Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2017
Mr HIBBINS (Prahran) — I rise to speak on the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2017. This bill prohibits synthetic drugs by defining them by their psychoactive effect rather than by listing them as individual substances. It reduces the amount of methamphetamine considered a commercial quantity, and it allows doctors and nurses to administer opioid substances to people in police jails without a permit instead of just prisons.
In regard to synthetic drugs, there is a small but growing market in synthetic drugs, like synthetic cannabinoids, which are sold through adult shops, tobacconists or online. In the past these have been prohibited by simply adding new substances to the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981. The problem with this approach is that manufacturers have been able to stay a step ahead of the game by tweaking the drug composition to stay ahead of the law. This bill takes the approach that has been taken by New South Wales and by the commonwealth by defining those synthetic drugs not by their chemical composition but by the psychoactive effect that they have.
This is a sensible move as it saves having to pass new amendments regularly. At the moment, drug manufacturers can stay one step ahead of the law simply by making small changes to the composition of the drugs they make. I note that the definition excludes drugs that are already prohibited and that substances like alcohol are not the target of this bill. For those drugs that are considered to be a psychoactive substance, this bill prohibits the manufacture, advertising and sale but not personal use.
The bill does add a number of synthetic drugs to the list of illicit drugs in the Drugs Poisons and Controlled Substances Act. Whilst these drugs would have been covered by the new definition of synthetic drugs, listing them means that there are heavier penalties for their manufacture and sale as well as penalties for personal use.
The bill gives police new powers in terms of search, seizure and forfeiture powers over synthetic drugs, as they currently have with other drugs, and it decreases the amount of ice considered to be a commercial quantity from 500 grams down to 250 grams.
Mr Pearson interjected.
Mr HIBBINS — Deputy Speaker, I am unsure why the member for Essendon is interjecting.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER — Order! The member for Prahran should not respond to interjections.
Mr HIBBINS — It reduces that quantity from 500 grams down to 250 grams when mixed and from 100 grams to 50 grams when pure. These figures are based on advice from Victoria Police. The Greens support this approach, because those amounts are still well above the amount an individual user is likely to have for personal use.
The bill also allows doctors and nurses to administer opioid substances in police cells. Previously doctors and nurses were allowed to do this in jails but needed a permit to do so within cells at police stations. Allowing doctors and nurses to administer opioid substitute therapy in police cells is a sensible approach. We do also note that medical staff will need to have received relevant training.
This bill deals with the use of synthetic drugs, which we know is a growing problem. There is the impression that because they are legal they might not do harm, but like all drugs, you do not really know what is in them — and often neither does the emergency department when things go wrong. The evidence is very clear that synthetic drugs can be very harmful.
When it comes to drugs policy, the Greens are very interested in the evidence in regard to this matter. For a long time Australia has taken a law an order approach to drugs, but we know that approach simply has not worked. As recently as Monday, former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Palmer described Australia's approach to drugs as 'badly broken'. He is part of a group of former police, prison officers and other law enforcement officers supporting the call for the decriminalisation of drug use.
The Greens have always supported that approach to drugs. It does not mean that we think that dangerous drugs should be freely available. It does mean, however, treating drug use as a health problem, better funding treatment services and looking at the impact of different substances on individuals and on our society. The criminal treatment of individual users at the bottom of the chain simply has not worked, and we know that this approach simply does not work.
There are two major drug policy proposals on the table at the moment that have received prominent coverage, the first one being the supervised injecting room in North Richmond. This has community support and the support of residents, traders, services, experts and the coroner, who all understand that this is needed, yet the government is refusing to support it. We have this hotspot for heroin overdoses. Last year 34 people died from heroin overdoses in just a few blocks of North Richmond. Around 10 000 discarded needles and syringes have been collected from the streets of the City of Yarra. Clearly the need is there for a supervised injecting facility in North Richmond. Clearly it has the support of the community there.
This is something that the Greens have been pushing for for a long time. We have lost a lot of political skin over this issue over the years. It has been used to attack us, but it is now time for the government to put aside whatever political considerations it has or whatever reasons it has for not supporting this measure and step up and implement this supervised injecting facility in North Richmond.
The other issue is pill testing and reporting. We are seeing people dying and hospitalised from the use of party drugs and recreational drugs. There was an incident in Chapel Street in my own electorate which resulted in deaths. People thought they were taking MDMA, but it was really N-bomb, a dangerous synthetic drug that costs lives. There are a number of ways we can tackle this pill-testing and reporting regime. Is this just going to — —
Mr Pearson interjected.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER — Order! The member for Prahran, to continue.
Mr HIBBINS — There are a number of ways that we can tackle this. This is a serious issue. This is about saving lives and protecting people from harm.
We can go down the path of lab-grade testing at festivals, an approach that has been taken in Europe. Some festivals can nominate themselves as a location for lab-grade testing, and testing would be made available so that festival attendees can test their drugs to see if they have any dangerous substances in them. The evidence shows that when people are shown that the drugs they have do not contain what they thought they had or they contain substances that are extremely dangerous, they will not take them. This really is about putting that information into the hands of those people who otherwise would take or ingest those seriously dangerous drugs.
The other approach is to have a centralised testing approach whereby a person could take their drugs to a centralised health service or a laboratory in a city — in Melbourne, perhaps — where the drugs would be tested and then that information would be made public. That would help in those instances where people are taking drugs in nightclubs or around the city. That would mean that those health services would be able to put out a warning if there were some very dangerous drugs circulating in the community. I feel that certainly that would have helped in the Chapel Street incidents earlier this year.
The other mechanism is police reporting. When police seize drugs and test them, they do lab-grade testing. We know that occurs. What we are calling for is for information about those drugs to be circulated and made public if they are dangerous. We understand that the minister has ruled out the first two proposals but is considering the proposal that when police seize drugs that may cause overdose or death, the information gained from testing those drugs can be circulated to the public.
We understand with the incidents on Chapel Street that there was still a lot of confusion and uncertainty out there from punters about what drugs those people actually took — what they looked like, what form they came in — and that that information only came out some weeks later when there was still a high risk to punters out at nightclubs around Melbourne because the drugs may still have been circulating and people simply would not have known what those drugs were or what they looked like.
This really is about the evidence. The evidence shows that these measures work. They work to save lives, they work to reduce harm. We would certainly urge the government to support those measures. Again, we have not really heard that much reasoning as to why the government are not supporting those measures. The evidence backs these measures and they need to be implemented. So we will be supporting this bill in this house. We are consulting with health organisations and others, and we may make amendments in the upper house.