Urgency Motion Passed Unanimously at the 2019 Victorian Labor Party Conference


Urgency Motion for 2019 Victorian Labor Conference

Harm reduction and community health approach for alcohol, tobacco and other drug (ATOD) policy

Preamble

This conference congratulates the Victorian Labor Government for the record investment of $273 million in 2018/19 into ATOD services.  Addressing the prevalence of regional and inner city ice/methamphetamine use has been a strong focus of ALP health policy. We can see this in the $53.2 million Drug Rehabilitation Plan directed towards new rehabilitation beds across Victoria and $9.7 million towards additional facilities in Gippsland, Barwon and Hume regions in the 2017/18 budget. 

There are several key initiatives to address Victorian hotspots for overdose and ATOD related harm, notably the establishment and $7.2 million upgrade to the North Richmond Safe Injecting Room. At the 2018 election voters strongly endorsed our policy position, as our Liberal/National opposition took high profile policies to the election to go exactly the other way, doubling down on a failed ‘war on drugs’ approach.  Since its opening in July 2018 there has been a marked improvement in the amenity of the area, a reduction in first responder call outs and most importantly a significant reduction in drug user overdoses. At a recent community meeting a large number of local residents shared their experiences since its opening and all were unanimous in their support, and rejected the negative reports emanating from a small but vocal group who support the facility but want it relocated. 

Thanks to the leadership of the Andrews Government, medical cannabis is now legal in Victoria. The Victorian Government has also facilitated the creation of local jobs and facilities as part of is medical cannabis plan and continues to fund treatment for some of Victoria’s sickest children through its Compassionate Access Scheme. Naloxone training, ATOD pathways, Safescript and Crisis Hubs are all additional initiatives that signal the strength of our moves towards a health, harm reduction and community safety model of ATOD treatment. 

We need to continue this important work toward ATOD harm reduction. There is much more to do to ensure that Victoria moves away from having the very people the ALP represents, workers and their families, suffering the burden of a law and order focused ATOD policy – the human costs and the costs to the state are far too great. The State Labor government must be applauded for starting a journey toward evidence based ATOD policy and we need to continue this journey rather than continuing the failures of the past.

The social and economic cost of a law and order approach toward ATOD is immense and its costs will continue to grow. It takes away police, firefighters, paramedics and emergency health staff resources from other areas of acute need.  It adds immense and growing pressure to Victoria’s public health system from the number of alcohol and drug-related hospital admissions. The criminalisation of alcohol and drug use also contributes to a disturbing increase in rates of incarceration. Between 2008 and 2018 there was an increase of 81.5 per cent of prisoners in the Victorian prison system, of which 24.4 per cent of women and 13.6 per cent of male prisoners were charged for drug related offences. 

Drug use continues across all drug classes regardless of their legal status. Victoria needs policy settings that recognise that punishing ordinary Victorians for drug use further entrenches harm, and takes away resources from the most vulnerable especially in emergency health and justice sectors. Victorians deserve evidence based policy in ATOD that provides the best outcomes, giving a health focused response and avoiding criminalising ordinary Victorians. This will mean a more productive Victoria, more jobs in health, more revenue for government and a proper use of our police and emergency resources. The Andrews government must be strongly congratulated for continuing down this path and this conference joins with them in supporting harm reduction. To encourage these often controversial reforms, Labor for Drug Law Reform Victoria has been created to advocate internally in the Victorian Labor Party for a harm reduction approach toward ATOD use. 

Resolution

  1. Conference calls on the government to continue existing harm reduction services such as the North Richmond Safe Injecting Room and continue changing our policy settings in ATOD away from a punitive model toward a health, harm reduction and community safety framework. 
  1. Conference notes that many other jurisdictions are changing their approach – The ACT Labor Government and the Jacinda Ardern’s New Zealand Labour government have made similar moves toward a harm reduction framework in ATOD
  2. Conference supports the repeal of laws that criminalise public drunkenness and other policies that can increase the efficiency and accessibility of ATOD services to vulnerable Victorians, particularly those experiencing family violence.
  1. Conference calls for the Victorian Government look at innovative new strategies that have been trialled elsewhere in a bid to save Victorian lives and strive to reduce harm in the ATOD sector.
  2. As recommended in the report from the Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee’s 2018 inquiry, Conference calls for the establishment of a Ministerial Council comprising all relevant Government Ministers with responsibility for ATOD policy including the portfolios of Health, Corrections, Mental health, Police, Education, Early Childhood Education, Road Safety and Multicultural Affairs.
  1. As recommended in the report from the Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee’s 2018 inquiry , Conference calls for the establishment of an Advisory group sitting underneath the Ministerial Council which engages key stakeholders and experts, front line-services – such as police officers, paramedics and other health workers – and current users, recovering users and affected families. 

Moved: Gavin Ryan (Higgins FEA) 

Seconded: Paul Healy (HACSU) 

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