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Thursday, 18 May 1972
Page: 1803

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesLeader of the Opposition) - I would like to congratulate the Committee on carrying out a very valuable public service in its investigation of and report on the matter referred to it by the Senate. Honourable senators may recall that it was on 25th November 1969 that the Parliament met for its famous one-day sitting. 1 think the only valuable thing done on that day was the establishment of the Select Committee on Drug Trafficking and Drug Abuse. That matter of history is not unimportant. I take a little pride in having moved the motion for the establishment of the Select Committee. It should be remembered that on the same occasion the Democratic Labor Party also had this matter in mind. Senator Gair moved a motion to the effect that such a committee ought to be established. This was done in order to show that there was co-operation in the matter and a viewpoint that the problem was so great that it should be investigated immediately by a committee of the Senate.

It is with some regret that I see that the Committee has failed to include a reference to the motion moved by Senator Gair and adopted by the Senate. It has also failed to state, I think, even the date, let alone the mover, of the motion to establish the Committee. In this case I was involved in the matter not only as Leader of the Opposition but also because I took a personal interest in it. I think it is extremely regrettable that there has been a departure from the previous practice whereby these matters - even the extracts from the journals - were included. I hope it does not occur with future reports of select or standing committees. Those who have been associated with such matters take proper pride in that association, and those concerned in reading the reports probably would be interested to know something about the inititation of the references to select or standing committees.

The report sets out a great number of findings of fact and conclusions and recommendations which speak for themselves. I do not propose to deal in any detail with what has been done - the report speaks for itself - but I shall make some observations to illustrate my personal reactions to some parts of the report. I think the report is paradoxical in many ways. For example, while alcohol and tobacco head its list of drugs abused in Australia and the report makes alarming comments on their dangers, that concern is not carried to the stage that the Committee makes major recommendations for dealing with the problems posed by those drugs. Similarly, minor analgesics are placed third on the list of most abused drugs, and the report gives a frightening account of the link between the high consumption of these aspirin-type drugs and the extremely high incidence of kidney disease in Australia. It states that the incidence of this disease is probably 50 times as high in Australia as in other Western countries and that research strongly indicates that abuse of these drugs causes it. Yet the Committee substantially recommends that greater restrictions be imposed on the amount and form of advertising of minor analgesics, that window, floor and counter displays and specials' should not be permitted, and that analgesics should be individually wrapped. It says that 90 per cent of the population use minor analgesics, that 11.4 per cent are daily users, and that some take 50 to 100 tablets or powders daily. Yet on the same page the report states that the Committee does not believe that minor analgesics should be available only on medical prescription or that their sale should be restricted to pharmacies.

It is unusual for a committee to reach such a conclusion after outlining so clearly the health hazard that these drugs present to the community, especially to people in the lower income bracket and women of middle age and over. I would regard the use by 90 per cent of the population of a drug that can cause fatal kidney disease as a drug problem of some importance. What kind of outcry would we see if 90 per cent of the population used marihuana? It may be said that minor analgesics are useful. But, even if they are useful, it is clear that there is abuse of them and that sterner steps ought to be taken to confine that abuse.

The report states that the cannabis-type drugs have not been proved to be addictive, as analgesics are; to be dangerous to health, as analgesics are; or to constitute a way of life for a large segment of our population, as analgesics do. I observe that what seems to me to be disproportionate emphasis is placed on the illegal drugs - the narcotics and cannabis derivatives - in the same way as these drugs receive much more attention from the mass media while the real drug problem clearly involves the legal, socially acceptable drugs.

An article in the 'Australian Medical Journal' of 6th May gives a number of good reasons why the recommendations on analgesics should have been much firmer. It states that only 13 per cent of total sales of these drugs were made through chemists, with an even smaller number being sold on prescription. Most were bought through food stores, milk bars and cafes. This indicates the necessity for restricting these drugs to chemists, or even to prescription. Should we regard this major drug addiction problem in the same light as we regard alcohol and tobacco? Should we ignore the problem in the same way as we ignore, or almost Ignore, the tragic consequences of tobacco and alcohol in terms of fatal or disabling diseases and daily road deaths? The Committee recommended only restrictions on advertising and display of these aspirin-type drugs. If the problem is as grave as the Committee says, one would think that the action should go much further.

The article in the 'Australian Medical Journal' states thai a recent survey in Sydney of aspirin use showed that 8 per cent of men and 15 per cent of women ingested it daily. Although the study showed that 62 per cent of those surveyed took it for headaches or joint pain, 31 per cent took it for such reasons as nerves, tension, 'out of habit' or 'to cope with the family'. Dr A. I. Adams, senior lecturer in the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine at the University of Sydney, pointed out in a recent letter discussing the survey that aspirin has no properties which could justify its use in the management of emotional states. He comments:

One can only blame years of advertising for the mythology that has grown up in Australia regarding its effectiveness in these conditions.

He calls for the Government to ban aspirin advertising because aspirin advertising continues unabated today, despite the pleas of the medical profession.

He went on to deal with how one can ride in an Aspro bus or a Vincent's bus and so on. 1 know that there are some differing views on this matter. It was in my mind when suggesting the establishment of this Committee that the Committee would look at the problems in proportion to their effect upon the community. I would have hoped that far more attention would have been paid to the causes and the prevention of damage to individuals in society by the major drugs, namely, alcohol, tobacco and Australia's own peculiar problem, the analgesics. The problem of alcohol is dealt with by the Committee. In its report the Committee states that alcohol is foremost among the dependence producing drugs in the over 35-year age group with 5 per cent of males, or 215,000, and I per cent of females, or 43.000, being alcoholics, and that in 1964-65 the estimated cost of alcoholism to Australia was 8740m. The consequences of alcoholism, says the report, have many similarities to extreme dependence on the most dangerous of other drugs. We know it is a major cause of road fatalities, serious crime, marriage breakdown, and is extremely dangerous to health. Despite the report's powerful indictment of alcohol, the Committee recommends only that tax concessions for drug advertising should be discontinued; that greater restrictions should be placed on television and radio drug advertising; that treatment for alcoholism should be included in the rehabilitation facilities recommended to be set up with a $5m grant to the States; that drug container labels should have adequate warnings, and that better reporting of drug statistics be organised.

Senator Marriott - And education. Did you ever read the chapter on education? It is pretty all-embracing.

Senator MURPHY - Yes. I thank Senator Marriott for that interjection. The Committee recommended also that there should be education in regard to all drug taking. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the problem of this and the other 2 major drugs may require greater measures by the community. I know that Senator Marriott feels strongly about these problems, as I think most of us do. I am pleased that the Committee has suggested certain positive steps in regard to all of them. I am expressing a personal view when I say that I think the magnitude of the major drug problems requires, by the community, even greater steps. I am not underestimating the value of what the Committee has recommended towards some solution of these problems. Perhaps Senator Marriott will be tolerant with me if I differ in the degree and the extent to which I think that action should be taken. Like all other honourable senators, I am very indebted to the Committee for the work that it has done. The recommendations it has made are valuable. The Committee members themselves differed on some matters, and I am sure that Senator Marriott does not expect that everyone will endorse everything that appears in the report. That would be impossible, because even the Committee members were not unanimous.

I speak for myself when I say that I think our problems have been exposed by this Committee in a very strong way, but I think that the community will be forced to take more far reaching measures, not only by way of education but also by way of other inducements, to cope with these problems. The Committee has suggested embarking on some of these measures. That is good, but 1 would hope that this is just the first step towards dealing with the problems. While equating tobacco with alcohol as the most-

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Cant) - Order! The 3 hours of sitting having elapsed since the time fixed for the meeting of the Senate, the Senate, pursuant to order, will now proceed with other business on the notice paper.

Motion (by Senator Murphy) agreed to:

That the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.

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