Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2017
Victorian Parliament – 23 March 2017 - Ms KEALY - It is a pleasure to add my contribution to the debate on the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2017. This bill has three main purposes. It attempts to assist to overcome some of the practical difficulties in enforcing existing prohibitions on synthetic drugs and to end their overt sale in Victorian retail outlets. It is also designed to better enable sentencing judges to take account of the particularly dangerous qualities of ice when sentencing persons caught trafficking ice. It also aims to facilitate the efficient and effective treatment of persons in police jails who are withdrawing from long‑term opioid dependence.
I would like to pick up on some of the closing comments made by the member for Dandenong about Labor’s track record when it comes to law and order. We know that Labor simply have not made the investment in keeping up with population growth in Victoria and in training new police officers and ensuring that we have additional police officers in our communities who are able to better manage law and order in our state. I refer particularly to drug use and possession rates over the past two years. This is based on data released by the Crime Statistics Agency Victoria just a couple of weeks ago.
In 2014 the number of prosecutions for drug use and possession was 19 759 incidents — so just under 20 000. Over the past two years we have seen this rate absolutely skyrocket by almost 25 per cent to 24 594. I think it is absolute nonsense for the Labor government to try to convince people that it is doing a lot around law and order or about supporting a stronger policing framework in Victoria when we simply have fewer police officers per capita than we had when the Liberal‑Nationals coalition was in government. As a result, we are seeing drug use and possession increase by an astonishing 25 per cent. If you do believe that you have got a stronger police system than we had under our government, then you really need to look at the evidence and review that. An increase in drug use and possession of 25 per cent is simply unacceptable. We need to see direct action, not just talk, to make sure that that is appropriately dealt with.
So many times when I speak to police and family members I hear that there is deep concern about the prevalence of ice in our communities. However, if we look at the Ice Action Plan, which was released two years ago, we can see that there has been barely any implementation of those actions. In fact all we have seen from this government is the stripping of funding of residential rehabilitation services that we funded in 2014. This government’s first step was to strip funding from those three centres — funding which would have better enabled people who live in rural and regional Victoria to access residential rehabilitation.
We all understand that residential rehabilitation is not always the right treatment for some people, but for some people community rehabilitation is not the answer. Currently there is a waiting list of up to six months for people to access residential rehabilitation services. It is getting worse — it is not getting better — and this problem is directly related to the Andrews Labor government, which has turned its back on people who are hitting rock bottom and who are addicted to drugs. They know they want to get off drugs and they know they need to get into a residential rehab service. Then they look at this government and they think, ‘I could have had a bed if it wasn’t for you taking that money away’. I think that is an absolute disgrace, and those opposite should hang their heads in shame about their lack of support for people who are looking to get off drugs because of the way it is affecting their families. The government is not helping people to get out of the cycle, which is a terrible cycle when you are in the midst or in the throes of an addiction to an illicit substance.
This bill does make some sensible improvements, which we do support, in relation to synthetic drugs. This is a very, very difficult area to address in that it is a mobile market. There are new synthetic drugs developed quickly. It is market driven. There are often changes to labels and the names of different drugs. It makes it very difficult for legislation to keep up. The coalition did make some changes around that, although obviously as the drug market moves there need to be amendments to that. I do think the amendments that are put forward in this bill will assist to keep up with the synthetic drug market and marketing of their products.
I do note also that within these amendments there is an element which relates to reducing the trafficable quantity of methamphetamines. This is an important move; however, it is the opinion of the Liberals and The Nationals that this simply does not go far enough. That is why we have circulated an amendment today. It is an amendment that I hope will be supported by all members of this chamber, and it is seeking consistency in lowering the quantity thresholds for the trafficking of large commercial quantities of methamphetamines. We are looking to reduce the threshold for the definition of large commercial quantities from the government‑proposed amended quantities of 500 grams and 750 grams to our opposition‑proposed 375 grams and 500 grams, down from the existing quantities of 750 grams and 1 kilogram. Further, the Liberals and The Nationals propose that the quantity amount for automatic forfeiture of assets should be lowered to 15 grams from the existing 30 grams. The opposition’s amended quantities — as opposed to those of the government, which we accept — represent a 50 per cent reduction to the existing act’s defined quantities for large commercial trafficking of methamphetamine. That is consistent with our previous policy of 2014. Of course we also took that position to the election.
I think this would strengthen the bill. It would result in consistency, but importantly it would mean that the police are able to do their job and ensure that people who are caught with larger quantities of methamphetamines are prosecuted as they appropriately should be. As I note, we do need to make sure that we have enough police on the beat who are able to implement this legislation. It is all very well and good to have changes to laws that should toughen up our ability to manage drug dealers in the community, which are an absolute drain on our communities. They create so much damage. They simply make money through misery and harm to others, and I think they deserve to have the harshest possible penalties put upon them. But we do need to make sure that we have defined quantities of drugs which are consistent with the amount that a dealer would have on them so that people are not slipping through the gaps and saying it is only for personal use.
We have received wide feedback regarding this bill in relation to Victoria Police and the Police Association. I also reached out to the alcohol and other drug sector, and I would like to put on record my appreciation for those people who took the time to provide feedback regarding the elements of this bill, particularly in relation to how effective the amendments will be and how it will support a stronger system to get people off drugs and make sure that we look at harm minimisation.
In closing I would like to mention the third element of this bill, which is that this will facilitate opioid substitution therapy in police jails. This is a very good move. It is strongly supported by the sector. We do not want to see people having to go through a detox process in jail without any support to do that, so I think loosening up some of those requirements around medical practitioners and nurse practitioners requiring a permit to administer opioid substitution therapy makes a lot of sense, in my view.
While we support the theme of the bill — we support the bill generally — we would like to see the government support the amendment that reduces the trafficable quantities for methamphetamines.