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Thursday, 11 May 1989
Page: 2291


Senator FOREMAN —My question is directed to the Minister for Justice. I refer him to an article entitled `Cocaine and the Foetal Risks' which appeared in the New York Times of 5 September 1988 and a very similar article in the Melbourne Sun in March of this year.


Senator Puplick —Do you read the New York Times?


Senator Hill —Does the Minister read the New York Times?


Senator FOREMAN —What about the Melbourne Sun? Can the Minister inform honourable senators of the results of research on the effects of cocaine and crack usage during pregnancy? What is the Government doing to stem the awful trade in cocaine?


Senator TATE —I am not surprised that Senator Hill is more familiar with the New York Times than almost anyone else in this chamber since he spent some months there at the taxpayers' expense-quite legitimately. Nevertheless, that would explain his awareness of articles in the paper.


Senator Bolkus —Senator Bolkus read it too.


Senator TATE —Senator Bolkus would have read the New York Times also, no doubt. This is a most serious question. I can understand why Senator Foreman, who takes a great interest in these matters, should wish to raise it. The information that was contained in the articles in the Melbourne Sun about the results of research into the effects of the taking of cocaine, particularly by pregnant women, can only be described as horrific. The image that cocaine has as recreational or yucky-yuppie-drug-I will explain why that slip came about as I go on-is totally undeserved. Let me outline the position from those articles very briefly: In some United States cities 27 per cent, more than one in four, of babies being born are addicted to cocaine and other hard drugs. Crack hit California in the early 1980s and the far-reaching effects of the drug have just surfaced. This year, about 25 per cent of an expected 2,500 births at Oaklands Highland General Hospital, east of San Francisco, will result in shuddering, dwarfish babies affected by the crack their mothers smoked during pregnancy.

According to Dr Ira J. Chasnoff who directed a study of 36 United States hospitals research suggests that a single cocaine `hit' during pregnancy can cause lasting foetal damage. While a single dose of cocaine and its metabolites clear out of an adult body within 48 hours, an unborn baby is exposed for four or five days. As a result, the researchers believe almost no cocaine-exposed baby fully escapes its damaging affects. The lists of threats is long and growing. Cocaine exposed babies are more likely to die before birth or to be born prematurely. They tend to be abnormally small for their age at birth and have smaller than normal heads and brains. They face an increased risk of deformities of the genital and urinary organs, including kidney malformations that can lead to life-threatening infections.

I mention these ill effects which can affect the foetus. It is not within my portfolio interest to send a message to women, though I hope they receive it, but I want to explain the very vigorous steps that Australian law enforcement agencies are now taking to prepare us for the targeting of Australia as a market for cocaine by the cocaine cartels. Intelligence indicates that those cartels from South America are targeting Australia as a new and relatively untapped market for their deadly drug. In 1987 in the United States of America some 37,000 kilograms of cocaine were seized compared with 375 kilograms of heroin. In Australia the comparable figures were 16 kilograms of cocaine and 31 kilograms of heroin. One can see from those figures that the United States market is well and truly saturated, and Australia is regarded by these cartels as a relatively wealthy untapped market for their deadly drug. Indeed, the street price of cocaine in Australia is 10 times the price in the United States, so one can see why Australia would be attractive to such cartels.

The fact is that, in order to meet this challenge, the two relevant Commonwealth agencies-the Australian Customs Service, under the Minister for Science, Customs and Small Business, Mr Barry Jones, and the Australian Federal Police (AFP)-are devising their strategies to help prevent this expected penetration of cocaine into the Australian market. For example, only recently the first of what I hope will be a number of AFP liaison officers will be posted to Buenos Aires in South America, because that is the first city to establish a direct air link between Sydney and the South American continent. I believe that that sort of intelligence gathering and the cooperative endeavours with local law enforcement agencies, which have characterised the work of the AFP overseas liaison officers, will help us to get early warning of proposed importations into Australia and help in the law enforcement effort to preclude them from our shores.

I hope that, at the Australian Police Ministers Council meeting next week in Adelaide, the full cooperation of the States in these endeavours will be secured so that we can prevent the sort of horrific damage, not only to adults in our community but also to foetuses and babies, which has been evidenced in the United States.