Controlled Substances (Youth Treatment Orders) Amendment Bill

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:50): On behalf of the Greens, I rise today to speak in outright opposition to the Controlled Substances (Youth Treatment Orders) Amendment Bill 2018. In doing so, the Greens stand with the health professionals who have contacted us with great concern about the path that this government is taking. The bill is in direct violation of the human rights of young people and even looking beyond that, though that on its own should be enough to see this bill not go through, it is a deeply flawed piece of legislation.

I have previously spoken in this chamber about the ridiculous failed war on drugs. This legislation seems to be a deeply misguided, at best, continuation of this Liberal government's dangerous war on drugs agenda. Before us today we have yet another bill that punishes instead of supports, that criminalises instead of helps, that keeps trying to tackle drug dependence through the justice system instead of where it should be: through the health system. Most curious of all, we have the health minister putting up what is a justice approach to a health issue.

From a wealth of international experiences and examples, we know that it is harm reduction treatment, decriminalisation and legalisation that actually saves lives. Detaining people, with no cause, no crime and no consent, other than their addiction, does not. I have received submissions from the Youth Affairs Council of South Australia, Uniting Communities, the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia and the South Australian Network of Drug and Alcohol Services. They all share the Greens' concerns with the bill.

First and foremost, I note that the number of individuals using crystal methamphetamine in the general population has not actually increased over the last three years. As such, it is difficult to see the hysteria that is raised contrary to what the facts reveal. It is also difficult to see the justification for these harsh measures in the bill before us today. Mandatory detention, underpinned by the violation of human rights, is not actually commensurate with the risk to the community. It is also extraordinary that we are flying in the face of all evidence that drug addiction and abuse is a health issue and should not be a criminal matter.

Reductions in drug use can be achieved through far more effective prevention and early intervention processes and, of course, treatment models. One of the things we know about treatment models is that, when people want help, it is at that point that the treatment will be most effective. We also know that, when people are forced into treatment, it is at that point that it is the least effective. Yet here we have the bill before us today.

The bill specifically singles out young people. It stigmatises them as a group. As it is drafted, the bill has failed to take into consideration the Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017, the National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children, the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child or the European Convention on Human Rights. It also breaches these treaties by treating young people in a more restrictive way than the rest of the population.

In fact, such a proposal to detain individuals against their will where they have not been charged with a crime is without precedent, perhaps with some notable exceptions in terms of our human rights' record on asylum seekers. These young people, as I repeat, have not been charged with a crime. It is without precedent in this state, and it is a measure that should not be taken so lightly. With the potential for individuals to be denied those human rights based on their drug use, abuse or addiction, the use of mandatory treatment for illicit drug use is not a compelling argument.

Some may note that we already have some mandated treatment options administered by the police and the courts under current legislation. However, the distinction here is that those mandatory treatments are enforced only in situations where somebody has been charged with a criminal offence. Furthermore, those mandatory options do not single out one single demographic of our society for such an approach.

Legislation such as this and the surrounding debate only serve to fuel community fear, misinformation and stigma. It serves further to marginalise people—in this case, young people—who do take drugs, and it is the antithesis of true harm reduction. For one thing, the government has not actually provided any justification in this legislation as to how the harms associated with detention, such as stigma, recidivism and the breakdown of their relationships, will actually be mitigated.

Furthermore, the bill fails to treat dependence on alcohol, focusing only on illicit drugs. As we know, alcohol is actually the biggest drug challenge facing our young people. It also imposes judicial processes to manage a young person's health treatment. The government defines 'dependence' according to that definition laid out by the World Health Organization, which is that it is a chronic health condition, but fails to continue to use the health imperatives for the rest of the bill. It completely fails to treat these conditions of addiction and abuse primarily as a health condition. This makes absolutely no sense.

Engagement with the justice system can also have negative consequences for those young people, such as disengagement from their family, education, social networks and their employment, and it can actually be one of the most significant predictors of engagement further on with the adult justice system. What exactly are we trying to do with this bill when those are the implications?

Importantly, the bill also assumes that the person most likely to bring a young person to the attention of the court is that young person's parents. But a parent's primary role should be to support a young person and maintain a relationship that is built on love and trust. Trust and love are deeply undermined if not eradicated by the bill, and the approach of this legislation has been shown in many cases to cause irreparable harm to that young person and their relationships with their family.

Also, why on earth does the government think that a young person would be comfortable seeking support from their family—the very people who should be able to support them—when it comes to their drug dependence, when they know that possibly their loved ones could have them detained against their will as a result of seeking that help?

Another significant failing of the bill is that it is silent on the right of a young person or their parents, where the parents are not the instigators of the order, to appeal against it, to challenge it or to seek to have that order revoked or terminated. There is also no mention of any requirement of the courts having any responsibility to regularly review orders and modify them, considering changed behaviour or circumstances.

I find it interesting as well that a government that has badged itself as a fiscally and economically responsible new government proceeds to promote mandatory detention when mandatory detention of these drug dependent young people, or of anyone, is known to be one of the most expensive and ineffective approaches to drug and alcohol issues. Research shows that involuntary clients require greater resources in terms of time and staffing to provide that effective treatment.

On top of this, it is unclear who will be providing the treatment. If treatments are to be provided by the state or non-government alcohol and drug treatment sectors, noting that the South Australian Network of Drug and Alcohol Services opposes this bill, the government would need to make a commitment—

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order! Can we have some quiet and show some respect for the Hon. Ms Franks.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: Thank you, Mr President.

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Ms Franks, please continue.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: The government would need to make a commitment to significantly increase their funding to the sector as they cannot even currently meet the demands of the voluntary clients, some of whom are begging for treatment.

Finally, I would like to pre-emptively address suggestions that perhaps the solution to this issue of violating the human rights of young people would be to make mandatory detention apply to everyone, not just young people. Proponents of this idea have simply made a bad idea worse. Instead of making it better, they are just making it bigger. Mandatory detention is expensive and ineffective. Detaining people without charge is appalling. This is no way to treat somebody who has a significant and serious health issue.

To conclude my remarks on this bill, I find it extraordinary that the sheer number of deaths and illnesses that are associated with legal drugs, such as tobacco and alcohol, has not seemed to provoke a similar policy response. Yet we know—particularly from this new government it seems—that when compared with the use of illicit drugs, that indeed is the most pressing health concern.

The approach of the Marshall government flies in the face of evidence, reason and care. Personal safety, social responsibility, harm minimisation and informed choices are the most practical and effective approaches to illicit drug use. Prevention and early intervention, as well as voluntary treatment programs, have the best chance of decreasing the misuse of and dependence on drugs and alcohol.

These are the approaches that should be the focus of any reasonable or responsible decision-maker. Unfortunately, these are not the approaches that win votes prior to elections in marginal seats where such campaign slogans as 'a war on drugs' and 'sniffer dogs in schools' have the effect of providing the few votes they need in the few suburbs they want. Yet these have long-term implications for our state in really tackling the serious issue of drug addiction and drug abuse.

We know that there are cases where parents are crying out for help, and it does seem like a solution to have the mandatory detention of their children to get them the help that they need, but we know that in the longer term those hard cases are making bad laws, and this here today is a very bad law.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.

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