Two old political foes will unite to kickstart the debate about expanding Sydney's lone medically supervised drug consumption centre to new areas and new ways to help users of the drug ice. Nearly two decades since a summit inspired by a Sun-Herald story led to an overhaul of NSW drug policy, former premier Bob Carr and opposition leader John Brogden will address a second summit at State Parliament next month.
The 1999 summit, held against the backdrop of a heroin epidemic, led to the highly controversial supervised medical injecting centre in Kings Cross.
Next month's summit, the initiative of a group of MPs from across political divides, will consider how a harm-minimisation approach could be extended to today's major drug challenges, including the rising availability and use of ice.
"My reflection 15 years later is that the world hasn't ended," Mr Brogden said of the injecting centre, which he famously broke with his party to vote for as Liberal leader. "This is the debate that needs to be had: whether or not the centres should follow the problem.
"The community won't support a proliferation of drug centres.
"But the objectives have to be to keep as many people alive as possible and get as many people off drugs as possible."
While the major parties play a dead bat on the idea, a cross-party working group of Liberal, Labor, Greens and an independent MP have taken the initiative to revive debate about new harm-minimisation policies.
Medical experts have called for the expansion of the supervised-consumption concept to include safe smoking rooms for ice, a model that has been adopted in western Sydney.
Medical and legal experts will join the former party leaders at the summit. Former High Court judge Michael Kirby will deliver the keynote address.
"As a former professional politician, [I know] you can only go so far as you can persuade the community," said Mr Carr who has endorsed a trial of an ice smoking room. "It's a very healthy thing that members of Parliament across the divide are talking about harm minimisation."
The government says it has no plans to expand the supervised consumption concept. Labor has expressed reservations about the safety of staff working in any such centres.
Liberal and Labor mayors in Sydney's west have also spoken out against the concept.
"Elected representatives should vigorously examine all approaches to the drug problem with a view to testing strategies to respond to changing circumstances," said Liberal MP Shayne Mallard, a member of the working group calling the summit.
Another group member, Labor MP Jo Haylen, was pilloried by News Corporation and pulled into line by her party for backing another drug reform proposal which also has Mr Carr's backing: trialling a pill testing scheme for music festivals.
The state government has dismissed that policy despite some doctors threatening to defy it and run programs at music festivals.
But the clinical director of drug and alcohol services at St Vincent's Hospital, Nadine Ezard, said the government should look anew at the issue of pill testing because it could be a source of useful intelligence about Sydney's fast-evolving drug market, and the sale of new and emerging drugs of concern.
Dr Ezard said the conference also needed to look at reforms such as the vexed issue of syringe programs within prisons, broader reform of drug laws and earlier detection and treatment of substance use problems.
Mr Brogden did not back a pill testing trial, which he said could be seen as the government facilitating drug use among non-dependent users.
Many in the Liberal Party, including Premier Mike Baird, voted against the Kings Cross safe injecting room, which was only made permanent in 2010 after a "trial" that ran for a decade.
A handful of senior cabinet ministers broke with party ranks to extend its tenure, including Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian and Health Minister Jillian Skinner.
James Robertson and Eamonn Duff
This article was originally published in the Sun Herald on July 24, 2016