I speak on an issue that many local residents in my electorate have a close and personal connection to: treatment and support for those who use illicit drugs. The inner west is home to leading addiction and rehabilitation services, including Odyssey House, MetroRehab in Petersham, United Gardens Clinic and IOH in Ashfield. I acknowledge the hardworking staff, who provide critical support and care for people struggling with addiction. Their work saves lives, and it goes a long way to reduce the stigma and disadvantage that many drug users face.
In the lead-up to the State budget, my office received many emails from local residents calling on the Treasurer to provide recurrent funding for alcohol and drug treatment services in Dubbo. The emails were coordinated by Fair Treatment, a campaign formed by the Uniting Church that has the backing of over 60 partner organisations. The campaign calls for increased access to treatment services, particularly in rural and regional New South Wales, and the introduction of compassionate, health-based responses to drug dependency. The lack of access to these critical services was highlighted in the powerful documentaryHalf a Million Steps, which is the distance a person in regional New South Wales may have to travel to access the drug treatment they need.
The documentary shows the resilience, passion and tenacity of those in our community who are struggling with drug dependency. It is also a powerful reminder to members to treat drug users with respect and dignity, listen to the evidence and recognise illicit drug use for what it is: a complex health issue that demands a compassionate and pragmatic response. I was pleased that in the recent State budget the Government committed $7.5 million to a detoxification and rehabilitation centre in Dubbo. I also note that the budget purports to provide $304 million for alcohol and drug treatment services across New South Wales.
Despite this new funding, the Government was very late to the party with regard to this issue. It lagged behind the Commonwealth, which had already committed $3 million to build a 15-bed rehabilitation centre and an eight-bed detoxification unit, and it announced the funding well after Dubbo Regional Council had committed the land for the much-needed facility. Dubbo deputy mayor and local barrister Stephen Lawrence said on the matter:
Let there be no misapprehension here. This announcement is a consequence of the vigorous and effective community advocacy led by the Dubbo Regional Council. The reality is New South Wales is suffering from an acute shortage of drug treatment services and as welcome as the Dubbo announcement was, much more is needed. These needs should be met by proper public policy and government planning. That this has become a function of local councils in regional NSW is truly an indictment on the National Party. They have proven to be so out of touch that councils in their heartland seats are having to campaign for the provision of basic health services.
It is clear that there is a rump within the Coalition that is determined to put ideology before evidence when it comes to drug policy. Late last year I was pleased to read that the Attorney General and other Ministers were advocating in Cabinet for a more sensible approach to the issue, including issuing warnings and fines for the possession of small amounts of drugs. This kind of reform would go a long way to ending the failed war on drugs and diverting people away from the criminal justice system.
However, I was disappointed—if not surprised—to hear the same old voices defending the status quo. Opponents of the reform do not understand that illicit drug policy is another example of the community being far ahead of their elected representatives. Many local residents have contacted me to express their support for the reform, especially as the Australian Capital Territory is now leading the way on this issue by proposing legislation to effectively decriminalise illicit drug use and States like Oregon in the US have moved in the same direction. I call on the Government to respond to the recommendations of the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug 'Ice' with legislation that is rooted in evidence and compassion and not revert to the same old ideology that costs lives. If we are to respond effectively to the challenge of illicit drugs, we must embrace bold reform. We must also support programs that are proven to work, whether they be rehabilitation centres in the bush or the Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre in Kings Cross.
Finally, I express my disappointment about recent media comments from the Kings Cross Liquor Accord, which called for the relocation of the injecting centre due to the negative impact drug users have had on the area. This attack was misinformed and baseless. It fails to meet basic community standards and ignores the critical role the centre has played in supporting the Kings Cross community and saving lives for the past 20 years. I call on the accord to apologise, listen to medical and other experts in the field, and consider how desperately some communities are fighting for drug and alcohol services.