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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 9 Hansard (21 August) . . Page.. 3065 ..

MR BERRY (4.22): Mr Deputy Speaker, there are many reasons to oppose the Referendum Bill, which is now before the house. The introduction of this legislation has been a rather cynical move by the government to position itself in the context of the election. It has not been the result of any genuinely held position on the issue of heroin in the community. Indeed, Mr Humphries' behaviour in relation to this matter clearly demonstrates that. Of course, although Mr Humphries is now being won over to the idea of an injecting room, at one stage he voted against the cabinet decision which supported legislation to bring about this particular facility.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I do not think anybody in the community now believes that there is any sign of genuineness from this government about dealing with this issue. It is merely a case of the Liberals positioning themselves in the lead-up to the election. They will appear rubbery to the electorate when it comes to the question of dealing with the heroin problem in the community. On the one hand they will look as though they want to do something about it and, on the other hand, they will look as though they want to adopt a tough line. That is not the position which this Assembly will endorse, and they will not get away with it.

The fact of the matter is that, as we go towards 20 October, the parties in this place and the Independents will have to demonstrate to those people who are interested exactly where they stand in relation to the provision of illicit drugs, particularly heroin, an injecting room and a heroin trial.

I do not have any difficulty with Labor's position. I think it is a good position. We have said that we would support a nationally endorsed heroin trial. I think we all know what the result of such a trial will be. It will mean that heroin users can be shown to have a better quality of life as a result of prescription heroin. There is no doubt that a heroin trial will reveal that heroin has a use in rehabilitation or maintenance programs which might apply to people dependent on the drug. This issue has been around for so long that we have almost reached the point of talking about taking the extra step of providing heroin on prescription to people in the community who are in programs.

The current situation is a long way from what applied when this Assembly first kicked off in 1989. I recall a discussion with the then head of health over the issue of drug dependence and how we dealt with it in the ACT, and in particular the provision of methadone. The dangers of long-term methadone use were explained to me. In those days, regrettably, the system in the ACT provided for only 80 places in the methadone program. People in the program were routinely urine tested to see if they were using heroin. If they were, threats were made to take them off the program. If they transgressed a certain number of times, they would be taken off the program.

This resulted in somebody, frustrated by not being able to get on the methadone program, ending up in my office on the 5th floor of what is now the administration building across the road, with a hypodermic needle full of blood hanging out of their arm, making all sorts of threats about what they would do if something was not done about access to methadone. Mr Deputy Speaker, police, counsellors and all sorts of people were involved in that process. It becomes starkly clear that something different needs to be done when you are faced with that sort of situation.

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