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Wednesday, 20 September 1972
Page: 1706

Mr ERWIN (Ballaarat) - In this debate on the estimates of the Department of Customs and Excise I take this opportunity to say a few words concerning the ever-growing and shocking problem of the use of drugs of dependence. Why should we legalise drug taking or remove penalties for drug taking? Why should we make any move that would encourage another medical or social problem, especially in view of the fact that the World Health Organisation has not cleared the use of drugs of dependence such as pot and many other more harmful drugs? People smoked cigarettes for many years before it was proved beyond doubt that the use of cigarettes was conducive to lung cancer. The advisers and officials in the field of drug detection and usage inform us that only about 10 per cent to IS per cent of the total amount of available drugs will be detected before reaching the human market. This is an alarmingly low figure. In view of this low figure, and following much discussion both nationally and internationally by those people responsible for detection, these people say that they must encourage much more education amongst the young people in the schools and colleges in an all-out endeavour to cut down on the demand.

This problem becomes much more difficult for a government to control when men like the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), who is Labor's shadow Minister for Health, state that they would recommend to a Labor government the abolition of penalties for drug taking. The honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) says that if Labor is elected to office he will try to have penalties for drug takers scrapped. In 1969 a National Standing Control Committee on Drugs of Dependence was set up with the ComptrollerGeneral of Customs as chairman. This Committee, consisting of senior Department of Health and law enforcement officials from the Commonwealth and all States, was set up to co-ordinate activities in drug education and law enforcement. Since the Committee's inception the Commonwealth has made grants of $l.5m for drug education purposes. In common with a number of other countries, Australia has greatly increased its activity in the international narcotics field. For example, the United States of America, in response to a call by President Nixon, has greatly increased its efforts to suppress drug trafficking and to treat addicts. Australia has hosted a regional conference of 14 countries of South East Asia to discuss the combating of illicit drug trafficking and it has developed close liaison with countries in South East Asia on an operational level.

Australia is active also in the United Nations sphere of drug control and recently was elected as a member of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Australian delegates have attended these plenipotentiary conferences: Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and Protocol amending the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. With all the information that is currently available concerning the drug problem, our main task seems to be to make every endeavour to cut down on the demand. I would like to see the National Standing Control Committee on Drugs of Dependence, which was set up in 1969, give a lead in conducting a drug alert programme. This would involve the coordination of the activities of every community service club that can be of help in publicising, defining and combating local drug abuse. The help of medical, social and law enforcement bodies, the news media, churches, schools and all other related community groups could be enlisted in the effort. The National Standing Committee could be the co-ordinating body when this action is initiated and it could seek to broaden its scope by volunteering manpower and funds for the effort as well as contacting and organising community leaders in law, medicine, religion, education and social work to form a community drug education committee. Operation 'drug alert' could be a programme of involvement by Federal, State and local governments. It could seek out and employ the best in local manpower and resources to mount the most effective possible campaign on drug abuse education and prevention.

Developing an effective community programme to combat drug abuse is not easy, but the consequences of doing nothing ultimately may be much more severe. This would be a programme which would require the full support of all our local communities. It makes it ever so much harder to fulfil such a programme when people like the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) say, when writing about Labor in the 1970s:

As I see it then, Labor's aim in the 1970s must be to persuade the lower income groups that we would increase their share of the cake, the whole community that we would increase Australia's share of the Australian cake and that we would move towards establishing a civilised ('permissive') society.

Perhaps we should look also to the area of education and ask: Are some of our children cramming too much? If this is found to be so, how will we combat it? The preexamination cramming complex could be pushing some of our young people towards the early taking of drugs. The relationship between drug-taking and the growth in crime has been clearly established in the United States. Any person hooked on drugs has to hook 4 others to ensure his supplies, unless he has an independent income. If we treat drug taking sympathetically, as the Australian Labor Party proposes, we will turn our cities into the dangerous jungles that so many of the great American cities have become. God knows that the growth in violence is disturbing enough. Do honourable members opposite wish to buttress the growing crime rate with a drug problem in which the drug addicts are treated tenderly but in which complete indifference is shown for the well-being of the drug addict's victim? Have we not reached the stage where, in effect, we are finding excuses for the rapist and forgetting the rights of the raped? Let us push forward now for operation 'drug alert'.

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