Justice Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2023

Justice Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2023

(Second Reading Debate, 18 October 23023, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

I support the Justice Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2023, specifically the provisions that will facilitate a drug diversion program as outlined by the member for Heffron in his contribution to this debate. The changes will give police the discretion to provide people caught using or possessing small quantities of illicit drugs the option of a $400 fine or a targeted health intervention. The offer would be available up to two times. I have a long history of supporting drug law reform that focuses on reducing harm and replaces criminal responses with social and health responses.

The criminal justice framework has failed to curb drug use. Despite heavy sanctions against use and possession, Australia has one of the highest rates of illicit drug consumption in the world. We know that a broad range of people use illicit drugs for many reasons. Most will continue to function in their everyday lives without problems but some will develop dependence. They all are the family, friends and colleagues of other people. The focus of drug laws and policies should be to keep them safe from harm, with different approaches for social and recreational use than for dependence.

Criminal offences see otherwise law‑abiding people incur criminal records, making things like employment and travel difficult. At worst, they see people do time and experience the trauma of imprisonment. The situation can be dramatically life‑altering as a consequence of drug use that may not have otherwise been life‑changing. If people who experience economic, health, mental health and cognitive disadvantage use drugs, they are forced to deal with another layer of complexity when trying to get on their feet because of the criminal element of their use. Someone who is concerned about their drug use is less likely to talk about it with loved ones because of the stigma associated with criminal activity.

Young people, particularly those experiencing acute health concerns after consuming drugs, are more likely to delay seeking treatment over concerns of getting into trouble. The use of sniffer dogs increases the chances that drug users will get caught and only encourages the intake of high doses. Strip searching of citizens, particularly children and young people, results in trauma. Meanwhile, our already overstretched courts get clogged with low level drug use breaches. We know all this. Along with others from across the political divide, I have said it many times inside and outside of this House. We have heard it from experts across the drug and alcohol sector. The comprehensive Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug "Ice" identified significant harm from punitive responses to drug use and made wide ranging recommendations, including decriminalisation. We await the promised drug summit, which will hopefully build on the recommendations of that inquiry.

I remind the House that one of the key recommendations that came out of the previous drug summit was the establishment of the medically supervised injecting centre based in my electorate at Kings Cross. There is no institution in the Sydney electorate that I am more proud of. It is a place that saves lives every day. Other electorates would benefit from such an injecting centre, particularly in those areas where heroin use is on the increase. I welcome the drug diversion scheme which was proposed in the ice inquiry as an alternative interim measure to decriminalisation. The bill will reduce both the number of people criminalised for drug use and the burden on the court system. I hope that the discretionary nature of the scheme will not leave out vulnerable drug users such as people who are First Nations or trans and gender diverse.

The ice inquiry also recommended establishing substance testing at fixed locations and a trial of testing sites at music festivals. This reform is especially urgent given the number of people who have lost their lives at music festivals in this State, including two men in October. Substance testing can alert drug users to contaminants, unexpected substances and dangerously high purity or potency levels. It empowers drug users with information about the drugs they plan to take so they can make informed decisions. It also provides the opportunity to connect services with those who may need them. I hope we can move forward with this vital intervention to reduce the harm of recreational drug use. I would also like to see a trial of this ahead of the drug summit. While diversion is not a breakthrough reform in the drugs space, it takes us a step closer to an approach that is evidence based and seeks to reduce harm caused by drug use rather than penalise those who use drugs. I commend the bill.

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