Full transcript and video of Melissa Price's parliament address on Psychoactive Substances

Memo for Ms Price

This proof report is issued by direction of the Speaker.

Ms PRICE (Durack) (13:25): I am pleased to rise to speak on this bill, the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Psychoactive Substances and Other Measures) Bill 2014, and about an issue which is, sadly, very important within my large electorate of Durack and in all communities throughout Australia. This bill amends a series of acts including the Criminal Code Act 1995, the Customs Act 1901 and the Surveillance Devices Act 2004. The bill contains a range of measures to improve Commonwealth criminal justice arrangements, including the following three: banning the importation of substances that have a psychoactive effect but are not otherwise regulated or banned; ensuring that Australian Customs and Border Protection Service officers have appropriate powers to stop these substances at the borders; and validating access by the Australian Federal Police to certain investigative powers in designated state airports.

While the bill comprises six schedules, I want to focus today on schedule 1, which will amend the Criminal Code Act and the Customs Act to strengthen the Commonwealth's ability to respond to new and emerging illicit drugs, known as new psychoactive substances. These so-called synthetic drugs are designed to mimic the effect of illicit drugs, but their chemical compositions are not captured by existing controls on these drugs. Effectively, what we are talking about is the new ice. There is evidence that manufacturers design the chemical structures of new psychoactive substances to avoid current controls and prohibitions. The amendments in schedule 1 will fill the regulatory gap. They will ensure that new psychoactive substances cannot be imported while the government assesses their harm and considers the appropriate controls to place on them. The measure takes a precautionary approach to dealing with psychoactive substances. It is intended not to replace but to work in parallel with the existing arrangements which regulate the importation of both illicit drugs and substances with a legitimate use into Australia.

The largest urban centre in my electorate is Geraldton, with a population edging on 40,000 people. Too many of its residents suffer from alcohol misuse or from the harm arising from illicit drug use and its associated impacts, including harm to mental health and crime. I am advised by some working in the drug and alcohol services industry that the culture around alcohol in Geraldton is ridiculous. They cited an anecdote about a bouncer, recently seen sprawled on his back across the bar and being fed alcohol through a hose. There are pockets of amphetamine use—drugs such as speed or ice—together with a proportion of new psychoactive substances. These are causing serious issues because they simply cannot be tested at present.

Let us talk about the notions of responsibility and acceptance. Personal harm associated with the use of drugs is considered to be high. In comparison, related crimes such as road accidents and domestic violence are more strongly linked to alcohol abuse. In general, there is an acceptance by those who are extreme drinkers or amphetamine users of substance use and abuse and its impacts—and the acceptance of this use and abuse and its impacts plays an essential role in these people's ongoing substance abuse. But there is an expectation that the police, drug and alcohol agencies will somehow fix the problem, rather than users taking personal responsibility for their own actions and behaviours.

We know that one woman each week in Australia dies from domestic violence. This is clearly not acceptable. I would like to pause for a moment to recognise White Ribbon Day, which is tomorrow 25 November. White Ribbon Day is the international day for the elimination of violence against women and a day when we must stand against domestic violence. This is a community-wide issue in my electorate of Durack. Violence against women and children and much of this harm is fuelled by drug and alcohol abuse.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! In accordance with standing order 43, the time for members’ statements has concluded. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member will have leave to continue her remarks when the debate is resumed.

Ms PRICE (Durack) (15:48): I applaud the Australian and New Zealand police commissioners who this morning came together here at Parliament House to stand against violence towards women and children. I was particularly pleased to see my Western Australian commissioner, Karl O'Callaghan, who joined with this group. This is a very powerful union which sends a strong message that our police leaders take claims of domestic violence seriously and puts perpetrators of domestic violence on notice that Australia does not tolerate domestic violence towards women and children, that perpetrators will be 'punished with the full severity of the law'—to quote the Prime Minister from this morning's event—and that domestic violence victims will be protected.

In Geraldton, amphetamines and other synthetic drugs are prevalent amongst the general population as well as the Aboriginal population. We all see this in our towns, cities, rural communities and remote communities and also within our workplaces, families, friendship groups and neighbourhoods. I recently hosted a community crime forum in Geraldton where my co-host for the day, the Minister for Justice, the Hon. Michael Keenan, was urgently called back to Canberra as soon as he disembarked his flight in Geraldton. The forum, held on 18 September, went some way towards further fleshing out the drug related crime incidence and the causes and strategies in place to counter these in Geraldton. During the forum, we sought the community's views on what practical and tangible actions might be taken to help address the crime and antisocial behaviour which frequently stems from drug and/or alcohol abuse. I acknowledge the City of Greater Geraldton, the Geraldton police and regional Western Australia commander Murray Smallpage for their support of and participation in the forum and the excellent work they are doing in Geraldton and its surrounds to help combat the supply of drugs into the region and to help combat antisocial behaviour, crime, violence and personal harm arising from drug and alcohol abuse.

It is worth recording some key sentiments that emerged from the crime forum discussions amongst the 50-odd participants. One was that illicit drug use feeds crime, including burglary, house break-ins and muggings, and that the regrettable loss of funding for programs such as the youth bus and Midnight Basketball will have adverse impacts. People are terribly concerned about this because they fear an increase in drug taking, antisocial behavior and crime.

Another observation was that leadership within the Geraldton community, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, is strong and that joint endeavours to address drugs, crime and associated impacts of harm and violence are characterised by collaboration and planning amongst stakeholders, both government and not-for-profit groups. There is a strong sense that there is capacity in Geraldton to address the problem; however, a long-term view, with bipartisan support and ongoing funding for programs, is an essential element.

Food, clothing, shelter, education and personal safety were considered causal factors for alcohol and drug abuse and resultant antisocial behaviour, harm and violence. Another observation was that drug and alcohol misuse and abuse are symptoms of greater problems and not the cause of people's problems. There was discussion of parental responsibility. Somehow, we must get parents to exercise responsibility. Money for programs can only achieve so much and is not the complete answer. It is about changing children's lives with their parents; it is not just about taking kids of the streets—although that is a jolly good start.

The discussion at the Geraldton community crime forum inevitably led to discussions that alcohol and illicit drugs are root causes of crime and antisocial behaviour, including domestic violence, underpinned by a range of social issues with which we here are all too familiar.

A number of my constituents in Geraldton are passionate crusaders for drug reform. In particular, they campaign for a reduction in drug usage rather than for a reduction in harm caused by illicit drugs, which, they allege, simply fuels the gateway of the ongoing criminality of illicit drug dealing, manufacture and usage. The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Psychoactive Substances and Other Measures) Bill 2014 will ensure that new psychoactive substances cannot be imported while the government assesses the harm they cause and considers the appropriate controls to place on them—thereby limiting supply and usage.

I am using the opportunity today to commend the work and the initiative being undertaken by the Midwest Gascoyne Human Services Regional Managers Group. This group comprises around 20 members, those members being the heads of government agencies—that is regional managers and CEOs—across the Mid West and Gascoyne regions of Western Australia, and is currently chaired by District Superintendent Andy Greatwood of the WA Police. This group has been in operation since 2006, which is more than eight years. They strive to coordinate resolutions and prioritise locational needs; act as a conduit between community and government departments, systems and processes; and facilitate and clarify funding possibilities to address local issues. The group recently developed a new strategic plan which aims to align the group with the cabinet standing committee on Aboriginal affairs and various state subcommittees. They meet regularly in Geraldton and Carnarvon and have a system of community based subcommittees which collaborate on program delivery, with a good deal of their time dedicated to dealing with the harms of alcohol and drug misuse.

Synthetic psychoactive substances pose a serious risk to the community, just as traditional illicit drugs do. Associated harm and tragic deaths arising from the use of these substances have been well reported. The legislation will ban all psychoactive substances unless they have a legitimate use and will close the loophole that allows people to avoid prosecution by ever so slightly changing the chemical structure of a drug. I commend this bill which amends a series of acts and contains a range of measures to improve Commonwealth criminal justice arrangements, to ban the importation of substances that have a psychoactive effect and that are not otherwise regulated, and to ensure that Australian Customs and Border Protection officers have appropriate powers to stop these substances at the border. I commend this bill to the House.

One step closer to shutting down the synthetic drug trade

Last night the House of Representatives passed the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Psychoactive Substances and Other Measures) Bill 2014.

This legislation will allow law enforcement agencies to charge people who import synthetic drugs whose chemical structures have been deliberately changed so they can be legally imported into our country.

Synthetic drugs are often marketed as legal alternatives to illicit drugs, implying they are somehow safe and credible.

Yet, tragically, we have learned too many times through death or injury to people, especially our young people that this is not the case. These drugs are extremely dangerous.

Existing criminal laws ban illicit drugs based on their chemical structure. However, the rate at which new versions of synthetic drugs appear makes it difficult for our laws to keep up.

These legislative changes put us ahead of the criminals.  Rather than law enforcement agencies having to prove that the particular structure of a psychoactive substance is illegal, all psychoactive substances will be prohibited from importation unless the importer can prove they have a legitimate use.

The new ban will help stop synthetic drugs from being presented as ‘legal’.  Governments and law enforcement agencies will no longer be trying to play catch up every time a ‘new’ synthetic drug is produced.

The ban will add to existing illicit drug offences, which will continue to be the primary way we deal with illicit drugs and the people who try to import them.

The Bill is now subject to debate in the Senate.