June 2019 Edition, the Nimbin Good Times

There has to be a better way

There has to be a better way

By Janelle Saffin, State Member for Lismore

Firstly, I want to say it is an honour to be your representative and I will do everything I can to improve the lives of all residents of Nimbin and district, and across the electorate of Lismore.

I said in my inaugural speech that I am in Parliament because I am proudly an activist, not a career politician, and to make a real difference for our communities I will advocate for people as fearlessly as I can.

The Premier’s Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug ‘Ice’ would not allow me to present in person when it sat in Lismore recently, so what follows are excerpts from my written submission to chart a better way for responding to drugs more effectively and safely.

The current way clearly is not working.

Having been a community advocate for some 40 years here in Lismore 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. 

… A recent inquiry conducted by the NSW Legislative Council 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.

… 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.  I say this aware of the jurisdictional issues.  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.

… 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 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 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.

… I wanted to at least put forward in very general terms the voices, pleas and 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.