March 28, 2018  |  Statements on reports

Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee: drug law reform

Mr Howard (Buninyong) (10:14:09) — I am very pleased to speak on the Inquiry into Drug Law Reform report, which was tabled yesterday by the Victorian Parliament’s Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee. I want to say at the onset that the committee is grateful to the various individuals and agencies who shared their personal experiences, expertise and ideas during the inquiry through written submissions and public hearings and during the visits that we made across Australia and overseas. The committee greatly appreciated so many contributors for the generosity with their time and the honesty which they brought to the discussions.

I also want to thank my fellow parliamentary committee colleagues: the members for Nepean, St Albans, Sandringham and Benambra, and Fiona Patten, Khalil Eideh and latterly Mark Gepp in the Council for their commitment and contributions to this inquiry. As is the case, too, the committee work relied on the executive support team, and I want to commend the secretariat — Yuki Simmonds, Raylene D’Cruz, Pete Johnston and Christianne Andonovski — for their hard work in the development of this report. The depth of research material incorporated within this report is the result of their extensive endeavour and commitment.

As members may note, this is a very extensive report of over 580 pages, containing quality research material as well as detailing the advice shared with us by many people from Victoria, from interstate and from overseas jurisdictions that we visited during the inquiry. The inquiry became very wideranging in an attempt to gain an overview of the experiences involving illicit and prescription drugs. We compared the approach taken here in Victoria with other jurisdictions.

For an MP representing the Ballarat region, the drug use issue has not been a key focus for me before being involved in this inquiry. However, it did educate me on so many issues that I had not had direct involvement with. Clearly it left me feeling very passionate in wanting to ensure that we do a better job when dealing with this very challenging area. I saw firsthand the need to do more in Richmond, which has far too many people addicted to heroin, shooting up in back lanes and periodically dying in those back lanes. I saw how supervised injecting rooms work in Sydney, in Switzerland and in Vancouver, and I am very pleased that the Premier has been persuaded to trial one
here in Richmond.

I was also convinced by many who spoke with our committee, including police force members, that personal drug use should be dealt with as a health issue rather than being the focus of police work, and that police should focus on apprehending drug traffickers. This requires us to have a consistent approach of appropriate diversions to direct people who are being harmed by drugs into the appropriate treatment and support pathways. Although the Andrews government has substantially increased spending on alcohol and drug treatment services, including providing more residential rehabilitation beds, the committee agreed that more needs to be done to make appropriate forms of treatment and appropriate support services available when needed. We recognised the need for early intervention as well as better researched prevention programs too.

My experience in Vancouver especially also made me aware of the need to be proactive in being able to respond to the flow of highly dangerous drugs, including fentanyl and carfentanil, into our state. British Columbia experienced 931 opioid overdose deaths in 2016, and we need to ensure that this does not happen here. The report identifies the need to establish an early warning system to keep authorities aware of new psychoactive substances and other drugs of particular concern. This requires the ability to collect data effectively and efficiently and be able to share that information in a timely way with authorities and the public where appropriate.

It also recommends that we have appropriate emergency planning in place to deal with drug emergencies. The committee not only looked at the issue of illicit but also prescription drugs. Again can I commend the government for the legislation introducing real-time prescription monitoring. I also recognise that we need to train our medical practitioners up to be ready for the enforcement of this legislation so that they can appropriately support people who are addicted to pharmaceutical drugs.

Of course there are so many issues in this report, and I can only cover a small amount. I hope that people will take the time to read this report. I hope that the government acts on our recommendations appropriately to effectively reduce personal harm in the future.