This month marks four years since the New South Wales Government established the Special Commission of Inquiry into the drug "ice". The inquiry involved a 14‑month‑long investigation led by Professor Dan Howard, SC. It received 250 submissions and was rooted in research, advice and data provided by experts, peak bodies, community leaders and those with lived experience of drug use. After in excess of $10 million was spent on the inquiry, the expert opinion that was handed down to the Government two years ago emphasised the importance of comprehensive criminal law reform, prevention and harm-reduction strategies, and adequate investment into health services and education. The inquiry delivered 109 recommendations, including reforms to the current law-and-order approach that has, in many ways, only served to make things worse. It is an approach that has led to an over-reliance on drug dogs and strip searches, and it has unnecessarily forced countless people—many of whom are from marginalised communities—into the criminal justice system. The recommendations of the inquiry clearly point to another approach, and we need to listen.
The inquiry was established as an urgent attempt to protect the safety of people across New South Wales and, as former Premier Berejiklian suggested, "to get help for those who need it." We have recently been told that the Perrottet Government will support only 86 of the 109 recommendations. Those that have been accepted will make a difference. Measures that support a harm-minimisation approach, diversion programs and investment in drug and alcohol services are welcome. I note the expansion of the Drug Court, the Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment [MERIT] program and circle sentencing for First Nations people, as well as the $350 million investment to support health programs and treatment. While I note the recommendations represent progress, I fear that many of the changes necessary to save lives have been rejected. When we look at this gap of 23 recommendations, we find that a lot of significant measures have been dismissed.
As members would know, I have long advocated for an approach towards illicit drug use that is based in evidence, compassion and pragmatism. We know that we cannot "arrest our way" out of the problem, and I will continue to join with legal, health and social experts in emphasising that this is, above all else, a health issue that demands a health-focused response. In order to "get help for those who need it", we need to pursue a health‑focused approach to illicit drug use. When we sort through the evidence that has been laid out for us by experts, all signs point to decriminalisation, yet this necessary change, at the advice of specialist bodies, has been blatantly ignored within the response handed down by the Government in September.
We also need to understand that the Government's limited response to the inquiry is not an accurate representation of where voters would like to see the trajectory of our drug laws heading. A survey conducted by the Uniting Church last year polled five electorates held by State Government MPs who have previously rejected calls to decriminalise the possession of illicit drugs. Those electorates are Willoughby, Monaro, Baulkham Hills, Parramatta and Coffs Harbour, which have all maintained traditionally conservative voting leanings. More than 3,200 people were polled, with the results of the survey finding that the majority of respondents were opposed to criminal sanctions on people who possess small amounts of drugs. That view was one of the recommendations that the Government unfortunately rejected in September this year. As is the case with so many issues, the community is well ahead of politicians who populate these benches.
The evidence is in and there is broad support in the community to make progress. We need the political courage to have a conversation that brings people and politicians together. In 1999 former Premier Bob Carr hosted a drug summit in the Parliament that resulted in some of the most progressive drug policies in our State. The summit brought together experts—including drug consumers and their families, health and frontline workers, and those working in law and order—to learn, discuss and decide on a better way forward. Following the summit the first medically supervised injecting centre opened in Kings Cross, where nurses have since supervised over one million injections and treated in excess of 8,500 overdoses without a single death. Our vulnerable youth were also diverted away from the prison system and were instead connected to counselling and rehabilitation support through the youth drug court, which was dissolved in 2012.
It has been 23 years since the summit, and the Government's response to the ice inquiry shows that it is once again time to bring people together from across New South Wales who understand the need for reform. We know in this State how to do this, and we can do it again. The people of New South Wales deserve a just and evidence-based approach to illicit drug use. A drug summit held by a Minns Labor government would be a powerful step towards that approach.