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Poisons Amendment Bill 2019

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Tags: Legislation, Methamphetamine, Pill Testing, Drug Policy

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I am not surprised that the Leader of the Labor Party sat down so quickly. It must be very shameful to have to wallow in the words that she forced herself to say. I find it deeply concerning that a party like the Labor Party is now appearing to go backwards on every single important health policy that the Labor Party appeared to have been championing for decades.

It is deeply uncomfortable to be in a Chamber with two parties, the Labor and the Liberal parties, who are now turning their backs on harm reduction as the method of responding to people who are addicted to illicit drugs. Deeply uncomfortable to see how both of these parties are wrestling each other to the bottom of the pit to be tough on drugs. As though it will work. As though it is the right approach to communities that are suffering from addiction to crystal methamphetamine. Unbelievable.

I understand that Ms Courtney would introduce such a ludicrous bill because it will have the opposite effect to the one that she is proposing it will have. It is disgraceful that we have a health minister introducing this bill. That is the bottom of the pit as far as I am concerned, that this is being introduced by a health minister who has not provided a shred of evidence that this is going to increase anything, any health benefit for a person who is addicted to ice. Unbelievable. Where is the evidence?

Ms Haddad - Ice use is a health issue. Drug use is a health issue.

Dr WOODRUFF - Where is any information, Ms Haddad? Where is there any information that this bill is going to have any positive health benefit for the communities that are suffering from drug addiction in Tasmania?

Ms Haddad - You are mixed up there. Drug use is a health issue.

Dr WOODRUFF - The poor communities, intergenerational poverty, no drug treatment programs in their area, no access to social workers, to psychologists, to psychiatrists, to drug treatments, because there is nobody in their area. There is insufficient support for people in community health in Tasmania. If a parent had a child who was suffering from a drug addiction of any sort, I am confident that they could not, in a timely fashion, get access to drug treatment services in the north-west, in the south or the east of Tasmania. I am quite confident they would struggle. I know this as the member for Franklin, because I speak to people in the community in the south who cannot access drug treatment services. It is simply the case.

Madam Deputy Speaker, what you, what the Health minister and what the Liberal Party clearly do not understand is the causal relationship here. It is not the availability of ice pipes that leads people to become addicted to ice. It is addiction that leads people to buy ice. That is the problem, it is addiction. This is not dealing with addiction, and this is the point we got to 35 years ago in Australia when needle and syringe exchanges were brought in, because people understood at that point that harm reduction was the only way we could get out of this situation, by focusing on health and not focusing on demonising people addicted to an illicit drug. This is about demonising people and communities and failing them by pointing the finger at people who are addicted to drugs.

This is what Greg Barns made clear when we asked him. I would like to hear from the minister who she spoke to about this and what they said. Who were the stakeholders? Which drug and alcohol agencies did she speak to? Which drug treatment support agencies did she speak to? Which charities who have to deal with people who are addicted to drugs did she speak to? What did they say about this bill? What did Anglicare say? What did the Salvation Army say? What did all the people who are doing the hard work, the charities who are doing good work looking after people addicted to drugs, say about this bill? What did they say about what the Health minister should be doing to support people who are addicted to drugs in regional communities in Tasmania? I bet they did not say, 'Yes, we really need this amendment to the Poisons Act'. I am quite confident they would not have said that because it will not have the effect that the minister likes to pretend it will.

Mr Greg Barns, barrister and member of the Australian Lawyers Alliance - who recently, I note, received an award for his outstanding contributions to free speech and democracy and defending the people who others least want to defend but he does that work fearlessly - said that, in his view, this bill would do nothing to reduce the supply and use of ice. Prohibition of the sale of pipes or possession of them simply sends them to the black market, as well as all the other black markets that this Government is responsible for creating and sustaining, the criminal syndicates that this Government is responsible for sustaining, through their failed approach to managing drug addiction. This will just add to the list of things that can go into the black market.

Good on you, Minister for Health, for adding something else to the list that criminal marketeers will be able to peddle to people. Instead of people having some part of their life that might not be demonised, good on you for adding to the list of things that criminal syndicates can flog to people who are desperate. When was the recent policy that you provided to support people to move out of addiction? Where are those policies?

Gino Vumbaca from Harm Reduction Australia pointed to the serious concerns about the risk of the transmission of communicable diseases. If ice pipes become scarce, which is the purpose of this bill, that is what will happen; if you remove the legal supply of ice pipes, they will then not become available. That will not stop addicted people from seeking to smoke ice; despite the fact that might be what people would like, that will not stop them, so they have two other options available to them. They can either choose injection as the method of administration of ice or they can share somebody else's pipe. The evidence tells us that both of those methods will increase the risk of the transmission of infectious diseases.

The serious issues to do with addiction and injection go much further than the transmission of infectious diseases. Not only does it lead to the possibility of a much higher risk of a person overdosing from use of the drug, it leads to the possibility of other serious health effects such as the collapse of people's veins, but fundamentally, the perverse outcome is that it leads to much higher rates of addiction. A person may have tried ice by smoking it and decided they do not want to use it again, but if they try it for the first time by injecting, by golly, the risk of them becoming addicted to that drug becomes far higher.

The perverse outcome of banning the sale of ice pipes is that it will increase the rate of sharing of ice smoking pipes and increase the likelihood of people injecting and passing on diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV between communities of people, enhancing the level of misery not only of the individual people but putting at risk the community of people they live within. That is how communicable diseases work. They survive by moving between populations of people, so they will not stop with that person. That risk is then passed on to the whole community. Where one person in the community is infected with hepatitis C or HIV, the risks then flow out from that person to other people in that community.

What are we doing, Madam Deputy Speaker? Why are we having this conversation? It is 2019. I was working in Canberra in 1982 when the Family Planning Association was handing out needles and syringes and handing out condoms. We learned this stuff. We were the country that led the world in response to the AIDS epidemic. We were the country that got awards around the world 10 to 20 years later because we brought down the rates of HIV and hepatitis C faster and more effectively than any other country in the world. That was because the federal government took an immediate response to the HIV-AIDS crisis and recognised that in order to stop it, we had to not take a punitive approach to the use of illicit drugs - heroin at the time in particular - because it was transmitting HIV and hepatitis C through that injecting heroin-using community.

We had to put aside our moralising or our views about the best way to encourage people to support them out of illicit drug addiction or even to discourage them from starting in the first place. Of course we recognise there is a diversity of views on that issue but it is the position of the Greens to continue to build on the great health policy we have had for over 37 years and it is so disappointing to hear both the Liberal and the Labor parties, because I think it was Neil Blewett at the time who brought that in. It is an incredibly respected and effective policy that is still in place.

In Tasmania, as in every other Australian state, we have needle and syringe exchanges. Where is this Government heading with its health policy? Is the next bill going to ban needle and syringe exchanges? It is the same issue. You have a tool, it could be syringe, it is an ice pipe, as it turns out. We could be banning the sale of syringes in chemists because they could be used to inject illicit drugs. Is that the next step?

Mr Shelton - What are you arguing? Are you arguing that ice pipes can be used to smoke tobacco or something?

Dr WOODRUFF - Is that the next step? What is going on here? Is this virtue signalling to certain sectors of the community that the Liberals are trying to sucker some extra votes from? Is this the Labor Party jumping on the band wagon?

Mr Shelton - What else can an ice pipe be used for?


Dr WOODRUFF - Is this all about telling the northwest you are solving the rates of ice addiction? Are you saying, 'Look at how good we are and let us demonise the Greens at the same time'? We do not care. We can cop it. We have had it for decades from the Labor and Liberal parties. The Exclusive Brethren attack the Greens, saying we are going to do lots of awful things to their children. It has not happened. We are still here. We are the party that listens to science. We are the party that listens to health policy, despite that the Liberal and Labor parties in federal government have brought in these policies. We will defend them for them because they have forgotten how to do it in Tasmania. The Labor Party and the Liberal Party have forgotten how to defend their forebears and the excellent harm reduction health policy that has been in place. We are not going to stop doing that.

Mr Vumbaca from Harm Reduction Australia has been the backbone of pill testing. His evidence shows it saves lives. Education is better than getting sniffer dogs to frighten children who swallow heaps of pills and then end up dying in tragic circumstances when they should be enjoying dancing at a music festival. The coroner in New South Wales is finding there are tragic avoidable deaths that we can do something about. We can do it in Tasmania.

Mr Vumbaca and others in the ACT have shown slowly and patiently through the evidence of a more enlightened government in the ACT that harm reduction works because it saves lives. Education reduces the level of illicit drugs that get taken. The more you give people real information instead of hiding it and making it seem a little revolutionary, the more people are likely to not want to put that stuff in their body. They choose to throw it in the bin, as we have seen when there is pill testing at festivals. They throw it in the bin because the information shows them that it is dangerous. It could kill them. That is what we could be doing in Tasmania. That is the sort of health policy that will help stop young people dying at festivals. Gino Vumbaca shared with us his concerns about this bill, pointing out that people are more likely to share pipes when they are smoking if they do not have their own ice pipes. That means they will be sharing saliva. If their lips are cracked, which is not uncommon after people are addicted to ice, then the possibility of blood being shared is real and it is a significant risk. If they have an infectious disease then there is the risk that will be transmitted. He says it is a bit like banning glasses and expecting people will stop drinking. People are going to use another means.

We did not hear that there was any support. The Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drugs Council provided information and made the point that they understand the motivation in wanting to curb the harm associated with ice addiction but that this is not the way to go about it. They do not agree that crystal methamphetamine is more potent, more dangerous and more addictive than other legal drugs. Minister, maybe you should have talked to them before you made that statement in your second reading speech. It is clearly not supported by the evidence. I am sure it makes a good headline. Dr Nicole Lee in 2015 said -

The dependence potential of any drug depends on a number of factors including the drug itself, who is using it and how it is used.

She said to be -

Wary of language that may unintentionally create fear and the potential for negative consequences that can result.

Dr Jackie Hallam for the Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drugs Council of Tasmania said -

We also suspect that despite the proposed changes people will continue to use and access smoking devices in other ways.

They do not think it is going to have an effect. The other ways they refer to are the other ways I have already mentioned - sharing smoking pipes or injecting. They are the two other methods that the Australian Department of Health lists as possible uses of administration of crystal methamphetamines.

I return to the paper I mentioned the other day that the Leader of the Opposition, Ms White, indirectly referred to before. It is from the public health journal at BioMed Central and it details the declining rates of health problems that were associated with crack smoking during the expansion of crack pipe distribution in Vancouver, Canada. There were two prospective cohort studies of community recruited people who inject drugs in Vancouver. They looked at the impact of crack pipe distribution services on the rates of health problem associated with crack smoking in Vancouver. They undertook to expand crack pipe distribution services and found that this reduced health problems from smoking crack. It also reduced the transmission of infectious diseases.

We are not supporting that as a method in Tasmania. We merely note that it has been used successfully elsewhere. What that research study makes clear is that the availability of a safe smoking pipe is far safer for a person who is addicted to ice than is sharing a pipe with somebody else who has an infectious disease or is injecting the drug, which would be the two other options that they would be forced to take with this bill removing the sale of smoking pipes in Tasmania.

I understand that the Government is not interested in the evidence here. I understand that this is a moralistic position and I understand that it comes from a principle of feeling that people ought to just stop. I implore you, minister, to move past your kind of moralising on this issue and to understand that the reason that we have done so well in Australia by not having huge numbers of people who are infected with HIV, much larger numbers of people infected with hepatitis C, is because we took the approach that we did with harm reduction. It is the same issue as needle and syringe exchanges. It is the same issue and as distasteful as you might feel about the use of the drug ice or heroin, people who are addicted to those drugs are both far more likely to be able to recover with safe health if they have not been sharing somebody else's needle or they have not been sharing somebody else's crack pipes.

Surely we want people to recover from drug addiction. Is that not what we want? We want people to recover from drug addiction. When they recover we want them to be healthy, to not have an infectious disease, to not have severe damage that they have done to their body, to their veins through injecting drugs. These are all things which are avoidable, should be avoidable, but they will not be avoided by banning the sale of ice pipes anywhere in Tasmania. We are very disappointed that the Labor Party is supporting this bill. It is really unpleasant to see that the member for Lyons who was once a great spokesperson on preventative health has now ditched that in a shameful attempt to avoid an uncomfortable headline and we have to be better than that.

The Greens will suffer whatever headlines you want to throw at us because we know that we have the weight of the last 35 years of Australian health policy behind us. It is a pretty comfortable place to stand. It is not a radical thing we are proposing; just simply doing what harm reduction policy in Australia has shown is effective and what other countries are showing is effective. This is an even more retrograde step than you already have, given that all personal drug use of illicit drugs is criminalised in Tasmania.

So many other countries in the world are removing criminal penalties for personal illicit drug use and lo, they are finding amazing public safety outcomes, amazing public health outcomes, amazing community development outcomes as a result of that legal change.

Portugal is a country which is so often looked at because before the global financial crisis it made that very brave decision to decriminalise all illicit drugs for personal drug use and to put the money into policing the trafficking of drugs and to pushing down on criminal syndicates. It seems that the Liberals are less concerned with pushing down on criminal syndicates and creating black markets than they are on demonising individuals who are struggling with addiction.

Portugal persisted with their policy, through the global financial crisis in a very difficult time, when every other country was ditching a lot of health policies, any sort of community development, money was tight. Portugal persisted with their policy and what they have found, and proved, is that a decade on from that they have lower rates of crime in their community, lower rates of theft, lower rates of serious assault, and lower rates of illicit drug use. That is what happens when people have the space, when they are not being attacked and demonised, they can deal with their addition. Portugal put the money they saved into therapeutic drug programs and people there recovered from drug addiction.

The evidence is there. The United States is doing it in many states. They have decriminalised marijuana for personal drug use in many states. We can take this position in Tasmania if we look at illicit drug use through a health lens, then we will get these fantastic outcomes in our community too.

We will keep talking about this because more people are coming behind us and coming to understand. Ex-barristers, ex-police commissioners are all standing with the Greens. Health bodies around Australia are united on calling for governments to decriminalise drugs for personal use and to understand that is going to be the best thing for the regional communities in Tasmania, as it is for the rest of Australia.