National Ice Taskforce

  • Written by Media Conference

Good morning, everyone. I’m here at St Vincent’s at the Stimulant Treatment Clinic with Michael Keenan, the Minister for Justice; Senator Fiona Nash, the Minister for Rural Health; Professor Anthony Schembri, Chief Executive Officer of the St Vincent’s Health Network; Nadine Ezard, who is the Director of the Alcohol and Drug Service here at St Vincent’s; Ken Lay, who’s the Chair of the National Ice Taskforce; Richard Murray, the Dean of Medicine at James Cook; and Professor Sally McCarthy, the Medical Director of Emergency Care Institute, who are the two other members of the National Ice Taskforce; and, of course, Kay Hull who’s the Chair of ANACAD; and John Rogerson who is the CEO of the Australian Drug Foundation.


Now, what we are releasing today is the final report of the National Ice Taskforce and announcing the Government’s response to it.


Today, too many Australians – especially young Australians – are harming themselves and others through the use of methamphetamines, including ice. Now, law enforcement – strong law enforcement – and I should acknowledge here the Deputy Commissioner Leanne Close of the Australian Federal Police, but law enforcement is absolutely critical to countering the illegal trafficking of ice through detecting, arresting and prosecuting those who profit from making misery out of the lives of others. But much more needs to be done and this has been the focus of the Taskforce report.


The responsibility for tackling this very complex problem can’t be left to the police alone. We cannot – as Ken Lay has often said – we cannot arrest our way to success, we need to do a lot more. All of us as communities face the challenge of responding effectively to limit the cost to our society of the trafficking and use of this drug.


So, we’re releasing the final report. The Taskforce’s report provides a comprehensive picture of the ice problem in Australia. Proportionally, Australians use more methamphetamine, including ice, than almost any other country. Reported use of ice has more than doubled since 2007 with an estimated 200,000 people using the drug or reported using the drug in 2013. Anecdotal evidence suggests that today this is much higher.


Not only is it being used more than ever, ice is extremely damaging. It’s an extremely powerful stimulant that can trigger violent and aggressive behaviour in some users and long term use damages or will damage the brain. It can lead to family breakdown, financial distress, involvement in crime, loss of employment and housing.


Law enforcement agencies have responded strongly and effectively – they’ve seized record levels of ice at the border, but it is easy to make and distribute both abroad and here, so despite these efforts, demand remains strong.


The Taskforce's report makes 38 recommendations on how government can strengthen the response across five key action areas: supporting families, communities and frontline workers; targeting prevention activities to those most at risk; tailoring services and ensuring that they are fit for purpose; and, of course, strengthening law enforcement to more effectively disrupt the supply of ice.


We welcome the Taskforce’s advice. Our response is very substantial. There is over $300 million of new money going into this response and it is overwhelmingly focused at the grassroots. Most of this money is going to primary health networks. We believe that the medical and healthcare professionals, who are closest to the people with the problems, the people in need, are best able to determine how the money is spent. And we’ll be monitoring their work and their measures very, very closely. This is an evolving situation. We have to be as dynamic and agile in our response as the problem has been in its rapid eruption or its rapid emergence.


So, this is a very dynamic response. We will learn from the various approaches that these primary health networks take across the country and we will continue improving our response.


Having said that I’d like to now introduce the Minister for Justice, Mr Keenan.




Thank you, Prime Minister. It’s good to be here for this launch with Minister Nash, with Ken and Richard and Sally who have done an excellent job in preparing this report for the Government. I congratulate them on all the work that they have done.


What the report makes clear is that we have a substantial problem in Australia in relation to crystal methamphetamine. Whilst there’s been an increase in use globally, the problem in Australia has proportionally become worse and the head of the Australian Crime Commission, Chris Dawson, has said that it’s akin to the explosion of the usage of crack cocaine in the United States.


Law enforcement has responded magnificently. We are seizing more of this drug. We’re working more collaboratively to get it off the streets. We’re trying to lock up the kingpins who are responsible for its import into Australia. But whilst there is this explosion in demand, supply will find its way in. And indeed the enormous amount that we pay for ice here in Australia means that organised criminal gangs literally from all over the world have an interest in the Australian market. So, Mexican crime gangs, Iranian dealers, distribution networks from West Africa and Chinese organised crime gangs as well, because we know that China is a very significant transhipment point for this drug.


The report made clear that there is two very important things that we need to do. That is, improve our intelligence collection and also go after the money. We are doing both. We’ve sent Australian Crime Commission intelligence officers to embed themselves within the drug enforcement administration, within the FBI in Hong Kong and also in the United Arab Emirates. Very importantly, the Australian Federal Police for the very first time have a joint taskforce with the Chinese criminal narcotics control bureau – the first time that the Chinese government has ever had such a joint taskforce with a foreign law enforcement agency. We’ve also agreed at a national level to have an unexplained wealth regime and the New South Wales government has been the first to sign up for this new national unexplained wealth approach.


Law enforcement are doing a magnificent job, but it’s very clear that whilst we’re doing everything we can on the supply side – and with seizures up, we’ve had seizures of over $1 billion of this insidious drug. But it is very clear from the Taskforce report that we need to do more on the demand side. So whilst we’re tackling supply, if demand still exists at such a record rate, it’s going to be impossible for law enforcement to retain control of supply. And, of course, the best thing that we can do to help our law enforcement agencies is to stop people from using this drug in the first place.


On that note, I’d like to hand over to the Minster for Rural Health, Fiona Nash.




Thanks, Michael. Thanks, PM. This is an historic investment by the Government into reducing demand for ice. Can I firstly thank Key Lay and his team and the Taskforce – Sally McCarthy and Richard Murray. And also the Australian National Advisory Council on Alcohol and Drugs Chaired by Kay Hull, who have had an enormous amount of input into the report and now the Government’s response.


There is no doubt that this is a significant issue for people right across this country – and the funding that we’ve seen today, if we are going to break the drug dealers model, we need to smash demand and policing alone is not going to do that.


We’re going to need to work with local communities; government alone can’t tackle this issue and we’ll be working with local communities on the ground. We need to help people get off this drug and we need to make sure people never, ever start.


We’re investing $300 million of new money into this programme and we are building on the existing $310 million that is currently going into treatment services. It’s also very important to point out that the existing alcohol and other drug treatment services contracts will be extended until mid-2017 while we transition to the new model under the Primary Health Network.


In relation to treatment, there will be $241 million going to treatment services through the model of the Primary Health Networks. That will include expansion of existing services. We will have a specific focus on Indigenous treatment services and the PHN’s will work very, very closely with the Aboriginal community controlled health sector. It will also allow alignment between this programme and the mental health programme that has recently been announced by the Health Minister.


In relation to families and communities, we will see $4.6 million going to Good Sports to roll out an ice education programme through sporting clubs. We will see $19.2 million go to community action teams to include focus on making sure we have collaboration and coordination at the local community level and also with support for families amongst a range of other measures that they will be able to do.


We will see $1.1 million going to the Positive Choices Web Portal to provide information for educators, family and young people. There will be funding for online counselling and we will see a move towards a National Hotline which will be dealt with through the COAG process. We will see through the research, we’ll see $8.1 million go to better data and more frequent data collection – primarily in the first instance looking at the issue of waiting lists.


When it comes to education, we will see a significant amount of money – $15 million – going to the phase 2 of the Joint National Drug Campaign which will be focused on social marketing and we will also see $475,000 going to Life Education to roll that out across our primary schools because we know how important that is.


In relation to workforce, there will be $13 million to go to a Medicare – new Medicare – item for our addiction medicine specialist and there will be $10.7 million going to a clinical centre of excellence to look at dealing with the drug ice and also emerging drugs. 


So, ladies and gentlemen, there is no easy answer to this, but this is a significant – a significant – investment into dealing with this issue from the Government.


I have travelled tens of thousands of kilometres across the country and spoken to hundreds of people that have been affected – very badly affected – by this issue. So, it’s going to be a hard slog, but we are absolutely going to tackle it. 


And I would now like to pass onto Ken Lay, as head of the Taskforce to make some remarks.




Thanks, Minister. And thank you, Prime Minister for your announcement.


It’s a proud day for the Taskforce and for the secretariat. I’m looking there at the lady that headed up the secretariat – she’s got a very big smile on her face – Alison, congratulations to you and your team for your wonderful work. And to you, Sally and Richard, for your wise counsel and your expertise – it’s been wonderful to be supported by two wonderful Australians who care about their community.


It’s been a hard road the last eight months as we worked our way through these issues. We spoke to a number of groups of users. We heard harrowing stories about the damage that was being done to individuals. We spoke to families. Heard about families being ripped apart by this drug and a real sense of what they could do or where they could go for help.


We heard stories from agencies, frustrated about the gaps in the system and not being able to address the issues they wanted to. We saw many hundreds of submissions about opportunities, how we could make this system better. And we looked at the research to try and identify where we could get better.


The Taskforce is really proud of the report. It has identified gaps. It’s identified opportunities, but I hope it’s captured the complexity and the depth of the problem that this community is facing.


There is simply no silver bullet to resolve this problem. The response needs to be carefully constructed, as well as being an integrated approach. The Taskforce is confident that the announcements we’re hearing today takes us along this path. 


Both the Prime Minister and the two Ministers have made the comments about the role of police. Police cannot, will not and will never arrest their way out of this problem. It is far more difficult than that.


However, in saying that, when you have the level of organised crime making hundreds of millions of dollars in the sale of this drug. When you have the importation of this drug coming into the country by the tonne. When you have the need to facilitate international responses to this issue, law enforcement is and will remain very, very important.


But, the Taskforce is delighted with the response in the other areas. And this is the real shift in our response. As the Prime Minister said, we have looked at supporting families, we have looked at targeting prevention, we have looked at helping the poor souls that are in the grip of this drug and we have looked at the research and again, I think all of that has been responded to in the Prime Minister's announcement today.


At the start, eight or so months ago, I'm not sure the Taskforce would have ever dreamt of standing up here and seeing the response that we have today. It is enormously pleasing, but we now have an opportunity, as a result of this investment, we have an opportunity to repair some of the damage, we have an opportunity to reduce some of the harm, we have an opportunity now to protect our community from this drug.


Thank you very much




Thanks Ken. Do you have any questions?




Will you accept all 38 of the recommendations that are in the report? And is it fair to say that the government's focus in the past on this issue has been too hard on policing rather than rehabilitation, we have heard of incredible waiting list in this area?




Well, perhaps I will defer to the Minister to deal with the 38 recommendations, but, as you have heard, the chair of the task force is very happy with the government's response. But, Fiona can elaborate.




We are supporting all of the recommendations. Some, you will see incorporated into the response that we have put forward today, others will be part of the response between the Commonwealth and the state and territory governments. Those will be taken to the COAG meeting by the Prime Minister very shortly.




Just back on the issue of whether we have gone too hard on policing [inaudible] rehabilitation?




I will leave that commentary for you to make, I think. We recognise this is, as Ken said, I mean Ken is a former police Commissioner. He understands this area better than anyone, both the policing side and if you like the community side, the social side, tackling the demand side as Fiona and Michael both said.


I think the answer is we have to keep, our response has to keep evolving. There is no, and we will learn from the measures the primary health networks undertake, some of them, some of their initiatives, some of the investments they make in particular services will be more successful than others and we will share that information.


There is a substantial part of this investment, this $300 million of new money into research and, in large part, that will go to monitoring what is happening, seeing what works best and then learning from it. So, this is the advantage of having a highly distributed grassroots approach. As close to the people as possible.




Prime Minister, this is recognition, isn't it that so much has been put into law enforcement and tackling the supplier lines, but there has been very little to help users and prevention strategies? You are even looking at primary schools…




You are entitled to write that editorial but, what we are focused on is what we are doing now and going forward.




This is going forward...




What we have set out today is a very progressive, responsive approach to the problem that couples both law enforcement and, if you like, the more social response that is focused on mitigating, reducing demand and dealing with, of course, the consequences of usage. But, it is, you know, it is in all of the above strategy, you have to do everything, and, as I said, our response will change as we learn more and as our understanding of the problem evolves.


This is in every respect of what we do, whether it is our response to ice, whether it is in the Innovation Statement I will be releasing tomorrow with Christopher Pyne, everything we do is agile. We are an agile 21st-century government, that means we will try new things, we will learn from what we do. If measures succeed, we will do more of them. If they are not, they are not as successful as we would like, we do less of them or do something else.




Prime Minister, would you still support Mr Abbott's 'dob in a dealer' hotline?




Yes, the answer is yes, that is part of this, Fiona can deal with that




Yes, we are continuing with that and it is very important that we do that. One of the things that came before me, travelling around particularly rural and regional areas is that people did like to have anonymity in a small town in raising issues about people they suspected may be involved. So, I think it is very important from the perspective as well.


Can I say though, broadly, there is an enormous human impact from the use of this drug. When I was travelling around the country and had a grandfather say to us at one of the meetings that we had that his grandchildren had gone in to wake up their mother for her to take them to school and she was dead.


There is an enormous human impact and that is why the government has responded so strongly with a broad range obviously of responses to this, but, in particular, this issue of getting people off the drug and making sure they never start.




How much money will go into the regions?




Well, that will be a matter for the PHNs. We will now work on the model for the delivery of the funding, but, certainly the lack of resources that we have seen out in rural and regional areas to date will be a significant consideration.




Prime Minister…




Just one second, Fiona is going to address the, you asked about the regions and that is very important, Fiona is going to address the indigenous component in this package.




I did flag in my earlier remarks that is part of the $241.5 million going to treatment services, we will have a specific focus on indigenous treatment services. We need to make sure that they have culturally appropriate treatment services in place. 


So, while we will be doing this through the primary health networks, there is a very strong expectation that the PHNs will work very very closely with the Aboriginal community controlled health sector in how we ensure those treatment services are appropriate. I have already spoken to the sector about this, to the head of NACCHO, Matt Cooke, and also my adviser on the Advisory Council, Ted Wilkes, about ensuring that we work very very closely with the sector to make sure that we get those indigenous treatment services right.



Prime Minister, just on a different issue…




We will come to that, are there any other questions on the announcement today?




Just on a related issue, there has been another death at a Stereosonic music festival this weekend. Is it time that we moved towards harm minimisation strategies such as pill testing at festivals?




Well, I'm not sure whether that that has been considered, Michael, Justice Minister?




Well, no it is not. At those festivals we do make an enormous effort to make sure that illicit substances are not going in. But, of course it is very important that people take personal responsibility as well. My heart goes out to the family of that particular individual who obviously has seen the worst possible consequences for the taking of illicit drugs. 


But, it is a reminder to us about how dangerous these substances are. You don't know what's in them, and if you are taking them, you have no idea what you are putting in your body or what the consequences can be. And I would urge everybody to be exceptionally cautious.








Yes, Sally, and Richard, and Nadine. Did you want to ask Sally and Richard and Nadine a question? Yeah, okay, well why don't you guys come up and, you've got a question for them.




Sally, you work in emergency medicine. What are you seeing at the moment, and what are you hoping might come of this and what is your message about this announcement?




I think one of the best things about the recommendations and the government's response to them is that the impact we expect to see is a very broad impact on all drug use and particularly alcohol which is a great scourge as well and causes a lot of presentations to emergency departments and dysfunction and adverse consequences in the community. We expect to see that when we see a crystal methamphetamine intoxicated person, that there will be much more accessible intervention available, and hopefully at an earlier phase of their use. 


At the moment, there are people who use this drug at an early phase and we really don't have much of an opportunity to refer them anywhere to get into treatment programs or further preventative measures. And so, we anticipate the measures taken as a whole will really support the work of emergency departments, general practitioners, all parts of the health sector, in being able to identify and intervene earlier so, they are very positive.


The other thing that is extremely important, as the Prime Minister has mentioned, is the investment into research, because we need to know what we are doing and how we are intervening is actually working, whether it is working, whether it is the most effective thing to do, and whether it is of value. So, we are really looking forward to those








We applaud the focus on building the drug and alcohol treatment sector altogether. So, echoing what the Prime Minister said and what Sally said, the idea that we will have a treatment sector that can detect early, respond early and then refer into treatment rather than just having some specialised treatment centres scattered around the country, means that we can build a comprehensive response for early intervention and treatment.




Prime Minister, will you rule out appointing Ian Macfarlane to the front bench [inaudible] his defection to the National Party, does this force you into a Cabinet reshuffle under the Coalition Agreement?




Well, look, have we, hold that question. Are there any other questions on Ice, drug and alcohol treatment? No other questions on that? Very well.


Well, thank you for your question. Can I say, I am focused today on the challenge of methamphetamine, the challenge of Ice. Tomorrow, I will be focused on innovation, on ensuring Australia's prosperity and security in the 21st-century. 


You have asked me about some internal Coalition matters, that is something for discussion within the Coalition, it is something in particular for discussion within the LNP. And, while I appreciate your keen interest, I am going to focus on my agenda, our government's agenda which is keeping Australia safe, securing their health, securing their prosperity.




George Brandis says no backbencher can force a Cabinet reshuffle by the PM by swapping parties, is he right?




Well, he is the Attorney General. Far be it for me to question the first law officer of the Crown. But, look, I am not going to entertain a discussion of internal party matters.

Can I just say, seriously, what the Australian people want us to do is focus on them. Keep them safe. They are worried about their parents, their kids using ice, they're worried about people, as you are saying earlier, that shocking incident, and that tragic incident at Stereosonic in Adelaide, where someone takes a pill and dies, probably, perhaps unaware of the risks that they were taking. A tragic event, and all of us here share, have the same sympathy for the family that Michael Keenan expressed a moment ago. They want us to focus on that. 


And then they want to know where are the jobs going to come in the 21st-century, how do we prosper after the mining boom is over? And that is what we will be talking about tomorrow. So, as far as internal matters are concerned, while I appreciate and applaud your interest in them, I will discuss them with my colleagues, whether it is in the National Party, or in the Liberal Party or the LNP.


But, right now, I can tell you, 100 per cent of my attention is focused on the 24 million Australians who want us to deliver a healthier Australia, a safer Australia, a more secure Australia. And on that note, while I know it will disappoint you, can I bring this press conference to an end. 


Thanks very much


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