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Illegal Drugs - Control

MR OSBORNE: Mr Speaker, I direct my question to the Minister for Police, Mr Humphries. Minister, how much support is the Government giving to the police in their battle with illegal drugs, particularly heroin, in the ACT, and what does the Government feel is the long-term solution?

MR HUMPHRIES: I thank Mr Osborne for his question. Obviously, he is making reference to a series of news reports over the last few weeks concerning a number of heroin deaths in the ACT. The number of those deaths at the present time stands at about eight, and that is obviously eight too many. Members will be aware from comments about this in the media that those deaths were due to the very high degree of purity of the heroin that has been distributed in the ACT in recent weeks. Very often in the past, illness or death associated with the taking of these sorts of drugs has been associated with impurities. In this particular case, it has more to do with the very high level of purity of this particular supply of heroin.

As Mr Osborne would be aware, the AFP has a full-time team of investigators working on the distribution and supply of heroin, and they have arrested a number of people for drug-related offences in the last little while. The police will continue to target distributors in the illegal drug trade and will respond to information received from members of the public, particularly if it involves the distribution of these drugs. The Chief Police Officer of the ACT, Commissioner Palmer, and the Chief Magistrate, Mr Cahill, have been reported in the media as warning people about the continued use of heroin. That is a call which, of course, the Government strongly supports; but I suspect that it is a call which will not be heeded by a very large number of addicted users. I do not believe, Mr Speaker, that we can solve the problem of high levels of risk to intravenous drug users purely within the bounds of the ACT. We are dealing, after all, with an illegal trade, and our capacity to control quality or to regulate the way in which that trade occurs in that framework is very limited.

We can, of course, treat people for their addiction if they come forward. We can, of course, take preventive measures in the policing sense to avoid the consequences of people’s need to get money to buy heroin. But, at the end of the day, the capacity to control the nature of that drug - that is, the quality of that drug - is very limited indeed. I certainly intend, as does my colleague the Minister for Health, to pursue the question of a national approach towards control or mitigation of the harmful effects of illegal drugs at a national level. I am confident that meetings of both Police Ministers and Health Ministers in the next little while will be addressing those questions, and we will continue to press for a national response to these matters. Commissioner Palmer has also spoken to me about what he believes, as the newly appointed Chief Police Officer, might be possible in the ACT. I believe, and I have indicated to him, that he should by all means attempt to stamp out distribution of these drugs in the ACT if he possibly can. I have indicated also, however, that historical precedents are not very favourable towards that goal being achieved, and, if that continues to be an elusive goal, we must consider other alternatives to reduce the harmful impact on our community.

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