Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 4 Hansard (22 April) . . Page.. 1211 ..
MR OSBORNE (continuing):
Mr Speaker, it is a tragedy that one in five deaths in Australia is drug related, an absolute tragedy. However, I believe that each of these deaths is preventable. To this end, I believe that a greater effort needs to be made in the area of supply and demand reduction. Together, they focus on the prevention of drug use. It is a natural enough desire, Mr Speaker, to wish for the simple solution. Buy a lottery ticket and win a fortune. People do it every day, in the hope of changing their mundane lives and, at a personal level, taking a chance is not a very serious issue. When considering such a community problem as the misuse of drugs, however, the implications of using a simplistic approach are far more serious.
I understand that it is far easier to just accept drug use as a part of normal behaviour, so we should just try to live with it as best we can. I also understand that it is considered far too hard for politicians to try to do something about the reasons why people take drugs to excess in the first place. Drug abuse is a problem that arises most often out of families that no longer function properly, something for which there is no quick fix. There are generally no votes for politicians who delve into how husbands, wives and children actually live together, so they avoid the subject altogether.
I am convinced that far too much effort has been put into harm reduction in recent years, and far too little into prevention and early intervention. Mr Speaker, the harm minimisation approach is yet to be independently evaluated. I know the Department of Health and Community Care recently evaluated its use of this approach and, surprise, surprise, decided it was doing a fantastic job. I remain convinced, however, that harm minimisation has two major hurdles to overcome which, in their enthusiasm to demonstrate how wonderful it was, successive Health Ministers have ignored.
The first, which I have already mentioned, is that harm minimisation sends out mixed messages to a potential drug user and their families, and does not have wide community support. The second is that, while harm may often be minimised for the drug user, it is just as often increased for the public. There is no better example of that than the Minister's much-lauded needle exchange program.
Mr Speaker, I believe there are 1,369 needles handed out every day. The Minister informed the Assembly last year that the needle exchange program handed out over 500,000 needles in 1997-98. If the service worked all 365 days, it would have handed out just over 1,369 needles a day. That is how I came to that figure of 1,369. To put it another way, if it ran 12 hours a day it would be handing out 114 needles an hour, or almost two a minute. And every day 456 of those needles go missing somewhere on our streets.
I would like to ask the Minister whether there has ever been an audit of what happens to those needles. I was interested to hear him claiming earlier today, Mr Speaker, that 80 per cent were handed back in. He told us only a couple of months ago that one-third of those needles were unaccounted for, so obviously there has been a marked increase in the last couple of months. Mr Moore assumed that one-third of these needles that were unaccounted for went into landfill. Canberra's injecting drug users may have all the clean needles they want, but every year over 150,000 of those syringes and needles are left in the way of the public.