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Wednesday, 8 December 2004
Page: 13


Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) (10:11 AM) —I am not aware of those figures for the Netherlands, but I can say that since 2000 we have seen a reduction in deaths from heroin overdose by up to 60 per cent across Australia. It varies in some jurisdictions, but that is an average. It does show that we have made some progress on that. I think the take-up of amphetamines in Australia has been particularly high, and we had perhaps lagged behind other countries in the take-up of those particular drugs. As I said a moment ago, education programs and rehabilitation programs are adjusting to that. We do not, of course, have the cocaine problem that the United States has. The United States has a huge cocaine problem. In Australia it is of a much lesser order and it is also of a much lesser order here than in Europe. You cannot just compare one jurisdiction with another in a rather bland way, because each jurisdiction has its own issues in relation to drug abuse and the sorts of drugs that are used.

Australia had a much higher heroin issue per capita than the United States for some time. Criminals, of course, adjust their trade for the market and what the market will take up. I think heroin is something we have made some progress on. Amphetamines are our big challenge. I might point out that we have found that the reduction of supply is one of the most effective measures to reduce harm. That has been stated by the United Nations Commission on Narcotics Drugs and by the Australian National University, which did a study for the Australian Federal Police. Recently at the Police Ministers Council there was a report, an independent assessment, that re-endorsed the fact that reduction in supply is the way to go. There have also been studies in New South Wales where I think Don Weatherburn said much the same. We have had a number of reports which say that reduction in supply is the right strategy. It makes it much more difficult to educate people, particularly young Australians, in an environment where there is an abundance of supply of illicit drugs. If you can reduce that supply and reduce the availability, your efforts at education can be much more successful.

The situation is similar in relation to rehabilitation. I have visited many clinics and programs and anecdotally I have had it put to me that, where you reduce supply and make the drugs harder to get, you have addicts who say, `Well, maybe it's time for me to just quit.' I remember talking to people from the `team challenge' program in Victoria who gave me evidence that, when there was a reduction in supply of heroin, addicts they had dealt with said, `It was a circuit-breaker.' That did not apply across the board, but it did apply in some cases. It was enough for some people to have a change in their life and to fight the addiction successfully. Of course, even one victory is a victory. The government is fully confident, and has an independent assessment which corroborates that confidence, that its law enforcement approach is appropriate; that its approach to the education of young people, particularly, in our schools is essential; and that rehabilitation is the third arm of our fight, our Tough on Drugs approach.

Whilst you might make comparisons with other countries, we compare what has gone on before and what is happening now. Alcohol is another frontier, and it is as big an issue, if not bigger, in our community than the illicit drug issue. It is making a bland comparison to say: `This country has had this result. Why haven't we?' I do not think you can simply compare one country with another. The Netherlands does not have the Indigenous issue with substance abuse—with glue sniffing, with petrol sniffing—that we have, and that is perhaps just as lethal if not more lethal than anything you can bring in across our borders. Petrol sniffing will give you brain damage very quickly. Alcohol abuse can kill you just as quickly. We have seen Indigenous communities where this is a big issue. If someone dies from substance abuse, that is tragic. It is part of our overall program of looking at deaths as a result of substance abuse. That is a different aspect that Australia has to tackle. The Netherlands does not have that. Looking at those differences demonstrates that a simple comparison does not do the issue justice.