I speak against the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Amendment (Kings Cross and Railways Drug Detection) Bill 2012. My colleague Mr David Shoebridge dealt with this bill in detail and I support his very good words. I shall comment generally on the worrying indication of the Government’s less-than-solid commitment to harm minimisation. It is extremely disappointing that with this bill the Government takes the proven-to-be-ineffective law and order approach to illicit drugs in our community even further. Any drug law enforcement is best targeted at the big fish—the large-scale dealers and importers—who make big bucks out of the misery of addicts, some of whom use the Kings Cross injecting centre and the rail system, about which many members have spoken today. The bill does the exact opposite to supporting an evidence-based health policy.
This bill is more about appeasing opposition from extreme influences in our current Parliament to the injecting centre, which has been hugely successful in saving lives and improving community amenity than about cleaning up the Cross or fighting the phoney war on drugs. In April I asked the police Minister whether any cost-benefit analysis had been conducted of the Government’s law enforcement measures regarding illegal drugs. My question was in response to the release of the Australia21 report on illegal drugs, co-sponsored by former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Palmer and several leading experts in the field, which found that the war on drugs is “killing and criminalising our children and we are all letting it happen”. The police Minister pretty much mocked the report. I read an extract from his response about the cost-benefit analysis, which I received in May:
- The New South Wales Police Force will not relax its fight against illicit drug crime. The New South Wales Police Force is using a range of law enforcement measures to target criminals who profit from the illegal drug trade, the manufacturers of dangerous drugs concocted in backyard laboratories and the major importers and dealers bringing in illegal drugs from overseas.
Does this bill demonstrate this attitude? No, it does not. The Minister, in his response, went on to claim that the police are delivering results on illegal drugs. The Minister spoke about various big drug hauls, such as Strike Force Zambesi, which seized over 10,000 cannabis plants, and many other drug hauls. We hear about these raids from time to time. We know these highly publicised raids are nothing other than attempts to appease the public, to pull the wool over the public’s eyes, and say to them that when it comes to the war on drugs the police are doing something and they are winning. But we know that these raids are nothing but a drop in the ocean of the amount of illicit substances that are bought, sold and used in New South Wales every day.
What are the costs of these enforcement measures? What are the benefits when those drugs that are about to hit the streets are then very quickly replaced? What are the costs and benefits of the so-called war on drugs, including the expansion of the sniffer dog program that the House is debating today, compared to spending that same amount of money running extensive harm minimisation programs? Members of the community are always hearing about “record hauls” and of drug confiscations but where is the reduction in the long-term supply of drugs on the streets? There might be a short-term drop in the supply of some drugs after police confiscation but the demand is soon met by those who literally make a killing out of the Government’s most dismal failure—its failed and phoney war on drugs.
All members are aware of the widespread nature of illegal drug use. Earlier in this debate Mr David Shoebridge commented on the use of legal drugs such as alcohol and the impact that that has on the streets of Kings Cross. It is well known that legal drugs such as tobacco and prescription medications have enormous ramifications and the health costs to society are great. An unimaginable amount of money is made from the sale of illegal drugs and people will go to any lengths to make that money. It is painfully clear that no cost-benefit analysis of responses to illegal drugs has been done in this State. If one has been done this Government and previous governments clearly have ignored any findings, as the results of such a cost-benefit analysis would be damning. A United States study in the early 1990s found that the return on investment of one American dollar to curb the cocaine epidemic was as follows: coca plant eradication 15¢; United States Customs and Police 52¢; and $7.46 for the treatment of cocaine users. The return on harm minimisation measures was about 14 times more effective than the return for law and order measures. The study also found that the United States Government allocated 93 per cent of resources to drug law enforcement and 7 per cent to drug treatment and that resources similar to that were allocated in Australia.
It is surprising that this Government does not want to know the cost-benefit analysis figures for New South Wales. What would be the benefit to society of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on drug law enforcement? The only visible outcome would be if the Government said, “Gee, are we not doing a great job?” That statement belies the fact the drugs are still rife in society. Every few weeks the Government wheels out its tough law enforcement measures and says, “Look at what we are doing to address this problem.” This bill will make it easier to lock up drug users and addicts but it will do nothing to reduce drug supply or the harm that is caused to those who use drugs. Sniffer dogs are about targeting small time and vulnerable users. This Government wants to be seen as addressing the problem but it does not have the courage to do so. Sniffer dogs are an immensely expensive failure in addressing the harm that is caused by illegal drugs. Sniffer dogs are a substitute to the Government taking action that will make a difference to people’s lives. The Australia21 report states:
- Large amounts of public funds are allocated to a failed law and order approach to drug use. These resources would be better directed to managing drug use as a health and social issue as we do with nicotine and alcohol.
Unsurprisingly, the bill ignores this advice and advice from experts globally. This bill is another disgraceful piece of legislation from a Government that is hell-bent on ignoring evidence and science. This Government is hell-bent on appeasing extreme conservative interests at the expense of the community and common sense. The Greens oppose this bill.