When it comes to the challenge of illicit drugs, the people here, politicians, are not the experts, can read reports; we can analyse statistics; and, yes, we can make assumptions based on stories in the media—but the truth is we cannot really fathom the cost of illicit drug use or make sense of the solutions unless we talk to those who are most affected by it.
We must respect and work with drug consumers and we must listen to doctors, nurses, paramedics, social workers, drug and alcohol specialists, academics, legal professionals and police who rise to the challenge of illicit drug use each and every day. They are the experts. They deserve our support and our respect.
On 11 August I joined with members from across the Parliament in hosting the Harm Minimisation Summit, a chance for parliamentarians to listen to and learn from those at the coalface of harm minimisation in New South Wales.
I sincerely thank the cross-party members, the member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich; members of the Legislative Council, Liberal Mr Shayne Mallard and The Greens Dr Mehreen Faruqi; and the many other members of Parliament who took the time to join us and to listen.
More than 100 representatives from across the sector converged on Parliament House to discuss the merits of harm minimisation, along with luminaries including the Hon Michael Kirby, former High Court Justice of Australia and now President of the United Nation's Human Rights Council; former New South Wales Premier the Hon. Bob Carr; former Leader of the Opposition John Brogden; and the former Director of Public Prosecutions in New South Wales, Nicholas Cowdery, QC.
Each of the contributors brought a wealth of knowledge, gained from careers spent in emergency rooms, drug and alcohol centres, courtrooms and universities.
The summit considered the international context of harm minimisation and looked at New South Wales's leadership in establishing the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre. We considered the current challenge of illicit drug use, spurred by the evolution of new and synthetic drugs, and debated the merits of approaches including pill testing at music festivals.
For almost five hours, we put politics aside and took a hard look at the evidence. The clearest message from the summit was that if we in this place are brave, that if we set aside our preconceptions and work together, we can meet this common threat.
This week the members of the Harm Minimisation Roundtable will present the Premier and Leader of the Opposition with an open letter signed by some of the most eminent doctors and legal professionals in the State.
The letter calls for a new Drugs Summit like the historic summit in 1999, held in the New South Wales Parliament and with the power to make recommendations and offer legislation.
As the challenge of drug use evolves, we have to evolve with it, and only a summit of that stature will allow for the expert views and evidence to be at the heart of the debate.
A key outcome of the 1999 summit was the founding of the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre in Kings Cross. Both the founding and current medical directors of the centre—Dr Ingrid van Beek and Dr Marianne Jauncey—spoke at our summit last week. Both spoke of the vital and ongoing importance of the centre to harm minimisation in New South Wales and Australia.
Frankly, I was disappointed and shocked at the statements made by the Deputy Premier in relation to the Centre during question time on 10 August.
A review of the legislation enabling the Centre's operation is under way and we must not prejudge that review. Leaked submissions suggest extending the Centre's service arrangements to pregnant women and teenagers over 16 years of age. These at-risk groups are currently prohibited from accessing the Centre.
Whether or not one believes that has merit—and I respect that people will have differing views—what is clear is that the Deputy Premier's claim that this is somehow an effort to drum up business on the part of the workers at the Centre is both reprehensible and unfounded.
The Deputy Premier's comments are deeply offensive to frontline health workers and disregard how difficult and complex their work can be. The Deputy Premier should unreservedly apologise.
When it comes to the challenge of illicit drug use, politicians are not the experts. We have to set aside our preconceived notions and learn from the doctors, nurses and paramedics who work with drug users every day.
We must listen to those who know this problem best and be both compassionate and pragmatic. We must put evidence before ideology.
We will not fix the problem by judging and demeaning those who either take drugs or treat those who take drugs.
It is abundantly clear that we will not fix the problem unless we put politics aside and work together. Last week's summit was the first step. I say to all of those who want to keep this conversation going, to those in the community and to my colleagues from both sides of the House that my door is always open to keep that conversation and debate continuing.