Senate debates

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Statements by Senators

Illicit Drugs

1:44 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Nick Xenophon Team) Share this | | Hansard source

We talk about fake news, but I have some real world news from the people of Australia. This nation is in the grip of an ice epidemic that is destroying lives, families and Australia's social fabric. When we reconvene after the winter break, I will be tabling two separate petitions urging us to do something drastic, real and effective about methamphetamine, commonly known as crystal meth or ice. One is an online national petition that so far has gathered almost 45,000 signatures. The other is from a community in the south-east of my home state of South Australia and has gathered thousands of signatures, with people signing up on pieces of paper around their community. These people will be telling us that Australia's politicians have failed to confront the enormity of the ice problem and have failed to provide the measures most urgently needed.

In foreshadowing what is to come, I provide the following information and urge all of us to do some real-world homework during the winter break. According to the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, ice is now the most prevalent illegal drug in the nation and is costing us an estimated $4.4 billion annually in health care, crime and economic losses, and that does not even begin to measure the heartache that ice causes to so many families and so many communities around the country. According to Western Australia's chief justice, ice now fuels 95 per cent of that state's armed robberies and half its murders, and I dare say that will be repeated across the nation. According to the Council of Australian Governments National Ice Action Strategy, at last count in 2013 there were an estimated 200,000 Australians using ice annually and about 50,000 using it once weekly.

However, based on recent wastewater analysis, I believe those figures are vastly underestimated and woefully outdated. Data compiled by the University of South Australia last December shows that ice use in Adelaide has trebled in the past five years and increased by 25 per cent in the past year alone. In a staggering assessment, based on that wastewater analysis, it is estimated that in some areas 450 doses of ice were found for every 1,000 people in Adelaide, which I find absolutely staggering. That is 35 times more than the rate of cocaine use and 225 times the rate of ecstasy and heroin use discovered in wastewater.

These figures do not rely on what people say in surveys; they scientifically record what has actually been in their bodies. Those figures cannot lie to hide the truth. So I do not accept that the 2013 estimate of 50,000 ice users is even close to the real figure. If ice use has trebled in the past five years, it could well be closer to 150,000 weekly users by 2018. If half the people surveyed did tell the truth, it could even be much higher than that. Either way, we do not just have a problem; we have a full-blown, unmitigated crisis.

These petitions will tell us that the COAG's National Ice Action Strategy is failing to deliver the two things that people want most: residential inpatient rehabilitation facilities and laws to make people enter them. Under the National Ice Action Strategy, almost $300 million is being distributed between the states and territories, which decide how to spend the funds. Questions that my colleague Senator Kakoschke-Moore asked in Senate estimates in March this year and also on the Joint Committee on Law Enforcement, which she is a member of, revealed that only two primary health networks are commissioning new ice residential rehabilitation facilities: the Darling Downs and West Moreton PHN in Queensland and the Hunter, New England and Central Coast PHN in New South Wales. Furthermore, the federal government will not even know how many extra people have received treatment for ice addiction until the end of September. In my home state of South Australia, which did not receive a fair proportion of the national funds in the first place, as my colleague Senator Kakoschke-Moore has so well articulated, the state government has yet to even announce what it is doing with its share of the money, and that is something the state government must be held accountable for.

The message in these petitions, whose instigators include parents whose children have been addicted to ice and people who have been addicted to ice themselves, is resounding: give addicts a place and a chance to recover. We need to help them rebuild their shattered lives and rebuild their communities.

If at the very least there are 50,000 Australians using ice every week and by definition that is a significant health problem for those people then we need to ensure that at least 10 per cent of them have the facilities and chance to get their lives back on track at residential rehabilitation facilities. That means that at the very least Australia needs 5,000 hospital beds in rehabilitation facilities spread across the country. In my state, with seven per cent of the population but a disproportionately worse outcome when it comes to ice addiction, that could provide 350 beds in seven 50-bed facilities. I am not saying it is the full answer, but, for goodness sake, we need to tackle this head on.

I am sure we would all agree that providing an inpatient rehabilitation bed would be far more beneficial to society than giving someone a two-year prison bed. Sadly, that is the choice we really do face. At the moment, the only place we seem to send ice addicts is to prison or onto the streets, where they can harm themselves and others. In fact, a report by the Australian Institute of Criminology released just last month found that 50 per cent of new prison arrivals were recent ice users.

That brings me to the next issue that one of the petitions will be seeking: laws that give parents of children with drug additions, including adult children, the ability to require them to get help through mandatory rehabilitation. My state colleague in the South Australia Legislative Council, the Hon. John Darley, has a bill to that effect that has yet to receive the support of the major parties. That petition was started by a Queensland father named Simon Thomas, whose 20-year-old son is living on the streets, addicted to ice and putting himself at real risk. Mr Thomas is powerless to help his son, who refuses to accept advice about treatment. We need to recognise that addiction is a disease. It needs to be treated as a medical issue. People need to be sent to rehab to get better before they commit a crime and get sent to prison where they will just get worse. It is a controversial proposal, but everything needs to be on the table for discussion and evaluation. Something new has to be done.

The second petition will come from the Limestone Coast region of my home state of South Australia, in the south-east around Millicent and Mount Gambier, where I have heard so many stories of frustration, despair and devastation. In the past six months I have attended forums in the area's regional centres, including Mount Gambier, Millicent and Naracoorte. There, two Naracoorte women, Karen Judd and Kate Amoroso, are leading the call for rehabilitation facilities to be reopened in the area. Karen's son died in 2010 after a long battle with addiction. She says the only help he got at the time was from going to jail. That is not real help. The south-east is in desperate and urgent need of more support for those who are suffering from ice addiction, something that Kate Amoroso has been campaigning for so diligently. Currently there are no rehabilitation facilities in that region.

As we enter this winter break—and, by the way, for those listening, that does not mean we go on holidays; it means that we go back to our electorates and our electorate offices to work hard on constituent issues, but it does mean we are not here—we need to think about those who are cursed by the ravages of a brain-altering addiction and whose only goal is their next hit. Let us think of their parents and the laws which would have them be onlookers, prison visitors and pallbearers to their children. Let's also look to countries like Sweden which have taken steps to do what these petitions will ask of us when we return. Finally, for the sake of our children, their parents and our country and its future prosperity, let us use our power wisely and imaginatively to find a kinder, wiser, more intelligent and effective solution before the scourge of ice addiction further tears our country and our communities apart.