Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (15:50:01): I am very pleased to rise to speak to Mr Limbrick’s motion. It is a very simple one, and I am somewhat disappointed that neither the government nor the opposition would support a very simple call to just evaluate what we are doing.
This is not saying to stop sniffer dogs and it is not saying to roll out more, it is just saying let us evaluate it. That was recommendation 50 of the Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee’s recommendations in the previous Parliament. That committee had a consensus report.
We did also have a minority report from one member, but we had a large number of supporters of that recommendation, including Mr Gepp in this place; the chair, Mr Howard, who was in the other place; Ms Suleyman from the government, and Mr Dixon who was from the Liberal Party. They all supported the idea that we would evaluate, because when we were investigating this, we heard a lot of information.
We certainly heard from Dr Peta Malins, who Mr Limbrick has spoken about, that they have noticed that the drug detection dogs seemed to cause more harm than good. But we do not know; we honestly do not know.
We have seen that the New South Wales Ombudsman has produced a report, and that report was fairly emphatic that we know that these dogs do not work. They do not reduce the number of people using substances and they do not even actually find people who have drugs on them.
In fact, remarkably, they are wrong 70 per cent of the time. So even if the police were just to flip a coin with each patron and test them on that, they may have better success. But what is probably more concerning, and this is what the Ombudsman brought out and this is what the New South Wales Coroner brought out, is their ability to do harm—their ability to alarm a young person who may be carrying some substances and to actually lead them to take more than is good for them.
Certainly the Coroner used examples of this and the Ombudsman in New South Wales used examples of this, where people had actually increased their drug risk because of the sight of a sniffer dog. We have certainly seen this, and we have heard about this in Victoria, but it is only been anecdotal. We have no real evidence about it here in Victoria.
So this is a very simple motion. This is saying, ‘Let’s evaluate this. Let’s look at this for the evidence. Let’s assess this’. Sniffer dogs are not cheap. The cost of having a dog out at, say, the Rainbow Serpent Festival in Ballarat, where it might be 42 degrees in the shade, costs thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars, and there has been no evaluation to say that money was well spent.
Now, Ms Taylor spoke about the fact that they may act as a deterrent, that they may actually enable people to get into diversion programs if they are picked up by them and that strip searching is very rare in Victoria. Well, I am very pleased about that—very pleased about that.
I can tell you that the people at Piknic Électronik last Sunday did not feel that. There were some very aggressive strip searches that took place at that festival last Sunday. But it seems to me that the speaking notes—and they were interesting speaking notes from the government—largely came from the Victorian police, and I sense that that close relationship between the police and the government at the moment on these issues is not in the best interests of our community.
If you thought sniffer dogs were a good thing, if you were the Victorian police and you were saying ‘These are a very good tool’—and I too visited the training programs and went out and saw the dogs and saw their handlers in action last term, and they are remarkable—if you thought they were good, why would you not be open to an evaluation? Why wouldn’t you say, ‘Well, let’s evaluate this.
Let’s look at what good they do, and maybe we need to roll more out’, because they are so good at, as Ms Taylor mentioned, moving people away from harmful drug use, into diversion and following on that way. So the only logical solution would be to support this motion and to say that if they work, then let us see how well and get them to work better.
Sadly, I have to say that all of the evidence that we have seen and the evidence that the committee received on drug detection dogs was that they have very limited effectiveness—very, very limited.
Ms Shing: They’re not greyhounds, are they? It would be much better if they were greyhounds.
Ms PATTEN: I will take up Ms Shing’s interjection here, because this could be something the evaluation could look at. Could greyhounds be the answer? I know they are the answer to many things! So this would be the reason why we would support such an evaluation: to see if the only problem is we are using the wrong breed of dogs. I mean, beagles were our go-to and then we moved to labradors. Again, all of this is leading me to the obvious conclusion that we should implement recommendation 50, which is to commission an independent evaluation. We saw the sniffer dogs on Chapel Street. I am in my 50s now but my partner was at the first Aquarius Festival in 1969, and I can tell you, there were no sniffer dogs there.
Mr Gepp: He probably must have been in a pram.
Ms PATTEN: I will tell you, Mr Gepp, he is a Peter Pan. He was there. There were no sniffer dogs. There were also very few overdoses, and there were people looking after each after. There was also the famous cry at Woodstock: ‘Watch out for the brown acid; it’s not good, man’. These were the early warning systems that were used in those days. But now we see the advent of sniffer dogs at our festivals and sniffer dogs walking down our streets.
How intimidating is it to see dogs walking down your streets? And it is not just lovely brown labradors; we are using Alsatian dogs, we are using German Shepherds—all beautiful dogs, but on a Friday night, on a busy night in Chapel Street, they can be extremely, extremely intimidating.
Now if there is a young person who may be carrying some substances, because young people do explore drugs, I am afraid to say—
Mr Jennings: You’re not that afraid.
Ms PATTEN: Minister, I am not that afraid. It is an absolute fact that young people do experiment and they do take risks, but by having sniffer dogs out there sometimes we are very afraid that they actually take greater risks because of those dogs.
We saw three people die in Chapel Street and 50 people were taken to hospital from Chapel Street because of some very dangerous substances that were available. The first answer to that would have been an early warning scheme. The first answer to that should have been the police testing those substances and then getting that information out there as broadly as possibly to say, ‘There is a substance out there and it is very dangerous, and in fact people have died from it’, but they did not.
The response to that was to put more police out there and to put dogs out there on the street, to say to our young people, ‘This is how we feel that we can control you; this is how we are going to make you safe’—and it did not make them feel safe. As Mr Limbrick raised in his contribution and as he puts in his motion, evidence from the New South Wales Ombudsman, from the New South Wales coroner, from Dr Peta Malins, is that we know that they do not keep us safer. In fact they do the opposite.
Ms Taylor says we use them very differently in Victoria, and I would be very interested to hear more about that, which is why I think we should have an evaluation.
Let us have a look at how many dogs we are using. Let us look at their effectiveness. Let us look at how many false positives they have found. Let us look to see if that has increased arrests for trafficking. How has it increased diversions? These are all questions that we do not know the answers to.
When we were doing the drug law reform report—it was on this and on many other areas—the data just was not there. We just did not have the evaluation, so I welcome Mr Limbrick’s motion.
I would have thought that both sides of this chamber would also welcome the idea of receiving more information, more evaluation on what works, so that we can keep, largely, our young people safe. They can go on to take out mortgages, and then they cannot afford to have big nights out. They grow out of it, and we know this.
We know that young people take risks when they are young and then they generally grow out of it. What we have got to try to do is keep them alive to do that. I commend Mr Limbrick’s motion. I hope that we see a very simple piece of data collection. I would have thought that the police would have supported this.
I understand that the police have not supported the idea of evaluating their programs, and I actually find that quite alarming because maybe they would all be better off with a greyhound rather than a labrador. We do not know.
I commend Mr Limbrick for this motion, and I do hope that this house supports the very simple recommendation of an evaluation to determine the effectiveness in deterring the use and trafficking of illicit substances and any unintended consequences or risk of harm resulting from this strategy.