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Wednesday, 8 December 2004
Page: 14

Senator BROWN (10:17 AM) —Nobody is arguing with the government about reducing the supply and criminalising those who want to make money out of the drug trade. The argument is with the government effectively saying that that is the be-all and end-all but that it will throw in some education programs. The minister edged towards talking about harm minimisation, which is the strategy endorsed by many leaders in the field, including those in policing, those in the courts and those with medical expertise in this area. This government has set its face against that. Mind you—and this is perhaps unknown to the minister—Commonwealth funding has gone into worthwhile programs, like those in Western Australia. People in Western Australia who are found to have illicit drugs on their property are given the opportunity to have rehabilitation—health and education included—rather than be sent to jail, which is the prime ministerial view of how people who are associated with drugs should be treated. The Prime Minister has determined that there shall not be heroin clinics for people who desperately need a circuit-breaker. He has turned his face against harm minimisation in this country.

When you look at the statistics of a like country such as the Netherlands, you can draw comparisons. There is a different philosophy there. That philosophy has saved lives, whereas the narrow view of this government has lost lives in this country. The minister says, `You can't compare one country with another.' Yes, you can. You can compare the philosophy and the more embracing view that people who are caught up in drugs of addiction should be treated as people who have a problem which they need to be helped out of. The consequence of getting somebody out of an addictive phase is to save society from the flow-on criminal behaviour which so often comes with drug addiction.

The question hangs in the air: why are scores of young Australians dying each year? The number of young Australians dying is above the number of young people dying in an equivalent country such as the Netherlands. Where is the failure? The minister has to face up to the fact that there is a failure in the delivery of drug policy in this country. It is because of the mind-set, which comes from the Prime Minister right down, that criminalisation not just of those people who peddle drugs—who should be put in jail—but also of those who become the victims is the way to go. It puts drugs underground and it denies people easy access to health, to psychological and social advice when they need it and to the options for getting out of addiction.

At state level there are moves in that direction. I have just described the Western Australian position; there is a similar position in other states. But there is a prime ministerial mind closed to it and a ministerial mind closed to it. I believe that that unnecessarily costs young lives in this country each year. The government has to open its mind to the fact that, while we can and will endorse legislation such as that before the parliament today—which goes to making sure that people who import or deal in drugs are pursued and put out of action—at the other end there is a policy failure by government. The need, once people are addicted, for them to be helped to get out of their addictions for their own good, for the sake of their families and for the sake of the community in which they live is not being adequately tackled by this government.