Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Medically Supervised Injecting Centre) Bill 2023

Second Reading

Danny O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (12:10): I am pleased to say a few words on this legislation, and it is very difficult legislation. I would actually like to compliment the member for Melton for some of his commentary, particularly as one of the few of us in here that actually speak with experience of overdoses and treating people as a paramedic, and I will come back to him. For the benefit of the member for Mordialloc, I would like to just re-read the key parts of the member for Lowan’s reasoned amendment. It is that:

… this bill be withdrawn and redrafted to prevent a medically supervised injecting centre from operating in near proximity to schools, childcare centres and community centres.

The member for Mordialloc came out with a load of rubbish about how the opposition does not care about drug addicts, does not care about deaths on the streets and wants to put people out in the desert and leave them to themselves and then had the cheek and the absolute gall to suggest that we are playing politics on this.

Tim Richardson interjected.

Danny O’BRIEN: Have a read of the reasoned amendment, member for Mordialloc. Have a read of it and have a think about whether it is reasonable or not. As a former Parliamentary Secretary for Schools I would have thought he might be standing up and saying, ‘I agree that the medically supervised injecting centre’s a good idea; let’s just not have it next to a primary school.’ I would have thought that might be what you were saying. It is extraordinary that the member for Mordialloc has gotten up and tried to attack the opposition for being political about it and then failed to actually understand what the reasoned amendment by the member for Lowan actually does.

I want to come back to the member for Melton, because as I said, I have a lot of respect for his expertise and experiences on this.

Tim Richardson: You won’t listen to him.

Danny O’BRIEN: Well, I will listen to him. I will go to the point. I will agree to disagree with the member for Melton, but he made the point that he actually supports the idea that there should be more of these. We then had the member for Mordialloc complaining that the opposition at some time in the past were saying that there might be more medically supervised injecting rooms. This is the logical fallacy. Absolutely, we on this side understand the need to address drug addiction and to address people dying on the streets – and again I will come later to what we did at the election – but to suggest that this is the be-all and end-all and the only solution is just wrong. It is wrong on the basis that yes, there’s a problem in North Richmond, so we are going to put an injecting centre there. Well, what about the bowling alley that the member for Melton talked about? Why isn’t there one in Footscray? Why isn’t there one in Mildura? Why isn’t there one in Latrobe Valley? I mean, it becomes this absolutist argument, and then I think we actually get into problems. There is a logical inconsistency in the argument that this is the only solution and we must have it here at North Richmond because it saves lives when there are people dying elsewhere.

Indeed the Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association highlighted the statistics to us recently in terms of overdoses across the state. In terms of metro Melbourne, they have not changed in recent years. They have not dropped dramatically as a result of the medically supervised injecting room. These are the fatal drug overdoses overall in the last couple of years in metro Melbourne. Starting in, say, 2016, there were 373; in 2017, 388; in 2018, 393; in 2019, 383; in 2020, even during the lockdowns, 396; and in 2021, 399. That is overall, it is not just heroin. That is the overdose death rate, and these are tragic circumstances. But to suggest that putting the effort, the money, the time and the resources put into one facility in North Richmond is the only and best solution I think is wrong, and that is what I want to go to.

The member for Mordialloc will say, ‘Well, what’s your solution?’ Well, we had an election, and we took our solution to that election. It was actually quite comprehensive, but at its core was the commitment to establish Australia’s first hydromorphone treatment program, a supervised injectable opioid treatment, or SIOT, program, at a major hospital. It is one of the things that is being done around the world to help people who are addicted to illegal drugs, to stop the deaths and to get them off and out of that cycle of addiction.

We committed to opening 180 withdrawal and residential rehabilitation beds across six sites, including in the Latrobe Valley in my neck of the woods, Mildura, Warrnambool, Shepparton, Frankston and Melbourne as well, because that is a significant issue. When you talk to families about the issues that they are struggling with with children with a drug addiction – when I say ‘children’, they are adult children in the main – the issue is the inability to get treatment, the inability to get someone in to actually deal with their addiction and get them off the drugs in the first place. That is something that we want to address. We think we could be doing much more to address that, to save those lives, to get people off drugs and to get them out of the cycle of addiction.

I do want to be critical of the government when it comes to the issue that is at the heart of the member for Lowan’s reasoned amendment, and that is the amenity. One of the goals of the medically supervised injecting room trial was to improve neighbourhood amenity for nearby residents and local businesses. We have got the Ryan report – we have got an excerpt or a summary from the Ryan report because the government has not provided the full report. I note, before the member for Mordialloc jumps in again, that the government promised to improve the amenity with the trial. It promised to improve the amenity of the local area before the Hamilton report came out and then again afterwards, and it has promised to do it again since. Yet still we have got from the Ryan report itself, from the government’s own report, that that amenity is not being improved in the nearby area. That is a difficulty. There are quotes in that Ryan report from local residents:

It’s not a positive experience going to maternal and child health when people are having loud arguments outside. Other mums have been intimidated, people trying to touch their baby, so don’t go back. The entrance is right next to the room …

the room being the drug-injecting room. Another local resident said:

I walk my daughter to school, witness fights, brazen drug deals, drug use, drug-affected people.

I am not suggesting for a minute that was not happening before the drug-injecting room was established. Of course it was. That is one of the reasons it was established, and it happens elsewhere. But the government set a goal of trying to address that and it is failing in that respect.

That brings me to the idea of a second drug-injecting room in the CBD of Melbourne. We know the government bought the old Yooralla building. We know there has been an ongoing debate about a new room being set up right opposite Flinders Street station, next to Degraves Street. I am, for my sins, a member of the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee, and the member for Mordialloc will remember this: in December 2020 I asked the then health minister when the Lay report was going to be released and he said, ‘Before Christmas’. Often we do make the mistake of not asking the question which Christmas, but I did in fact on that day. I asked the former Minister for Health: ‘Do you mean by the 2020 Christmas?’ He said, ‘Yes, hopefully.’ Here we are now in March 2023 and the government still has not released the Lay report. I do not know what is going on, but I am sure there are political concerns in there as well.

It comes to the point that I raised earlier: the Premier has given us one excuse that there are changing patterns of drug use. It is moving around. It gets to the point that I made earlier about the logical inconsistency of saying, ‘Well, if we put a centre here, it is going to fix everything because the problem is the problem moves around.’ I do not know that this is the right approach. Indeed the Premier’s own justification for not releasing the Lay report and for saying that the issue continues to move around is reason enough to move the North Richmond injecting centre, which is still right next to a primary school. That has seen huge impacts on the local community. We have had reports in the media, and anyone who goes down and visits can see it: sex acts, a person wielding a machete, drug injecting, drug dealing, needlestick injuries and even a dead body, unfortunately, on the MSIR ground in public view of the children as they walk to school.

Steve McGhie interjected.

Danny O’BRIEN: The member for Melton is right. Of course we had that before. But why would you create the honey pot, the focus of it right next to a primary school? That is the thing that is wrong about this legislation, and that is why I support the member for Lowan’s reasoned amendment.

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