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Alcohol and Drug Dependency Repeal Bill 2021

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Tags: Drug Policy, Legislation

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, it took me a while to realise we had passed this bill through the House earlier this year. I was very surprised to understand that it had not received Royal Assent. It is disappointing that the snap election meant that could not happen and that we have to undertake essentially the same process but here we are and I can say that the Greens strongly support this repeal bill.

No doubt it is an ancient piece of legislation. It reflects a time which is passing but not yet past. It is definitely not yet past. It represents a vestigial, highly discredited approach to managing and supporting people with addiction. It represents a punitive approach and a failed understanding of the mechanism of addiction, the circumstances for addiction and the sorts of treatment that can be useful to help a person recovering from addiction. We are more than happy to say goodbye to this piece of legislation.

It is distressing to think that reviews into the Alcohol and Drug Dependency Act indicated as far back as 14 years ago that this was out of date at that point, yet there has been such a long time for this to come to this place and be finally knocked off. In the process of recognising that, the minister's second reading speech makes the point that it was invoked in 2016, nine years after it was identified as being an out of date piece of legislation that does not reflect contemporary service delivery in 2007. That is distressing to think that a better treatment option could have been provided for that person.

It is clear that this bill was established with a punitive approach to people who are addicted to drugs at its very core. What sort of drafting would have produced legislation where a person could be detained against their will for up to six months but not be required to take treatment which is the purpose of them being there. I am not making a case for forcing people to have treatment. There is no evidence of the value of that but it speaks volumes about the cultural norms that produced this legislation and considered it to be the best technique possible at the time for people who were not like us. Addicted people have always been comfortably pushed to the fringes of society if they have certain drugs of choice.

Almost all humans living in a modern environment have a drug of choice. Coffee is my drug of choice. It is a very powerful drug and I have to watch the effects of it every single day. I have had many other drugs of choice. I was addicted to tobacco for 20 years and I spent a long time recovering from that drug of choice. There are many complex social and environmental reasons for the unhealthy behaviour I had.

We are more than comfortable with participating in the drugs of choice that are on offer in the parliamentary dining room, such as alcohol. We are equally comfortable with pushing people to the fringes of society if they take up cannabis.

This is an out of date bill but the minister is in a Government that has other very out of date drug policies that are at their core punitive. They fail to understand that the only way to successfully help people recover from addictive substances is to provide them with medical treatment, social support, especially counselling and treatment for a large number of people who have often suffered a traumatic event in their life. It is still an early stage of research but it is clear that the role of trauma informing addictive responses and getting comfort from certain drugs has its root in traumatic events, often in childhood but also in adulthood.

It is clear that without the social support and the intensive therapeutic support that people need to unpack the circumstances that have led them to seek comfort, solace and pain reduction a range of illicit drugs can provide, then it is going to be almost impossible for them to make progress. We do not need to lock people up for non-trafficable personal quantities of illicit substances. We do not need to put them in jail as a mechanism for managing their addiction, for looking at the circumstances that might have led them to having illicit drugs. We need to put more money into therapeutic support and put more money into the drug diversion program.

The Government has had a chequered history in the drug diversion program and the funding for the drug diversion program. Can the minister comment on the number of drug diversions that are funded and that occurred over the past couple of years? That is germane to this conversation. Keeping people out of prison is the first step to making sure they are free to be in treatment programs, to receive counselling and to receive the sort of social support that could help them recover from addiction.

There may be elements of open mindedness in the minister’s comments, an understanding of the role of trauma and addiction and the failure of the punitive legal model to deal with addiction. I believe the minister understands the importance of having a health-based preventive approach for an effective result, not just for the individual but for a society in order for us to move on. There are other options that countries, especially the United States, are leading the way with. The United States is showing state by state, especially along the west coast, what it looks like to live in societies where people are not locked up for having small quantities of cannabis on their person.

They can get on with the job of having conversations about people who are addicted to drugs which are causing them serious health problems and affecting their lives and sometimes leading them to undertake criminal actions to survive. That model is on the table, yet among the majority of members in the Government, there is the sense that people must take responsibility for their own actions and it is nobody else’s responsibility to look after them.

Once you have crossed the line, if you cannot pick yourself up by your own bootstraps, do not bother coming to us asking for help. It is a very uncharitable and surprisingly unchristian approach from a number of members who are Christians. As somebody who went to a Christian school, a Catholic school, I have never been able to understand why we treat people who use illicit drugs for personal use as social pariahs. There is no sense or logic in that. There is nothing kind and charitable and understanding about the circumstances that lead to that.

I hope that the overwhelming body of scientific evidence showing the power of addiction on the brain and the impact on the brain and especially our understanding about trauma and the enormous levels of trauma that the rate of trauma in our society that is being experienced from too many children being neglected, too many children abused, too many children exposed to family violence incidents.

I sat in the family violence response cross-agency unit. I had the privilege of watching them as they were going through their three times-a-week mapping exercise looking at an individual circumstance of family violence and a perpetrator and looking at all the information across multiple agencies of that case. It was profoundly shocking to see how many people were involved; the perpetrator, the girlfriend of the perpetrator, the four children of the girlfriend of the perpetrator, the previous children of the perpetrator, the perpetrator's mother, the perpetrator's girlfriend's parents, grandparents.

So many people, not to mention all the people in social services, community services, child safety support, the police and Department of Justice are all working to try to prevent this family violence from continuing. Yet it was really clear in conversations that were coming up. What is the sort of things that could improve this situation? What else could we be doing? We could be putting more money directly to the source for trauma support. More money directly to the support for families at the early stages of pregnancy, birth, care and support in the house in the home.

There is more that we can do but having a punitive approach to people who, after the experiences that I was hearing which was just one day of three, in one week of 52, every single year that these agencies get together. These are people in our neighbourhoods, they are suffering, they will grow up suffering and having to medicate themselves to deal with the pain and the experiences they have had. It is quite clear that the perpetrator in this instance that we were looking at who himself was an 18 year old boy, had been brutally treated by his own father himself and there he was, 18, he already had a child, youth detention - no wonder, what else could he do other than act out. He had suffered terribly and yet what we do is remain to have a punitive model for people who take up illicit drugs as a way of medicating. It was quite clear in the statements that were being made by the perpetrator, but especially the woman and her children. They were using illicit drugs to survive day-by-day, from the pain of their circumstances.

We cannot fix that straight away but we can make sure that we do not lock them up for carrying one of those illicit substances on their person because that is what could happen to them on top of all the other things they are managing in their life so I ask the minister to continue to push this with your Cabinet colleagues, the understanding that if we want to have real, good change for the future, in the poorest communities in Tasmania, the most vulnerable women and children, that is what we need. We need to stop treating personal drug use as a crime and start treating it through the medical model through a health-based approach and look at real support.