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Illicit Drugs in Tasmania

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 29 March 2023

Tags: Drug Policy, Justice, Pill Testing

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, it is disappointing that this is the second time we have heard from the member for Franklin, Mr Young, and that he has used himself for populist effect by the Government. He has never stood in this place and spoken about an issue for his own electorate. The people in Franklin are yet to hear from the member for Franklin, Mr Young. Instead, he gets wheeled out with the sort of cynical and hypocritical rubbish that we have in this motion today.

Yes, there is a lot of stuff in here that is noted, but fundamentally, this is only a motion that calls on the House to agree not to adopt any measures that soften our drug laws.

Mr Jaensch's Youth Justice Blueprint 2022 aims to reform the legislative framework for youth justice to emphasise diversion programs and to provide improved diversion options. One of Mr Jaensch's existing police diversion programs is the illicit drugs diversion initiative. Mr Jaensch's paper acknowledges drug use is a significant factor behind youth offending behaviour.

It is obvious that increased drug reforms will be an essential plank of the reforms that he announced. The Attorney-General, Elise Archer, has expanded the program cap for the mandated drug diversion program. She has extended its application to Supreme Court cases. Both of those things the Greens and legal community and youth advocates have long fought for, and we strongly support.

This motion today is that the House does not support this program, or any policies like it. That is what we have before us. It is insincere, it is puerile and it undermines the work of ministers Archer and Jaensch. It is pathetic that the Government would bring on a motion that calls for the House not to support its own reforms. It is even more pathetic that they clearly recognise punitive responses to drugs do not work, but they still want to virtue-signal to sections of their voters that they are tough on crime, and that is what this is all about.

It is all about the Government's performance in the last fortnight. It is all about the devastating front-page stories of ministers' failures, the lack of confidence in minister Ogilvie for the appalling damage she is overseeing to the racing industry in Tasmania and animal welfare, and no confidence in the Premier for his weakness and complete incapacity to do anything about ministers who will do anything to flout a regulation or the good name of industries and especially the impacts on animals and people suffering from want of housing. He will do nothing, of course he will not. This is about wheeling out a 'tough on crime' statement because it has always worked for them before, or so they thought.

That is what they thought in 2014 - come in, do what Liberals always do, be tough on crime, it works. Maybe it worked then but times have changed and that is what the Liberals are not listening to and they are the last Liberals in government to learn the lesson. Australians do not want this anymore. Tasmanians do not want it. They are not going to stand for it. The Liberals in Victoria tried to get back in on a 'tough on crime' stance. They beat up hate in the community about refugees and migrants big-time. It was vile and odious and it was called out. You have Liberal members of parliament who have been given succour by the Liberal opposition member to stay in the party room after her vile comments and support for the transphobic Posie Parker and the goose-stepping and Nazi salute on the steps of the Victorian parliament. That is what the Liberals are doing.

Learn: Australians are sick to their back teeth of it and they are voting you out everywhere, federally, in Queensland, Victoria, the ACT and New South Wales - hello, did you read what happened last weekend? You got so trounced in Western Australia I think you only have two members left. You nearly did not have a Liberal MP sitting on the bench in parliament and you still will not learn the lesson. Your policies damage people. That is why it is so offensive: it damages people who are the most vulnerable in our community. People who are trans and are most vulnerable, their lives are under threat by hate language. People who preach hate need to be very careful because it can kill people, as do people who bring on rubbish motions like this to whip up a bit of hatred for people who use drugs in our community instead of actually looking at how to help people when they need it and how to have a health-based approach to drug use instead of the 'lock them up and throw them away' attitude.

Look what it has done to Tasmania's prison system. Look at Risdon Prison, under Liberal, after Liberal, after cruel Liberal Justice ministers. It is bursting at the seams. It is an appalling place for people to work. It contravenes the United Nations Convention on the Prevention of Cruelty and Torture, yet still minister Archer continues on with demonising people. Still the Premier and Minister for Health fails to do what he needs to do to make this island safer and to reduce harm. That is the first order of any premier.

It is pathetic that you clearly recognise punitive responses to drugs do not work, but you still want to virtue-signal to those people. If you think throwing people in jail cures addiction, you are frankly a fool. All of the evidence says otherwise. If you think morally that someone should be criminalised and sent to jail for smoking a joint then you are immoral. Around 36 per cent of have used cannabis in their lifetime and almost half of our community, 43 per cent, have used some kind of illicit drug in their lives. Chances are several government members have done it too. Do you think they should go to court?

Let us move on to pill testing. The Government's holding line on this has been that it is 'quality control for drug pushers'. Disgraceful. Even if it was true, which the evidence has shown time and again it is not, just imagine a situation, Mr Young - who has brought this on and does not want us to be soft on crime - where a drug dealer, or what you would call a pusher, used a pill testing service to check if their drugs were potentially harmful or fatal. What if they found that they were? What if they found that they could kill or harm a person and they decided not to sell those drugs? Would that be such a bad outcome? In your mind, you think it is a bad thing.

Mr Wood - If they sell them.

Dr WOODRUFF - You talk about it being used as quality control but you cannot have it both ways. You cannot talk about using it as quality control and then say they would not care what the outcome is. You would only do a test if you wanted to know what you were doing. This ludicrous idea has never been proven or even been shown to potentially be used. It is used is by young, smiling, happy people who go to a music festival and might have some drugs that has someone has given them. They might know nothing about them and they walk into a service that has police on the outside but inside has people with counselling skills in drugs, it has qualified medical professionals, it has paramedics, and they have a conversation, and when they walk out of there, after finding out what is in their pills and whether or not they are deadly, a huge number of people bin their drugs, otherwise they would have taken them. It saves lives.

The Government's position is that it should be illegal to test illicit drugs to see if they will harm or potentially kill people. That is it in a nutshell and I think that is utterly immoral. Pill testing saves lives, and this is just populist dogma at the expense of people's lives.

We have two options here. If the Government's holding line on quality control for drug pushers is sincere, which we believe it is, then the Government is more interested and concerned with virtue-signalling than it is with saving lives. If they are genuine, then the Government believes that stopping the use of deadly illicit drugs is a bad thing. Do you actively want people to die as a deterrent to drug use? That seems to be the angle you are taking.

I bring to mind the reality that we are talking about actual people's lives here. Perhaps Mr Young should read the New South Wales coroner's report from 2019. It makes very sad reading. Six people died at summer festivals in the year before that coroner's investigation. They were Callum Brosnan, Alexandra Ross-King, Hoang 'Nathan' Tran, Joseph Pham, Joshua Tam and Diana Nguyen. We do not know what would have happened if there had been a pill-testing service there but the New South Wales coroner strongly recommended that every music festival have one, because the evidence was very clear that in all likelihood those young people's lives would have been saved. Those children would have gone home to their families.

You can have whatever opinion you like about how you want to use drugs in your life, but to actually put a person's life ahead of your political dogma and your party's voting position, I find that reprehensible. I remind you again that this is about health, not punishment. This is about focusing on the traffickers. I want to look at Mr Young's comments. He did not say it directly, I do not believe, but the implicit argument he makes is that the Greens do not want to do anything about drug trafficking. That is fine, just tell lies again.

For the last 40 years we have been demonised for this BS, this complete and utter rubbish. Of course we do. That is exactly what our draft bill to decriminalise drug use is. It is to put the energy and resources of Tasmania Police into going after drug traffickers, instead of spending their time rounding up individuals who might have a joint in their hand. It is about focusing our resources and attention as a society, criminalising the people who are pushing it. People who are using personal levels of drugs are not the criminals.

Mr Young is advocating against saving lives as a political point scoring exercise. There are very few things in this world more utterly devoid of empathy, of an emotional response to the suffering of other people, more deviant and antisocial and psychopathic than that. We utterly reject the Liberals' current attempts to do this because it is damaging. It is up to you if you refuse to read the tea leaves and see what is coming your way if you do not change.

Tasmanians reject your nasty attacks on the most vulnerable people in the community. They will not put up with it any longer. We are not going to stand for it and we are going to continue to speak out for a health focus on the use of drugs, for support and therapeutic restorative counselling and support for people who want to access it, or who need it as part of a drug diversion program, for more drug treatment centres. The money spent chasing people, filling up the courts with personal drug users, the time of our justice system, is all wasted. Those resources should be helping and supporting people who are addicted, who have a drug dependency that is getting in the way of them having a functional life.

This is what other jurisdictions are doing. This is what is happening around the world. Mr Young, you can smirk all you like, but get out a bit more and read about what is happening around the rest of the world. Look at what the US is doing in so many states

Members interjecting.

Dr WOODRUFF - That is right, Minister for Police, San Francisco. You sure we are not talking about Mardi Gras or something? Some inherent transphobia there, gayphobia, just phobia of people who are not like you. You get to stand in this place and represent everyone, not just people like you.

Mr ELLIS - Mr Speaker, point of order. I take personal offence to those remarks about transphobia and homophobia. I ask that the member withdraw them without qualification.

Dr WOODRUFF - I will withdraw. There was no intention to slur the minister, just the Government's policies.