Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 August 2015


Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers, Offences and Other Measures) Bill 2015; Second Reading

11:33 am

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

In this country, we are facing an epidemic; in fact, in the words of some people, a pandemic in relation to crystal methamphetamine, otherwise known as ice. It is for this reason that I speak strongly in support of the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers, Offences and Other Measures) Bill 2015. This bill will give our law enforcement agencies the tools and the powers they need to get on top of this, to do their job and to support their state colleagues. It will ensure that Commonwealth laws are robust and effective to target the criminals that we so desperately need them to do, and reduce the heavy cost of crime on all Australians and the heavy cost on law enforcement agencies. I want to focus on how this bill will increase the operation and effectiveness of serious drug and precursor offences. Let me give you the statistics.

Last year in 2014, it is estimated that 2.5 per cent of all Australians over the age of 14 years—that is half a million people—used methamphetamine. To put that into perspective against some of the other countries with whom we are compared, it is three to five times the estimated use by Americans, British and Canadians. Australia has one of the highest rates in the world of illicit methamphetamine use and certainly the highest amongst the developing nations. It is no moment of pride for me to state the fact that, unfortunately, Western Australia seems to be towards the top of that cohort.

In Victoria, the coroner's office reported that in 2010 one in every 25 drug-related deaths was due to crystal methamphetamine. But two years later, by 2012, that figure had changed from one in 25 to one in 10 deaths. Last September, The Medical Journal of Australia published a study by the Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre that showed there was a 318 per cent increase in hospitalisations from 2010-11 to 2011-12—one year—in Melbourne for ice problems. Whether that was an increase in the number of users or the greater purity of the available drug, the jury was out. That figure of a 318 per cent increase in a year surely points to the need for the powers that will be given in the crimes legislation amendment bill.

Nationally, we have had an increase in the use of this scourge of a drug by some 10 per cent. In a study conducted by the Institute of Criminology, police detainees in key areas around the nation—look at these figures because it is right across the states and territories—found that 61 per cent of those held in the Kings Cross police station in Sydney tested positive to amphetamine, as did 40 per cent in Brisbane and 43 per cent of those in the watch-house in Perth—and it does not get any better.

I made the comment that we are facing an epidemic, and it may indeed even be a pandemic. Let me quote from the acting CEO of the Australian Crime Commission, Paul Jevtovic. In the foreword of the Illicit drug data report: 2012-13 released in April of last year, he wrote:

… with its relative accessibility, affordability and destructive side-effects, crystal methylamphetamine is emerging as a pandemic—

his words—

akin to the issue of 'crack' cocaine in the United States.

That is what we are facing in this country. We all know about it. We speak about it in this place, but of course it is personal. Only last week in this place did one of our colleagues speak about how personal it was to their family.

In our state of Western Australia we are blessed to have a very highly competent and highly respected police commissioner in Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan. Only last Friday did he speak publicly about the fact that his son Russell has been charged over yet another domestic incident in which he allegedly made threats to kill and held his former partner against her will for a two-day period.

Commissioner O'Callaghan speaks personally and with a high degree of grief about the journey of this son. He maintains close contact with him. It must be incredibly difficult for both, but he has the wisdom and the courage to speak publicly about this. These latest charges came after his son served eight months in jail for attempting to manufacture methamphetamines in 2011. This is the point that I want to make—and I am quoting from O'Callaghan in a press conference the other day. He said:

There’s always a chance that these things can happen—

that is, a return to the past—

and you live with the fact that it’s always two steps forward and one step back. It’s a long process. It might take a lifetime.

Obviously, when asked how his son was coping in prison, he said it is not easy.

As I look up into the chamber where we are joined today by young members, it reminds me of the fact that this is right across the entire spectrum of the community—older people, middle-aged people, younger people and those who have never come into contact with drugs before. Why is it so? One, because we have got so much disposable income. I learnt from people who are knowledgeable in this space that the cost per unit, however it is sold, is the highest in Australia of any country in the world so therefore the market says: bring the product to Australia. Secondly, it is the ease with which it can be manufactured.

I heard from a person the other day who has a campervan. He drove it to a place called Green Head on our Western Australian mid-west coast and pulled up—he is a commercial photographer. Within minutes, a police car pulled up beside him so that he could not open his driver's door. He put the window down and said, 'What are you doing here?' They said, 'We want to do a licence check.' They did a licence check. He said, 'We're in the middle of nowhere. You've all of a sudden appeared. What's all this about?' They said that most of their work now is associated with trying to track down people who hire campervans, go to remote locations and use the campervan stove to actually manufacture their methamphetamine. If I have got one message to the young people here today, it is: don't try drugs.

Another point that was made by Commissioner O'Callaghan the other day—and, again, we see much of this in the media and we have even seen advertisements about it—is the fact that our hospital systems are being absolutely overrun by people affected with methamphetamine. I spelt out the figures a few moments ago, I think: a 300 per cent increase in hospitalisation. It is not just the hospitalisation—and I appeal to you young people, through you Madam Acting Deputy President O'Neill. As a veterinarian I have had the opportunity to see the impact of hallucinatory and stimulatory drugs on animals. I have, for example, experienced an instance where six people tried to hold a greyhound dog down. Inadvertently, it was given, as it turned out, a barbiturate anaesthetic. Greyhounds happen to be not sensitive to barbiturates—they are sensitive to them but they do not have the effect of anaesthesia. That dog was able to throw six adult men across the room simply because of the adverse effect of that drug.

We see in the hospitals not just the fact that these people overburden the hospital system but, with the aggression that comes from methamphetamine, that their whole behaviour changes. The level of aggression turns these people into monsters. We do not expect the hospital system, the nurses, the doctors, the orderlies or the attendants to have to put their lives at risk.

Again, only at the end of May this year Commissioner O'Callaghan, working with the Mental Health Commissioner and the relevant minister Helen Morton in our home state, formed a group—'clinicians will form front-line mental health teams, be given special police powers and join officers on the beat under a bold new plan that could be introduced within months'—to deal with people with mental illnesses, particularly those affected by methamphetamine.

It is easily available. It is easily manufactured. The precursors—pseudoephedrine is available in pharmacies all over the place used in medications to support people with colds and flu. It is easily available, and we have a community of people who seem, for whatever reason, to be willing to try these psychotic drugs and then become addicted to them. Anybody who wants to read the instances of people—I read a story in the last couple of days: a young female journalist here in Australia decided the best way of getting a story was to actually expose herself to methamphetamine. She became addicted, and it is a very, very sobering story.

The personal costs are absolutely horrendous because, if people think that they can try this stuff once and walk away from it, history tells us they cannot. They will end up being a statistic. It will be personal, as it is in so many families in Australia.

My colleague Senator McGrath has already detailed some of the elements of the bill as they relate to serious drug and precursor offences. I focus on precursors because we know the law at the moment is such that, if an incoming supply of this product is intercepted by the police, they can remove the actual active chemical, they can replace it with an inert substance, and—I will not repeat, for purposes of time, Senator McGrath's comments—in courts of law people have been able to get off the more serious charges because when the inert material is presented the defence have said, 'Oh, that person possibly couldn't have known what was involved.' I point to a section of the bill headed 'Knowingly concerned' because it is relevant to this area. The bill will make sure that there are sufficient prosecuting options in Commonwealth criminal law by making those who are 'knowingly concerned' in the commission of an offence liable for their involvement. It will ensure that people who actively participate in crime who cannot currently be held liable for it, because they do not fit neatly into categories of liability, can nonetheless be prosecuted. It is directly relevant to the area about which I am speaking. The concept of 'knowingly concerned' was previously in the Crimes Act but was not carried over to the Criminal Code in the 1990s. Its absence has since attracted judicial comment, and—this is relevant—the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions has found its absence has hindered prosecutions, often making them more complex, less certain and, in those instances presented by my colleague Senator McGrath, where hung juries have meant that these people have otherwise been found not guilty.

There are other very worthy elements to the bill: gun-related crime, forced marriage offences, and issues associated with the tackling of crime and the keeping of our community safe. But in my contribution today I wanted to focus on this absolutely evil epidemic becoming a pandemic affecting everyone across every socioeconomic status. It does not matter where people sit in age and it does not matter where people sit in terms of their own family circumstances. It is a scourge. It is national and it needs leadership in the federal sphere. I urge for that purpose alone that my colleagues support the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers, Offences and Other Measures) Bill 2015.


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