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Health Minister Blames Former Government for Two Years of Inaction on Ice Epidemic


Rosalie Woodruff MP

Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Tags: Health, Methamphetamine, Crime, Family Violence, Drug Policy

Ms WOODRUFF question to MINISTER for HEALTH, Mr FERGUSON

A dangerous increase in crystal methamphetamine use in Tasmania is now strongly suggestive of an epidemic.  After you handed responsibility for developing a response to this issue to an under-resourced community sector in 2015, you have done nothing of substance to respond to ice abuse.  Annual reports from various sources this year are emphasising that this issue is getting worse.  People addicted to ice are forced to wait two months for detox and rehabilitation services with tragic consequences, as people can lapse back into drug use.  The Rural Health Tasmania CEO, Robert Waterman, noted that a lot can happen in eight weeks.  People can die.  They commit crimes.  They can commit family violence.  The community sector is telling you they are unable to cope with the soaring numbers and are being forced to refer addicts to interstate services.  Will you assure the House you take this issue seriously and admit that Tasmania is in the midst of a crisis of ice use?  What are you doing about the chronically under-resourced rehabilitation facilities, and the unacceptable waiting lists?  Are you going to continue to rely on the community sector and the federal government to solve this problem or are you going to step in and do your job?

ANSWER

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for her question.  I reject the assertion that has been made the Government has done nothing of substance in relation to this area.  The Government is very strong in its work in improving drug and alcohol support services across Tasmania.  The member, who is a reasonably new entrant to this House, may be unaware that when we came to office we found in fact a significant service gap in the north-west coast, something left behind by the previous Labor-Greens government.

Greens members interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order.

Mr FERGUSON - If the member wants to falsely assert the Government has done nothing of substance then she ought to reflect on her lack of being informed on this matter.  On this side of the House we do not regard a brand new 12-bed rehabilitation facility at Ulverstone as not being of substance.  We regard that as very substantial, as part of our multi million dollar response to the service gap we identified in the north-west coast.  It had implications for service provision right across the State.  We believe this is very substantial.

Talk to some of the families on the north-west coast who are using the facility already.  I had the great privilege of attending the opening of that service.  It had already commenced operation.  At the official opening I had the honour of meeting a young woman who was shortly expecting the arrival of her unborn child.  There was a family that was in part restored by support provided by the Salvation Army, and the Bridge Program funded by the Tasmanian government.  This is a family whose children were in out-of-home care.  As a result of the rehabilitation and the restoration work that had taken place, that young woman was able to see the order, put in place in advance of the child being born, being repealed.  There you have a family restored, because of the investment the Government made in recognising the failure of the previous Labor-Greens Government in letting people down, in particular in the north west coast.

Ms Woodruff interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order.  The member will cease her interjections.

Mr FERGUSON - I call it supporting people in their time of greatest need.  No-one is saying that $4 million is the only answer to the drug and alcohol challenge we face in this state.

Ms O'Connor - The money still hasn't rolled out.

Mr FERGUSON - I just heard Ms O'Connor say the money has not rolled out.  It is being rolled out.  It is supporting people now.  It is happening now and I would invite -

Greens members interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order.  A number of questions were asked and the minister is attempting to answer them.  Could we cease the constant interjection while I am talking.

Mr FERGUSON - I invite the Green members to see this positive news for what it is.

Ms O'Connor interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order.  This is not a time for debate.  I warn the member for Denison, Ms O'Connor.  I have just finished warning the House.

Mr FERGUSON - In the question I was also asked about the statewide drug detox facility, which is based here in Hobart at St Johns Park.  The service is ready, willing and able and works very closely with the drug rehabilitation providers.  We recognise as well that for many Tasmanians caught up in the cycle of drug abuse, ideally detox services should be available at the point in time where the person has made the decision that they want to get the support and be released from the grip of drugs.

This is a constant challenge for our service.  My advice is that there is a waiting list.  The service works very closely with providers.  There are even times when beds are available but the client has not made the decision to change at that point in time.  It is for that reason a management issue where the service works closely with the providers to try to encourage people to come in and take advantage of available beds when they are free.

This should not be the subject of Ms Woodruff''s politics at all.  We have good people working in this area.  It is fully supported by the Government.  There have been no cuts in this area.  There has only been new funding.

I will wind up and make this point once again.  While we want to see the promised commonwealth funding flowing in Tasmania, and the Department of Health and Human Services is engaged with Primary Health Tasmania as the facilitator of those funds being rolled out, I encourage the Greens members to recognise that in their own failure to address the shortcomings of our rehabilitation service in Tasmania they should nonetheless welcome the $4.88 million that the Hodgman Liberal Government has provided in this area.