distribution programs, without sufficient evidence to show that in places where such programs have been implemented they have been successful. Certainly the heroin distribution programs in Switzerland have not been the successful experiments that proponents claimed they would be. Dr Ernst Aeschbach MD, a psychiatry and psychotherapy specialist, stated the following conclusions in his report on the programs:

The assertions of positive results from the Swiss Heroin Distribution Projects are inconsistent with the goal of abstinence. The logical consequence of this conclusion should be the immediate termination of the Projects and a return to well-proven treatment methodologies. This conclusion will not be influenced by any additional information made available in the planned special studies being carried out now on certain aspects of the Projects and their participants.

Compared to the primary goal of abstinence, the 5.2% success rate of the Project is abysmal. Because of the lack of cooperation by the participant, the planned follow-up studies cannot be expected to produce meaningful data. We should not expect any significant long term benefits from the Projects.

Methadone has been used in Australia since 1965 as a way of treating drug addiction. Given the huge increase in the use of illicit drugs in the almost 40 years of its existence as a method of dealing with the problem, who would, in all seriousness, claim it to be the answer? Yet we see it constantly being advocated by those who oppose alternative treatments. Perhaps it is because there are two different objectives at play here.

The objective that Ann Bressington and many others, including me, have is to eliminate the effects of drug addiction through abstinence, whereas others prefer to follow what has become known as the harm minimisation path, which is PC terminology meaning `we surrender'. Thankfully, Ann Bressington and many others like her are not willing to give up on the young people who come for help and support. The best way to reduce the harm that drugs do is to help addicts break their addiction.

Proposals to legalise the use of marijuana weaken the message to young people about the dangers of all of these drugs. Marijuana is not the harmless substance these people would have us believe; research clearly shows that the regular use of cannabis induces a loss of concentration and coordination and causes balance problems, an increased heart rate, changes in blood pressure, confusion, restlessness, delusions, hallucinations, psychotic episodes, anxiety, depression—and who knows how many suicides—and a slowing of reaction times, among other effects.

The committee in producing this report recognised the need for cooperation between all levels of government and for ongoing professional development for teachers in order that effective drug education is provided to students. Prevention, as the saying goes, is always better than the cure. Particular focus was given to the issue of drug abuse and misuse within Indigenous communities—and I know this to be one of the major problems confronting Aboriginal families. It is a terrible thing to see young children with petrol cans strapped to their heads, so great is their desire to sniff the fumes. It is shocking to see the destruction of traditional culture, loyalty and beliefs by the violent effects of prolonged alcohol abuse. Aboriginal elders see their culture dying not from any `callous' policy of government but from the `demon drink', which causes their menfolk to brutalise their wives, sons and daughters—destroying families and their cherished traditions.

Recommendation 28 is of particular importance in that it calls on all governments to accurately assess the effectiveness of existing programs in Aboriginal communities and to ensure that there are adequate responses to new and emerging issues. Following the release of the committee's report, I was pleased to receive a copy of a letter sent by the executive director of Drug Free Australia Ltd, Mr Michael D. Robinson, to the committee chairman. In his letter, Mr Robinson stated:

I write to congratulate you and your committee on a commonsense report and commonsense recommendations that take into consideration both the compassionate viewpoint, but also the practical needs and abilities of the Australian community to address substance abuse, its costs, trauma, harms and its effects on society, the family and the workplace.

The issues of substance abuse itself and grappling with such difficult and voluminous and diverse opinions and submissions was by no means less than an extremely challenging task and the controversial nature of the subject is widely recognised.

Drug Free Australia congratulate you and your committee for recognising the importance of prevention and congratulate you and your committee from not shying away from what needed to be said on this topic.

As a member of the committee, I appreciate Mr Robinson's support. I know that my colleagues will agree with his comments that these are difficult issues and that certainly they can provoke controversy. Dealing with the facts and not the fantasies of the soft on drugs brigade is largely what this report is about. Stopping the importation of illegal substances, educating people about the terrible effects of drug use and abuse and providing practical assistance, support and rehabilitation to help them overcome their addiction is the way forward to a drug-free Australia. I commend to the House the report of the Family and Community Affairs Committee inquiry into substance abuse and support the implementation of all its recommendations.