Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 13 Hansard (Wednesday, 16 November 2005) . . Page.. 4217 ..
That said, as Minister for Health, I have a responsibility to communicate and to advocate the importance of reducing the spread of blood-borne diseases in any environment, particularly in the prison environment, where we know that drug use and injecting drug use goes on. The evidence on the effectiveness of needle and syringe programs generally is well accepted, given the experience in the broader community. In the broader community, we know that the availability of clean injecting equipment leads to a reduction in needle-sharing activity, and leads therefore to a reduction in the spread of blood-borne diseases that can come about because of needle-sharing activity.
Because of programs such as the needle and syringe program in the ACT and other jurisdictions, over the past one to two decades we have seen very significant control over the spread of diseases. We also know that, where clean injecting equipment is not available, there is an increase in risk-taking behaviour, including the sharing of syringes and needles. That can lead to the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and so on.
The government is very conscious of these issues. We know that drug-taking activity takes place in a prison environment. We know that needles get into prisons, even maximum-security prisons. And we know that, where needles do get into prison and there is no possibility of getting a clean needle, those needles are used again and again. Those are serious issues for the government.
I know that my colleague the Chief Minister, Mr Stanhope, has raised concerns about security, and occupational health and safety issues. I reiterate those concerns. Those are very significant and serious issues that must be taken account of as the government considers this difficult but important issue. I will be paying close attention to the development of the corrections health plan and speaking to my colleagues about it as we consider this very complex and important issue.
It is important to stress that there is evidence in other jurisdictions overseas as to the effectiveness of these programs, particularly in Spain, which as a western European country has had such a program in place for some time. It has worked effectively in reducing the spread of disease without compromising health and safety issues in the prison environment. These issues need to be looked at closely to see whether they are applicable in the Australian context.
I note that the Liberal opposition has come out and said point blank, “No”, that this should not even be considered in the prison environment and that its focus is on rehabilitation. Of course, rehabilitation is very important and we should be making every avenue available to assist people with rehabilitation.
But that general philosophical approach that we have heard from Mr Stefaniak in the last couple of days highlights the fact that the opposition still does not appreciate the importance of harm minimisation as one element of a strategy to reduce the spread of disease in our community. The logical extension of the Liberal Party’s position is that there should be no needle and syringe programs available at all, anywhere to anyone, because the focus should be on rehabilitation.