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Wednesday, 24 March 2004
Page: 21812

Senator TCHEN (2:16 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Ellison. Will the minister update the Senate on how the government's Tough on Drugs approach is protecting the Australian community, particularly children, from the ravages of illegal drugs? If the minister is aware of any alternative policies, will he inform the Senate what impact such policies will have on this important area of national interest?

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) —I thank Senator Tchen for his question, which is very important for all Australians. This government has taken unprecedented steps in relation to the fight against illicit drugs. Over $1 billion has been spent on the Tough on Drugs policy, which fights illicit drugs on three fronts: education for Australians, especially young Australians, about the dangers of illicit drug use; health for rehabilitation; and, of course, law enforcement to reduce the supply of drugs. Some very good results have been highlighted recently. The most recent national survey on drugs shows a 23 per cent reduction in people using illicit drugs since 1998. In particular, there has been a big drop in the number of drug-related deaths, from more than 1,100 in 1999 to under 400 in 2002. That is a dramatic reduction in the level of tragedy that overdose deaths have brought to people in Australia in relation to what is a very serious problem.

This unrelenting war on drugs continued last week when we put to the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General proposed legislation in relation to children who are endangered by the manufacture of amphetamines and amphetamine type stimulants. Unfortunately, in the United States, we are seeing situations where children are being exposed to clandestine labs. Surveys have revealed that 30 per cent of the children found at these sites have been affected by the chemicals in the drugs or the drugs themselves. This calls for condign punishment. With the approval and support of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General last week, the Commonwealth will be enacting laws which deal with this very serious issue.

It is a shame that we cannot have a bipartisan attitude and approach in this fight against illicit drugs. Recently we had the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Latham, saying that Labor would support and promote heroin injecting rooms should a state government go down that road. But things did not exactly pan out too well for Mr Latham. He changed his tune. We saw Labor premiers, such as Mr Steve Bracks in Victoria, say that they will not be adopting heroin injecting rooms. We then had Mr Latham backtracking to say that the comment he made in relation to heroin injecting rooms in Kings Cross was a one-off. Mr Latham tried to sneak away from Labor's policy on heroin injecting rooms. Yet a check of Labor's web site at 12.30 p.m. today revealed that the policy of the Labor Party is still to support state government initiatives such as supervised injecting places. Where does Mr Latham stand on this? Is he for it or is he against it? Is Kings Cross just a one-off or does he endorse the policy that Labor still have on their web site?

The government are very serious about the fight against illicit drugs. Heroin injecting rooms are not the path to go down if you are serious about the fight against drugs. We have shown how our policy has been working. We do not for one minute say that the fight is over or that the war is won but we are continuing that fight. We have some runs on the board, which is evidenced by the figures I have shown today of the dramatic reduction in overdose deaths and by the reduction in the supply of heroin that we have seen in Australia. Amphetamines are an emerging problem. We are addressing that, particularly in relation to children who are found at the sites of clandestine labs, and it is appropriate that we have laws in place to deal with that. (Time expired)