David Risstrom - Greens Melbourne City Councillor 1999-2004
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ACHIEVEMENT: To establish a 12-month trial supervised drug facility.

TARGET DATE: No current target date. PROGRESS: Some.

DESCRIPTION: A trial of a supervised drug facility is established as a means of assessing its contribution to reducing the harm caused by chaotic intravenous drug use.

As Chairperson of the Melbourne City Council's Environment. Community and Cultural Development Committee, I steered the development of the Melbourne City Council Drugs Action Plan 2001-2003. It reflects many of the emphasises I believe in, and omits some the committee as a whole didn't support. During the development of the Drugs Action Plan 2001-2003, the merits of establishing a supervised drug facility were comprehensively discussed at a policy, community and media level.

During 2000 Wesley Church announced its intention to provide a supervised injecting facility at premises in Little Lonsdale St. in the CAD. Differences of opinion existed as to whether a planning permit was needed on the basis that the facility may fit within the definition of a medical suite, for which I understand in this instance, a permit was not needed. There was also a practical and legal question that arose from the likelihood that the supervision of an activity involving the use of an illegal drug was an unlawful act. I was personally threatened that a criminal conspiracy charge would be pursued against me if I facilitated or assisted the development of the Wesley proposal. Due to a number of reasons including community fears that crime and disruption would increase and/or be focussed around a supervised drug facility, local community involvement and opposition against the facility grew.

Police undertook a number of operations in the city targeting chaotic drug users, arresting them and in some instances sought bail conditions prohibiting them from being in within defined areas in the City. While this appeared to reduce the visibility, and perhaps incidence of chaotic drug abuse, it was a widely held view amongst professionals working in the field that this induced the creation of new hot spots, and did little to address the incidence of dangerous and chaotic drug abuse in suburban Melbourne. Anecdotally, it appeared that a rapid increase in chaotic drug use occurred in Kensington following police operations in the CAD.

The Victorian State Labour Government was elected with a policy of hosting a 12 month trial of a supervised injecting facility. The State Government established what later became known as the Pennington Inquiry. Five local Government areas in metropolitan Melbourne were identified as likely to benefit from increased attention on illegal drug abuse. Councils were encouraged and funded to produce Drug Action Plans, which the City of Melbourne had already done a great deal of work on. The State Government drafted legalisation to confirm the legality of undertaking a trial of supervised injecting facilities.

The Federal Government, particularly the Prime Minister, appeared strongly opposed to a trial of supervised injecting facilities in Australia.

As Chairperson of the Environment. Community and Cultural Development Committee, I had promised to the community that the Council would spend 12 months considering the issues and then make a decision. This had involved extensive community consultation, a special session the the ECCD Committee to hear submissions on the issue, attendance by me and others at conferences, meetings with the Deputy Premier and a great deal of one-on-one community interaction. Although it appeared likely that I would lose a vote on this issue and despite opposition from sections of the Council administration, I believed it would have been dishonest not to have put the issue to a vote as promised to the community. When the vote was put to support a 12 month trial, the vote was lost in Council 8:1, my vote being the only vote in the affirmative.

Within a short period, despite what appeared previously to have been support from the former Kennett-led Liberal State Government, the State opposition rejected the Labour Government's legislation, resulting in the Bill not being able to pass the Victorian Upper House, and so, not become law.

The Victorian Labour Party appeared to drop any reference to such a trial in its 2002 election campaign, and appears unwilling to pursue the issue.

Implementation of the Drugs Action Plan has allowed the City of Melbourne to increase community education on the impact of illegal drug use. The City has also installed syringe disposal units in selected areas and installed a number of secure stand along self cleaning 'Exeloo' toilets throughout the city with provision for disposal of used syringes. These units periodically flush the inside of the unit with water and automatically open after a set time if the occupant doesn't leave the toilet.

Thankfully, a great deal of other work to reduce the incidence of illegal drug abuse and the harm it causes was carried through in the Drugs Action Plan. In conjunction with an extended period of heroin shortages and higher prices, the incidence of heroin abuse and injuries and deaths from it have greatly diminished.

Unfortunately, if the price of heroin drops and its availability increases, the cycle of increased harm may re-emerge again as a serious issue. Whether public authorities and lawmakers will reconsider this issue is uncertain, though, in my view, the need to consider these options is self-evident.

Information on other action taken by the City of Melbourne to respond to illegal drug use and the harm it causes is detailed on the 100 Green Achievements page Treating Drug Abuse As A Health Issue, and in the downloadable documents below:

Business Responding to Illegal Drugs (1.5 Mb) - 'BRID' Handbook for businesses (Available at www.melbourne.vic.gov.au)

Drugs Action Plan 2001-2003 (660 kb) - City of Melbourne’s Strategy document. (Available at www.melbourne.vic.gov.au)

Drug Services Card (62 kb) - Information about health, counselling, withdrawal and other support services

Needs & Impact (478 kb) - The Injecting Drug Use Needs and Impact Study 1999

'Out in the City' (513 kb) - For young people of a Vietnamese background

Syringe Management Plan (99 kb)

Toilet Management (565 kb) - Strategy & design guidelines.



Cool Green Tip Of The Week -

23 April 2017: Only those who decline to scramble up the career ladder are interesting as human beings. Nothing is more boring than a man with a career: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918 -1956.

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