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Tough on drugs strategy announcement: address to the Salvation Army, Sydney.

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22 April 2007



Thank you very much John. Jan, I am delighted to see your wife. Christopher Pyne, the Minister for Ageing, but also as Parliamentary Secretary and Assistant Minister in his earlier manifestation played a very significant role in assisting me in relation to the anti-drugs policy. And can I say how delighted I am to see Brian Watters and his wife here today. Brian of course was the chairman of the Council and did a wonderful job before he was called to international duties in the fight against drugs.

I am here today and I want to thank the Salvation Army for allowing us to use this centre as a place to launch it and to say how delighted I was before speaking to you to meet a number of people who are being assisted by the program, to hear their stories and to know that the path back can be a highly successful one although an arduous and difficult one which requires the support of family and friends but also the wonderful services of organisations such as the Salvation Army. A part of our society for which I have unbounded admiration and respect.

I am here today to announce an additional $150 million to add to the investment of $1.3 billion now over a number of years, stretching back to 1997 to increase the tempo of the fight against drugs in our community. I am proudly a zero tolerance man when it comes to drug abuse. I make no bones about that. I have never made any bones about it. It was an unpopular cause a few years ago. I was told that I was out of touch because I had a zero tolerance approach to the use of marijuana. As time has gone by there has been a greater realisation of the fatal link between marijuana abuse and many kinds of mental illness.

But I wouldn’t want anybody to think that there has been a disproportionate emphasis on law enforcement in our program, indeed of the $1.3 billion that has been spent over the last few years some 60 to 65 per cent has gone into prevention and rehabilitation with some 35 to 40 per cent into law enforcement. You need three elements; you need to help people to rehabilitate, you need to educate people against 1 2

the dangers of drugs in the first place and you need uncompromising law enforcement to catch the people who would traffic in the misery and unhappiness and death of others.

And once again those three elements are in the package I am announcing today. We’re putting over $100 million for new drug rehabilitation services and further support for those in the drug and alcohol sector who are fighting the scourge of drug and alcohol abuse. And this includes an amount of $23 million particularly targeted to programs which are dealing with this dreadful new phenomenon that is commonly called Ice; a new drug which has devastating behavioral consequences. Some of the stories of the way in which people have been terrorised and the way in which those who are addicted to Ice lose all semblance of control and lapse into violent, uncontrolled often homicidal rage. And it is a frightening drug and we need a special emphasis, and so we’re going to put $103 million into, not only strengthening the additional rehabilitation services, which means that organisations will be able to get more money to do the things they are now doing so well and to do them better, but we’re also going to have an additional emphasis in tackling the modern scourge of Ice.

The second element will be some $9 million to improve the drug prevention education for young Australians and provide the right information to parents. We found when we circulated a booklet a few years ago, and there was a lot of cynicism about this; people said ‘oh that’s a waste of money, it’s a public relations stunt’ we actually found that young people did talk to their parents about drugs. The popular view was

‘oh well, there’s such a disconnect between the children and the parents, and the parents wouldn’t have the faintest idea what their children wanted and wouldn’t even understand what drug taking was all about’ and therefore it was a total waste of money. The truth was almost entirely the opposite and surveys found that a huge percentage of children did in fact listen to what their parents said, if it was approached

in the right way, and that mass distribution to all Australian households proved to be extremely successful and even the body within the advertising industry, and advertisers are fairly case hardened in relation to advertising promotions, gave an award to this program as being the best public sector information campaign of the year. So to cut a long story short, we’re going to run that again and provide some additional resources. It will obviously be brought up to date and will inject in it the experience of the past few years. And finally, and also importantly, we’re going to put $38 million to increase the Government’s law enforcement efforts to reduce the supply of illicit drugs and that is going to have a number of elements, it’s going to involve the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Crime Commission and state police forces, and particularly we’re going to establish a rapid response team within the Australian Federal Police which will be available to do things, not only here, but in the region and the region is a great source I’m sorry to say, that’s the immediate

geographic region to Australia, is a great source of amphetamines and amphetamine substances and this team will be able to deal very directly with those both here, and in cooperation with police in other countries, in other countries who would seek to traffic in this terrible substance.

So putting all of that together, it’s an additional $150 million, on top of the $1.3 billion on our very successful ‘Tough on Drugs’ strategy. And can I just give you a couple of figures which are very important, they represent compelling statistical evidence that this campaign has worked. The percentage of Australians using cannabis has fallen from 17.9 per cent in 1998 to 11.3 per cent in 2004. The number 3

of heroin overdose deaths has fallen from more than 1100 in 1999 to 374 in 2005. The percentage of Australians using illicit drugs has dropped from 22 per cent in 1998 to 15 per cent in 2004 and the law enforcement efforts of the Federal Government and I also compliment the state police on the work they do, have prevented more than 14 tonnes of illicit drugs from reaching Australian streets. Now these are very compelling figures and they represent a good news story, but it has to be better because as you block off the previous distribution, or source of supply, of one evil substance then others come along to take its place. And I wouldn’t want to sound in any way complacent, I’m not, I’m pleased of the progress that’s been made, I’m pleased at the change in community attitudes, I’m pleased that people now recognise that there is nothing old fashioned or fuddy-duddy about having a zero tolerance approach to illicit drugs that in the end it’s the realistic honest approach.

But can I also say that we have never taken the view that it’s just a question of telling people no and chasing the criminals, it’s also a process of extending the hand of help and friendship for people who need rehabilitation. And one of the things that really hit me back in the late 1990s when we started this program was on a radio program in Melbourne, and two or three people rang up, despairing mothers whose children were addicted to drugs and they couldn’t find enough rehabilitation programs. There’s still more that needs to be done but we are making huge progress. And the contribution that the Salvation Army has made, both to maintaining the fight against drugs, in its typical robust, uncompromising style which I admire so much, and not only maintaining the fight but also extending the hand of Christian help and friendship to people who are addicted with drugs.

I regard this as one of the most successful social programs of the 11 years of my Government. I have been personally very committed to it, I have worked very closely with the members of my committee, I thank you again Brian Watters for the wonderful leadership he provided and I thank John Herron for taking over from Brian and doing an absolutely fantastic job, and all the other members of the Council because together we have shifted public opinion, together we have made a difference. I mean it is a wonderful thing to be able to say that there are hundreds of people now alive who would otherwise had been dead through heroin addiction if it hadn’t been for the intervention of these programs and I hope that in years to come it will be possible for people associated with this fight to save them, as a result of the things we’re doing concerning Ice and other amphetamines that we will likewise have prevented violent crime, have prevented death and have reduced in some way the terrible human misery.

So ladies and gentlemen, and particularly again to the Salvation Army who are hosting this morning’s gathering, I think you very, very much, I thank Chris Pyne for coming along and I am very, very, very committed to this program and I wish it well, and I make it very plain that more resources will be made available to this program as time goes by, inevitably more resources will be needed, you never have enough money for….you never provide quite enough money for these things, but we are providing a lot more today and this additional money will make a difference. Thank you very much.