STUART GRIMLEY MP

Member for Western Victoria
Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party

Fiona Patten’s Drug Decriminalisation Bill

Mr GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (16:44): I am trying to edit this as I go, to try to reduce the time frame so we can get a few extra crossbench speakers on. I rise to speak on Ms Patten’s Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Decriminalisation of Possession and Use of Drugs of Dependence) Bill 2022. From the outset I will say that Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party will not be supporting this bill, and it will not be a surprise to anyone in this chamber and particularly Ms Patten— we have had a conversation about it previously. But I have to say that our party and I also appreciate what the Reason Party are doing, which is trying to break the cycle of addiction through a health response.

However, we do not believe that this is hitting the right balance. We can find some common ground here today, and that is predominantly what I would like to make my contribution about, because I know with more voices we can encourage the government to do more in the space of rehabilitation. I was going to prosecute the specifics of the bill, but I will not in the interests of time. I will just make a comment in relation to the word ‘decriminalisation’. It has been mentioned before and previously, through the media communications of the Reason Party and in the title of the bill, and I am just not too sure if decriminalisation is the right aspect of this particular bill, but I will be interested to hear that in the summing up regardless.

The bill specifies that no proceedings can be brought against a person up to 24 months after the alleged commission of an offence, and from what I have been informed this is intended to allow for the completion of the education and rehabilitation programs, especially if it goes up to 12 months in duration. Given that the use of a drug dependence would become a summary offence, it is likely to impact current bail thresholds.

This bill also allows for an adjourned bond or an adjourned undertaking to be given in instances where a small quantity possession charge is filed, and this will allow for the drug education treatment notice to be fulfilled. The act already has an extensive section—section 76—that deals with directing the court to divert someone. In this instance the person needs to satisfy the criteria, including having no similar prior offences, in order to attend a drug education and information program, considering the character and antecedents of the person as well as a public interest test. But if these criteria are satisfied, the court must not convict the offender. So this already exists under the act for cannabis offences. The bill seeks to expand this direction to the court for all drugs. The bill seeks to introduce these reforms by 1 July 2022, which is a pretty short time line. Whilst I think Ms Patten and her office have acknowledged this, they have also been clear that in order for this bill to pass we need additional investment in rehabilitation. Unfortunately we have not seen serious investment for some time, which is exceptionally disappointing.

Ms Patten has used a few figures when prosecuting her case for the decriminalisation of drugs. I will just put these on the record, and perhaps if we have time, you can just come back to me with those statistics. In particular:

Of the 32 860 drug arrests in Victoria last year, 26 195, or just on 80 per cent, were for the offences of drug use or possession only …

was one of the quotes. The word ‘arrests’ has been used throughout communications, but my curiosity was piqued when I heard these claims. As a former police officer I thought, ‘Jeez, that’s a lot of arrests’. It appears that within this statement it may have been excluded that those arrests also include a summons, and the two processes are quite different. A summons is not exactly an arrest. On further investigation I found out that there were 14 438 individual offenders recorded for the last reporting period—starkly less than the 26 195 number that has been used by the Reason Party. In most cases a number of similar offences will be heard together in the courts. In addition to this the Crime Statistics Agency data shows that of the 4797 arrests or summons filed for cannabis offences, there were 2792 cautions or warnings given. For amphetamines it was 365 versus 99. Once again, maybe some of these statistical anomalies can be clarified in the summing up. We should also remember that many charges might result in drug education and information programs, adjourned undertakings or community correction orders with appropriate conditions. So whilst the numbers still show a huge amount of drug use and possession, we contend that there has been a bit of massaging perhaps in the statistics within this campaign. If anything, it represents an opportunity to invest in more programs and rehabilitation, which I will talk about shortly.

This leads me to the common ground that our parties share and that is alcohol and other drug rehabilitation investment. Members in this place know that during COVID times there were absolutely no detox beds in some areas. That meant that if you had an addiction and you were ready to go down the path of rehabilitation and you wanted to get clean, there was nowhere for you to go and nowhere to detox, which meant that you could not enter rehab either. How in the world are we supposed to be fixing the problem of drug addiction when people literally cannot get help even if they want it? Take the very real case of the Lookout, a residential rehab proposal in Warrnambool in my electorate of Western Victoria. The Western Region Alcohol & Drug Centre have been pushing for this proposal and doing all the legwork for half a decade plus. Their work is to be highly commended, especially that of Geoff Soma. The facility will cost $3.5 million in capital works plus ongoing costs. It is ready to go, depending on any additional specific requirements from the Department of Health. It has been to VCAT, it has been approved and it needs to be built next year to ensure it does not need to go through the arduous planning process once again.

The government, when I have raised this funding need, have referred me to the investments in the budget last year and the alcohol and other drug inquiry in Shepparton. Well, as fantastic as these initiatives are, and I welcome the opening of Corio’s facility just a few weeks ago, we need to do much, much more. Infrastructure Victoria’s 30-year strategy asked the government to:

… build residential detoxification and rehabilitation facilities in regional Victoria to provide equitable access to alcohol and other drug treatment …

within five years. The clock is ticking—literally. All right. This is totally shameful, and we need urgent investment. I could talk a hell of a lot longer about all of this, but I have been given the wind-up and in the interests of my crossbench colleagues I will sum up.

I will sum up by mentioning that I have received numerous police communications over my time here, and I have one in particular that I want to share. It is in relation to a couple of jobs that a police member attended recently and to some people having mental health episodes. In particular one of the persons advised—the partner advised—that she had just taken ice a month ago. In another episode a 16-yearold male who was transported to an ambulance was having an episode causing significant harm to himself. They were advised that he had just recently started to take LSD. So there are these things that are happening in the community right now that are quite traumatic for all community members, in particular police members and family members, and the police are doing a wonderful job. Despite what is bandied around here sometimes, the police do do a wonderful job in protecting our communities and keeping them safe. They are very professional in what they do.

Like I have said, we will not be supporting this bill, but we would implore the government to get serious about investing in alcohol and other drug rehabilitation and all its associated support mechanisms.

STUART GRIMLEY MP

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