Second reading: JUSTICE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (DRUG COURT AND OTHER MATTERS) BILL 2020

CARROLL (Niddrie—Minister for Crime Prevention, Minister for Corrections, Minister for Youth Justice, Minister for Victim Support) (17:55): It is my pleasure to rise and speak on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Drug Court and Other Matters) Bill 2020, and at the outset can I say that drug courts are such a powerful tool to really change the trajectory of someone’s life. Whether it be in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia or indeed Europe or the United States, there is a growing body of evidence and indeed there is a real bipartisanship that has come to the expansion of drug courts and really addressing some of the criminogenic needs of people that are coming through the criminal justice system with very much a strong focus on public health.

Can I commend the Attorney-General. One difference between this side of the house and the other side of the house is on this side of the house we are the only people that have actually built any drug courts. We have heard a lot of speeches about commissioning reports on them, but only one side of the house has built them. If you go back to 2002, the Dandenong Drug Court, really under my predecessor, Rob Hulls, the former member for Niddrie, and if you think about the previous Attorney-General, the member for Keysborough, and its expansion to Melbourne, and the member for Altona, the current Attorney-General, bringing forward this legislation to expand the Drug Court, this is important reform that will make a real difference to people’s lives.

I wanted to just touch on some of the comments made by the opposition, in particular the member for Caulfield. Yes, we both did sit on the parliamentary inquiry into the drug ice, and this really was a groundbreaking inquiry. Indeed the Premier, the member for Mulgrave, at the time as opposition leader, took a strong focus on this. Really he was rewriting the rulebook from opposition as a former health minister and leader, and he took a great interest in it, and I learned a lot on that report.

I can say we received 78 submissions, 113 public hearings, heard from 230 witnesses, produced a two-volume, 32-chapter, 900-page report with 34 recommendations. Very much up the top of that report was the expansion of the Drug Court, but the key thing to remember is that we were not in office when this report was done. Indeed it was the Napthine government that was in office, and this report was submitted to the Napthine government.

If I read an Age editorial from 2014, it says:

The landmark report into methamphetamine, a powerful and highly addictive stimulant, released in recent days by the Victorian Parliament’s Law Reform Committee needs to become a catalyst for a comprehensive community offensive against an illicit drug that is causing tragic harm, particularly to young people in regional and rural areas, where youth unemployment is striking hardest.

It goes on and one of the top dot points was to expand the Drug Court, which at that time was operating only in the Dandenong area. I have always kept this on file, and I am going to bring out again. I will never forget the then Premier, Dr Napthine, came into the chamber, and I will quote him. He said:

The coalition is genuinely committed to reducing the supply of ice and to smashing drug manufacturers … That is why we have funded an extra 11 sniffer dogs, and particularly an extra 8 dogs in regional and rural Victoria.

The opposition says we have dropped the ball. If dropping the ball is thinking you can combat the use and supply of drugs through additional sniffer dogs, not having a comprehensive approach, I do not know what is, but we are very proud of the reforms we are making. I know as the corrections minister and the youth justice minister that ice is a drug that is incredibly powerful.

One of the things that struck me through the inquiry was the New Zealand approach. In New Zealand they call the drug ice ‘P’ for pure, but they, through having political leadership and having their Prime Minister take the ball and run with it, have seen a real reduction in P. That is where the Premier got the idea to head up an ice action task force with members of the judiciary and members of the health profession, and that is seeing reform.

Let us be very clear: there is no silver bullet when it comes to tackling the use of the drug ice. I can tell you—and I think it is very important that everyone is very clear about how powerful this drug can be—we have received evidence from New Zealand. If I just go to the effect of the release of dopamine, the feel-good chemical, on the brain: normal levels are at 100; sex is 200; cocaine, 400; and ice is a whopping 1250 units of dopamine released to the brain. Add to that the cheapness of the drug—and the member for Brunswick I know, with a health background, will be aware of this—and it is a drug that is causing havoc in the community. It is easy to manufacture, literally in the back of a car, and that sort of drug has been a real problem. It is why there has been a lot of work that has gone into medical research to try and find some other sorts of pharmacotherapy solutions. But when you are thinking about 1250 hits of dopamine to the brain, it is very hard to try and find a pharmacotherapy approach to fix that. What is needed is long-term rehabilitation and long-term support—and intensive support.

One of the things I learned on the inquiry is that for most people, when they come to using drugs or alcohol, it often increases. With ice often you begin smoking it and then before long, to get a bigger and harder hit, you start injecting it into your bloodstream. One of the things for most people that take the drug is that they are often using it to numb themselves from something else in their life, whether it be the loss of a job, childhood trauma or anything else. It is why the mental health royal commission is so vitally and critically important, supported by the member for Albert Park, and it is why there does need to be a really holistic approach.

I did want to say one other thing too. Criminal justice reform often does take a bipartisan approach—and requires a bipartisan approach. The party in America that is probably the biggest supporter of drug courts is not the Democrats; it is the Republicans. In fact probably the most high-profile supporter of drug courts in America is the former New Jersey governor Chris Christie. He is on the public record saying that they are the best thing he has ever seen and he will always be a proponent of them, because he knows that at the end of the day addressing people’s drug issues is actually about community safety. It stops people getting on that trajectory or path of: how do they keep supplying the drug to themselves and what offences do they need to commit to get their hit? Chris Christie himself has said on the public record that he has seen drug courts reclaim lives, reduce recidivism and really break the cycle and the fog of substance abuse.

I think this is important reform by the Attorney-General. It does again go to the Andrews government’s important reforms in terms of tackling drug use. I am very proud of this reform as someone who sat on that parliamentary inquiry when I was first elected to Parliament and can actually see Labor continuing that tradition, right back from 2002—from the first term of the Andrews Labor government to the current term. I know too that what we need to get through with drug courts are not a soft option. In fact Tony Parsons himself will talk about them being the strongest option you can get—that you do have your testing, you do have your psychological help and you do have your urine tests. And if you do breach it, you are very likely to end up back in prison. So they are about really trying to get people off the drugs and to support them as much as possible.

I think it is very important reform. I know—whether it be the KPMG report or whether it be Turning Point—a lot of the statistics show that every dollar invested in a drug court returns about $5 to the community. This sort of reform will make a big difference going forward. I would like to see more of the opposition get behind criminal justice reform. The member for Caulfield—I did listen to his speech quite intently, and I have got to say too: he was towards the end of the speech bringing in the importance of having a public health approach to our criminal justice system. That was very good, and to hear the member for Gippsland South talk about Fulham prison and some of the drug programs there working and getting some important success is very good.

I do say that I do not support the opposition’s amendments. When you read through the opposition’s amendments you then sort of question, ‘Who is this drug court for?’. If you are caught with some precursors or smashed-up cough tablets, that should not preclude you from accessing the Drug Court. I do not think the amendments have been thought through. I think there is just a long list to look like you are tough on law and order. But if you are violent, are a sex offender or are doing a term of possibly more than four years, you will not qualify for the Drug Court. So let us be realistic. Put amendments that might be worthwhile, but do not put a list of amendments that you know are not actually going to be applicable to the legislation.

Again I commend the member for Altona, and I wish the bill a speedy passage.