Greens support supervised injecting centre for Richmond | Australian Greens

Greens support supervised injecting centre for Richmond

Wednesday, September 20, 2017 - 3:15pm
Colleen Hartland

Ms HARTLAND (Western Metropolitan) — I found Ms Symes contribution very interesting today, because she basically outlined every single reason why it is that we need a supervised injecting room. I am a bit surprised that the government at this stage is not prepared to say what it is that it intends to do. The Greens' support for a supervised injecting room is very simple, and we have been campaigning for this for 20 years. It goes back to my time in Footscray, when the street heroin trade was at its absolute worst and when people would buy their drugs at Footscray station and come into my street and often onto my front verandah to inject. I did not know anything about drug use in those days, but unfortunately I had to learn very quickly. I was part of the campaign for a supervised injecting room in Footscray.

But when I visited people in Richmond it was just so much worse. Richmond is at crisis point, and it is beyond my understanding why it is that the government is continuing to allow a major public health crisis to continue in Richmond. As Ms Symes said, an amazing array of people gave evidence to the inquiry, and I know that my colleague Ms Springle found the evidence incredibly compelling.

If you look at the list of people who are supporting it, it includes the Victorian branch of Ambulance Employees Australia, the Victorian branch of the United Firefighters Union, the Victorian branch of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, the Victorian AIDS Council, the Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Public Health Association of Australia, the Victorian branch of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, the Victorian Trades Hall Council, the Victorian branch of the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. This is not just the Greens saying this. This is not just Ms Patten from the Reason party saying this. This is a group of eminent experts, people who deal with this every day. That is not to mention a range of research institutes, community legal centres and community health organisations.

The government falls back the whole time on the fact that it has been Victoria Police that has opposed a supervised injecting room, and now they do not even have that. Just a few days ago we saw that Police Association Victoria had changed their position and will not oppose a supervised injecting room trial. Police Association secretary Wayne Gatt says that:

The association recognises that heroin overdoses are predominantly a health issue that commonly cause death and leave our members and other emergency service workers frequently picking up the pieces when lives are tragically lost.

It is unconscionable to ignore all of these experts who deal with injecting drug use on a daily basis. Our role as MPs is to listen to the experts. I do not believe we should be ignoring the evidence, as this government and previous governments appear to have done. For the Labor government and the opposition to reject what the experts are saying is simply unacceptable.

It would seem to me that what is being said is that if you are a person with a drug addiction, your life does not matter and you do not deserve health care, support and the chance to survive and recover. The government is saying that it is okay for local residents and traders to literally clean up the mess left behind in their front yards, on the streets, in their laneways and on their footpaths. I do not think that it is okay for parents to walk their kids to school in the mornings scanning the footpath and hoping that their children will not pick up a dirty syringe.

The government is clearly saying that it is okay for paramedics to risk needlestick injuries as part of their job and risk contracting bloodborne diseases. As we learned in the inquiry, this is exactly what happened to paramedic Lucy, who suffered a needlestick injury when attending a heroin overdose. The hospital confirmed that the patient she was treating had hepatitis C and HIV, and now, many months later, Lucy is still undergoing tests to see if she has contracted either or both of these diseases. If that drug addict had had a supervised injecting room to go to, they could have used their drugs, they could have been supervised and nobody else would have been at risk.

Last week I attended an Australian Medical Association president's function. AMA Victoria president Lorraine Baker delivered a speech. She was scathing of the Labor and coalition parties' inaction on this issue. She said:

… I deeply regret that we cannot persuade the major political parties of the need for a trial of supervised injection facilities in North Richmond.

The intransigence on this issue is unreasonable and inexplicable — and I am personally incensed that doctors and other healthcare workers from North Richmond Community Health Centre are put at physical and professional risk resuscitating patients in an exposed and unprotected environment on the street and in the carparks —

of Richmond.

How can the government ignore the evidence of a Victorian coroner into the death of Ms A? Coroner Jacqui Hawkins said:

… I am convinced that a safe injecting facility in North Richmond is an essential intervention that could reduce the risk of future heroin overdose deaths occurring in circumstances similar to those of Ms A.

The evidence is simply overwhelming. The experts are united in their support. There are simply no grounds on which the government can reject this trial.

It is not like it has never been done in Australia. In Sydney they have had a supervised injecting room for 16 years. I was able to go there quite recently, and I saw how it works. You could walk past that place half a dozen times, and if you had no business there you would not know what it was. It saves lives.

On the issue of saving lives, let us think for a moment that in Richmond last year there were 34 people who died on the streets. Those 34 people would be alive today had they had access to a supervised injecting centre; 34 families and communities out there would not be grieving and struggling with the pain and trauma of losing a loved one.

I get quite cross here because so often the death of someone from an overdose is somehow seen as not being the same as death from a car accident or cancer. It is exactly the same for that family. They have lost someone they love. It does not matter how they lost them; they are still gone.

Again let us look at Sydney. When they opened their facility 16 years ago ambulance call-outs to the area dropped by 80 per cent. What an amazing saving that would be to the Victorian ambulance service. I do not understand why we cannot learn from that in Victoria. We used to be the leader in harm minimisation. We had an incredibly successful needle and syringe program operating for decades. But what is the point of giving someone a clean syringe and then expecting them to go to a dark lane to use the drugs and then possibly die alone in that dark lane? That person's family is then in enormous grief.

I think the government has to see sense. This is a major issue. This is about harm minimisation. It has nothing to do with law and order. I know the opposition will make it into a law and order issue. It is about keeping people alive and it is about harm minimisation — that is the way we should treat drug addiction.

Debate adjourned on motion of Ms SHING (Eastern Victoria).

Debate adjourned until later this day.