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Justice Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2023 - Second Reading Debate

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Cate Faehrmann
NSW Greens MP
19 October 2023

As The Greens spokesperson for drug law reform and harm, I contribute to debate on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2023. I support the comments of my colleague, Ms Sue Higginson. I will speak specifically about proposed section 23B of the Fines Act 1996, which provides that where an individual has received a penalty notice that penalty can be taken to have been paid if the Commissioner of Fines Administration is satisfied that the individual has completed an activity as prescribed by the regulations. I understand that provision is required to give effect to the Government's recently announced "two‑strike" pre‑court drug diversion scheme. While it is good that the Government has finally taken a small step to reduce drug harm, it is a pity that we are not seeing more ambitious reform today. What is before us is very simple. Other States and Territories have had it in place for some time, and we should have done it years ago.

A pre‑court diversionary scheme was recommended in 2020 by Professor Dan Howard, SC, following the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug "Ice". In his report, Commissioner Howard clearly outlined that the recommended diversionary scheme that is before us was a fallback option to full decriminalisation of personal drug use. The scheme before us today is even weaker than the commissioner's recommended fallback option. We need to be really clear about that. He stated, in no uncertain terms, that police discretion should be removed from the process to avoid the stark inequity seen under the Cannabis Cautioning Scheme.

I note Opposition comment that the previous Government put $500 million into drug treatment and court programs and what have you. That was all leading to what was hoped to be a pre‑court diversion program. The whole point of the former Government's funding announcement was because it was under immense pressure to do more to respond to the ice inquiry. A key finding of the inquiry was that thousands of people in this State who were caught with an insignificant, personal quantity of drugs were being sent to court and having their lives wrecked. The associated stigma around drug offences means that people who need treatment for drug addiction do not seek it. The $500 million was always supposed to be, in part, for a pre‑court diversionary scheme.

The Government has announced this scheme—I am not sure about implementation—three years after Commissioner Howard's recommendation. People are still getting into a lot trouble with drugs, particularly with ice. A lot of overdoses are still occurring, people are still being needlessly harassed and baselessly strip searched. All of that is still going on and will continue to go on because we do not have any details on what the scheme will entail. The former Government announced the $500 million investment and tasked the Police Commissioner, Karen Webb, and the Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant, to advise whether those services were sufficiently advanced to be able to bring in a court diversion scheme. We are more than three months past the deadline for that. That is the history. Essentially, the bill simply enables people to undertake an activity that will result in their fine being wiped, but, frustratingly, there is no substance to it. There is no detail.

We have seen this Government put a lot of things into regulation. As my colleague Ms Sue Higginson said, a lot of miscellaneous provisions bills are being brought to this place. The Government is missing an opportunity to legislate the details of this scheme. Supporters of the Voice spoke in this place about the need for the Voice to be in the Constitution to avoid future governments taking a wrecking ball to it. Of course, future parliaments can do what they want, but we have an opportunity here. Both Houses of this Parliament have the requisite majority to pass laws that reduce drug harm.

For the first time in a very long time we have a majority this House and, if the Government comes onboard, absolutely in the other place as well. There is the potential to have a big impact on a lot of people, but a lot of trust is required. We have not seen the advice of Karen Webb and Kerry Chant to the Government about the services in place. It would have been good to have that information before us. In the mental health inquiry hearing the other day, I asked a health professional from Broken Hill what the treatment or rehab options are for people in that area. The answer is that it takes months. If somebody speaks to their GP and wants to get off ice that day, they need to come back in four months. That is still where it is up to. The Greens support the bill because, as my colleague said, there is nothing objectionable in it. But it is a missed opportunity. I look forward to substantial legislation in this place that reduces the harm from drugs.

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Cate Faehrmann
NSW Greens MP
19 October 2023
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