Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Medically Supervised Injecting Centre) Bill 2017

I wish I did not have to speak on this bill. In fact I wish this bill was not before the house. I wish we did not have people dying in the streets from heroin overdoses, I really do. But what we wish for and the reality of life are never the same. So it is really incumbent upon us to make sure that we make decisions that are in the best interests of people, and when those decisions mean that we can save lives, then we need to stand up and talk about that and we need to develop legislation around that.

I have long been a supporter of medically supervised injecting facilities; I have been a supporter for many, many years. I have followed the St Kilda model, which seems to have made sense to me. In some ways it seemed commonsense that if there is a problem here, then we should look at every avenue we can to address that problem. So while I am sad that we have to speak on a bill such as this, I do welcome the chance to be able to provide some comments.

I will just quickly go through what the bill provides for: the licensing and operation of a single medically supervised injecting centre on a two-year trial basis at North Richmond Community Health, the granting of the licence by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on certain conditions and with potential sanctions for non-compliance, the ongoing operating requirements for the centre including strong oversight of the centre by medical practitioners, review of the trial after 12 months and a potential for the trial to be extended by grant of a second licence for a further period of up to three years, and limited statutory protections against liability for drug users attending the centre and staff working at the North Richmond Community Health premises.

My husband and I have five kids between us, all in their 20s. Four of them, I guess I could say, are very actively engaged in life and attend lots of music festivals and lots of parties. I am so glad they do — they have a great time and it makes me wish I was in my 20s again of course. But I also know that that means that they are exposed to various risks. I do not think I am a stupid parent. I would say some of them, if not all of them, have probably come into contact with drugs and have probably experimented with them — I apologise to my children if I am wrong about that.

Of course what I hope, like any parent, is that they never, ever reach a point of absolute addiction. I hope that they will always be safe and that they will never face those dreadful challenges of having an addiction to heroin. If they do or their friends do, I hope that there is a facility like this where they can go, where they can be safe and where they can be referred to other services, where they will receive counselling, where they will receive referrals to wherever it is that they need to go to. I think that is a great benefit of having a medically supervised injecting facility.

All the evidence says to us that drug addiction, heroin addiction, impacts on all levels of society — rich, poor, it does not matter where you come from, it does not matter about your sexuality, it does not matter about anything. No group, no area is immune to this. So what we need to do is learn as much as we can about how we can prevent and how we can treat addictions. I absolutely agree with the member for Hawthorn. I think that it is so important that we research all methodologies around drug prevention and around drug treatment and around saving the lives of those who are drug addicted.

We do need to learn more, and I think a medically supervised injecting facility not only will save lives but also provide a place where we can focus on new learnings about how to treat drug addiction — about what sort of services we need, what sort of resources we need. It will provide a point where there will be some expertise around this area. I think opportunity to learn more, to do better, we should absolutely embrace.

I want to acknowledge my colleague the member for Buninyong at this point, who I know has also long been an advocate of safe injecting facilities and who I think has been really prominent in leading us to this point. I think it takes a lot of courage and a lot of bravery to be verbal and out there advocating for something like this when it may not be popular with everyone. There will be questions about it, particularly in the beginning of these conversations. So I would like to put on record my thanks to the member for Buninyong and to everyone else who has advocated strongly for this.

I would like to also acknowledge all those whose children have died from any addiction at all. I cannot even imagine, as I mentioned in the beginning, losing a child to this and trying desperately to help. I have lots of friends who either have had an addiction or who have kids that have an addiction, and the grief, the trauma, the anguish and the choices that need to be made are indescribable. I only hope that in future nobody goes through that.

I want to acknowledge too all of those who work tirelessly in this area, who see the most horrific of things and who have such kindness and such strength in their heart. They get up every day and go to work and make it their mission to really support and help those who are in the throes of addiction. I also acknowledge those who are caring for those who are facing addiction.

I would like to dedicate my contribution to a friend of mine, Matthew, who contacted me fairly recently, whose brother died of a heroin overdose. He really pleaded with me that as a Victorian Labor Party we look at the issue of safe injecting rooms with compassion and kindness and also at the evidence behind it — that there are real gains to be made, particularly when it comes to saving people’s lives. So Matthew, in honour of you and in honour of your brother and your family, I want to dedicate my contribution to you. I will leave it there by saying that I fully support this bill, and I wish it a speedy passage through the chamber.