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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 4 Hansard (20 April) . . Page.. 992 ..

MS CARNELL (continuing):

I move:

That the Assembly takes note of the paper.

Question resolved in the affirmative.


Ministerial Statement

MS CARNELL (Chief Minister and Treasurer) (3.40): Mr Speaker, I have to say that I am absolutely amazed that after probably one of the most important statements I have ever made in this place there were no comments. Oh, well! Mr Speaker, I ask for leave of the Assembly to make a ministerial statement on the outcomes of the Special Council of Australian Governments on a national approach to illicit drug use.

Leave granted.

MS CARNELL: Our nation is at a very important stage in the development of a coordinated approach to services for drug-dependent people. As members will be aware, I attended a special Council of Australian Governments meeting on 9 April 1999 at which a national approach to illicit drug use was agreed. The Prime Minister tabled a proposal for a national approach to illicit drug use at that meeting. Its three key themes were, firstly, zero tolerance of illicit drugs in schools, by being tough on drugs and drug pushers and helping students to overcome their drug problem; secondly, police referral of drug offenders to compulsory education, assessment and/or treatment programs; and, thirdly, a series of measures aimed at being tough on drugs and drug pushers in prisons, while also diverting prisoners to treatment.

The Prime Minister's proposal also outlined a range of supply reduction strategies and stressed the need for complementary action by the Commonwealth and States and Territories. The ACT Government supports any additional focus on treatment and diversion programs for drug-dependent people. I certainly welcome any additional funding for the ACT and the other jurisdictions in this respect. It is important to stress, however, that the ACT Government does not, and will not, support a wholly zero tolerance or "tough on drugs" approach to managing Australia's drug problems.

While illicit drug use and its associated harms can never be condoned, it is essential to take a broader approach if the best outcomes are to be achieved. For example, Mr Speaker, a zero tolerance approach would never have allowed the introduction of needle exchange programs in Australia. Needle exchange has played a large part in preventing an HIV epidemic amongst injecting drug users in Australia. In countries such as the USA, where needle exchange is not the norm, the rate of HIV infection is far higher than here in Australia. Needle exchange will also do much to contain hepatitis C in this community.

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