November 15, 2017  |  Second reading

Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Medically Supervised Injecting Centre) Bill 2017

MR HOWARD (Buninyong) (12:50:26) — I am certainly pleased to add my comments in regard to this important piece of legislation. As the member for Buninyong, I would start by saying that of course this particular legislation does not have any specific relevance to the people of my electorate of Buninyong, but as members of this house we know that we are addressing issues for all of this state, and clearly this is of significant benefit to a large number of people, particularly those who are coming into the Richmond community.

I speak particularly as the chair of the Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee. Our committee has this year been reviewing a broad range of issues associated with drug use, drug treatment and drug law reform. Over the year we have had 220 written submissions come to our committee. We have held many public hearings on the issue, and we have heard from a range of people in regard to their views about how we could move forward in regard to drug treatment and responding to drug issues across the state. Our committee has visited Richmond; we have visited Sydney, particularly the Kings Cross Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre that is there; and we have travelled overseas to Switzerland, to Vancouver and to other sites.

What has been such a profound issue for me is that I have seen that people have clearly been dying from overdoses of heroin in this state for a period of time now, and in fact more people are dying as a result of overdose deaths than are dying on our roads. So it is vitally important that as a government we take action to try and address this. Of course it is very distressing when you, as our committee members have, meet with parents who have lost children or family members, and we have heard from other community members of the distress that they have experienced as a result of deaths from overdose.

While we know that the police have a role to play in trying to identify the supply of heroin and other drugs into our state, and that they have a range of roles in trying to reduce the harm to our community, we have spoken to police both in Victoria and other places, and they acknowledge that while they can do so much, even if they are very well resourced, they cannot do it all. We have great reason to recognise, especially when it gets down to the level of people who are addicted to drugs, that police are not the best people to deal with addicts on the streets who are acting in antisocial ways and who clearly need support. They recognise that the health authorities are the best people to help people who are addicts, who have a health-related problem.

From speaking to the residents of Richmond too, we are aware that they have been very concerned that people who are using heroin in their neighbourhood are going to back lanes behind where these people live or even in their front yards. They are seeing the evidence of the syringes that are being left there, which of course is not appropriate, and they are periodically coming into contact with people who have taken an overdose. The need then to call an ambulance while the residents are left to try and support those people is a matter of great distress to them. So this proposal for a supervised injecting facility to be created at the North Richmond Community Health centre is entirely appropriate. It will not only save lives, and we have heard of 35 deaths in Richmond this year; it will also bring those people into contact with service providers, and that is a very important thing too. Not only will it save some lives; it will bring people into contact with a range of services that might help them get onto a path towards a better future. And at the same time, as we have heard, it will improve the amenity of the Richmond area. This announcement has been welcomed by the people of Richmond.

I have to say also, after travelling overseas and seeing the issues that we saw while we were overseas, that I put an article in our local Ballarat paper talking about the realities of drugs and talking about the need for a supervised injecting room. While I had a lot of people then contact me to say, ‘Good on you, well done, we do need a compassionate approach and what you said makes sense’, I had not one person from my Ballarat electorate contact me to say how dreadful it was that I had advocated a supervised injecting room. There is an appreciation out there in our community, I believe, that this is the right approach to take.

We have heard the example of what has been happening in the medically supervised injecting centre in Kings Cross, and clearly lives have been saved there. I find the comments from the opposition to be totally disingenuous and totally frustrating. They are saying, ‘Well, some people will go elsewhere and take drugs, and they will die elsewhere’. Of course they will. We cannot save every life, but there will be many lives saved because people will see this is a place to go, and this is a place where they will be supervised and, if they overdose there, they will not lose their life on that night. And maybe they will not ever lose their life; they will get on a pathway to good health. So we cannot save everyone’s life, but we cannot use that as an excuse to not go ahead with a supervised injecting facility in Richmond.

There are so many reasons that we have heard. The opposition failed to acknowledge that there has been a process here; they want to say that we have rushed this through, but we have heard from the coroner this year. The coroner has brought out reports when she has looked into deaths in Richmond, and the coroner has recommended a supervised injecting facility for Richmond. That is something that has taken place this year. We know that there has been an inquiry by an upper house committee where people from all parties have looked at this specific issue of supervised injecting rooms. That report came out in September, and in it they acknowledged that a supervised injecting facility could be of benefit. So this government has acted in response to those issues and the advocacy of many people, including those from Richmond, and has acted in an appropriate way in response to that.

I think that this is such an important issue. I am so pleased that this government is taking that proactive approach. The negativity that we are hearing from the opposition in regard to this just shows that they are typical conservatives; they would never take this action. They will find many reasons not to support this. They will say, as we have heard, that the way the centre will be operated is still unclear. That is not true. We have said it is based on the Sydney model. The Sydney model has been operating, as we know, very soundly since 2001, and the same procedures will be in operation in so many ways so that is not a reason not to go ahead with this centre. All of the feedback and the research on the issues will go into ensuring that the centre operates in its best possible way with properly qualified health practitioners as well as social welfare people operating in the centre too, or in the broader part of the community health centre, to support these people. That is not an excuse not to go ahead.

There is clear and sound evidence from Switzerland, there is clear and sound evidence from Vancouver and there is clear and sound evidence from so many places across the world, as well as Kings Cross, which shows that this is a sensible thing to do. The government of course is recognising that this is a trial for two years, but I reckon it is highly unlikely that we will have solved the problem of drug overdoses in the Richmond area in two years, sadly, so we will see that it is appropriate to continue the centre. We are not suggesting that it be anywhere else, and the information that came to our parliamentary committee has not suggested one for anywhere else in Melbourne, only in Richmond. So the misinformation that others in the opposition might want to present about, ‘This is only the start, and then they’ll be cropping up all over the place’, is just not true. This is a trial for two years initially in Richmond.

I know that the member for Lowan, while I was very disappointed with her contribution, understands this is the right thing to do. I am confident that we will demonstrate as a government this is the right thing to do. It will be something that will be saving the lives of people who do have serious drug problems. There is plenty more that this government is doing, including doubling the residential rehab beds and committing to more in that area, and I am pleased to see we are getting a residential rehab unit in Ballarat next year. I certainly commend this bill. I hope it will move through both houses as quickly as possible and we see this in place as soon as possible.

Sitting suspended 1.00 p.m. until 2.01 p.m.

Business interrupted under sessional orders.