Questions to the Attorney-General Brandis - Illicit Drugs

Senator LAMBIE: My question without notice is to the Attorney-General. I refer the Attorney-General to two important facts regarding my proposal for involuntary medical detox treatment for children who are addicted to ice. Firstly, suitably qualified medical professionals, under our existing health laws, are able to authorise involuntary treatment for patients who suffer from damaged mental health and are subject to dangerous, uncontrollable and unpredictable behaviour. Secondly, people addicted to and using ice must also suffer damage to their mental health and are also subject to dangerous, uncontrollable and unpredictable behaviour. Given these obvious truths, can the Attorney-General explain why his government refuses to support my call for the same suitably qualified medical professionals, acting under new health laws, from authorising involuntary health treatment for ice addicts, especially those who are our children?

Senator BRANDIS: Thank you very much, Senator Lambie, for raising this issue in the chamber today—as we all know, this is a very important issue—and for giving me a little notice of the question so that I can put more-specific material before you. What the government has done in relation to this issue is to drive a national approach, through COAG, to combating Australia's ice problem. At the heart of that national approach led by the Commonwealth government lies the National Ice Action Strategy, which was agreed to by COAG in December last year and involves all nine Australian governments, together with community organisations, working together to tackle the ice problem.

It is a regrettable fact that proportionally Australians use more methamphetamine, including ice, than almost any other country. We have made significant investments in policing our borders and our streets to combat the supply of ice. We have been successful. We have had a number of significant arrests and significant seizures of ice. For example, we have invested $18 million from the proceeds of crime account—that is, from money actually taken from criminals—to enhance the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission's intelligence sharing with state and territory and international partners to stop the supply of ice at its source.

But, as I have said several times now, we cannot just arrest our way out of this problem. To break the drug dealers' business model, we have to smash the demand for this drug. Senator Lambie, you have brought a proposal to the chamber, and the government will consider it very carefully. We want to work with all colleagues in this chamber, just as we work with state and territory governments of both political persuasions and with civil society organisations to assemble a— (Time expired)

Senator LAMBIE: Does the Attorney-General concede that Australia has never seen a drug as addictive and as dangerous as ice? Combined with the unprecedented quantity of ice being consumed, lives lost and families ripped apart, will the Attorney-General acknowledge that Australia's laws have not kept up with this unprecedented health threat, and they prevent parents and family doctors from taking early medical intervention should they try to involuntarily detox their ice-addicted children.?

Senator BRANDIS: Senator Lambie, I agree with you as you acknowledge that this is a health problem. Whatever else it is, it is a health problem, and it needs a multidimensional response. It needs a law enforcement response—and I have explained to you some of the law enforcement initiatives the government has taken—and it also needs a health response. That is why, in response to the National Ice Taskforce report, the government announced $300 million of new money to combat the scourge of ice in communities across the country. Of that, $241.5 million will be invested through 31 Primary Health Networks, which will use their local knowledge to boost the alcohol and other drug treatment sector and reduce demand for ice. We will outlay $13 million to introduce new Medicare Benefits Schedule items for addiction medicine specialists to increase the availability of treatment. (Time expired)

Senator LAMBIE: I would suggest, before you go handing out that $300 million worth of money, you lay down the law with some of these states and put some intervention in yourself. Will the Attorney-General agree to work with all senators of this chamber and help draft new Commonwealth laws which finally acknowledge the highly addictive and dangerous nature of ice and the unprecedented health and social problems ice addiction causes, while giving Australian parents the right to involuntarily detox their drug-addicted children, before you go and pass out these millions of dollars worth of money? Lay down the law. (Time expired)

Senator BRANDIS: The supply of prohibited drugs, including ice, and trafficking in prohibited drugs, including ice, and importing prohibited drugs, including ice, is already a crime against Australian law. Senator Lambie, I listened carefully to what you had to say, and I am very happy to engage with you in further conversation if you have specific proposals for law reform, but the point I make to you is that the supply, trafficking or importation of this particular drug is already a serious crime against Australian law. What we need is for that law to be enforced; for the suppliers, their financiers and the organised criminals who stand behind them to be caught; and for the quantities of the drug to be seized—and the Australian Federal Police have had some great success, as I have explained to you, in doing that. Also, we need the health response that I have also explained.

Five minute response to Attorney-General's answers

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Attorney-General (Senator Brandis) to a question without notice asked by Senator Lambie today relating to policies concerning illicit drugs.

Today I gave Attorney-General Brandis notice of my questions without notice regarding law changes to tackle ice addiction. I wanted to give him sufficient time to properly consider his answers and think about my argument for giving Australian parents, along with their family doctors, the right to involuntarily detox their children should those young people became addicted to ice. I am encouraged that he has given a commitment to consider my proposal carefully, and I will follow that up with a letter and a request for meetings. However, I am disappointed that, for the majority of his answers, he chose to read a prepared script which boasted about his government's so-called achievements. And I am very disappointed that, on my third question, he deliberately twisted his answer to give the impression that I was seeking his support to change the laws relating to drug dealers. While I am happy to talk about that issue as well, at a later date, all my questions clearly addressed the fact that Australian parents and their family doctors do not have the right, under existing state and federal laws, to involuntarily detox their children should they become addicted to ice.

As soon as a legally trained person hears the words 'involuntary treatment', an alarm bell goes off in their poor little head and they reach for a copy of the UN human rights charter. Lawyers have become so lost in their fight to protect the UN human rights charter that they forget the right of parents and medical professionals to protect children from the effects of a highly dangerous and addictive drug the likes of which we have never seen before. Indeed, very few lawyers will acknowledge that, under our existing state laws, there are provisions for involuntary medical treatment for patients suffering from severe mental health illnesses. They are called 'involuntary mental health orders'—people deemed by qualified medical professionals to be suffering from a mental health injury, and who are a danger to themselves and others, can be taken by the authorities to a medical facility for compulsory mental health treatment. This can all take place within the law and without breaching any fundamental UN human rights.

So the point of my questioning to the Attorney-General this afternoon was to remind him, Labor, Greens and crossbench senators that an important legal precedent has already been established that allows involuntary medical treatment for people who are not in control of their actions and may be a danger to themselves, and certainly a danger to others. I think it is fair to compare the actions and symptoms of someone addicted to ice to the actions and symptoms of someone who may be subject to existing involuntary mental health orders.

I have only my personal experiences and feedback from hundreds and thousands of concerned Australians to go by. I am not medically trained but I do know that, when someone is addicted to and under the influence of ice, they are certainly not themselves; they are not sane; I am not talking to a loved one anymore; all I am doing is talking to a drug. When you are trying to reason with an unreasonable, unpredictable, powerful and dangerous thing, you are trying to influence a person whose loving, caring self has gone missing; it is no longer there. They are replaced by a being who will do and say anything to feed an insatiable addiction the likes of which, I argue, we have never seen before. So if our laws allow medical professionals to order involuntary mental health treatment for patients who suffer from damaged mental health and are subject to dangerous, uncontrollable and unpredictable behaviour, why can't those same laws and medical process apply to our children, our most vulnerable and precious, who become addicted to ice?

Even with all the publicity, average Australians and politicians still do not understand how addictive ice really is. This failure to understand how addictive ice is has led to a situation where we do not have enough rehabilitation services or facilities and we do not have strong enough laws to allow for early intervention. So even if we could, by some miracle, deliver enough affordable rehab beds for all of Australia's ice-addicted children, under the current laws, if those ice-addicted children said they did not want to remain in rehab, they can just walk straight back out the front door. So the solution is to provide, firstly, affordable rehab beds; and, secondly, law changes which give parents the right to place their drug-addicted children in involuntary detox.