Controlled Substances (Youth Treatment Orders) Amendment Bill

Extract from Hansard - House of Assembly 17 October 2019

I rise to speak today in support of the Controlled Substances (Youth Treatment Orders) Amendment Bill 2018. Across Australia, the abuse of illicit substances has a devastating impact, not only to the user but also their families and the broader community. Drug dependence is a serious and complex issue which can lead to substantial illness, disease, social and family disruptions, workplace issues, violence, crime and, sadly, in some cases, death.

In my portfolio of child protection, drug dependence by parents is one of the three leading causes of children entering care. Often the drug dependency issue is longstanding and the user has not availed themselves of any treatment. In 2016, more than 3.1 million people in Australia reported using an illicit drug.

However, drug dependence is not limited to adults. In 2014, more than 23,000 secondary students, aged between 12 and 17 years, participated in the Australian Secondary Students Alcohol and Drug Survey. The key findings of that report are alarming. Cannabis was the most commonly used illicit substance: 16 per cent of students reported using it, with 7 per cent having done so in the month prior to the survey.

The proportion of students using cannabis increased with age, with 3 per cent of students reporting they used ecstasy or MDMA in the previous year, and 1 per cent having consumed it in the previous month. While the vast majority of secondary school students had not used amphetamines, it was reported that the lifetime use of them increased with age, from 1 per cent of 12 year olds to 4 per cent of 17 year olds.

Evidence suggests that the teenage years are typically a period of experimentation, regardless of parenting skills and influence. There are many reasons given by teenagers for using illicit drugs, including to change how they feel, peer pressure, as a way to relax or have fun, out of boredom, curiosity or, most relevant to my child protection portfolio, to escape from psychological or physiological pain.

On a practical level, drug use can lead to property and violent offences, where young people use crime as a method of raising the necessary money to support expensive and illegal drug habits. For young people, this can often result in their first contact with the criminal justice system. If this persists, a permanent impact on employment prospects, their social interactions and attitude towards the law can result in continued contact with the criminal justice system as an adult and periods of incarceration.

Other vulnerable young people who are drug dependent are known to engage in sexual behaviours in exchange for drugs, which can negatively impact self-esteem and place them at risk of disease or harm in dangerous situations. Accepting that there is no silver bullet to prevent young people from experimenting with drugs, suggested ways to reduce the possibilities of experimentation include encouraging a healthy approach to life, including regular exercise and sport, fostering close and trusting relationships with the child and modelling appropriate behaviour. All of these I expect for children in care in this state and are matters that I regularly receive briefings on from my chief executive.

For those in our community who do use drugs, it is recognised that treatment for drug dependence is complex. More often than not, overcoming the addiction is not attainable without professional help. In some cases, the withdrawal process can be dangerous and potentially damaging to the user's health and it is for these reasons medical supervision during the detoxification phase is often required. While the availability of treatment options for anyone who has succumbed to the scourge of illicit drugs is important, the bill seeks to strike the balance of early treatment for young people considering both our obligation to care and protect them as well as their rights and autonomy.

In 2015, Mission Australia gave a submission to the National Ice Taskforce stating their opinion that adult treatment facilities are not appropriate and are often not available for young people. They submitted that adult facilities often do not have the supports that young people need to recover, particularly young people with underlying experiences of trauma, and that, in some cases, can expose young people to more trauma through their contact with older people who are also managing their drug withdrawal. Mission Australia was of the opinion that youth-specific facilities, which deal with young people holistically in a safe, secure and encouraging environment, are much more likely to succeed long-term.

The bill speaks to the government's commitment to protecting young people from the scourge of drugs. It is what drug dependent children need and it is what parents have been asking for. The bill has a therapeutic focus, ensuring that there are protections in place for the young person by ensuring their best interests are paramount in all decision-making.

There is community support for this scheme. In my electorate, from two separate surveys, over 86 per cent of the respondents were supportive of drug treatment for children under 18 and importantly, the mandatory treatment when ordered by a court. Support for this scheme has also come from Frances Nelson QC, Presiding Member of the Parole Board, who, I suggest, too often sees before the board adults whose drug dependence has led them into a life of crime. A Youth Court judge has also proffered support and considers that the orders considered by the bill will be useful in that jurisdiction.

Any measure to ensure that those young people who find themselves in the grip of drugs can access treatment is a positive measure. The opportunity that this will afford those impacted young people to live healthy, law-abiding lives and to contribute positively to society should be supported. The bill, with its checks and balances, does just that: it gives people the chance to recover, from which the community as a whole benefits. I commend the bill to the house to ensure that South Australia continues its responsibility to keep our children safe.