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Thursday, 16 October 2003
Page: 21650

Ms BURKE (2:49 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Given the Prime Minister's continual assertion that there is clear evidence that the government's Tough on Drugs policy is working, why has his health minister been sitting on a report since last November which is highly critical of this policy? Is the Prime Minister aware that the report found that the government's Tough on Drugs policy has triggered an explosion in hepatitis C infection and that the government has abrogated responsibility by refusing to provide leadership and resources to fix this urgent public health problem? Now the report has finally seen the light of day, when will the Prime Minister implement measures to stem the flow of this serious and highly contagious disease?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the member for Chisholm for this question. When I said to the Australian public that I believed our Tough on Drugs policy was working, what I was referring to was the decline in the death rate from heroin overdoses. What I was referring to was the fact that this has happened in partnership with the states—all of the state Labor governments. I am pleased to say that this is an issue where, by and large, the state Labor premiers of this country—to their credit—have taken a bipartisan approach.

In our view the Tough on Drugs strategy is one of the reasons why—it is not the only reason—there has, for the first time in years, been a decline in the death rate from heroin overdose. In fact, one of the most identifiable declines has occurred in the state from which the honourable member for Chisholm comes from, and this is the state of Victoria.

I am also referring to the fact that illicit drug use has fallen and that the education program that we conducted has resulted in a very positive response. The survey that was carried out indicated that it led to a very steep increase in the regularity with which parents spoke to their children about drug abuse. We have now invested in the order of $1 billion—the largest ever investment by a national government—in a Tough on Drugs campaign. We have got record heroin and cocaine seizures, we are seeing a reduction in heroin death rates, we are seeing an increase in parental awareness of the challenge of drugs, we are seeing a reduction in illicit drug use and the honourable member has the nerve to suggest that our program has been a failure.

The SPEAKER —I call the member for Cowper.

Ms Burke —Your report said it!

Government members interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for Cowper might care to resume his seat until this extraordinary exchange between the member for Chisholm and a number of people on my right has ceased.