Adjournment Speech: NSW Harm Minimisation Summit

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I was pleased to take an adjournment speech as an opportunity to report to the parliament on the recent NSW Drug Harm Minimisation Summit. The community expects their elected representatives to be open to all points of view on complex issues like drug abuse. 

I have attached Hansard of the speech and a video below. 

DRUG HARM MINIMISATION SUMMIT

The Hon. SHAYNE MALLARD ( 18:31 ): I speak about the 2016 Drug Harm Minimisation Summit which was hosted by the Cross-Party Harm Minimisation Roundtable of New South Wales parliamentarians on 11 August in the Jubilee Room of the New South Wales Parliament. More than 100 experts, doctors, legal professionals and community representatives participated in the forum, as well as members of Parliament from across the political spectrum. In 1999 this place hosted the formal government-endorsed drug summit over a five-day period, which heard compelling evidence from professionals in health as well as policy makers, drug users and families impacted by drug abuse.

That summit gave rise to the life-saving Medically Supervised Injecting Centre [MSIC] in Kings Cross. It also gave hope to those at the health and legal front line of drug issues that New South Wales would be more innovative and progressive in its approach to dealing with drugs in our society. It was reported that most attendees were disappointed that this had not happened since that time. We all recognise that the issues of drugs and their use in our society are complex and, frankly, perennial. There is no silver bullet which will provide a solution to the complexities involved but we felt it our duty as members of Parliament to open up the policy discussion. As a result, four parliamentarians from across the spectrum have formed the NSW Cross-Party Harm Minimisation Roundtable: Mehreen Faruqi, MLC, from The Greens; Alex Greenwich, MP, Independent member for Sydney; Jo Haylen, MP, Labor member for Summer Hill; and me as a Liberal Party backbencher. I acknowledge the cooperative and respectful way we have worked together over the past few months. No doubt that cooperation and respectfulness will continue.

Our decision to form this group and hold this summit at Parliament raised a few eyebrows, but it should not have. Members of Parliament should be encouraged and supported to engage openly on the complex issues confronting our communities. The best place to explore policy areas is outside the heated debate on legislation. Issues such as drugs, mental health, homelessness, domestic violence and many others should—and often do—rise above the din of parliamentary battles and achieve stronger cross-party support. I acknowledge the modern upper House committee system, which fulfils that purpose.

The forum was an important opportunity to share information and experiences and to renew the debate around harm minimisation and drug law reform in the New South Wales Parliament, especially given the renewed debate around the MSIC, the advent of ice and synthetic drugs, and, tragically, several unnecessary deaths at dance events over the past year. The feedback on the summit has been overwhelmingly positive. It was an important moment in a conversation that parliamentarians need to keep having.

I acknowledge the presenters who addressed the three sessions. Session 1, "The Historical Context", was addressed by former Premier Bob Carr; former Opposition leader John Brogden, AM; and the founding director of the MSIC, Dr Ingrid van Beek, AM. Bob Carr and John Brogden focused on their history with the drug summit, remembering it was born of a heated election campaign and a typically sustained tabloid attack. When the drug summit's key recommendation came to Parliament in 2003, John Brogden, as leader, granted the Liberals a conscience vote on the matter. He was one of four Opposition members to vote with the Labor Government of the day to trial a supervised injecting centre at Kings Cross.

Session 2, "Where we are now", was addressed by Dr Marianne Jauncy, current Medical Director of the MSIC in Kings Cross; Mr Nicholas Cowdery, former Director of Public Prosecutions; Dr Mary Ellen Harrod, Chief Executive Officer, NSW Users and AIDS Association; and Dr Nadine Ezard, Conjoint Associate Professor, St Vincent's Clinical School and Clinical Director of State Vincent's Alcohol and Drug Service. Session 3, "Harm Minimisation Approaches'', was addressed by Dr Alex Wodak, President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation; Dr Monica Barratt, of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre; and Dr David Caldicott, Emergency Consultant at the Emergency Department of the Calvary Hospital in Canberra and Clinical Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine at the Australian National University; and Ms Karen Price, Deputy Chief Executive Office, AIDS Council of New South Wales [ACON].

The keynote address was by the distinguished Australian and former High Court justice the Hon. Michael Kirby, AC, CMG. Mr Kirby focused on the international context of the so-called war on drugs, highlighting the huge resources of police and courts diverted into the policies around the globe, and those jurisdictions like Portugal and the Czech Republic, where the governments have decriminalised personal possession of certain drugs. Just to be clear, Michael Kirby was not talking about legalisation of drugs but decriminalising personal possession.

The day concluded with a consensus calling on the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition to replicate the 1999 drug summit by hosting another at Parliament. I echo that call. There was consensus that the issues of harm minimisation, including some specific policies, and, more broadly, decriminalisation of personal possession of proscribed drugs should be explored further. With approximately half the population admitting to taking illegal drugs at some time in their lives this issue is not going to go away. It is important that parliamentarians have an ongoing conversation—a conversation where all voices can participate. I acknowledge that the summit had a focus on health and did not include law enforcement bodies or prohibitionists, and they have a legitimate voice in the debate.

Finally, members of Parliament and members of the public who are interested to learn more can go to Facebook and search NSW Cross-Party Harm Minimisation Roundtable, which will easily bring up our Facebook page, where they can watch video of each of the key speeches. I want to thank the staff of the members of Parliament for the work they did behind the scenes in making this a successful summit.