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Alcohol and Drug Dependency Repeal Bill 2019

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 25 March 2021

Tags: Legislation, Drug Policy

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, the Greens will definitely be supporting this bill which repeals the Alcohol and Drug Dependency Act of 1968. As the minister has outlined very clearly in his second reading speech, it is manifestly out of date and out of step with the current community expectations for how people should be supported and provided treatment when they alcohol and other drug addictions. It is very interesting and sad to look at into the history that the minister has outlined. This is not a question I really expect the minister to answer - but you have outlined that there has only been two people up until, I think it was 2009 who had been held under this act and, since 1968 when it was changed from the Inebriate Hospitals Act, or, the Inebriates Act 1985, I do wonder how many people were held under the powers of the ADDA and for how long were people held and what was the outcome of their period of involuntary incarceration, effectively. Were they successfully rehabilitated? Was treatment provided to them during that period of time? This is probably the subject of a PhD for somebody. I do not know if it is research the department has ever entered into but I think it is important for us to have these sorts of stories so we have some information about the effect of the laws that have been made.

We attempt to make laws which are compassionate and we attempt to make laws which are evidence-based and also, in this instance, particularly effective in improving people's lives. That is really the bottom line.

Clearly, the history of this, the social conditions and the social thinking which brought the act that we are repealing and the previous acts that it replaced were ones that saw an appropriate response for alcohol and other drug addictions as being punitive and to force incarceration on a person as well as the extra injustice of not having the power to provide treatment. I suspect what happened for most people is they were probably locked up and the key was thrown away for six months. I would not be surprised if that is what their evidence found. That is the sort of history that we have read in other matters and other related situations - that that is the best we can offer for people with alcohol and drug addictions.

Our society has for a long time had a history of seeing people who, in social terms, misuse drugs or who use a certain class of drugs which are outside approved social norms held those people in great disregard. We have always dismissed, incarcerated and criminalised them and that continues. I want to put on the record that we very much support what this bill is doing. The Alcohol and Drug Act is functionally confusing and difficult to apply - which the minister notes - it is also based on a punitive detention approach. It is not going to achieve the aims that it seeks to achieve.

Meanwhile, we have other laws in place in Tasmania that criminalise people for their personal levels of illicit drug use. Whilst we might feel comfortable looking back at legislation which we feel is so outdated, here we are today in Tasmania where we have on the books laws which will criminalise people for personal drug use, not for trafficking, not for supplying, not for cultivating, but for personal drug use. We criminalise those people and they are today, they can be, and they are, locked up. What we understand is that when we lock people up the opportunities for them to receive treatment are very poor, particularly when we lock people up for personal levels of alcohol and drug use, because we know, when you go to prison in Tasmania as anywhere else on the planet, you end up having access to a huge range of illicit drugs. It is impossible to not be exposed to illicit drugs when you are in Risdon Prison in Tasmania as in any other prison in Australia.

I can only speak with confidence for Australia, but I am confident that every single prison in Australia has manifest levels of illicit drugs which are passed around between prisoners. And so, you have people who are locked up because of their personal drug use, illicit drugs, going into an institution where they have precious little, if any, opportunities for true treatment, for support, for opportunities when they leave, to move into other groups of people, other social networks and other forms of employment, let alone other housing opportunities. If they cannot manage an addiction that has become too great for them, they are not given any support to do that in our prison system in Tasmania.

That is the lack of evidence. So, when the minister talks about looking at the evidence base, we concur, we agree that we need to repeal this noxious bill. But what we have to do is look at the decriminalising of personal drug use in Tasmania and we have to urgently address that situation.

In 2017, the United Nations and the World Health Organization to repeal punitive laws that have been proven to have negative health outcomes and that counter establish public health evidence. Including, they said, drug use or possession of drugs for personal use.

In Australia, we have had the Australian Medical Association, the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, The Australia 21 Law Enforcement Round Table. We have had former premiers and police chiefs, who have all called for the decriminalisation of the personal use of illicit drugs. And we know there is overwhelming public support for this approach.

At the moment in Tasmania the personal use of illicit drugs is illegal and that includes the possession of a thing that is used to administer a controlled drug, the possession of a controlled drug, the use of a controlled drug, the administration of a controlled drug, the possession of a controlled plant and the use of a controlled plant for personal purposes. All of these things are criminalised in Tasmania.

And we know, for example, with medicinal cannabis, what a terrible burden this has been for people suffering pain, wanting to be able to have access to medicinal cannabis. Thank goodness the previous health minister has disappeared from being responsible for that portfolio. Because his ideology was holding back people living in pain and suffering from accessing medicinal cannabis through a regulated scheme. Mr Ferguson, when he was minister for health, actively held people back from having access to medicinal cannabis. Unlike every other citizen in Australia who has had access to the Therapeutic Goods and Administrations Controlled Scheme.

Finally, now, the Liberals have seen the light and they have listened to the evidence. But let us not pretend that ideology does not form part of law-making in this place. Under the Liberals in government, that is exactly the case and so whilst we have seen an important turnaround, under the current Minister for Health, Ms Courtney, on that very important issue of social justice, of compassion, of basic right to medical treatment, we have not seen any shift at all on personal use of illicit drugs. All the same evidence exists for that. If we do not take a health-based approach to illicit drug use, we are criminalising people.

In the years 2013 to 2018, five people were imprisoned in Tasmanian for the possession of a thing used to administer a controlled drug. Of those, three were charged for that offense alone and no other. So, a person who might have had a syringe or a bong, or a pipe on them, who knows, they were imprisoned.


Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, between 2013 and 2018 there were five people in prison for possessing an implement used to administer a controlled or illicit drug and of those, three were charged for that offence alone. It is also the case that in that five-year period 188 people were issued with a fine for the same offence; a fine, in other words, for possessing an implement to administer an illicit drug. During that period 18 people were imprisoned and 393 were fined for possessing a controlled drug and of those, four people and 101 people respectively were sentenced solely for possession of a controlled drug in personal, not trafficable, quantities. Two people were imprisoned in the period and 34 were fined for using a controlled drug, about half of whom were sentenced solely for the use of a controlled drug in personal use quantities. For possessing or using a controlled plant, between 2013 to 2018, 40 people were imprisoned and 1414 people were fined and most of those people were sentenced for multiple offences.

This a disgraceful and totally unacceptable outcome. As I have already documented, it is not supported by the Australian Medical Association, the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, the star-studded cast of ex-police chiefs, premiers and previous governors-general of Australia, as well as the United Nations and the World Health Organisation and the majority of the Tasmanian and Australian communities.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's national drug strategy household survey in 2016 asked people what action should be taken against people who are found in possession of illicit substances. That survey found that most people believe drug users should be referred to treatment or an education program and most people supported a caution, warning or no action at all for the use of cannabis.

We know that criminalising people is not the approach to managing personal levels of drug use. If a person has an addiction that needs treatment they need public health, they do not need a prison. We have seen another example of this irrational, lack-of-evidence ideological approach from the previous Health minister, Mr Ferguson, in his absolute refusal to have pill testing at festivals. What a disgrace.

The New South Wales Coroner found, after the deaths of four beautiful young people, that there was absolutely no reason not to immediately have pill testing at New South Wales festivals and to immediately discontinue the use of high-profile police wandering through festivals with sniffer dogs because it has encouraged and led to the deaths of young people through pre-loading of drugs in a fright, concerned that they will be caught for a personal level of drugs on their body, so they have taken those drugs, overdosed which led to their death.

That is the sort of example we have seen: young people's lives cruelly snatched from them by an ideological type of drug control not based on anything other than an hysterical idea that we have do everything we can to stop people using some sorts of drugs, but completely turning our eye away from the real-life impacts of other drugs that are socially normalised, like alcohol - the obvious one. We all know the impact of alcohol on family violence, stress, leading to financial ruin for people who are unable to deal with alcohol addictions, and especially the breakup of relationships and the loss of stable family situations for young or older children.

We must pay far more attention to this as a society and, for our Health and Police departments, we should be spending much more on resourcing and support for people to recover from alcohol addiction and to have good treatment programs, rather than wasting the money on the policing resources that go into the thousands of Tasmanians who are criminalised for having an implement or personal-use levels of an illicit drug on them - thousands of people fined or put in jail over just a five-year period. All of that could have been avoided.

We know that people who end up in prisons generally are more likely to reoffend. They are more likely to be exposed to conditions that mean when they leave at the other end they have a criminal record so it is harder to get a house, it is harder to get a job, and it is harder to move back into the community.

It is hard to deal with an addiction, if that is the reason you have ended up in jail in the first place. It is the last place that recovery can occur, especially when people are exposed to that prison environment themselves.

In 2016 the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre reviewed 81 studies on what the effect of decriminalisation of illicit drugs for personal use would have and they found overwhelming evidence that the trends would be positive. They said:

Decriminalisation improves employment prospects and relationships with significant others for those who are detected with drugs. The evidence from a number of countries, including Australia, shows that decriminalisation can lead to improved social outcomes. Individuals who avoid a criminal record are less likely to drop out of school early, to be sacked, or to be denied a job. They are also less likely to have fights with their partners, families or friends, or to be evicted from their accommodation as a result of their encounter with the police.

The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre also found that removing criminal penalties for personal drug use does not lead to more drug use. That is not a surprising finding given that decades of research have found the exactly the same thing. I ask the minister to use the powers that he has with his Cabinet colleagues to press home the point. I know this minister is one of the few in the Liberal Cabinet who understands the importance of removing criminal penalties for personal drug use. He understands the impact on individuals' lives of criminalising them for illicit drug use and understands the health and social benefits of removing those crimes.

This is about public health and it is about evidence. It is about understanding that we can choose to have a more compassionate and a more effective approach to managing drug addiction and to supporting people to recover and to seek treatment.

It is not at all a radical agenda, and it is definitely the case that, fortunately, this sensible approach is sweeping the world now. It has been recognised by the United Nations, by the Health World Organisation and at least 26 countries around the world already have some form of decriminalisation in place. Of the 34 OECD countries, 14 of them have already decriminalised drug use. Compared to the 26 countries worldwide that have decriminalised drugs, Australia is recorded to have a higher use of amphetamine type stimulants. We have a higher use of ecstasy and opioids than all of those other countries.

By that very measure alone, if that is something that political parties and governments are concerned about, then you would think that they would look at the strategies that are effective at reducing the total use of opioids, amphetamines and other types of stimulants. What we are finding is that when you removed those criminal penalties for personal drug use, you do not drive fear into people to have open conversations. People are able to be upfront and to seek support and you can regulate products.

We are very pleased to support this repeal bill, but clearly we still have a long way to go in Tasmania and the Misuse of Drugs Act itself has the power to arrest, charge, convict and sentence a person to a period of detention simply for the crime of possessing personal levels of illicit drugs. We know that is not evidence-based. We know that that is straight ideology, based on a history of punishing people for using illicit drugs. That is not compassionate; it is not effective and it does not fit with our human rights obligations. We ask the minister to do what he can to be consistent between what this repeal bill will seek to do and what can be done and should be done across other related areas.