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Tuesday, 23 February 2016
Page: 1957

Ms GAMBARO (Brisbane) (19:33): I rise tonight also to speak on the Narcotic Drugs Amendment Bill 2016. This is a very important issue to me, but, more importantly, it is a hugely important issue to the many electors and constituents that I represent in the federal seat of Brisbane. I want to thank them very much for their input to this debate. I thank them for the comments that I have been receiving. Many of them are very, very pleased that we are speaking to this bill and supporting this bill from both sides of the House.

The Narcotic Drugs Amendment Bill 2016 will for the first time create a nationally consistent licensing scheme which will regulate the controlled cultivation of cannabis for medicinal or scientific purposes. The use of marijuana for medical purposes has been a very contentious issue, and I think everyone who has spoken to this bill tonight has said that. It has been a contentious issue, and it has been an ongoing discussion not just for this parliament or the people of Australia but for many, many people around the world, and many governments have looked at this. I want to pay tribute to the Minister for Health, the Hon. Sussan Ley, for the work that she and her department have done on this. Time and time again, we were confronted with the unquestionable evidence that is out there, particularly the scientific evidence, so it was time to see this legislation passed so that the people who need this legislation to go through, who are in dire need of the treatment, can finally get what they need to help them through some very difficult and very, very hard illnesses that they are suffering from.

The cultivation of cannabis is not currently authorised, and it is not regulated under the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967. The Commonwealth will control all regulatory aspects of the cultivation of medical cannabis through one national scheme, removing the capacity for states and territories to implement legislation to set up individual cultivation schemes. That is going to be a very good thing because it will mean that across the board there will be consistent regulation across the country.

This amendment typifies the government's brave leadership on what I said earlier was often a contentious and very often a hugely contested issue for many aspects of society. The need for the bill arose to address the community expectation about the need for certain patient groups to access medicinal products derived from cannabis. Many of the speakers tonight have spoken about those very groups. International supply is limited. To address this, the government is allowing for domestic cultivation and manufacture and making sure that it will be safe, it will be legal, and it will be reliable.

We have seen many examples in the media in recent months of honest parents who just needed to help their children. Many of these cases were absolutely heartbreaking. They were breaking the law at the time, but they wanted to seek the absolutely optimal treatment for their children so their children did not have to suffer endlessly. It was a concern at the time that there were very desperate patients. They needed to access safe supplies of cannabis and not expose themselves to health risks by accessing those unsafe, illegal supplies of cannabis. Also we needed to make sure there was no risk of prosecution for those parents and members of the community. No-one blames anyone for this; no-one is blaming police about prosecutions in the past.

We are here today to make sure that this legislation is put right so that many families can access the treatment that they need and deserve. The new legislation will enable domestic cultivation of cannabis for use in clinical trials, for scientific research and for other medicinal purposes as allowed under the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989. The bill also sets up a licensing scheme that enables safe cultivation in Australia that meets Australia's international obligations and domestic interests, which include minimising the risk of diversion to illicit use. The obligations on Australia under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961 are to control the cultivation, distribution and use of cannabis in a manner consistent with the uses provided for in the single convention. Some of the obligations are exclusive obligations placed on the Commonwealth as a signatory to the single convention. These exclusive obligations relate to the cultivation of cannabis and related matters.

The bill will include the introduction of a strong fit-and-proper-persons test and is designed to exclude organised crime elements from participation in this scheme. That again is a measure to ensure that we protect the public and prevent the risk of diversion and particularly prevent unscrupulous people from doing what unscrupulous people sometimes do—profit on the black market. That has been a very welcome move. This bill also strikes a balance between providing the treatments that patients so desperately need and ensuring that illicit use does not prosper.

It is also important to note that the requirements for cannabis cultivation under the single convention are quite different to those for opium poppies grown in Australia. They represent significantly different risks to public health from the diversion of crop. Australia must also report regularly to the International Narcotics Control Board, which oversees the implementation of the single convention on the quantities of narcotics produced, manufactured and used, with a view to preventing stockpiling of raw material beyond what is needed nationally and globally of such products. The amendments are also designed to ensure that the Commonwealth is able to fulfil this obligation.

The bill amends the manufacturing provisions under the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 again to ensure the integrity and security of the scheme, such as through the introduction of a fit-and-proper-persons test for applicants for a manufacturing licence. It also updates enforcement and penalty provisions to be consistent with modern regulatory practice. It requires applicants for a manufacturing licence for medicinal cannabis products to demonstrate a lawful supply pathway to patients—for instance, to a specific clinical trial or through supply that is allowed for under the provisions of the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989, such as the authorised prescriber scheme. It provides licence holders with a new right to request a variation or revocation of a condition imposed on their licence.

This bill does not override state and territory legislation dealing with criminal activities associated with the cultivation and trafficking of cannabis that occurs outside the regulatory scheme established by the amendments. At this stage the new medicinal cannabis scheme will be domestically focussed with a provision for exports to be addressed at a later date when the scheme has demonstrated that it is sufficiently secure and robust to meet international and domestic expectations surrounding security and safety.

Allowing Australia to cultivate legal cannabis crops for medicinal use under strict local controls strikes the balance between patient access, community protection and our international obligations. I know that there are many people in my electorate tonight who will be very pleased to see this bill pass this House. I commend the bill to the House.