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Wednesday, 19 March 1980
Page: 829

Senator WALTERS (Tasmania) - I could not agree more with Senator Chipp 's remark that we should keep party politics out of this issue. I think that statement was underlined in the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare. Senator Chipp will recall that members of that Committee were equally divided on the cannabis issue. On one side there was a Liberal member and two Labor members and on the other side there was one Labor member, one National Country Party member and one Liberal Party member. There was certainly no party politics involved in the decision of that

Senate Committee. I agree that the drug problems which Australia faces certainly should not be worsened by any party politics.

The main concern of the Australian Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drugs is the implementation of a national strategy. The Commission believes that the national strategy will not be able to work properly unless State and Commonwealth governments unite. The Commission has pressed very firmly for national antidrug legislation that should be directed at the drug traffickers- the criminal element of the drug problem. The Commission urged that all governments, State and Commonwealth, pass identical laws to combat drug traffickers. The report of the Royal Commission states that if governments generally cannot co-operate to produce speedily a national code against drug trafficking there is little hope that any worthwhile co-operation will be achieved elsewhere in.this country. The Commission stated that a nationally uniform drug trafficking Act would focus police efforts(Quorum formed). I was saying that a national uniform drug trafficking Act would focus police efforts against the criminal element rather than the user population.

In 1976 the State Ministers for Health reached agreement to implement harsher legislation to punish drug traffickers. All the States which agreed to this proposal, except Tasmania, brought in legislation. Tasmania certainly agreed to the proposal but since 1 976 it has not introduced harsher legislation. Perhaps I could go through the legislation which has been introduced by the States. New South Wales agreed that it would go along with the general agreement and increased its penalties for the trafficking of hard drugs to $50,000 or 1 5 years imprisonment or both. Victoria increased its penalties to $100,000 or 15 years imprisonment or both; Queensland to $100,000 or life imprisonment or both; South Australia to $ 100,000 or 25 years imprisonment or both; and Western Australia to $100,000 or 25 years imprisonment or both. In Tasmania the penalty is $4,000 or 10 years imprisonment or both. Tasmania is the only State that has not abided by the agreement reached by the Ministers for Health in 1976. All the other States have acted on the agreement. I urge the Tasmanian Labor Government to fall into line and to agree -

Senator Grimes - With whom?

Senator WALTERS - The present Premier, Mr Lowe, was the Minister for Health at the time those State Ministers met. He agreed that Tasmania would increase its penalties by 1977. It is now 1980 and Tasmania has not increased its penalties for drug trafficking. However, last week the Acting Premier, Mr Batt, decided that he had better introduce some petrol rationing legislation just in case it was needed. I ask honourable senators to guess what the penalties are for abusing that legislation. They are a fine of $10,000 or two years loss of licence. A person is up for a fine of $10,000 or two years loss of licence if he abuses the petrol rationing legislation which the Acting Premier considered so important that he had to rush it through the Parliament. But when it comes to hard drug trafficking the penalty is still a fine of $4,000 or 10 years imprisonment or both. I point out that the priorities of the Tasmanian Government need looking at. {Quorum formed).

Senator Townley - Mr Deputy President,I take a point of order. When the quorum was called three Labor senators were in the chamber.

Senator McLaren - What is your point of order?

Senator Townley - I will get to it in a moment. My point of order is that Labor Party senators get paid exactly the same as Government senators. They do not attend the chamber the way they should.

Senator Grimes - Mr Deputy President,I take a point of order.

Senator Townley - Senator Grimescannot take a point of order when I am taking one. He should know that. Why does he not read the Standing Orders? My point of order is this: Standing Order 438 states:

If any senator- (a) persistently and wilfully obstructs the business of the Senate . . .

That is what Senator McLaren is doing. He is calling quorums continually and obstructing the business of the Senate. I feel that he should be stopped from doing that.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Maunsell)- There is no point of order.

Senator Grimes - Mr Deputy President,on the point of order-

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- I have ruled against Senator Townley 's point of order.

Senator O'Byrne - Mr Deputy President,I take a point of order. I would like a ruling from you as to whether the business of the Senate can be conducted without a quorum present.

Senator McLaren - Mr Deputy President,I also take a point of order. I have been accused of obstructing the business of the Senate. The Standing Orders clearly state that there shall be 22 senators present in the chamber to form a quorum. When I first called a quorum tonight there were three Labor senators and three Government senators in the chamber. Immediately the quorum was formed the Government senators left the chamber. That is why I again called for a quorum.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- I have already ruled that there is no point of order.

Senator WALTERS - Please, can I now get on with my speech? I was delighted to see that the Federal Royal Commission brought down recommendations on the education side of the drug problem which were very similar to those brought down. by the Senate Standing Committee. The Standing Committee, of which I was a member, was very concerned about the efforts the Government had already made in relation to drug education in this country. We have spent a tremendous amount of money in this area. The education has not had the results we had hoped for. I will read the national aims of the drug education program because they are terribly important. They are to reduce ignorance, modify behaviour and to uphold the mores of society. If we are sincere in those aims we have to do something about drug education. Tonight Senator Chipp called those people who were against drug education in schools all sorts of odd names. He said that people had said: 'You will not dirty my dear little girl 's mind with drug education '. Perhaps Senator Chipp should do a little research in this area. The Federal Royal Commission realises not only that the education is not doing what it is meant to do but also that it is doing considerable harm. I have considerable information on the evaluation of drug education by countries overseas. Richard B. Stuart from the University of Michigan states: . . a research project which was sponsored by the Office of Drug Abuse and Alcoholism, State of Michigan - . . points out that . . . there has been a widespread increase in reliance upon drug education as a preventative measure. However, drug education may not impede the use of drugs and may actually exacerbate drug use . . . the risks of negative effects of drug education is suggested by evidence that shows that a relatively high level of knowledge about drugs is associated with higher levels of drug use.

Mr Lanecites a study in the United Kingdom by the National Association of Youth Clubs which indicates that information given in present education lessons incites many people to want to try drugs who may not otherwise do so. Other research has argued that there is overwhelming evidence that the net changes in attitudes or opinions as a result of persuasive material are likely to be small. The material is more likely to affect individuals' attitudes. Thus friends, opinion leaders and so on are more likely to influence the interpretation of the material. Dr De Lone, the Assistant Commissioner for Education and Training in New York City's Addiction Services Agency offers the following comments on drug education. He states:

Why drug education may influence drug use and recent studies have indicated this is a . . . difficult question to answer. Perhaps instruction stimulates rebellion, or simply raises curiosity.

George Birdwood 's comment that only education enjoys the dubious privilege of having the power to make matters worse is not just a smart quip but the plain truth. If it is well done most of the drug education in our schools can be mildly and marginally beneficial, but at the worst it is positively harmful. I could go on and on. So many overseas evaluations of drug education prove that it just does not work. Before this Government spends more money in this field we should evaluate some of the programs that have already been carried out. The Federal Royal Commission points this out.

I was delighted to see that the Government has accepted the recommendation that the Senate Standing Committee put forward that the community be made fully aware of the objectives of the national drug education program, that all drug education programs be evaluated against the stated aims of the national drug education program and that funds be withdrawn from drug education programs which are found to be ineffective. The Government's response today indicates that it has accepted the recommendation. The report of the Royal Commission states that education is perhaps the most difficult area in which to arrive at a meaningful conclusion. The situation is complicated because individual value judgments continue to pay an important role in the assessment. I believe that this is one of the crucial factors. It depends on the value judgments of the person who does the educating. Whilst Senator Chipp backs education to the full, as he obviously did in his speech tonight, I would advise the Government to be cautious about the programs it implements. It should implement the programs of people whose value judgments are acceptable to the community and then evaluate the results.

Let us have proper evaluation, not the sort of evaluation which was done in my State and upon which I have commented. I said that evaluation was not carried out of certain social programs in the education field. I was told that I did not know what I was talking about and that it had been evaluated. The students were asked: 'Was it beneficial?' They said 'Yes, wonderful'. The parents were asked: 'Did the children know more when they came home from school following the program?'. The parents said, 'Yes, of course, they did know more'. That is not evaluation; that is asking the students whether they enjoyed the lesson. It is not evaluating whether the behaviour of those students had altered or whether they accepted the education in the proper way. It is certainly not the son of evaluation that is recommended by the Committee and the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission pointed out that there are those who are all too ready to regard education as a universal panacea to solve society's drug problems. Drug education in isolation will solve little; indeed, it may be counter-productive. Education based solely on the distribution of drug information is inadequate and on occasions dangerous. Information does not necessarily change attitudes. Not only must the recipient of the information be equipped to appreciate the implications of that information, but also he must be in a position to make a balanced choice when faced with alternatives. What child in primary school is in a position to make a balanced choice? We have to understand that there are people who can never be equipped in that fashion.

The Royal Commission also touched on the role of the media and pointed out that most people get their information on drugs from the media. It quoted a survey conducted in Manly which showed that the media was the most frequently mentioned source of information on drugs and evidently over 60 per cent of the people surveyed used the media for information on cigarettes, marihuana and heroin. Fifty per cent used it for information on alcohol. I know that evidence brought before our Committee, particularly by police from various States, pointed out that whenever there was a detailed description of either glue sniffing or hallucinogenic mushroom use there would be a spate of those problems within a State. It seems to me that the media should show considerable responsibility in this area. If it is pointed out to the media it should be very careful how it reports these problems.

I shall move on to the subject of cannabis. Tonight Senator Chipp was very critical of the Royal Commission- I think he called the judge concerned a coward- about its recommendation on the cannabis issue. The Commission rejected arguments that if drug possession in the area of cannabis was decriminalised there would be no role for criminal syndicates to play in importing and distributing drugs. It concluded that drug abuse was already too great a problem in the Australian community to contemplate removing prohibitions against illegal drugs and that the increase in drug abuse that would inevitably follow such a move would constitute a national disaster. Senator Chipp pointed out that there is a tremendous amount of controversy over this matter. I know that Senator Tate, who will be speaking later in this debate, agrees entirely with Senator Chipp that cannabis should be legalised. Senator Tate and I have debated this subject many times. I have pointed out on many occasions, and I would like to point out again- it is the subject of a recommendation in our report- that we cannot talk about allowing people to grow their own cannabis or marihuana because if we allowed them to do that the method of counting how many plants one person should have would be just too hard to police.

Senator Tate - I never recommended that. I said it should be sold through chemist shops.

Senator WALTERS -Senator Tate says that it should be sold through chemist shops. What does he mean by 'it'? Cannabis comes in so many different forms. It has a variety of THCtetrahydrocannabinol content, yet Senator Tate says that 'it' should come through chemist shops. That sounds a very simplistic way to legalise the use of cannabis. The dried cannabis plant and specifically the flowering tops from the female plant may contain up to 14 per cent THC. Most samples of good quality cannabis contain 0.2 to 1 per cent, whilst a very superior type can reach 2 per cent THC. However Buddha grass or Thai sticks contain 4 per cent to 1 4 per cent THC. If we allowed the plant to be grown, as has been suggested by some of the members of the Committee, we would find that we must say to people: You can grow it, but you can use only the leaves. You must not use the whole plant '. Not only cannabis comes from the plant; hashish and hashish oil also come from it. One cannot simply say: You can just grow enough plants for your own use' or 'You can buy it in a chemist shop'. It would cover far more complicated areas than has been suggested. Possibly Senator Chipp did not investigate this area very thoroughly as he was so critical of the Royal Commissioner. Senator Chipp was critical of him for saying that the law should not be altered for at least 10 years. As a member of our Committee- I am sure Senator Grimes, who is also a member of it, would agree with me- I say that we do not know enough about the substance to be able to say: 'Okay, legalise it. Open it up'. Senator Grimes agreed with the report and the recommendations of our Committee that cannabis should not be legalised. We do not know enough about it. The developed world does not know enough about it. Surveys have not shown us all the information we desire. We do not know enough about the effect of its use on other drugs or its effect on users of the roads. We did not have the information available; nor did the Royal Commission. I believe that the Royal Commission reacted very responsibly when it said that as the information was not available we should not introduce legislation decriminalising in any way this additional drug and in 10 years when perhaps more information is available we should take another look at it.

It is all very well for Senator Chipp to say that the Commission sat for two years and had all the expertise and information available to enable it to come up with a decision on this matter, but as the information is not available worldwide, and it is not, then the Commission was acting responsibly in saying what it did. I do not think any Australian could be critical of this responsible attitude taken by the Royal Commission. It may sound inconsequential that the Government supports a national strategy. Senator Cavanagh this afternoon was rather scathing of the fact that we as a Committee were fairly happy with that particular support from the Government. However, if we bear in mind that for the first time a Government has admitted that tobacco in any quantity is detrimental to health, and that the Government is committed to the overall lowering of the consumption of alcohol, we will see that this is quite a step forward. The Government is committed to the lowering of the consumption of alcohol, and has stated officially that it is aware that tobacco is detrimental, in any quantity, to the health of the nation and has said that it will be taking action in this regard. I for one am very happy and congratulate the Government for taking this initiative alone.

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