Australian Joint Committee on Law Enforcement’s inquiry

Lived Experience advocate, Kevin Steet, Head of Advocacy and Media at Uniting, Alice Salomon, and Medical Director of MSIC, Marianne Jauncey, appeared on Thursday 29 of June before the Sydney public hearing of the Australian Joint Committee on Law Enforcement’s inquiry into Australia’s illicit drug problem: Challenges and opportunities for law enforcement on 29 June 2023.

Among the issues being considered by the Committee is strengths and weaknesses of decriminalisation, including its impact on illicit drug markets and the experiences of other jurisdictions. The Fair Treatment team discussed the power of destigmatised services such as MSIC to provide empowerment and support for people who use drugs,and advocated for significant drug law reform to reduce stigma and provide a health-based response to drug dependency.

Speaking about NSW’s restrictions on expansions of MSICS, Marianne Jauncey stated:

“I don’t think it’s reasonable to laud a service as being successful and then prevent any other service opening up—not without an act of parliament to do so. I am not making those decisions, so I can only give you what I assume are the reasons behind it, but what I would assume are the reasons behind it are, again, that drugs are a stigmatising and politically sensitive issue and nobody wants their minister or their local MP to be in the news answering questions about what can be seen, and for it to be stirred up as a potentially fearful, sensationalist topic.

What I would say—as a public health physician working with Uniting and representing many of the people who have worked in the needle and syringe program for many, many years—is that we provide millions of syringes every year, for very good reason, on the full understanding that they will be used for the purposes of injecting otherwise illegal substances.

‘To shrink from providing a safer and more sanitary place for that drug use to occur is somewhat short-sighted’—that was one of the quotes from Justice James Wood and the royal commission into police corruption in New South Wales, which was the first official recommendation to government about an injecting facility. So we provide the clean syringes; to not provide any further care, I believe, is a failure in our duty of care.

I believe that we have an infrastructure of harm reduction across the state of New South Wales and throughout the rest of Australia and that we should be utilising that existing infrastructure to create smaller, on-site, co-located services where somebody can use. I don’t think we have the situation that we had back in 1999, with this incredible, concentrated, public, open drug scene. An ambulance was called every 12 hours, on average, in 1999, to a heroin overdose within 200 metres of where my building is, so it made sense to put the solution where the problem was. The problem is more dispersed now, and I think we absolutely need to take your advice and not expect one service to deal with everything in the state but to have a smaller, integrated response, using the existing harm-reduction infrastructure that we actually already have.

Uniting made a submission to the inquiry, which you can read here, and a transcript from the Joint Committee can be read below.