THERE HAS TO BE A BETTER WAY
Tuesday, 14th May 2019
These are the words of Mick Palmer, former Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police and Northern Territory Police (See attached the copy of Can Australia respond to drugs more effectively and safely? Editors Mick Palmer, Alex Wodak, Bob Douglas and Lyn Stephens Roundtable report of law enforcement and other practitioners, researchers and advocates. Sydney, September 2015)
I welcome the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug ‘ICE’, established by the Premier, to Lismore and hope through their work that findings and recommendations can be put forward to help the New South Wales Government, supported by the Opposition and community, indeed chart A Better Way. The current way is clearly not working.
I regret that I did not get an opportunity to appear before the hearing in Lismore. When I became aware through our local newspaper The Northern Star, that the Special Commission was sitting here, my staff did approach the Commission to ask if I could appear. It was unfortunately too late as we were told that the hearing was booked out.
I do know that the Special Commission will hear evidence from many expert and experienced practitioners, people with lived experience and families impacted by the mayhem that ICE usage causes.
Having been a community advocate for some 40 years here and in the broader region, I have seen a distinct increase in the use of the drug ICE, its local manufacture, its distribution, the increasing number of charges, paralleled by its increasing usage, the mayhem it causes the addicts themselves, their families, their communities, and the impact on the health system. We simply are not coping nor responding, with approaches that are helping to decrease its use.
Our primary societal response is to charge and sentence and not provide rehabilitation.
There is discourse over whether rehabilitation works if imposed and I am of the view ‘just do it’, whilst others are not. That can be argued out, but the fact is, we simply do not have the rehabilitation services available to respond to this. I am told that the waiting list at ‘The Buttery’ is some four to six months.
The MERIT programme fares no better and has a long waiting list and excludes alcohol use, the primary drug of choice that also causes mayhem. Programmes are frequently too particularised and not able to respond to co-morbidity and associated mental ill health or other cognitive conditions that can underlie or accompany destructive drug use. ICE may be the primary drug of choice, but is frequently accompanied by other drugs, including alcohol and a variety of destructive behaviours.
I have had local people almost begging me to ‘do something’, telling me that their families and neighbourhoods are under threat. The ‘do something’ I can do is to contact the police, who can arrest if crimes are found to have been committed; yet there is no overarching health-type service that can provide what is needed.
When I have been door-knocking I was told many plausible stories, including shown various houses, backed up by my further inquiries, which are dealing in drugs.
I agreed that if I was elected, I would have a community meeting in two neighbourhoods to discuss what could be done to help. I have been approached by some local Elders pleading with me to help, as well. They have grown weary and sad at the escalating rate of incarceration of their kids, especially the boys and men.
I know of older women, mothers, having to seek refuge from their adult son’s violence brought on with the ICE use. In the alternative they live in siege-like situations in their own homes.
A recent inquiry conducted by the NSW Legislative Council’s Health and Community Services Portfolio Committee No. 2 – into the Provision of drug rehabilitation services in regional, rural and remote New South Wales, found a dearth of available services. Yes, we need services, and yes, we also need to develop an wholistic approach to the problem.
The inquiry heard from the Northern New South Wales Local Health District that the drug of choice continues to be alcohol 38 per cent, followed by opioids 24 per cent, cannabinoids 10 per cent, then amphetamines 15 per cent.
The inquiry also heard that whilst amphetamines use was lower than others that were known to the health district, the resulting mayhem was exponentially greater. They heard from many here and across our region, including my electorate of Lismore which takes in Tenterfield, Lismore, Kyogle, Murwillumbah and part of the Tweed Valley. (See the attached electoral map)
Many of our local people more expert in this matter did appear before the committee providing informative and evidence-based submissions. I have read all and they articulate the nature of the problem, the lack of services and inadequate responses.
I am aware that there is a Drug Court operating quite successfully, and there is a glaring need to have one here and elsewhere in the region. Regions should not be disadvantaged justice wise due to geography.
I am aware that some will say it must be purpose built and have specialist judges, yet it need not be so.
Judges who preside over Magistrates Courts see the entire gamut of matters day in and day out and know well about therapeutic justice. Ninety two per cent of all matters go before our local courts, and given that figure, it is sui generis that they could respond well sitting as a Drug Court. We do not need to build ‘Taj Mahals’ every time we need a particularised service approach. This applies whether it be a Drugs Court, Children’s Court or a Youth and Adult Koori Court, all needed.
A local court can be deemed a Drugs Court if empowered to do so. It does however need the concomitant services to sit alongside it and that is what we do not have. The Minister for Health The Honourable Brad Hazzard MP, acknowledges this in the response given through him, for the Government to the Legislative Council Inquiry Report, notably with the ‘in-principle’ support given to Recommendation No. 5.
I wish to note and promote here the solid work done by the Lismore City Council’s Social Justice and Crime Prevention Committee, conceived and chaired by Cr. Edwina Lloyd. It has yet to tender its final report to the Council. I was privy to its last meeting and the findings and recommendations going forward and agree with the findings and endorse the recommendations. I understand these will be presented to the Special Commission today.
I would hope that the Special Commission will find that the language used such as the ‘War on Drugs’ is not helpful and is in any case a war that has failed us all. It is akin to declaring war on our kids albeit many adult kids, and their families. The best approach will be one that recognises ICE and drug use is a major health and social issue, and responds accordingly.
Given I am not appearing, I wanted to at least provide a letter that put forward in very general terms the voices, pleas and the extreme urgency to better respond, better service, and reorient how we address this. October will seem a long way off, to many struggling with addiction, to families struggling to cope and to services stretched to the limit and not able to respond, but I look forward to the Special Commission’s final report being tendered at this time.