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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 9 Hansard (28 August) . . Page.. 3356 ..

MRS BURKE (continuing):

Of course, I wish that I was not even standing here today talking about this issue, but we do not live in Utopia and we have to face the issues and address them. Simply hoping that things will get better without intervention is naïve to say the least and will not stop people from dying. That's the reality. There are no quick fix solutions to the problem and certainly some tough decisions will have to be made in relation to greater access to clean injecting equipment by intravenous drug users in our community if we are to stop the spread of infection and blood-borne diseases.

As has been stated but is worth repeating, the committee heard from various stakeholders within our community in order to better understand the enormous problem that faces our community in relation to the access, or lack thereof, to needles and syringes by intravenous drug users, and more broadly injecting equipment, which would include needles and syringes but also spoons, filters, water, swabs, disposal bins and other paraphernalia used by intravenous drug users.

I offer my extreme thanks at this point to everyone who gave up their time to write submissions and appear before the committee as well as attending a very successful public forum. It was the decision of the committee to focus upon areas that appear to be deficient within the current system in relation to certain groups accessing clean equipment-namely, after-hours access, and that included general access to injecting equipment during business hours, access by indigenous peoples and access in prisons and remand centres.

The one thing that struck me when reading through the submissions, some 15 in total, was the overwhelming attempts, firstly, to highlight the issue of access to equipment and, secondly, how we as a society need to be prepared to look outside our own backyard for some answers and ways of tackling this issue which, of course, is not restricted to Australia.

For me, the most disturbing aspect was the exponential increase in the number of reported cases of hepatitis C. When I was shown a very graphic photograph of the state of a needle after it had been used up to six times it certainly brought the reality of what we are dealing with home to me. It was at my request that this picture actually be included in the report because I think pictures speak a thousand words. I think the Liberals have also used that tactic in other ways to bring home a message and I think it's very forceful.

We cannot deny that people are at risk. We cannot deny that some people will only get help in many ways when they ask for it. The saying is: you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. We are dealing with a group of people at any one time who will only approach a window of opportunity when they make the decision. This, of course, goes to the heart of why people begin this journey of life in the first place, and that is a debate for another day. That said, we simply can't stand by and let more people die as a result of sharing needles. That's the reality. I can only reiterate the words of Carol Hart, the executive officer from the Hepatitis C Council:

Needle and syringe programs have proven to be financially viable and successful in terms of reducing transmission of hepatitis B & C and HIV, however the success of these programs is affected by the level of resourcing and support by the government.

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