Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Medically Supervised Injecting Centre) Bill 2017
Mr O'SULLIVAN— I rise to speak on the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Medically Supervised Injecting Centre) Bill 2017. I have been listening to some of the contributions that have been made here today. I have thought about this a lot over the last few weeks in terms of how this would play out, and I have challenged myself to look at all sides of this debate. I have done that to a certain degree.
I was in Richmond for a function last Friday night. The Nationals had their Christmas function there. I was walking through Richmond, and I walked through an area just close to where this injecting centre is proposed to be located. It was probably 5.30 p.m. on a Friday night, and I actually saw some people injecting on the first level of a car park. I must admit I am an absolute novice when it comes to drugs. I have never been involved in them. I had never really seen anyone take drugs before. I have always well and truly kept away from them. I firmly sit on that side of the ledger. It was interesting to see people actually injecting themselves. I assumed they were injecting heroin, although I do not know. It was a bit of a shock to me; there is no doubt about it. I had never seen that before. It was so brazenly out in the open. From that it would be very easy for me to say we should have an injecting room which they can go to and take those drugs rather than doing it in a car park.
I can understand the theory and the comments that were made by Ms Patten in relation to harm minimisation. I can see that argument, but I have a slightly different view. While I can see that harm minimisation is something that we probably do need to look at — there is no doubt about that — the point that I come to, in terms of where I grew up and the values that I grew up with in my family, is that we as a society cannot condone the use of illegal drugs. We are talking about illegal drugs; we are not talking about drugs you get from the chemist on this occasion. We are talking about illegal drugs — heroin and a whole range of other nasty substances which do you no good.
If we were to test all of these drugs that people put into their bodies — and we have heard about the pill testing that the Greens want to introduce — I think we would be pretty horrified about what they are made up of. People who take these drugs have the attitude, 'They mightn't be great, but I'll take the risk. I'll be right. It won't happen to me; it'll happen to someone else'. I do not think that is the right way to approach it. Having a state-sanctioned room or location where people can go and have their drugs — these nasty drugs; heroin and whatever else that might be taken there — is something that I cannot agree with, and I have thought about it a lot.
I was at a function a few weeks ago and while there I spoke to a member of Victoria Police — a young lady who had been in the police force for about five or six years. She asked me what I was up to, and I said that I had this bill coming up and I would have to speak on it. I asked her what her thoughts were in relation to drugs, particularly heroin, and whether she thought it would be a good idea to have safe injecting rooms — although using the term 'safe injecting rooms' is a misnomer. I will come back to that.
Ms Patten — Supervised.
Mr O'SULLIVAN— Yes, it is supervised. I agree with that.
I will not mention this police officer's name, but she works in the Gippsland area. I will not be more specific than that. She said that she deals with a whole range of drug issues when she is on her shifts, driving around in the wagon. I thought she would say, 'Yes, we probably do need to look at something along these lines', but to my surprise she said, 'No, we shouldn't allow it'. Her view was that we should go back to the basics of actually trying to prevent people from taking drugs, not get to the point where we give up and allow them to take drugs in a legally sanctioned room.
I was surprised at that. While this police officer does not work in Richmond — I acknowledge that — she has a lot to do with drugs, drug addicts and people taking drugs. I thought she might have a slightly different view, but she said, 'No, we should be firmly against the taking of drugs'. She said, 'We need to prevent people taking drugs, not in effect provide a safe haven so they can do it'. Drug use is illegal. It should not happen. I know people do use drugs, but they run the gauntlet in doing that.
I acknowledge that there is a health aspect to drug addiction. I do understand and acknowledge that, but I also think it is a policing issue. It is not one or the other; it is both. Once someone is a drug addict we need to have the appropriate rehabilitation to help them get off drugs. People get on drugs for a whole range of reasons. To tell you the truth, I do not know why they get on drugs. There are a whole range of reasons, but I have not participated so I do not have any personal experience that I can bring to the table in that space.
In terms of the health and policing issue, for people who are addicted and take drugs and are picked up by the police, our health services, an ambulance or whatever it is, I think we should have mandatory rehabilitation requirements to help them address their addiction. To go with that, I think we need to have significant policing for the perpetrators — the dealers who are peddling these drugs. It is all about supply and demand. A drug user cannot take drugs if there are no drugs to take. I am of the view that we need to be extra hard on people who are dealing drugs. We need to strengthen the laws and have very, very significant penalties for people who deal in drugs.
Ms Patten — Thirty years jail isn't enough?
Mr O'SULLIVAN— I am not going to take up the interjection from Ms Patten. I will take it up slightly, if I can do that. How many drug dealers do get the full 30 years? I suspect it is not that many. I think some people would say that plenty of drug dealers who go in front of our justice system get a reasonably light sentence for the crime that they have committed. We know the harm that is caused by drug use, so I think we need to have an extra strong policing element and an extra strong legal system to enforce the laws. We have pretty strong laws in relation to drug dealing, but I would like to see those penalties applied much more stringently and much more regularly. It might mean we would have a lot more people in jail, but so be it. In terms of the supply and demand I think we should try and cut down on the supply, which would make it more difficult for people to take drugs and potentially they would not be able to access them so readily.
There are a few things that I am quite uncomfortable with. One is the proximity to a primary school of the drug injecting room that is proposed for Richmond. I heard Ms Patten's comments about the protocols in play — that the kids have drills in terms of what to do. That is pretty scary stuff. That is terrible. One of my daughters is primary school age, so I understand what it would mean for my own child having to go through that. It would be pretty horrific. Primary school kids should not have to do that. They should not have to go through those sorts of experiences. They should not have to have such protocols apply to them. That is making the kids grow up much sooner than they should. I think it is only 50 metres from the primary school, and that is far too close. If this was to become legal, you would have people walking up to the facility and injecting, then leaving.
Ms Patten — The car park is 50 metres from the school.
Mr O'SULLIVAN— Yes, that is true. I understand that, Ms Patten. It should not be there at all. That is the point I am making. If this piece of legislation gets up, the centre should be further away from a primary school than that.
In terms of the actual legislation itself, there is a bit of confusion, as I understand it, in relation to what sort of drugs you could actually take at the injecting centre — obviously heroin. In terms of whether ice would be permitted, I think it is a bit confusing — well, I am certainly confused as to whether ice would be permitted. I think the Premier has said no, but Minister Foley said it would be up to Victoria Police. Then in the bill briefing I understand it was inferred that the secretary would have an impact. I understand the secretary has also said that the chair, Mr Kennett, might have an input into that as well. I think we are a bit uncertain as to exactly what would happen in terms of people and what drugs they would take.
Knowing the nature of people who are drug dealers, I think what they would do is sit down and work around the detail of this legislation and find the loopholes, because there is no doubt there are loopholes. In terms of going into the injecting centre, what would be the quantity that you would be allowed to have in the vicinity, walking in or out, that would be permissible? The police have discretionary powers as to whether they intervene. If someone was actually in the injecting centre with a kilo of heroin — I do not know what the measurement is that people use to refer to the quantity of heroin — or had a whole truckload of it, is that permissible? Obviously it would be much more than what it would be for personal use.
One of the problems that I have is that this is a bill that has been brought on fairly quickly. Ms Patten says it has been looked at for a decade, and I think in some regards it probably has, but the government has certainly rushed the introduction of this bill as a result of the Northcote by-election. For those who say that it was not rushed, well, it was not very long ago that the Premier was against this policy. I understand Minister Foley was against this policy as well. There has been a very quick turnaround from the government in terms of this policy from being one that they were absolutely against. To use the words of the Premier, he would probably say that now this is the right thing to do. I am not sure that it is.
I am strongly of the view that the best way to work with people who are addicted to drugs is to give them the rehab to get off drugs and to stop people from taking them in the first place. The first time you do anything, you make a choice. The people who take drugs — the people who might eventually become addicted as a result of taking drugs — make a choice somewhere along the line as to whether they will do it or whether they will not do it. Some people might not have the capacity to make that decision. Well, I think everyone has the right and the personal responsibility to think, 'What are the consequences of doing this?'. People have to live with the consequences of the things they do — personal responsibility.
Every one of us has got to have a degree of personal responsibility in everything that we do. I cannot support this bill, because I cannot sit by and be a part of a legislature that is saying it is okay to take drugs, because I just do not believe that that is the case. Drugs only cause harm. Until someone can convince me that drugs do not cause harm, then I certainly will not be changing my view, therefore I cannot support this legislation.