Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:28:40) — I am very pleased to rise to speak to the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Medically Supervised Injecting Centre) Bill 2017. I am also pleased to be following the passionate, if somewhat simple, words of Mr Finn.
Honourable members interjecting.
Ms PATTEN — It is simple: ‘Just stop drugs’.
Mr Finn — Yes, that’s right.
Ms PATTEN — ‘Just stop drugs’.
Mr Finn — It’s very simple.
Ms PATTEN — It is simple, Mr Finn. If we can recall, just before Mr Finn leaves the chamber, that a number of the people — in fact the vast number — are dying from prescription drugs. So maybe we should just ban prescription drugs, all drugs — and of course more people die from that hideous drug, alcohol.
Ms Crozier — Don’t drink.
Ms PATTEN — That’s right. So let us prohibit that too.
I will not speak to the specifics of this bill, because I think I have spoken fairly expansively on this issue in my second-reading speech on the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Pilot Medically Supervised Injecting Centre) Bill 2017 and I have been on the public record very broadly indicating my absolute support for this legislation. What I propose to do today is to clarify some of the matters that were raised in the other house during the debate on this bill and also some of the matters that have been raised in this house by previous speakers.
I thank the government for embracing what I think is a very important reform, which will save lives. That is what this bill is about. This is about saving lives so that those people can get off drugs. If they are not alive, they cannot get off the drugs. This measure is about saving lives so that we can help these people. This is about helping to get people into rehabilitation. When they are dead they cannot get into rehabilitation.
The objectives of this bill, to be clear, are to reduce the number of deaths and harms caused by drugs of dependence and to deliver more effective health services for the clients of the licensed medically supervised injecting centre. That will provide a gateway to health and social assistance. It will provide a gateway to drug treatment, rehabilitation support, health care, mental health treatment and support and counselling in other areas of what are often the chaotic lives of those who have problematic drug use and are using, particularly in the Richmond area. This will also reduce the attendance by ambulance services, paramedic services and emergency services and at hospitals due to drug overdose. It will reduce the number of discarded needles, improve the amenity of the neighbourhood and assist in reducing the spread of bloodborne diseases.
I would like to acknowledge the work of Ms Wooldridge when she was the minister. Certainly we did see an expansion of needle and syringe programs. In particular the mobile unit was established under her watch. I make that point to respond to Mr Finn, who said that this is helping people use drugs. He said that was the heart of the bill and that we should be helping people get off the stuff. Needle and syringe programs possibly help people use drugs. They provide paraphernalia, but they also help people not contract bloodborne viruses. They provide another point of contact with the health system that may assist those people going on to taking a different path, possibly a path of recovery. I have not heard many people in this house calling for a prohibition of needle and syringe programs, so we have this perverse position — I will use North Richmond as an example — where we provide syringes for people to use drugs, we give them those needles and we say, ‘Good luck to you. Hope everything works out okay’. And it does not work out okay.
As Ms Wooldridge mentioned in her contribution, when she and Ms Crozier were at the North Richmond health centre there were two code blues where the staff had to go out there and save someone’s life. Very often — and I have certainly been there numerous times — it is actually the car park next to the North Richmond health centre that the staff are being called out to. Sometimes there are people who have overdosed and are slumped over in a car, so to get to those people is difficult; to lie them down and to get them onto oxygen is extremely difficult. They risk needlestick injuries in those circumstances, and we fund these services. We fund these doctors. We support these doctors to go out there and save the lives in the surrounding areas of the North Richmond health centre, but for some perverse — and I think it is insane — reason, we do not support trying to save those lives within our health system. To me, that is the insanity of the opposition to this bill.
There were 26 deaths in a 300-square-metre area of North Richmond. On 16 June I took a photo out there. It was of a note pinned to a tree, and it said:
Sophie, my darling. You are the love of my life, my beautiful wife, mother of my child. Not a day will go by that I don’t think of you. Forever you are in my heart and soul, my whole world. I love you now and forever. Love Ivan.
Sophie had died two days before near that tree, about 80 metres from the proposed supervised injecting centre. We could have saved that mother’s life. We could have saved that woman’s life, and this will help us do that. This legislation, this trial of a supervised injecting centre, will hopefully — I am not even hopeful, I know — save the lives of more people like Sophie.
I note in the other place some of the opposition to the bill — and I noted Ms Wooldridge repeated this — was that this is policy on the run. This is not policy on the run. This is the recommendation of four coroners. This is a campaign that has been running since the 1990s. This is on the evidence of not 10 but 12 separate evaluations of the Sydney supervised injecting centre. This is on the evidence of the 90-plus facilities worldwide. This is a policy formed with the input of the Australian Medical Association, the Ambulance Employees Australia and numerous other medical experts in the area. This is a policy that is supported, and has been for years, by local council, by local residents and by the traders. Even the local primary school has been supporting this policy. This policy is not opposed by Victoria Police, and the Police Association Victoria does not oppose it either.
This policy has been scrutinised by a Victorian parliamentary inquiry that received 49 submissions that overwhelmingly supported this reform. It made site visits and heard oral evidence. The majority report of that cross-party inquiry, on which there were a number of opposition members, concluded that drug use in North Richmond has reached crisis levels, that medically supervised injecting centres improved the health of injecting drug users and reduced the signs of drug use in surrounding streets and that the evaluation of the centre in Sydney found evidence of public amenity benefits to the local community and reduced demand for ambulances. The evaluations did not find evidence that the medically supervised injecting centre had a honey pot effect on crime. This has been a highly considered policy. I introduced the first bill in February this year, nearly 10 months ago. This is not policy on the run. This is responding to the community, responding to the experts, responding to the evidence and, frankly, doing the right thing.
Some of the other criticisms that have been made around this legislation include the collection of data and the review process that this trial will undertake. I find that kind of interesting, given that that process will be undertaken by former Premier Jeff Kennett, who many in this house and in the other house have called the greatest Premier that has ever —
Mr O’Sullivan — Lived.
Ms PATTEN — Thank you. To suggest that he will not review this appropriately and that he will not collect the data under his watch is a rather cheap shot at a man that is called the greatest of Victoria’s premiers by many in this house.
There was also some criticism of this bill, because one of the things that this bill does and that I was not able to do is specify the location. That was certainly beyond my remit as an Independent member doing a private members bill. There was criticism that this location was inappropriate because there was a maternal healthcare centre nearby — it was at the North Richmond Community Health centre — and it was also nearby a primary school. To criticise that just does not understand the local dynamics of this proposal.
Right now 60 000 needles are distributed from that health centre, so we are not bringing more users to that centre. We are not creating something that is not already there. Those needles are picked up by the users that will be using this centre. Those users are not impacting on the childcare centre now, and they will not do in the future when this trial begins. I think particularly when you look at the renovations that are due to be completed there will be a separate entrance on the opposite side of the building, and the drug use that is occurring in the parks, in the streets, in the car parks and in the school playground will not be occurring there. It will actually be in the confines of a health centre under medical supervision.
The primary school recognises this. The primary school at the moment has to run drills for its students about what to do when they find a needle in their playground. The primary school had to explain to the children why there was a dead man in their playground. We do not want this for our children, and I certainly do not want it in the region of North Richmond. I think this bill responds to a great concern. If 26 people were dying of something else, if 26 people died of asthma, do you think we would be saying that this is policy on the run and that there is not enough evidence? If we said that allowing people to use inhalers in a certain area would save the lives of people with asthma, we would not hesitate.
The reason I believe that there is opposition is that we think these drug users somehow brought it upon themselves. I will go back to the Coroners Court and the evidence that the coroner cited from some very longstanding research they did on overdoses. Over 50 per cent of the people who had died had been diagnosed with a mental health issue. Those people had been diagnosed. The vast majority of those people had been victims of abuse. These people are victims, and we should be doing what we can to help these people. We provide them with needle exchange programs. We want to put them into rehabilitation. I want to put them into rehabilitation, but I want them to be alive to get into that rehabilitation.
I was surprised that some of the contributions seemed to be concerned and confused about the exercise of police discretion. The police have no confusion about the police discretion in this bill, and this discretion is detailed in new section 55M of the bill. Police do have discretion. They use discretion now around needle exchange programs and needle and syringe programs. That will not change; that discretion stays the same. What we actually found with that discretion in New South Wales and overseas is that police were able to move people along to the centre — ‘Mate, don’t do that there. Get down to the centre’. As we heard from Ms Hartland, this is why New South Wales police and the King’s Cross police in particular are entirely supportive of this program. They know it works. It does not only save lives; it improves the amenity of the area. It helps these chaotic, homeless drug users, these victims of the drug industry, the ones that are getting the death penalty for drug use. Mr Finn talks about giving the big wigs of the drug industry the death penalty. By not supporting this bill you are giving the victims of the drug industry a death penalty, and I do not want that to happen.
Back to this type of discretion, it is a continuum, as I said, of the discretion already exercised by Victoria Police around needle and syringe programs. When someone overdoses in a room and they call the police or their friend calls the police, do you know what? The police actually use their discretion and realise that arresting someone at that point is probably not in anyone’s interest and that saving someone’s life is probably in their interest.
I would also like to note separately that the concerns seem to lie around the claim that this would actually allow drug dealers to hang around and sell drugs and that the police would have to allow this to happen. There is nothing further from the truth. This will not happen. I think we can all note the increasing penalties for drug trafficking that have passed through this house not once but twice in this one year. We have seen a number of increases in the penalties for drug trafficking and distribution. Police command recognise that addiction is a health issue, even though it appears that some of the people on my right do not.
There was a very insensitive contribution made by a coalition member of Parliament in the other house. I really could not believe my ears. I was not only embarrassed about it; I was so saddened by it. ‘Smacky McSmackface’ was used to describe a drug user in the other house. While that debate was going on in the other house, there were people who had lost loved ones. There were people who had lost their sons, their daughters, their sisters and their husbands to drug use. I just cannot imagine how hearing that would have cut those people who every day mourn the loss of one of their loved ones. In this contribution, not only did I feel it was disgraceful and incredibly, deeply insensitive; it showed extraordinary ignorance of the law. It was talking about the fact that the immunity that is prescribed under the law in new section 55L again would give drug dealers immunity. No! No, it does not. What this does is simply enable the doctors, the nurses and the social workers who are working in these centres to help people on a path to recovery, to keep people alive. It provides them with some immunity; it does not provide drug dealers with immunity. I hope that everyone is clear about this now.
The government have made it clear that they have increased penalties for trafficking of drugs of dependence. They have made it clear that trafficking of drugs will not be permitted in this centre or near this centre. As we have seen, this does not affect bail conditions. These types of discretion do not affect existing legislation around police being able to arrest someone for doing the wrong thing.
The minister stated in his second-reading speech that regulations will be provided for a permitted quantity of injecting centre drugs, which will be tightly controlled. I have no doubt that Mr Jennings in the committee process will confirm that.
Finally, in comparing this bill to mine I note that despite some reordering and paraphrasing, the parallels are great and the differences are very few. I compliment the government on fixing a specified site for this trial, and I compliment them on increasing the length of the trial. While I may not agree — and I know Ms Hartland commented on this in her contribution — restricting this trial to just one site is what must be. I accept that. I also recognise that there are people overdosing in other parts of this great state whose lives could be saved by a centre like this, but I recognise that this legislation will only allow one site and that one site will be in North Richmond. They will not contemplate any other sites anywhere else in this state.
This has not been policy on the run; this has been a very long process involving a large number of people over many decades, and I acknowledge Ms Hartland’s contribution to this issue over the years. I thank the Premier for listening to and accepting the overwhelming evidence in support of a trial of a medically supervised injecting centre.
Just before I finish I would also like to raise the fact that not only will this centre save lives and save the heartache of the people who lose loved ones but it will also actually save money. I know that is not the intention of this bill, but it will. I note that Ms Wooldridge raised in her contribution her concern that the money spent on this centre could be better spent in other areas of the community. I do not know how this money could be better spent if we know it is going to save tens, if not hundreds of lives. I do not want to go into how people value or do not value these lives, but we know just from the outset that this centre will save around $3 million per year in ambulance call-outs and emergency admissions for heroin overdoses alone. The cost savings for the health system overall will obviously be far greater. When someone overdoses, that is not the end. If we save their life, that is not the end of their health issues. If someone’s brain has been without oxygen for a number of minutes and we bring them back to life, there are lifelong effects from that that we pay for. And we anticipate savings in the criminal justice system.
Just to put it on the record, there was an economic evaluation of the King’s Cross centre conducted by Saha International in 2008, which took into account spending saved by the supervised injecting centre in relation to HIV and hepatitis C prevention, health system costs of overdoses, care and referral, and police and coronial investigations of fatal overdoses. It concluded that the supervised injecting centre in Sydney was saving the state $628 000 per year, and that was after factoring in the centre’s running costs.
This evaluation did not even consider any of the wider savings that we have touched on — the ongoing health costs of someone who has overdosed, the ongoing costs when a young family loses their loved one, the ongoing costs when two children are left without a mother, the ongoing costs of just picking up the needles and syringes in the council area. I cannot put a figure on saving the lives of people like Sophie, of saving the lives of people like Miss A, but I am quite confident that in this pragmatic world we live in, this centre actually will save lives.
I would like to acknowledge that this campaign has been going for decades. As we saw in the 1990s, not just the coalition but also the Labor Party promised on air that they would open an injecting centre in Victoria. That was in the nineties. In fact John Thwaites went so far as to say that he would open five. That was not to be, and thousands of people have died as a consequence. We have the fear and the knowledge that drugs like carfentanil and fentanyl are on our border. In Vancouver alone they kill four people a day, and they cannot cope. We are seeing hundreds of thousands of people dying in North America, sometimes very needlessly. We will see carfentanil and we will see fentanyl coming into our communities, and they will be killing our constituents. They will be killing the sons and daughters and the brothers and sisters of our constituents, and I for one support this bill that will help prevent that from happening.
The Alcohol and Drug Foundation has been consistent in following the evidence on this. The Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, and in particular David Stanley and Dr Alex Wodak, have continuously supported this trial, not just this year but for nearly 30 years. Community groups and residents have been campaigning for this, as have Victoria Street Drug Solutions, led by the indefatigable Judy Ryan, and the Australian Medical Association. The Australian Medical Association believes this is the right thing to do. But Mr Finn disagrees with them. His medical experience tells him that this is not the right thing to do.
I want to acknowledge the Yarra Drug and Health Forum, ambulance employees, firefighters, police on the front line and all of those people who face this problem every day. I would also like to acknowledge the police and the Police Association Victoria for their mature and evidence-based approach to this issue.
I have no doubt that this trial will be a success. To the people that Ms Hartland mentioned and who I have mentioned, to the many families that have campaigned for this — not to save their loved one, because they have already lost that loved one, but to save other people from the endless, eternal pain that they feel from losing that loved one — to Cherie Short, who spoke so bravely about the loss of her son, Aaron, to Laura Turner, who heartbreakingly shared the loss of her sister Skye, and to the many other families who are grieving what I think is the unnecessary loss of their loved ones, this bill is for you. This bill is for the future of this state, and this bill is to keep people alive so that we can hopefully take them on a path of recovery. I commend this bill to the house.