Tuesday, 4 December 2018
At the request of Senator Di Natale, I move:
That the Senate—
(i) that according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, over 10% of the population have used ecstasy and 9% have used cocaine at least once in their lives – in the past 12 months, 2.2% of Australians have used ecstasy and 2.5% have used cocaine,
(ii) that research and evaluations of international pill testing initiatives demonstrates that pill testing services:
(A) link people with health services,
(B) give health services critical information about what has been consumed, and
(C) give people more information about what is in the pills that they are taking than they otherwise have access to,
(iii) the need for all parties and independent members of the Australian Parliament to join with the Australian Greens to support a comprehensive and realistic plan to implement pill testing, both at festivals and in the community, and
(iv) that the skills and expertise exist within the Australian medical and drug and alcohol communities to deliver pill testing services; and
(b) calls on the Federal Government to:
(i) develop and implement a pill testing policy before the summer festival season,
(ii) work with community groups and the Australian Capital Territory Government to implement existing models which demonstrably have worked and helped save lives, and
(iii) if the above action is not taken, to explain to the loved ones of people who have died or been injured their justification for not following the evidence and protecting people.
The Australian government does not support the use of illicit drugs and does not support pill testing, as it would imply that illicit drugs are safe. All illicit drug use contains inherent risks and even taking an known substance can result in unintended harm. It is important to note that pill testing may not be able to identify all components in illicit substances or the concentration of illicit substances and does not take into account any underlying health conditions a person may have or interactions with any other substances or medication a person may have taken.
Labor has been saddened by the tragic deaths of Australians at festivals in recent years. We hope that everyone who attends a music festival this summer stays safe and well. Labor is committed to drug policies that complement law enforcement with harm minimisation, early intervention and effective treatment. That said, this motion is a typical Greens party stunt. The Greens party knows that this issue, like most criminal law, rests with state and territory governments, including the Labor government here in the ACT, which has implemented a pill-testing trial. Instead of supporting stunts in the Senate, federal Labor will continue to monitor the actions of states and territories in this regard. Labor will oppose this motion.
For years I was opposed to safe injecting rooms. For years I was opposed to pill testing. In recent times I've come around to believing in safe injecting rooms. They now have one in Melbourne as well as in Sydney, and they have saved lives—hundreds of lives, apparently. With some of the recent festivals, very dangerous materials have been found in drugs and some youngsters' lives have been saved. You may say, 'If you take an illegal substance, that's your call and that's your problem; you're meant to be an adult,' but some kids are being exploited. I'm sadly going to oppose the motion, because, unfortunately, some of the language that the Greens use at times I don't agree with. I will try to get this changed. We will get together eventually, but on this one I'll be voting with the government and the opposition.
We have the festival season rapidly approaching, so we have a time limit here. We can choose to follow what the evidence tells us, and the evidence tells us that when we have pill testing we save people's lives, and that when we don't use it people die. It's a pretty simple proposition. It's a pretty simple equation. We have a whole range of experts, community groups and stakeholders who are saying they are prepared to provide this service for the community so that they can help save people's lives. It doesn't matter what we say in this chamber. We can tell people to stop using these substances and they won't listen to us. They'll continue to make this choice. So the question for us is: should they pay for it with their lives? That is the choice right now. We say no. We say young people occasionally make risky choices and it's up to us as policymakers to ensure that we look after them, because we don't want to be explaining to the parents of families who lose their children that we had a chance to save them and we squibbed it.
I just want to make a brief statement to clarify for the people listening at home that the festival season which Senator Di Natale referred to is actually one of our most significant cultural and religious festivals, which is called Christmas. It is when Christian people celebrate the birth of the person they regard shone a light and demonstrated and indicated to the world the best possible way to live. So dismissing such a significant cultural event as part of the festival season to justify drug taking and pill testing is completely, I think, undermining of our cultural and social mores and our traditions. I'd like to stand up and defend them.