COMMITTEES: Family and Community Affairs Committee: Report
Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (11.23 a.m.) —This is a very comprehensive report.
The previous committee spent a lot of time travelling Australia making investigations with a total cost to the parliament of some hundreds of thousands of dollars. The new parliament had a new committee and the inquiry recommenced, trying to pick up the pieces—as often happens with many reports—of the previous committee's efforts. We benefited from the continuing members on our committee and we also had new committee members. [start page 19948]
The report is very comprehensive. The majority of the report, I have to say—unlike the public presentation—deals with tobacco and alcohol and treatment programs of all types. If you count the pages, two-thirds of the report deals with those drugs that are legal and that cause huge damage. I would like to touch on those briefly. There is no doubt about alcohol being an absolutely serious and deadly drug for young people and pregnant women in particular. Both those groups seem to fail to understand how dangerous their consumption of it is.
Young people in particular seem to feel that an escapist approach is one from which they can recover very quickly. We took evidence on the development of so-called binge drinking and, whilst there is no doubt that it can be very much part of a young person's lifestyle, we felt that the remediation of that process had to go beyond pure education, because we have already had many alcohol education programs, such as the drink-driving blitzes by state governments to stop the mixing of alcohol and driving.
Based on all the evidence we took, we decided that there needed to be a change in the labelling processes. We want the risks of alcohol use to be put on the labels of alcoholic drinks. We want a tax on the alcoholic /files/includes/content.css of a product. The raw /files/includes/content.css of the designer alcoholic drinks that young people are drinking now is marked on the bottle, but the source of that /files/includes/content.css—whether it be spirit, wine or some other form of alcohol—is not marked, nor is there any indication of the risk factors associated with those drinks. We also think that doctors, parents and schools need to redouble their efforts in explaining the problems that heavy consumption of alcohol can cause, particularly to pregnant women and young people.
The next area that we applied our minds to was tobacco. This is a very difficult area to deal with because, although it is a terribly addictive substance, it is legal. And it has a high cost factor. I would like to indicate to the Committee some of the costs. An average male smoker smokes 111.8 cigarettes per week compared with female smokers, who smoke 106.5 cigarettes per week. The problem is that teenage girls are increasing that rate very quickly. I think there may be a presentation health figure to match the model driving factor here, but it is hard to identify it. According to Collins and Lapsley, 224 deaths, 77,950 bed days and $47.6 million in hospital costs are attributable to involuntary smoking. As you can imagine, the cost of voluntary smoking is massive. There are a number of recommendations in the report, but the one I think is most significant is that we ought to do more research into why people start smoking. I do not know that it is completely due to advertising; I think there must be a number of factors involved—peer pressure and a whole range of things. We do not quite know what the causes or reasons are.
One of the startling findings of this report is the change in attitude to cannabis. There is irrefutable evidence taken from around the country about how dangerous this drug is, despite the people who say it is a recreational drug and despite Bob Carr saying you could smoke it in hospital. The committee really could not come to a conclusion about the use of cannabis in hospitals, but we certainly came to a strong conclusion about the damage cannabis does in all its forms. There is no doubt that the strength of cannabis has changed with different forms of production. But the thing that led to a conclusion that we need to look at this seriously is the prospect of roadside testing for cannabis use. The impairment to driving is quite startling. One joint—one cigarette—is enough to produce a massive impact on a young driver.
Mrs Irwin —Where is the scientific evidence of that? [start page 19949]
Mr CADMAN —The scientific evidence from Victoria is irrefutable. We even had one person—it is recorded in our report—saying that they thought that cannabis users were safer drivers because they drove more slowly. In fact, they are so impaired by cannabis for the process of driving that we are led to believe that cannabis could be as, if not more, dangerous than alcohol.
The recommendations of the committee with regard to cannabis are basically these: to widely disseminate information and to inform the Australian community about the level of cannabis use, including impacts on mental health and the possible gateways to addiction to other drugs. The committee believes that, in the absence of proven treatment for cannabis dependency, and in view of the health and psychological harm that cannabis can cause, it is vital for that information about the severe negative impacts of cannabis to be made widely known. It is concerned that there are serious dangers associated with regular cannabis use. Possible links between cannabis and opioid use are not understood. It is alarmed that, according to the 2001 national household survey, cannabis was offered or available to nearly a quarter of Australians and to nearly half of the 14- to 29-year-olds. The committee believes that it is particularly important to provide credible, accurate and comprehensive information on the dangers. It notes that mental health and opioid use is linked to cannabis use, and it believes that the body of evidence supports real concern about the impact of cannabis use on mental health in conjunction with other drugs—that is, polyuse of drugs—and as a gateway to addiction. The committee says immediate efforts should be taken to inform the community about these concerns. That is serious stuff, and it is time that Australia changed its outlook on cannabis. It is not a safe drug. It is not a recreational drug.
The role of families in all of this is something the committee gave attention to, and we felt that there is not sufficient support or information for families. There are very few family based programs Australia wide that can really offer comfort and support. `Drug proofing your kids', run by Focus on the Family, is one program that I am familiar with. It has had a wide impact and a good educative effect on a wide range of families. Many of these programs are not adequately funded. Resources are something that concern the committee, because the resources seem to be hived off into the research institutes, where the results are very slow in coming forward and produce very little impact on the ground where the real harm is being done, where people are. The programs that actually get people out of danger, that establish a rehabilitation program or that offer, once detoxification has taken place, opportunities for re-establishment of social contact and a productive life are very thin on the ground and very difficult for parents to find.
The one traumatic thing for me, despite the human tragedy of all of this, is the fact that there is no adequate application available to the community to take action on behalf of their loved ones or other members of the community. I think that the priorities have been wrong or they need changing now. Too much has been focused on finding out who does what and why. The focus should be on `Let's try to get some results for people who are dependent on drugs.' There should be such a focus, and this is what the report does, despite what is being said about it. It proposes something for everybody. It looks at youth at risk and what programs should be put in place for youth who can be identified as being at risk. Wesley Mission have a program in country towns that looks for kids who might be suicidal and takes remedial action. The identification in schools and in the community of networks of kids and young people who are facing risk is something that this committee feels strongly about. There is a strong commitment to a rescue opportunity for every person in this proposal. There is a range, a multiplicity of opportunities. The goal is to have these people—anybody—free of the addiction. Some will go back and back. I know that happens. It is sad, but until that certain thing happens in a person's will or outlook to say, `I want to beat this' then we have to accept that in some instances it will take a long time. [start page 19950]
But we should not give up trying, and that appears to be the whole argument we are having. This is an unnecessary and stupid argument, if I may say so. The branding of zero tolerance implies that some people do not accept that there should be zero drugs in our community—they accept that there should be drugs, that there needs to drugs; that is the alternative argument, and it is a stupid argument too.
Mrs Irwin —Rubbish.
Mr CADMAN —It is a stupid argument. I have never seen anybody try to defend an alternative point of view to zero tolerance. We should not tolerate drugs. People on drugs we should tolerate, and we should try to help them, but we should not tolerate what is causing the problem. We should not tolerate the people supplying drugs either, because inherent in what you say is an acceptance of the supply process. I have not heard those in the Australian Labor Party who put in the dissenting report say, `We are opposed to drugs. We are opposed to the drug trade and we will do everything to stop it.' That is not what they are saying. That is what the government has said. The government has produced great results with its Tough on Drugs program. It has cut down the supply, it has stopped the number of deaths and it has taken preventative measures and it can demonstrate the results of these programs far more effectively than any other statistics that I know of.
The argument seems to be about methadone. I would invite everybody to go and have a talk to Dr John Currie at Westmead. He has been bagged by Dr Wodak and others for his attempt to get some users who want to get off drugs to use the naltrexone program. Dr Currie was bagged by the medical community of Sydney when he produced positive results for the use of naltrexone. He has been proved right—not for every user, but for some—and they ought to be given the opportunity to use naltrexone, and that recommendation is in here. It is something that the opposition, except for a few of their number, have not supported. I think it is time that we offer opportunities to escape for everybody. We ought to be offering sensitive follow-up programs because the real risk is not at the detox point but after that: when families walk away from their responsibilities, when loved ones leave them and they go back to their old mates, their old haunts, their old associates and get back into the drug scene again very quickly.
That process is something that our community is not giving any attention to whatsoever. Our community has walked away from that responsibility, and there are only a few groups prepared to pick it up. One I want to mention in particular is Teen Challenge. This is a rescue team for young men going out into the community, grabbing them and doing great work with them in Sydney, Wollongong and Perth. It is a wonderful thing to see young men who have recovered through this process supporting each other, talking positively about how drugs can be beaten and encouraging others to join a process of escaping the dreadful scourge of the drug scene. For anybody to say that the process presented in this report is narrow is misguided—it talks about harm prevention and treatment; it does not talk about zero tolerance in any part. Those words are not used. This is about harm prevention and treatment. What could be more reasonable, what could be more compassionate, what could be more thoughtful or practical than a report that proposes that approach? It is far better than anything that the previous government did and it is far better than anything proposed by the members of the Australian Labor Party. [start page 19951]
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 11.38 a.m. to 11.53 a.m.
Author: Alan Cadman MP
Source: House Hansard - 11th September 2003
Release Date: 4 Nov 2003