DRUGS, POISONS AND CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES AMENDMENT BILL 2013

Written on the 28 February 2014

Second reading
20 February - Debate resumed from 12 December 2013; motion of Hon. G. K. RICH-PHILLIPS (Assistant Treasurer).

Mr JENNINGS (South Eastern Metropolitan) -- I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment Bill 2013. The measure follows a succession of amending bills to legislation in Victoria that have been introduced by the Napthine government and its predecessor, the Baillieu government, over three years as the coalition government grapples with its legislative framework and its ability to enforce what it describes as a tough-on-crime and tough-on-drugs regime.

Unfortunately the government has increasingly demonstrated through its succession of legislative proposals that it is playing catch-up rather than being ahead in a coherent and cogent framework for dealing with these matters.

Despite the derogatory comments I have just made in introducing my contribution, can I say that Labor will not oppose this piece of legislation, just as it has not opposed the previous three versions of legislation that have come to the Victorian Parliament in the last three years. This is primarily because we share a concern, which hopefully is at the heart of the government's concern, about the potential dangers and risks to our citizens associated with the use of illicit substances, or in this case synthetic substances, that may lead to psychotic and dangerous behaviour, or add to the misery of some Victorians. That is the reason we do not oppose this legislation. We believe there should be a cogent, consistent and enforceable regime relating to these matters in Victoria. That is the spirit in which we do not oppose this legislation.

When previous bills in this area have come before the house, in my contribution on behalf of the Labor Party on every occasion I have indicated that rhetoric in relation to these matters, as demonstrated in legislation, is not good enough in terms of achieving the outcomes of the protection of our citizens and the encouragement of safe practices in the Victorian community. We need to regulate drugs and poisons, particularly drugs of dependence, in this state in a consistent and appropriate manner to provide for effective enforcement and effective compliance. Whilst our lifestyle in Victoria is safe, we need to ensure that we are not going down the path of creating repressive legislative environments that are enshrined by statute but are unenforceable by either the police or the health department, which is responsible for regulation of the drugs and poisons sector.

Indeed, what members will observe if they note the delivery of not only the legislative framework but also the propaganda that has been associated with these reforms during the life of this government is that the initial legislative reforms were carried, promoted and understood to be within the domain of the Minister for Mental Health, who was charged with responsibility for the relevant act. However, the last two pieces of legislation have had the lead minister, and the way in which the government has chosen to have these issues understood, as the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, which in many ways is a symbolic rhetorical framing of legislation, as I indicated. It may be at the behest of law enforcement agencies including the police, in terms of them wanting additional rigour in relation to their ability to enforce these arrangements, that has led to the refinements in this piece of legislation. It may well be that the police have advised the government that they are unable to effectively enforce the legislative intention of the government without these additional powers.

Again, that is the reason the opposition will not be opposing the legislation.

However, I repeat my argument on behalf of the Labor Party and significant members of the community that the ongoing litany of legislative reforms are always attempting to play catch-up and are always attempting to enable a theoretical rigour in terms of the governance of activities around the production and distribution of synthetic drugs and cannabis, as it relates to the use of bongs in the state of Victoria. The track record of the Victorian government over the last three years has indicated that it has not been able to satisfy its rhetorical position or establish a cogent, coherent and consistent legislative framework, and that it keeps on adding to the legislative program in Victoria at a greater rate than it adds to the safety and security of the Victorian community.

I will explain what might seem to be a confusing position adopted on behalf of Victorian Labor.

It might be easier, given my criticisms, for us to oppose the bill, but in the spirit of allowing the government to deliver a cogent and enforceable framework which is consistently applied across what the government believes, on the advice of the health department and law enforcement agencies, is the legislative structure it needs to protect the safety of Victorians at this time, we will support the bill.

The bill prescribes a number of synthetic drug substances. It adds -- cumulatively, during the life of the government -- more than 30 synthetic drugs to the banned substances list in Victoria. From my vantage point, it is disappointing that the government has decided it needs to introduce specific legislation for a whole series of variations of synthetic analogue constructions of chemical compounds, going beyond the intention of the very first piece of legislation the government brought in on this matter.

When the government purported to ban Kronic in Victoria, it created an environment in which, on the basis of proper advice, the minister could by regulation harmonise with the drug enforcement regime of Australia and with other jurisdictions, to amend -- by regulation, as I said -- the list of substances that were banned and prohibited within Australia. That empowering regulatory framework enabled a contemporary and real-time adjustment on the basis of real-time medical and law enforcement advice about what substances needed to be added to the schedule of banned substances within the legislative framework. It seemed conceptually to be a model that enabled a real-time appropriate response by the relevant minister to add to the schedule of banned substances in Victoria.

In terms of that mechanism to capture those substances, it may be argued that prosecutions may not be secured in courts by law enforcement agencies if the substances have been physically captured and withdrawn from sale by the agencies but there is some doubt about the rigour of the schedule. That may be argued; I have not actually heard the government argue that, but it may be argued, and it may be argued today.

That may be a reason for needing to specify in legislation each and every compound and each and every substance, but it seems to me that inevitably there will be two consequences of the approach now adopted by the government. That approach is to retrospectively prescribe specific substances, or analogues or derivatives of those substances -- always in a reactive way and always trying to play catch-up.

Illicit drug manufacturers have demonstrated consistently over the years, in Australia and around the world, their ability to move into new chemical compounds and constructs, which may be beyond where the law is set but which deliver a form of induced high, and to find a market and use for them. It may well be that this approach adopted by the government now will guarantee by design that it never catches up with that entrepreneurial and inventive spirit within the illicit drug manufacturing sector. That is one problem.

The other problem is that enforcement may not necessarily be enhanced unless there are very accurate and forensic assessments available to law enforcement agencies and also that the courts have the ability to accept the proof of what can be sometimes tightly and sometimes loosely defined within the legislative framework, which is what the actual crime is, what the appropriate penalty for it is and the enforceability of the laws. I think this will continue to be a problem.

In fact the approach adopted by this piece of legislation may have the unintended consequences of roping in various analogues of substances that in other instances may be totally legal in the state of Victoria, if not in Australia or other jurisdictions. The opposition does not have to account for this; however, the government does. A number of interested parties in Victoria -- the most significant of which being the Eros Foundation, which has provided the government with information and furnished the opposition and presumably the Greens with it as well -- have drawn to the attention of the government the fact that there will be unintended consequences for the analogues described in the legislation, particularly in relation to nicotine and alcohol products.

Drugs of dependence such as nicotine and alcohol are usually dealt with in a far less regulated environment than the prism of the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981. There is the potential for the analogues of alcohol and nicotine substances to be roped into the provisions of the bill, which I am virtually certain is not the intention of the government. It certainly would not be the intention of the police to prosecute the sellers and distributors of alcohol and nicotine under the provisions of the act. I imagine the government would be extremely anxious about that matter if it sincerely believes that the total scope of this legislation is going to be enforced in the state.

If I were to be cynical for a minute, I would indicate to the chamber that the government possibly does not have that level of internal anxiety, because it knows there is a huge discrepancy between the rhetorical scope and ability to enforce these laws and the real ability to enforce them.

In fact the real effect of these laws will be far more negligible than what they may be in theory, but it is appropriate for us to identify what those problems may be in terms of their structure and the way in which the government has gone about creating this legislative environment.

From the very first occasion on which the government introduced reforms on these matters some two and a half to three years ago questions were asked about the resource allocation that was to be provided to the Department of Health and Victoria Police in terms of their ability to enforce the changes to the law. Specific questions were asked of the minister at the table at the time about the additional resource allocation. Even though he asserted that additional resources and efforts would be dedicated to this issue, he could not quantify them.

At no point in time have I seen any documentation provided by the government about the additional resource allocation that has been provided for the enforcement of these laws that the government has introduced. At no stage has the government been able to answer questions about the availability of synthetic cannabinoids that may be purchased via the internet and delivered by Australia Post, whether the government has any ability to regulate that space or whether it has taken any action.

Ms Crozier interjected.

Mr JENNINGS -- A very soft and gentle interjection has come across the chamber to me about this being a federal jurisdiction in relation to regulating Australia Post. If that is the case, what is the pretence that the Victorian government is entering into about its ability to enforce these matters and laws without a national regulatory and law enforcement approach?

What is the pretence? Why do we now have a proliferation of four pieces of legislation in the state of Victoria with an acknowledgement by way of a very gentle interjection that the ability to enforce this may be negligible? That is my contention and my argument with the Victorian government. That is my challenge to it. Regardless of its rhetorical flourish about being tough on these matters and protecting our citizens, how can the government demonstrate its ability to enforce this legislation in a way that guarantees that the source of supply has been cut off?

The government is not alive to active consideration of the ways in which this issue may be addressed in a more appropriate fashion by harmonising the approach to regulations through a health framework or a community education framework that promotes safe practices and individuals taking control of their lives across the broad spectrum of drugs of dependence.

Our community deserves additional protection from such drugs through the prism of knowledge, empowerment and options that are available to individuals so that they might be better informed about healthy lifestyles and the ways in which they can protect themselves from the scourge of drugs of dependence.

There is not necessarily an emphasis on those elements of community support. Resources provided by the Victorian government have flatlined in the area of drug and alcohol services over the life of this government. They have literally flatlined because there has not been an increase in real terms to the budget that has been allocated to the alcohol and drugs sector in Victoria. Recent reforms introduced by this government in the alcohol and drugs sector which will change the provision of alcohol and drug services may lead to a reduction in the amount of community support provided by agencies.

There may be an emphasis on assessment and triaging of citizens needing assistance from those agencies rather than a focus on the increase of the provision of those services across the range of therapeutic, residential and other forms of support.

The government demonstrates an extraordinarily mixed message of concern, given that it has had three years to increase the effort it puts into alcohol and drug services and to increase community education and backup to our citizens who may be vulnerable to these substances. It has consistently chosen not to invest in that area. It has equally chosen not to invest in law enforcement in this area. It has chosen not to add to the ability of Victoria Police, through enhanced resource, effort or focus capacity, to enforce these laws or to harmonise with other jurisdictions, including the Australian government, so that law enforcement could more effectively work. In almost three and a half years the government has not taken those opportunities, yet it is trying to catch up by adding to its armoury of legislation.

The government has not been prepared to consider it through a parliamentary committee. It gives many ridiculous references to parliamentary committees. In fact, the Minister for Health sends a whole proliferation of ridiculous references to parliamentary committees, but he has sent not one on this issue. There has not been one on this issue in relation to the way in which we could establish a more appropriate way of addressing these issues to provide community protection for a realistic way in which drugs of dependence can be regulated in this space despite the urging of organisations such as the Eros Foundation and other members of the community, who say, 'Even if we enter into these debates from diametrically opposed views and priorities, let's try to find a rigour and an environment that delivers the best-balanced outcomes that can be implemented consistently in the state of Victoria'.

Those organisations have recommended an approach similar to that which is being developed in New Zealand, which instead of adopting a reactionary and reactive approach to legislative reform has adopted a proactive one based on a higher degree of regulation and certainty about what drugs of dependence are in the marketplace. It may well be that members of the government say this is naive and an overly optimistic view of the ability of any government to regulate this space and of the community's acceptance of regulation in this space. However, there has not even been a preparedness to embark on a conversation about these matters; that is the extraordinary thing. There has not even been a conversation about whether there is an alternative way.

The evidence to which attention has been drawn in New Zealand -- and this information has been provided to the government -- indicates that there has been a significant reduction in the distribution and availability of drugs of dependence in New Zealand.

Certainly, this is true through the prism of outlets for the supply of the substances captured by this legislation. A few years ago there were perhaps as many as 4000 outlets in New Zealand selling these products, and now that has been reduced to perhaps as few as 200 outlets. That is a significant reduction. It is a 20-fold reduction in the number of outlets. In fact, I think my maths may have let me down there. It has been reduced 20 times, but I do not think that means it is a 20-fold reduction. Notwithstanding my self-imposed correction, reducing the number of outlets from 4000 to 200 is a significant reduction in availability through the source of supply of these drugs of dependence in New Zealand. That is what I want to draw attention to.

The approach that is being adopted in New Zealand is that the health department and various agencies in New Zealand feel a responsibility to undertake a greater degree of forensic examination not only of the chemical substances that may be on sale but to ascertain what their physiological and emotional effects may be on the people who use them. They then make a judgement based upon evidence about the appropriate degree of regulation that should apply to those substances. Whilst that approach has a whole range of dangers related to the longevity and reliability of the analysis, I would be an advocate for those models being explored and given consideration to in a public policy setting and a regulatory environment, and of testing those models in terms of the science that underpins them, the enforceability of such a regime and the confidence that the Victorian community or the Australian community may have in our ability to regulate these matters in a different way into the future.

We should not be fearful of those discussions.

We, as a Parliament, should be sophisticated enough and mature enough to look at the best way in which we can educate the community on these matters, and regulate and enforce these matters in the years to come. I hope that opportunity may be afforded us in the years to come, but it seems that the current government is not prepared to entertain it. In fact the government is far more interested in the symbolic and short-term effects of the reactive pieces of legislation it consistently brings into the Victorian Parliament.

It may well be that once I have listened to the contributions of government members today I will have an enhanced understanding and acceptance of the logic and rigour that has brought this piece of legislation to the Parliament. I look forward to hearing that, but I am not anticipating it. I look forward to hearing from government members today a preparedness to entertain a sensible, consistent and coherent conversation within the Parliament and the broader community about these matters, but I am not expecting that.

I am expecting a very defensive, self-satisfied series of contributions that indicate that the government, for the fourth time during the course of the last three and a half years of legislative reform in this place, knows exactly what it is doing and is confident in what it is doing. It says that it is tough on drugs and tough on crime. It is sending a coherent and consistent message that is tough, but by the mere fact that this is the fourth piece of legislation in this area, it is demonstrating by its own actions that it has been pretty ineffective in legislative reform in this area in the last four years.

The government may be able to provide us with a greater degree of confidence. On the last two occasions that I have taken legislation on this subject into the committee stage the minister has given undertakings that have not been met. I do not see any value in taking the minister to the table again on these matters, because I do not take any comfort from the answers that he has provided me with on previous occasions. I think I would be wasting and insulting the Parliament's time by doing it today.
For the cumulative reasons I have described, the opposition will not oppose the bill. If it plays a positive role in protecting any of our citizens in the short term, then we can use that as the justification for not opposing it today.

 

 

Ms HARTLAND (Western Metropolitan) -- I thank Mr Jennings for his contribution.

The Greens will be supporting this bill, but I also have concerns about the fact that this is the fourth time that we have dealt with this matter and the fact that this bill has been on the notice paper for quite some time. During that period the substances we are talking about today will, as I understand it, have been on the shelves and available to be purchased.

I urge the government to look at the New Zealand model of regulating new drugs. The legislation, which is referred to as the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013, was passed last year by the New Zealand Parliament with a margin of 119 to 1, which is a fairly significant margin. Support was obtained from seven different political parties across the New Zealand political spectrum. The law will create a new government agency within the Ministry of Health, the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority, which will be charged with ensuring that synthetic psychoactive products meet adequate safety standards before they go on to market.

My understanding from a reading of the literature is that this has made it possible to deal more quickly with these drugs as they come on to the market. It has also meant that about 90 per cent of the items that have been presented have been knocked off, because they do not meet any kind of health and safety guidelines. The law has also established other regulations such as a minimum purchasing age of 18. At the moment I understand that people can just buy these things on the internet or by walking into various shops. Further regulations place restrictions on retail outlets, including a ban on sales in convenience stores and requirements for labelling and packaging. It is incredibly important that people know, when they are buying a substance, what is in it so that if they have a major psychotic episode, they can take it along to the hospital and the doctors will know what it is that they have ingested. There is also a ban on advertising.

It is interesting to note the number of organisations in New Zealand that support this legislation. The Drug Policy Alliance in New Zealand had this to say about the new regulatory system:

Individuals and companies who wish to apply for approval of a new drug product must demonstrate that the product poses a low risk of harm to the consumer. The application process requires the product to undergo rigorous clinical trials to examine toxicity and addictiveness (at the expense of the producer/importer) followed by an evaluation of the results by an independent expert advisory committee.

Simply banning these drugs only incentivises producers to develop drugs that get around the law --
and that is exactly what is happening now.

That is why, for the fourth time, we are having to deal with this legislation. I have probably said on the last three occasions this legislation has been before the house that every time we ban one substance it is renamed, reconfigured and brought back on the market again.

I urge the government to not bring these bills continuously to the Parliament and instead really look at the problem. The appropriate place for a reference to be sent would be the Law Reform, Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee. I take up Mr Jennings's remarks about the references that go to our upper house committees. They do not have a huge amount of relevance, but referring this bill would have a massive amount of relevance. It would be good to look at the New Zealand model and other overseas models. As far as I can see, the New Zealand model means that as new drugs come onto the market they can be dealt with in real time, rather than waiting three, four or five months for a new piece of legislation to come into force to ban them.

I suspect that in a few weeks time we may have to deal with this issue again. If that is so, the next time such a bill is brought before the Parliament the Greens will attempt to refer it to a committee.

I know the government will block that move because it seems not to want to look at anything it does not agree with. I urge the government to be sensible about this matter: refer the bill to the Law Reform, Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee and assess the New Zealand model to see if that is the right model for us and whether it is working there. Let us have a different approach to this issue, because the drugs we are talking about in this bill have probably now been on the market for five months and once we ban this lot, next week there will be a new set of drugs to be dealt with. I urge the government to rethink the way it is doing this. It should refer the bill to a parliamentary committee and come up with a piece of legislation that deals with these problems, rather than always lagging behind.


 

Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) -- I am pleased to rise this morning to speak on the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment Bill 2013. Before I comment on other members' contributions I would like to remind members of the chamber that the government makes no apology for its strong stance on law and order issues and in relation to that initiative its hard stance on illegal drug activities. This bill also reflects the commitment of the government to further enhance Victoria's reduction in the alcohol and drug toll, as set out in great detail in the document entitled Reducing the Alcohol and Drug Toll -- Victoria's Plan 2013-2017.We need to reinforce the message to young people about the effects of illegal drug use.

What we are dealing with in this bill is a difficult, fast-moving and emerging drug problem -- and not just in this state; it is a problem right across the country and indeed in other countries. I remind members that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime put out a very good report entitled The Challenge of New Psychoactive Substances. Mr Jennings made derogatory comments about the government playing catch-up. I remind him that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report says:

The fast-paced nature of this market, the increased availability of these substances and the reports of increased and emerging use of and trade in such substances have drawn concerns among the international community as there is the potential for transnational organised criminal groups to exploit the market for these substances.
The government is not working in isolation.

This issue is recognised as a concern at an international level, so to say we are playing catch-up is quite ridiculous. Mr Jennings also said that there needs to be an inquiry, and Ms Hartland also suggested this. I remind members that the Law Reform, Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee is currently holding a detailed inquiry into the supply and use of methamphetamines, particularly ice, in Victoria. Throughout his contribution Mr Jennings spoke about how we need to look at the emergence and distribution of these drugs through internet channels and Australia Post. These are huge challenges across the country, but this particular inquiry has terms of reference, and I will read them out in part so Mr Jennings is aware of what the inquiry is actually doing. The committee is required to:

1. examine the channels of supply of methamphetamine, including direct importation and local manufacture of final product and raw constituent chemical precursors and ingredients;

2. examine the supply and distribution of methamphetamine and links to organised crime organisations, including outlaw motorcycle gangs;

3. examine the nature, prevalence and culture of methamphetamine use in Victoria, particularly amongst young people, Indigenous people and those who live in rural areas;

4. examine the links between methamphetamine use and crime, in particular crimes against the person ...

The reference goes on. What that inquiry is doing in relation to the harmful effects of drug use is of particular relevance to the overall issue of how we are dealing with a very insidious aspect of drug abuse in our community.

To return to the bill, this is another important bill.

It follows on from regulations introduced in 2011 by the Minister for Mental Health to ban a number of synthetic cannabinoids and in 2012, by way of amendments to the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981, to add a total of eight broad chemical groups, including synthetic cannabinoids, to the list of drugs of dependence in that act. We are looking at what we can do across the spectrum of broad drug use. I have referred to the inquiry into methamphetamine use, but this bill is about sending a message to our young people about the very dangerous effects of these kinds of drugs and looking into how we can perhaps deal with that by sending a message to crime gangs that perpetrate such illegal activities.

The bill extends the definition of 'drug of dependence' to include the analogues of certain drugs that have structural similarities to illicit drugs. Those drugs are similar in nature to hallucinogens, more broadly known by members of the community as LSD because of how they can affect people.

There have been some tragic stories about the use of these sorts of drugs. There was the very sad story of a young Sydney man under the influence of one of these drugs, N-BOMe, as it is known. He took a pill, his family could not control him, he thought he could fly and he plunged to his death. It is a tragic story, and it highlights the influence synthetic drugs can have.

These tragic stories are alarming. Recently we heard the story of five people in Victoria who consumed the drug Marley. They became very ill and ended up in one of our emergency departments. These drugs are having a great impact on our health services, our emergency departments, our law enforcement agencies and our health workers, who are having to deal with people under the influence of drugs. The various agencies responding to these issues have done a tremendous job, and I commend the police and health services for working together in many of these instances. It is very difficult.

Psychostimulants, as they are known, have some very severe effects, and the reports of seizures, tremors, agitation and hallucinations are extreme. The full effects of these drugs are not yet widely known. Research suggests that their immediate effects, such as organ failure, and their long-term effects are still to be fully determined, but it is evident that the immediate effects can include violent behaviour. Some drugs have a hallucinogenic effect, which may result in people failing to properly understand what their actions might entail.

The bill adds 30 new synthetic substances or classes of synthetic substances to the list of drugs of dependence.

As we know, the chemical formula of some drugs can be altered, but the government is addressing that by adding those substances to the list. The bill allows law enforcement agencies such as Victoria Police to provide drugs of dependence, poisons or controlled substances and substances or items used in illicit drug production to external laboratories in Victoria or in other states or territories for scientific testing and analysis. Victoria Police will work in collaboration with other agencies that are trying to get on top of what is going on in illicit drug laboratories.

The bill will enable Victoria Police to forfeit or destroy any bongs, bong components or bong kits that it has seized in connection with the serving of infringement notices that might already be in place. That sends a message that those items cannot be reused or resold.

A number of elements in the bill deal with the illicit drug problem, which is a national and an international problem. The design of these drugs makes it a difficult issue. They provide legal highs, as has been said, but they can have devastating effects on individuals. The long-term health effects of these drugs are not yet fully known, but we have heard too many reports from emergency departments about their ill effects, and we are hearing these reports on a regular basis.

Those suffering the ill effects of these drugs are taking up a lot of the resources of our health services and law enforcement agencies. We should do anything we can to send a message to young people about the harmful and devastating effects of the drugs that are on our streets and coming into our community. That is partly what this bill does -- it sends a very strong message. It will allow law enforcement officers to seize bong kits and prevent people from reselling them.

The bill sends a message to outlets that sell these drugs, whether they be sex shops or tobacconists, that the drugs have extraordinarily harmful effects. The proprietors of those outlets have a responsibility to understand fully what they are selling.

I commend the minister, and I commend all the agencies involved in this area who are working extremely hard to do what they can to assist in addressing this problem. As I stated at the outset, this is an international problem. The United Nations, in a report it published last year, highlighted the rapid emergence of these new drugs onto the market. The government is taking this matter seriously. The Parliament's Law Reform, Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee is currently working on its inquiry into the supply and use of methamphetamines, particularly ice, in Victoria. These issues are all related. That inquiry is not directly related to synthetic drugs, but it is looking at the illegal use of drugs in our community.

It sends a message to our community that we are looking at what is going on with these drugs, their harm and illegal use. It sends a message to criminal gangs and those involved in criminal activities associated with illegal drug use that those activities will not be tolerated. This government makes no apology for its strong stance on law and order, and it makes no apology for including illegal drug activities in its law and order policies.

The Minister for Mental Health, Ms Wooldridge, is doing a lot to address the increasing levels of people in Victoria with mental illnesses. There are increased mental health services right across metropolitan Melbourne and country Victoria. Ms Woodridge is well aware of the issues at hand, and she has done a tremendous job. I commend the Minister for Mental Health. I also commend the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, who is obviously working with his agencies to address these concerns. I commend the bill to the house.

 


Mr SCHEFFER (Eastern Victoria) -- The second-reading speech for the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment Bill 2013, which amends the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981, reminds us that the Parliament most recently amended the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act to extend a ban on synthetic cannabinoids and to ban several other synthetic substances. The 2012 amendments to the act followed a series of amendments over time, which have been referred to in previous contributions, that restricted the availability and use of drugs of dependence, particularly cannabinoids. In the 2011 amendments to the act, eight synthetic cannabinoids were classified as drugs of dependence.

The bill before us today is a further instalment in that it extends the definition of 'drugs of dependence' to include drug analogues -- that is, designer drugs that are modified in laboratories -- and it adds 30 such synthetic substances to schedule 11 of the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981. The bill permits police to provide seized drugs of dependence to laboratories for scientific testing and analysis and also enables the police to take bongs and bong kits when they serve infringement notices and destroy them where the infringement is upheld.
I make the point again that law enforcement agencies are caught up in an arms race where the manufacturers of synthetically designed drugs such as cannabinoids outrun the ability of authorities to legally control their manufacture and distribution. In his contribution Mr Jennings pointed out that at the end of the day this is an unwinnable contest.

I pointed out in my contribution to the debate on the 2012 amendments to the principal act that almost as soon as toxicologists identify a synthetic substance, a new version is developed that is beyond the reach of the law. The manufacturers of new synthetic substances now have the capacity to create a new variant, with very minute changes to the chemical structure, in a very short time.

The second-reading speech states that the synthetic drug market is developing rapidly and that new legislative responses such as the provisions contained in the bill are necessary to keep pace with this market. The government says that the purpose of adding the 30 additional synthetic substances to schedule 11 of the act is to deter the supply and use of these substances by declaring them to be illicit drugs and by applying the same serious manufacturing, trafficking and possession offences as apply to the production, supply and possession of other illicit drugs.

In the bill the government for the first time provides Victoria Police with the power to supply drugs of dependence, poisons or controlled substances, and precursors that have been used and seized by the police, to appropriate and authorised external testing facilities for testing and analysis. The opposition has previously called for this power to be given to Victoria Police, and it recognises that the bill corrects what was a weakness in the legislation. The government says it is committed to maintaining strong laws against drug dealing and drug use while supporting drug users to change their behaviour. It also indicates that it is deeply concerned about the rapid emergence of these new synthetic drugs and their availability both online and through retailing. That is all good and well, but I guess the question is how the government plans to address this dual concern and on the one hand put in place a legal regime that prevents drug dealing and on the other provide the necessary support for users to come off the drugs.

The bill provides an incremental shift to increasing police powers to have synthetic drugs tested and analysed. As I said, it places another 30 substances in schedule 11 and permits police to remove bong kits. These measures only scratch the surface of this huge global issue to which the second-reading speech refers -- namely, the warnings from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the listing of 73 newly developed psychoactive substances identified by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre's Trends in Drug Use and Related Harms in Australia, 2001 to 2013 report in relation to illicit drugs indicates that opium and cocaine use has declined or stabilised, ecstasy is up, there is evidence that the number of people with a drug dependency is stable, and the number of people who inject drugs is declining.

But there is a continuing expansion in the seizure of psychoactive substances in Europe and an increase in the use of psychoactive substances, which is posing new and serious problems for law enforcement authorities and treatment services. The report notes that in Australia there was a decline in illicit drug use between 1998 and 2010, while 2010 showed a significant increase primarily due to cannabis and non-medical pharmaceutical use, with cocaine used sporadically by only a very small percentage -- 2.1 per cent -- of the general population.

That brings me to alcohol and tobacco use. The report says that tobacco continues to cause more ill health and premature death than any other drug we know; alcohol consumption being the second. Serious harms resulting from our legal drugs completely overwhelm the harm caused by illicit drugs, and while the effects of methamphetamines, cannabinoids and other synthetic psychoactive drugs are without doubt very serious for the individuals and families involved, they appear to affect a very small percentage of the general population.

The Australian National Council on Drugs reported late last year that one in eight deaths of Australians aged under 25 years is related to alcohol consumption and that almost two-thirds of young people aged between 18 and 29 years said they drank specifically to get drunk. These are shocking statistics, and while there is a gradual turnaround in public understanding of the fact that alcohol is dangerous, albeit legal, we still permit advertising and have not made really serious and determined efforts to reduce its harmful use.

While the number of people who smoke has fallen dramatically, it is still around 15 per cent of the population. Alcohol consumption is far higher, at 80.5 per cent -- a fall from 83 per cent in 2007 -- whereas cannabis use was at 9.1 per cent in 2007, down from 17.9 per cent in 1998. It was then up again to 10.3 per cent by 2010. In 2010 ecstasy use was at around 3 per cent and heroin use was less than 1 per cent. The use of pharmaceutical opioids increased from 0.2 per cent to 0.4 per cent between 2007 and 2010, methamphetamine use is reported to be stable at 2.1 per cent -- on recent evidence it is perhaps rising from that, but that is on 2010 figures -- and cocaine use remains relatively low at around 2 per cent.

Trends in Drug Use and Related Harms in Australia, 2001 to 2013 states that there is no data available on the use of emerging psychoactive substances such as mephedrone, methylenedioxypyrovalerone and synthetic cannabinoids. It indicates that this data is scheduled to be collected in 2013 as part of the National Drug Strategy household survey. While this data is a rear-vision view, it illustrates the point that while it is important for authorities to protect the community from psychoactive synthetic drugs, we need to keep in perspective the prevalence of their use in the community, and policy-makers and governments need to keep the main focus on reducing tobacco use and the harmful consumption of alcohol. The problems posed by the psychoactive synthetic substances with which this bill is concerned are profound because, as I have indicated, there is potentially no end to the creation of new modified substances, and simply adding more and more substances to schedule 11 does not seem to be a sustainable solution, even though it may be part of the solution.

Mr Jennings drew attention to the Australian Drug Foundation's view that there is merit in the approach taken in New Zealand, where the onus is put on the manufacturers of synthetic psychoactive substances to show that the products they retail are safe for human consumption. Mr Sam Biondo, the CEO of the Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association, has said that further bans are not the answer, that substances need to be labelled so that users know what is in a package and that some form of regulation and harm reduction messaging would help save lives. In his contribution Mr Jennings also referred to work of the Eros Foundation, stating that its views should be seriously entertained by all of us in the available mix of issues and options, a view which I support.

The arrest last year by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of Dread Pirate Robert, also known as Ross Ulbricht, the founder of the online drug retail site Silk Road, was one of last year's most compelling and revealing stories.

Even though Silk Road was located in the 'dark net', a space not accessible through Google, Carole Cadwalladr reported in the Guardian of 7 October that this huge and sophisticated drug market place was nonetheless a mouse click away and that she accessed it in 10 minutes. She wrote:

Drugs are just another market, and on Silk Road it was a market laid bare, differentiated by price, quality, point of origin, supposed effects and lavish user reviews. There were categories for 'cannabis', 'dissociatives', 'ecstasy', 'opioids', 'prescription', 'psychedelics', 'stimulants' and, my favourite, 'precursors'.

Cadwalladr made an order under a false name but used her real address:

Two days later an envelope arrived at my door with an address in Bethnal Green Road, East London, on the return label and a small vacuum-packed package inside: a small lump of dope.

While Silk Road was closed, there is no doubt that other sites have replaced it.

The interesting point is that the structure of the illicit drug market may in fact be not all that different to the legal alcohol market. Often the language on alcohol websites is redolent of romance and good taste -- chardonnay, pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, merlot or cognac, scotch. Then you have martinis, harvey wallbangers and screwdrivers -- all in the catalogues that we see. We are very comfortable with these because we feel easy about these age-old and legitimate drugs, but that masks the fact that alcohol can also be a dangerous substance and can cause huge harm, as I have indicated through the devastating statistics that are available to us.

The drug alcohol may not work its negative effects on us as quickly as some of the dangerous synthetic substances that are the subject of this bill, but it is nonetheless a matter of huge concern for public health.

This is a very complex area of public policy. It is enmeshed in our culture. Maybe the illicit substances and cannabinoids that we are discussing in this bill are not part of the open culture that many of us are part of, but there is a huge subterranean culture, which many of us are not fully aware of, that is engaged with the buying, selling and use of these drugs, and these are embedded and spliced into our legitimate markets and our commerce. It is a complex issue.

Many of these substances are very dangerous either in the long or the short term; some affect very few people and others impact directly or indirectly on millions of people.


 

Mrs COOTE (Southern Metropolitan) -- It gives me great pleasure to speak on the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment Bill 2013 and to say that this is another example of the Napthine coalition government addressing what is a very complex issue. All the speakers today have all emphasised in different ways how difficult an area this is. I commend Mr Scheffer for his contribution. It was well-thought through and contained a lot of pertinent and interesting facts. He said that this is an unwinnable contest, and that is absolutely what we are facing. This bill is about the changing nature of what these drugs are today.In 1999 we saw the height of the heroin era. Members may recall that there was a lot of discussion about whether to introduce safe interjecting rooms, which was a very contentious issue. Heroin was the major drug of that time.

As insidious as heroin is, we knew what we were dealing with. We knew that there were various drugs to treat alcohol and drug addiction, including Naltrexone and a whole range of other therapeutic approaches. We also knew the reactions of the people using heroin. We knew that in my own electorate, around St Kilda, pimps had their girls out on the streets because the girls were addicted to heroin and prostituted themselves just to get their next fix. We understood that heroin is an insidious drug, but we knew a bit about it and could work with those people.

The drugs we are speaking of today are a very different breed of drugs. They are cheap and not as messy as heroin. Many drug takers see heroin as messy and as being the lowest of the low of drugs. People who were injecting heroin were seen by other drug takers as being the worst members of the drug culture. However, the new drugs we are speaking of today are very fast moving and cheap. Often people do not know what is in them, therefore it is extremely difficult to know how to treat the people affected by them.

Drug treatments, substitutes and antidotes for some of the new drugs have not yet been developed, so we need to look at opportunities and ways to manage people who use these drugs -- for example, ice.

Ice is such an insidious drug. We have absolutely no idea what is in it; its content can change from batch to batch. The difficulty is that the people who take ice can become aggressive, but they are not always aggressive. They can use ice for a considerable period of time until aggression manifests itself, living quite comfortably in their normal routines until ice use overtakes them and they face disaster. It is very hard to know how to wind it back, and I know that various drug agencies are working very hard to see what they can do to make this situation better.

I recently spoke to a leader of one of the drug agencies, who said that the first thing they do with people who present with ice problems is try to calm them down. If they can be calmed down, then a therapeutic approach can be started and the problem can be dealt with. The difficulty is that often the staff at drug agencies have no idea what is in the drugs that people have taken.

In his contribution Mr Scheffer also spoke about alcohol and alcohol usage, which leads me to a dilemma faced by all of us as policy-makers. Alcohol is used by the bulk of people in our community in a very responsible way; however, there are elements in society who overly abuse it. Recently there has been a very worrying trend towards binge drinking and problems with alcohol-fuelled violence, both within the home and on our streets. It is true that we are also confronted with a huge alcohol marketing exercise which is very difficult to counteract.

Nevertheless, statistics do not lie; they show us that the greatest impact of any drug on our community is the aftermath of alcohol abuse, including car accidents. I refer not only to the deaths caused by car accidents but also to the ramifications of severe injuries caused as a consequence of alcohol-related accidents.

In many instances family violence is pre-empted by alcohol use. Alcohol is readily available and easy to abuse. Children and young people are often able to buy bulk cheap alcohol and 'pre-load' before going off to a nightclub because they do not want to buy the expensive drinks that are on sale at those nightclubs. Often they are already half tanked by the time they get to the clubs because they buy readily available alcohol from the liquor outlets.

Government members have some serious questions to face about how we see alcohol.

I know that the Minister for Community Services, Minister Wooldridge, has done an extraordinary job in looking at and addressing much of this issue, which is very concerning to us as a government. Members of the coalition are taking a whole-of-government approach to this issue.

The drugs we are dealing with in the bill before us are a very different breed of drugs from those which were causing problems one and two decades ago. We are dealing with a breed of drugs that is seen as being more acceptable -- they are seen as being clean, easy and obtainable.

Mr Scheffer made a very thoughtful contribution to the debate; however, I cannot say the same about the contributions made by Mr Jennings and Ms Hartland. I was very disappointed to hear from both of them. Mr Jennings has made some very good contributions to debates in this chamber at times, but his contribution today was certainly not one of them. It was all over the shop and had very little substance and no direct involvement with what we are talking about. He tried to score points on a bill that is too important to have political ramifications. To be perfectly frank, his contribution did him no credit and was beneath him. It was not one of his better contributions.
Ms Hartland takes every opportunity she can to look at the negative side of anything, and she has done so again. She does this time and again. She is quite unrealistic and takes an almost bleeding-heart, wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve approach. The issue of illegal drug use is too important for that.

This issue affects everyone in our community -- our children, grandparents, parents, young carers and a whole range of people in between. There have been issues around drug-related violence in our hospitals and drug-related violence on our streets -- drug-related violence just about anywhere we care to look. Places we used to think of as safe are now no longer safe.

Why is it that Ms Hartland and Mr Jennings could not say that this bill is another vital step along the pathway to making progress against the challenges that we have in this fight against drugs? I think they both should be very disappointed in their contributions, and I am sure when they read them they will be, as will most voters in Victoria.

I turn to the contents of the bill. This important piece of legislation will crack down on the use of illicit drugs and close loopholes relating to synthetic substances used to circumvent existing drug laws.

In such matters in many instances we are dealing with hardened criminals who do not care about what happens to the people -- including children -- who take these drugs. Lately a very worrying trend has arisen of bikie gangs getting involved in illicit drug manufacture and distribution. Sometimes members of these clubs are people who have never ridden a motorbike in their lives but have become a part of the criminal element and are often involved in making and distributing the very drugs we are speaking about.

They find those loopholes; they look at them and see if they can come up with another recipe so they can sell and distribute their insidious drugs. As it was last time we debated this issue, this is an attempt to address the issue and send a very clear message that illegal drug use -- taking it, selling it and producing it -- is unacceptable to the Napthine government.

First we allowed the Minister for Health to ban certain chemical compositions for a period of up to 12 months, and we allowed the government to move swiftly on rapidly evolving synthetic drugs. This allowed the minister to ban Kronic and other synthetic cannabinoids, which are microscopically different to banned drugs but which cause the same symptoms and lasting damage. Then we passed a bill through the Parliament, after the last debate we had, continuing the ban on those drugs.

There are 30 new synthetic substances that we are debating here today. This bill will continue the course of banning unacceptable recipes and drugs. These synthetic drugs mimic banned substances such as ecstasy, cannabis and LSD. Unlike legal pharmaceuticals, they are untested, and it is extremely likely that they are unsafe for human consumption. They are frequently marketed as a 'legal high', which can give users a false sense of security, lulling them into believing that these drugs are not as dangerous as they really are.

Just in this past fortnight the chief health officer has issued a warning for health professionals regarding synthetic cannabinoids, which once again are hitting the market. This alert was issued after three people were hospitalised in a 36-hour period after using these drugs. This alert, issued to health professionals, emergency departments and intensive care units, notes that these drugs include 'undisclosed chemicals not approved for human consumption and known to be harmful to human health'. It lists some of the symptoms associated with these synthetic drugs, while warning that due to the chemical ingredients not being listed, symptoms can be unpredictable. It suggests symptoms may include agitation, confusion, seizures, vomiting, loss of consciousness, hypertension or hypotension, myocardial ischaemia and myocardial dysfunction.

This bill also expands the definition of a drug of dependence to include drug analogues.

Currently the definition includes any form of a drug of dependence, which includes salts and isomers, but it does not specifically include drug analogues. Drug analogues are synthetic substances that have a chemical composition similar to illicit drugs. This change will allow us to catch more synthetic drugs under the umbrella of a drug of dependence, and it will allow the police and public health professionals to act more swiftly in protecting the community from the dangers of these chemical products.

The bill allows Victoria Police to supply seized drugs to external testing facilities for the purposes of testing and analysis. The existing law does not allow Victoria Police to supply these drugs to external facilities; it allows supply only to internal forensic services departments. The reason for this change is that the Australian Federal Police has commenced a project obtaining drug samples from across Australia to provide better intelligence in combatting drug dealing and supply. By granting the power for Victoria Police to provide samples to external facilities, this bill will allow Victoria Police to participate in this project and help reduce the number of Victorians using illicit drugs.
We had a long debate last year about the sale of bongs. Presently when bongs, bong components and bong kits are seized the court may order them to be forfeited and destroyed if a person is found guilty of an offence.

If the person is served with an infringement notice, however, there is no power to order forfeiture and destroy seized items. This bill closes that loophole by allowing this to occur.

In conclusion, this bill continues to tighten Victoria's approach to combatting the illicit drug trade. It makes some important changes to the legislation to better protect Victorians from some harmful products in circulation, and it also allows Victoria Police to cooperate and participate in a national project run by the federal police, which will provide the drug squad with valuable intelligence.

As I said at the outset in quoting Mr Scheffer, this is a very difficult contest. It is us, as legislators and people with responsibilities, together with the health professionals, against this huge, well-organised criminal component in our community.

Just because it is a contest that is difficult does not necessarily mean that it is unwinnable, as Mr Scheffer has said. Every attempt that we can make to crack down on any loophole to make Victoria safer from drugs is something to be commended. I commend the bill to the house. I commend the Napthine government ministers who are working on this matter. I believe the people of Victoria welcome such bills, which give them confidence that we are anti-crime.

 

 

Mr ELASMAR (Northern Metropolitan) -- I wish to make a brief contribution to the debate on the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment Bill 2013. As a parent I am horrified to see the emergence of even more chemically concocted pills cooked up in dirty homemade laboratories. Our young people who swallow these tablets are putting their lives at risk for a cheap thrill. They do not realise the negative effects of the dirty parts of the pills.

Our police are working hard to stem the flow of these dangerous drugs by raiding and smashing these labs, which are producing many thousands of tablets that are sold daily on the streets and nightly in our bars and clubs.

It is not enough to get tough on these despoilers of our younger generation. We need to educate our young people on the dangers of illegal pill popping. Unfortunately the war on drugs is being lost in the hearts and minds of vulnerable kids. Some kids take these drugs because of peer pressure -- everyone else is taking them, so it must be cool -- or out of sheer boredom. Victoria needs a strategy not just to tackle the dealers and the despicable manufacturers of these drugs but to actually educate and inform young people of the inherent dangers of synthetic drugs and how they can kill or permanently damage the central nervous system.

It has been stated before that Labor does not oppose this bill; in fact Labor recognises that the bill attempts to address the commonplace emergence of these synthetic drugs. Our young people are in greater danger than ever before in the history of drug taking, because anyone with a basic knowledge of chemistry can set up a crude, no doubt filthy laboratory in their own home and start using pills based on pseudoephedrine -- a drug originally formulated for sinus congestion -- to make ice, ecstasy or a new-generation pill simply called 'P'. I would have liked to have seen additional money set aside for a program to minimise or educate people about the dangers involved. This should be done as early as possible in the formative years of our kids.

There is no doubt in my mind that the global war on drugs is failing.

A proportion of the money allocated to the antismoking campaign -- and please do not take me the wrong way, because I understand the devastation of smoking-related diseases on families and on health budgets around the world -- could be better used. We need to understand that additional fines and punishments are not working. We need to spend a good deal more money on prevention rather than counterproductive measures. More jails will come at a cost to the taxpayer, but more heartbreak will be the overriding factor that will affect us all as a community. We need to understand the complexities of drug taking, and we need to eradicate it -- by preventing it before it begins.

Motion agreed to.

Read second time; by leave, proceeded to third reading.

Third reading

Motion agreed to.

Read third time.

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