HON MARTIN PRITCHARD (North Metropolitan) [11.27 am] — without notice: I move —

That the Legislative Council notes the declining rates of use of methamphetamine, ice, in Western Australia, particularly in the metropolitan area, and commends the minister and congratulates the frontline officers in their war against this scourge to our society.

[Speeches and comments from various members]

HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [11.50 am]: I rise to indicate my disappointment in this motion and the wording of it. The reason for that is that it is highly inappropriate for us to be commending or in any sense congratulating anyone around what is happening with the methamphetamine issue at this point. It is spectacularly premature. I think that if those families and people who are at the moment struggling with issues around meth were to see that members of Parliament in this place were patting themselves on the back for anything around this issue, they would probably feel quite betrayed. It is really important that we talk about this issue in this place. I note the quality of the contributions that people gave in the four hours we debated the issue of the select committee, and here we are now talking about commending ministers.

I want to give members a bit of perspective, if you like, on the latest figures that have come out. The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s fifth report of the national wastewater drug monitoring program was released a couple of weeks ago and it showed a decrease in the average meth consumption in Perth and regional sites. The average number of hits in Perth per 1 000 people a day is 30, which is half the level it was in December 2017, but in the regions, the average number of hits is 57 per 1 000 people a day, down from 64 hits a day in December 2017. The regional figures are still higher than country counterparts anywhere else in Australia. We have a long way to go. Although there has been a notable drop in consumption in Perth, I would like to remind members that Western Australia remains overrepresented in meth use. We have 11 per cent of Australia’s population but we still make up 18 per cent of consumption figures. The figures are still astronomically high and deeply concerning. Meth remains the illicit drug of choice in Western Australia. The report shows that WA still has the highest consumption of meth in Australia as a proportion of illicit drug consumption. To give an idea of the figures around that, out of meth, cocaine, MDMA and heroin, 89.1 per cent of consumption is meth, while 2.5 per cent is cocaine, 5.9 per cent is MDMA and 2.5 per cent is heroin. Although there is variation in consumption levels within both, and across states and territories, there has been an overall decrease in the population weighted average consumption of many of the drugs measured by the program from December 2017 to April 2018. This points to other factors at play outside what is happening in individual states and territories. Let us not start congratulating anyone just yet. We cannot point to anything that is specifically happening in Western Australia that is giving us any sort of unique advantage. In the 12 months to June 2018, nearly 6 600 people on meth ended up in our emergency departments in Western Australia. The Royal Perth Hospital emergency department, in particular, which tends to be a significant hospital for receiving a lot of these people, dealt with five people on ice a day. That is the most of any hospital.

There is, of course, a great push to try to deal with the issue of meth nationally, and we need to make sure that we are prioritising it in Western Australia because we have such a serious issue here disproportionate to everywhere else in the country. I want to be very clear that while we are talking about finally getting more beds on line, which is well and truly overdue and very welcomed, and has also been happening in other states, at the same time the Meth Helpline has had a funding cut of $154 000. That has happened under this government and it has had quite a detrimental impact on people. The funding cuts have resulted in the scaling back of counselling shifts from 75 to 65 a fortnight. I heard the contribution from the previous speaker that there is now an online component—there is no substitute for making sure that when a person is ringing through that they are able to speak to a qualified drug and alcohol counsellor about what is happening for them and their family. We already know that before the cuts came through, 24 per cent of callers were unable to get through to the Meth Helpline, 19 per cent were unable to get through to the Parent and Family Drug Support Line and 24 per cent were unable to get through to the Alcohol and Drug Support Line. This helpline was already under extraordinary demand and was not able to meet the need, yet the decision was made to scale back the scope of that particular helpline to assist people. This was a really important helpline. It was often the first port of call for people and particularly families. I have spoken about the Meth Helpline in this place on quite a number of occasions. I remind members that some of the people who were ringing the Meth Helpline for assistance were general practitioners. This was their first port of call. Some of the people who were ringing were the clinicians themselves within the emergency departments who needed to get advice, who needed to know about referral pathways, and needed to make sure that they were able to deal with people who were presenting to them in deep crisis. It was a very poor decision to wind back the capacity. We should have been looking at increasing the capacity of the Meth Helpline. I also remind members that when that was established, money was also put aside specifically for promoting the Meth Helpline so that people would know where they could go and who they could ring to get support, advice and referral pathways. Again, I want to remind members that some of the people who ring that Meth Helpline are children whose family members are in the grip of meth addiction and who are seeking support. These are people who are not going to rock up to an emergency department or GP to get their support; they were getting that phone number, they were ringing and they were trying to ensure that they got the support they needed then and there. This is really critical. I also point out that the alcohol and drug support service budget has been reduced from $1 551 664 in 2017–18 to $1 397 664 in 2018–19. That is a reduction, members. This is not a step in the right direction. I will talk again about the “Western Australian Mental Health, Alcohol and Other Drug Services Plan 2015–2025”, which made it quite clear that we needed to ensure that we were increasing investment in early intervention, prevention and community services. We have not put the investment into those services that we so critically need.

I want to be very clear that I certainly agree with the sense of the motion that wants to congratulate frontline officers for the work that they are doing. I recognise that; it is a hard job to do and by no means do I want to take away from the work that they are doing. We absolutely recognise that dealing with the issue of supply is a fundamental tranche to dealing with the issue of meth. But we are in no position to start getting smug or start feeling good about and congratulating ourselves. Meth is a terrible, terrible scourge within this community. It is hurting individuals, families and communities. We have so far to go. We do not have all the solutions yet, yet the ones that are working are either losing funding or are simply not given enough funding to keep up with demand.

Let us all keep our eye on the ball and recognise that this is an issue for which every single person in this chamber has a responsibility to try to ensure that we are pulling together to make sure that we are giving it the deep attention it needs. But for the sake of those people who are so deeply affected by this at the moment, let us be very, very careful in this place not to start feeling too complacent or good about ourselves because, frankly, it is a mess and we still have so much work to do.

[Speeches and comments from various members]


I remember quite clearly during the 2017 state election campaign that when the McGowan Labor team put forward the idea of the meth border force, we were ridiculed. The idea of a meth border force was categorised by some honourable members opposite as a thought bubble. But the truth is that the meth border force is clearly working, and the results show that. Let us not forget that in 2016 Western Australia was the meth capital of Australia. It is a title that no Western Australian would like to have. Thanks to a combination of factors, and, dare I say, to a large extent the government’s positive policies on meth, we have seen a reduction in meth use and we are no longer the largest consumers of meth in Australia. Who would not want to stand together on this?

Hon Alison Xamon: But we are the largest users.

Hon PIERRE YANG: In terms of percentage.

Hon Alison Xamon: We’re 16 per cent of the population and have 18 per cent of the use. Hon PIERRE YANG: We were back in 2016.

Hon Alison Xamon: We still are!

[Speeches and comments from various members]

Motion lapsed, pursuant to standing orders.


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