Thursday, 16 August 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Would the Prime Minister advise the House of government measures to address the problem of illicit drugs in our community and, in particular, how the government is helping parents to deal with this issue?
I thank the member for Macquarie for his question. There is no issue that bothers Australian parents more than the threat of illicit drug use. It represents one of the continuing social challenges to the wellbeing of young Australians, and anything that governments can do to help parents deal with this terrible problem they ought to do. I am very proud of the fact that since 1997 this government has spent more than $1.4 billion under its Tough on Drugs strategy across education, treatment and law enforcement measures.
I am very pleased that over that 10-year period there has been a major change in community attitudes to the use of what used to be called soft drugs, like marijuana. Eight or nine years ago, attempts were made at a state parliamentary level on both sides of politics—both Labor and coalition—to decriminalise marijuana in the mistaken belief that marijuana was harmless. It is now realised by a growing number of Australians, particularly the parents of young people who have taken their lives in deep depression or because of a severe mental illness occasioned by marijuana abuse, that marijuana and other so-called soft drugs represent an enduring menace to the health of many thousands of young Australians.
We are making progress in the war against drugs, but we have a long way to go. I say to those cynics who over the years have said it was all a waste of time and the answer was to legalise it all and the problem would go away, that they could not have been more mistaken. The problem will only get worse if you legalise it all because you are saying to the drug traffickers and you are saying to the parents of children desperately trying to break the habit that it is all too hard and you might as well give up. This government will never give up in the fight against drugs. We will never adopt a harm minimisation strategy; we will always maintain a zero tolerance approach. I am pleased to report that the percentage—
I notice some people from the other side are interjecting. I notice the member for Denison is vigorously interjecting against a zero tolerance approach. That will be noted. But can I just tell the House that the percentage of the population—
The percentage of the population who have used an illicit drug in the past 12 months has dropped from a level of 22 per cent in 1998 to 15 per cent in 2004. The rate of cannabis use has fallen from an all-time high of 18 per cent in 1998 to 11 per cent in 2004. Heroin use dropped from 0.8 per cent of the community in 1998 to 0.2 per cent of the community in 2004. As a result of our strategy, hundreds of young Australians spent last Christmas with their parents who otherwise would have lost their lives or taken their lives as a result of heroin abuse.
That is why we introduced a $150 million package of measures in April to deal with the challenge of psychostimulants, including ice. Included in these measures is a $32.9 million program for the third phase of the National Drugs Campaign, launched this morning by my colleague the Minister for Ageing. This is a very hard-hitting communication program. It contains graphic television advertisements that drive home the misery, the shame, the degradation, the loss of dignity, the loss of physical appearance and the loss of mental stability of people who engage in the use of illicit drugs. It has been developed in consultation with the expert reference group of the Australian National Council on Drugs. It is uncompromising. Some may be offended by it, but we make no apologies for the direct message that is communicated.
There will be another booklet sent to parents. The one circulated in 2001 was extremely successful. Seventy-six per cent of parents who read the book reported that they found it easier to talk to their children about drugs after reading the book. Ninety-three per cent of 15- to 17-year-old children were willing to talk to their parents about drugs, and 92 per cent of young people said that parents could influence them not to use drugs. It is a campaign that will go on for years. In some senses it is a campaign without end. But it is a campaign that is yielding results, it is a campaign that is saving lives and it is a campaign based on the resolute belief of this government that you never surrender to the scourge of illicit drug taking.