Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 7 Hansard (22 September) . . Page.. 2035 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
and that the use of drugs is often a form of self-medication. I think this is a very disappointing and tragic lack of response from our services. Obviously, if we could get in early, not only with the mental health issues but with other drug issues, we would be able to avoid huge social and economic costs later on.
Focusing on a residential facility where addicts could come to terms with their addiction and hopefully lose it is of course a worthy cause. The committee that I chaired expressed the need for it, and I support the need for it, but it is at the sharp end or the crisis end that that institution is needed. Governments - not just this Government, but from my reading I can see that it is a characteristic common to most governments around Australia and overseas - are reluctant to put money into prevention. That is probably because they feel they have to respond to the crises, and there is electoral pressure and community pressure to do that. People who get to the end of their experience with drugs and are fully addicted can become involved in crime and dysfunction on a personal level. Families suffer and society suffers, and of course people call out for a response to deal with this. But it is equally important that government put the funding and the work into a coordinated response at the early stage of these issues, particularly for young people.
As I said, I just do not believe that is happening. If we understood better the personal issues that lead many young people to the taking of drugs, we would be able to prevent a lot. As a member of the parliamentary group for drug law reform, I know that the research material agrees that there are two types of drug-takers. Just as young people like driving fast cars or whatever, they also experiment with drugs. That is where you need harm minimisation. You need to make information available so that they do not risk their lives in that experimentation. The other group using drugs are using them for the other reasons that I have just outlined. They are the ones most likely to end up with the chronic addiction problems. The social cost to the community is very familiar to everyone in this place, whether it be social breakdown or crime. I would like to make it clear once again that I think that always has to be part of this debate about drugs in our society.
MR BERRY (4.52): A few years ago a campaign was begun in the ACT in relation to a heroin trial, and many things were said about a more progressive approach to drugs. In effect, a public campaign was mounted, headed principally by Mrs Carnell and Mr Moore. In my view the whole program was mismanaged in favour of the personal gains of Mr Moore and Mrs Carnell in the publicity stakes, in the photo opportunities and the publicity all around the country. That was all very interesting and at least it started the debate, and I suppose that was a positive. But at the end of the day what has been the result for the Territory? Nothing. We have a larger drug problem now than we had before all of this started. We have a serious problem with our methadone program, which is not working to the needs of people who are dependent on illicit drugs. We have heard being chanted time and time again the mantra that prohibition does not work. It does not work for everybody but it works for some, most indeed. There has been constant hyperbole about the issue of drugs and there has been a lot of interest in it because it is an emotional issue for many people, an issue of fear and loathing for many people and a difficult issue for politicians to deal with.