Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:49): I actually thank Ms Crozier for this motion because it does give us an opportunity to speak about the medically supervised injecting room in North Richmond. I have to note that the government have taken a third of the time that has been given to this chamber to speak on this, and I note that actually at no point did they mention that the government kept saying no to me when I kept saying, ‘We need a supervised injecting room’. I said that time and time again, and you said no. You said no and you said no and you said no, and it was only after I pushed—
Ms PATTEN: It was only after I pushed. It was after we had an inquiry into it, after I put up a private members bill and after I finally got the Police Association Victoria and the Herald Sun to support it. However, I am actually very grateful that the government did support it in the end, and what we have seen is that it has saved lives. It has absolutely saved lives.
But let us, again, not forget how we got to this supervised injecting room in North Richmond. We got there because Coroner Hawkins in 2017 said we must have one, and three coroners prior to that said, ‘We desperately need an intervention like a supervised injecting room to save lives’.
In that year 172 people died in 12 months, and 34 of them died in a 300-square-metre area of North Richmond. They died in exactly the area where the centre is, and that is exactly why we have the centre there. We did not say, ‘Let’s put a centre over here and maybe the people will come to it’, because that is not how it works—because the heroin market was in North Richmond. The heroin market has been in Richmond for many years.
Ms Crozier: How many residents’ lives is it ruining now though?
Ms PATTEN: The residents have been completely supportive of this. This is not a silver bullet and I will absolutely acknowledge that this is not a silver bullet, but it is saving lives. How many lives do you want—
Ms Crozier: Do their lives matter as well?
Ms PATTEN: Ms Crozier, I will take up that interjection. Of course their lives matter, but I do not want to be the person that says of that son, that daughter, that mother or that father that their life did not matter—rather that we have done something that will save those people’s lives.
And I have spoken to the parents who have lost people. I have spoken to the brothers who have lost a sister. I have spoken to children who have lost a mother because of their drug use and the fact that we were not able to intervene, that we were not able to keep them alive until they could get onto a path of recovery.
We know that this injecting room is keeping those family members and keeping those people alive. We know that it has actually reduced ambulance call-outs in the area.
The point that I wanted to clarify earlier was that I spoke to Danny Hill from the Victorian Ambulance Union today and he says that his members are completely supportive of this. His members say that without doubt there have been massive improvements in the area; that they are now freed up to go and attend other emergencies in the area, be that heart attacks, be that falls by elderly people; that they are there; and that also—and this was an unintended consequence and an unintended benefit—when they do find someone who is affected by drugs they are actually taking them to the centre rather than taking them to the emergency room.
Ms Taylor went through all of the stats, so I am not going to go through them. I really do want to hear from the variety of people here, which is why I will not speak for long, even though I could. I most certainly could, and certainly on this issue, because this is an issue that obviously I am passionate about.
I joined the hundreds of residents and small business operators when they marched on the streets and demanded that something be done. They demanded that, because what we were doing was not enough. While the North Richmond health centre has done a lot, we know that drug use around North Richmond is not something new. It did not just suddenly occur because we opened up a supervised injecting centre. The drug use has been there and it has been there for decades. What we are trying to do is keep people alive.
There were three things that we wanted to do. One, most importantly, was to save lives, and I think that we are saving lives. It is wrong to suggest that there is maladministration when we are seeing people’s lives being saved, when we are seeing numerous people moving onto a path of recovery, when we are seeing a centre that has been established next to a health centre. For the first time a number of those people are actually realising that someone cares whether they live or die. This is one of the first times that some of those people have experienced that.
I am conscious that there are mental health issues and poor behaviour in the area. There were mental health issues and poor behaviour in the area prior to the centre. This is not the silver bullet, but we know, as Ms Taylor quoted from Tip Kennedy, the principal at Richmond West, that the school supports it. As we know, the experts support it. We also know that this is a trial and that in 2020 Professor Margaret Hamilton, along with former Chief Commissioner of Police Ken Lay, will be undertaking and releasing a significant review of the effectiveness of this. I believe that we need to let this continue.
What we have seen and what the principal of the school noted she has seen is less drug use around her school. The centre has the effect of actually concealing drug use. We have thousands and thousands and thousands of people using that centre when they were using the playground of the school, when they were using the car park behind the school. They are no longer using them. I am not saying that the situation in North Richmond is perfect. There are many reasons—
Ms Crozier interjected.
Ms PATTEN: Ms Crozier, I will take up that interjection. That school actually had a protocol for when they found a needle in the playground. The children were taught what to do when they found a needle in the playground.
Ms Crozier interjected.
Ms PATTEN: They are not finding needles in the playground, Ms Crozier. They are not finding needles in the playground.
Because I want to allow my crossbench colleagues time to speak on this, I am just going to finish with a few points. Let us remember that drug-induced deaths are going up, drug use is going up. We have a crisis on our doorstep. We could do nothing or we could do less, but that is not the answer. We must do more.
It is wrong to suggest that this place has been maladministered. This place has been working with some of our most difficult residents and community members: 100 per cent have a history of trauma, many of them have significant mental health issues. The police have never alleged that there was trafficking at the centre. In fact they have stated quite clearly that there is not. The people who were arrested were not staff members of the centre. One of them was arrested without charge.
Demos Krouskos, the CEO of that centre, has done an amazing job. He has been the most dedicated person in our public health sector to work with some of the most difficult people in our community. Demos Krouskos has made a wonderful contribution to this state, and I applaud him. I am so saddened that he had to stand down like this. I am so saddened that the opposition and the media forced him to stand down.
Only look at yesterday’s news, when there was a Victorian Police sergeant who has been found guilty of a string of criminal offences. Did we ask for the commissioner to stand down because of that? No, we did not. In fact I have not heard anyone from the opposition say that. Why was Demos Krouskos treated differently? This is not a case of maladministration. This is absolutely life saving.
I want to repeat the quote, as Ms Taylor did, from the Leader of the Opposition:
There may have been some lives that have been saved, so that’s why the trial isn’t necessarily a bad idea …
I think the opposition would do well to dwell on that. This is life saving. This must be supported.
Ms Crozier interjected.
Ms PATTEN: Ms Crozier, that is just not true. There was no dealing in the centre. You can speak to the police, who will reiterate what I have said. Anyway, I do not support this motion.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Speech given 30/10/19