Senate debates

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Questions without Notice

Illicit Drugs

2:37 pm

Photo of Marise PayneMarise Payne (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Ellison. Will the minister update the Senate on new regional initiatives being taken by the Australian government to address the problem of illicit drugs?

Photo of Chris EllisonChris Ellison (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice and Customs) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator Payne for what is an important question and for the role that she plays as Chair of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which does such a great job. This is a vital question. Recently we have had a range of announcements of initiatives which have, I think, taken our fight even further in relation to illicit drugs in our region. I announced last week that we will be deploying to Afghanistan four Australian Federal Police officers; we will have two in Kabul and two in Jalalabad. This follows on from a request from the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office last year. It has been a work in progress which has been ongoing for some time now. Due to the dangerous nature of this mission and the logistical aspects to this deployment, we have had to ascertain closely the security arrangements for these officers. We have now reached a point where they can be deployed and we are looking to deploy them in March this year.

Two of the agents will be in Kabul and they will be working in a role of mentoring senior police and acting as high-level advisers to the Afghan national police. The other two will be in Jalalabad and will be working with the counternarcotics police of Afghanistan, playing a vital role in the fight against illicit drugs in that country. It is no secret that Afghanistan is the largest producer of heroin in the world today. Although the vast majority of heroin in Australia comes from the Golden Triangle, we dare not be complacent that in future markets it may come from Afghanistan. Traditionally it has come from the Golden Triangle.

Of course we have to look to our local region in South-East Asia. Since my setting up of the Asian working group on precursor chemicals—these are the chemicals that go to make up amphetamine type stimulants and also ice, which we are experiencing in Australia today—we have experienced that in our region we need to work with our neighbours to enhance awareness and to bring in measures and controls on the trafficking of precursor chemicals. I am pleased to say that the group that I set up will be meeting in Japan next week and that Japan has agreed to co-host this group. I think it is significant that such a key player as Japan has recognised this Australian initiative and is working with us. We want to bring more of our South-East Asia neighbours on board and make this a truly regional effort in the fight against those precursor chemicals which go to make up amphetamine type stimulants. After all, the largest seizures in the world are taking place in our neighbourhood of South-East Asia.

In relation to the Pacific collaborative group, which we have also set up, I am pleased to say that will be meeting at the end of February. That will involve Pacific nations again in the same sort of work of bringing in precursor controls and also police-to-police assistance in relation to work to crack down on the trafficking of these precursors, specifically ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, but there are others, such as PN2, which are used in the making of amphetamine type stimulants. So it is essential that we are out there in our region tackling at a grassroots level the trafficking of precursor chemicals.

As well as that, we have announced that we have had workshops in Phnom Penh just in the last couple of days and in Ho Chi Minh City, working with the authorities there to combat the upswing we have seen in internal couriers—people who bring into Australia illicit drugs which are secreted internally on them. We have seen 28 people arrested in relation to this method of drug smuggling in the last year, 22 of them in the last six months, demonstrating a significant increase in this area. The AFP are working very well with those two countries in combating this trade.