Transcript of Interview on Radio National Breakfast with Fran Kelly about the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs

Transcript of Assistant Minister for Health, Senator Fiona Nash on Radio National Breakfast with Fran Kelly about the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs

Page last updated: 10 March 2015

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10 March 2015

Fran Kelly: Last year the Australian Crime Commission, the ACC, warned that for a nation the size of Australia problems emanating from the drug ice are reaching pandemic proportions. Now the Federal Government is sharing Australia's experience with ice, and has asked for international help in the war against this drug.

Last year, Assistant Minister for Health, Senator Fiona Nash, told Breakfast that the war on ice was a number one priority. Fiona Nash is currently in Vienna for the 58th session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

Senator Nash, good morning. Thanks very much for joining us.

Fiona Nash: Fran good morning, it's a pleasure.

Fran Kelly: You've just presented your speech to the UN Commission, you've outlined the huge increases of Australians- number of Australians using ice, are other countries experiencing a similar increase in the use of this drug?

Fiona Nash: They are Fran. What was very interesting today, listening to the other countries do their speeches around current states in their nations when it comes to drugs, was how many raised this issue of methamphetamines, of ice. Now it is just, as you say, exploding at home in Australia, so my role here is to raise our perspective of what's happening, and to talk to other nations about their experiences, what we can learn from them, and globally raise this issue.

Fran Kelly: Before we find out what we can learn from them, just for people listening, you I know have had this on your radar for a long time, and we know that while ice was initially a problem that emerged in the big cities, like Sydney, more recently, and perhaps even more devastating, is the impact it's had on some country areas, some regional centres. When you travel this country, what are you hearing, what are you seeing about ice and its effects?

Fiona Nash: Fran, when I'm out in our rural and regional communities it's one of the issues that's raised with me most. What's really concerning me is the speed with which this has travelled out into rural and regional areas, and how much we're seeing of it out in our rural areas. All the communities I'm going into are talking about people being affected by this, and we absolutely have to tackle this head-on.

What we're actually seeing here, as some people have been saying to me, that the people who are pushing ice are seeing rural and regional areas as a new market for their product. That is really concerning, but it's something that the government can't solve ourselves Fran, we're going to need community to work on this with us as well.

Fran Kelly: Let's talk about ways to tackle it now. As you say, you're there asking other countries what their experiences are, you're sharing experiences and perhaps sharing efforts to fight the drug. Is there a stand-out example you've come across from any other nation?

Fiona Nash: Fran there's not. What stands out is that this is very early days for countries dealing with this drug. I think now that it's been identified as such a serious issue - obviously not just in Australia but across the globe - it's now time for the discussion about how we tackle it. I don't think there are any silver bullet solutions that have come to the fore today.

The very big thing though is the fact that it's now been identified, we're recognising that it's an issue. At home in Australia I've asked states and territories to come back to me, the drug organisations in those states, with their information around what they're doing and what's happening in their states. I've put together a drug and alcohol council that's been tasked with looking at ice as their first priority. Communities, people everywhere Fran have been saying to me we need to act on this, and that's exactly what the Government's going to do.

Fran Kelly: And as you say, the stand-out thing about ice is the increase, the speed of the use. I think it's doubled, the use of ice in the country, in the last three years. But beyond that, fighting against ice, is we've learnt lessons as we've dealt- tried to deal with other drugs in the past, and what we have learnt is that you can't do it with just law enforcement alone. But on the law enforcement front, we have recently had some quite large detections of methamphetamine, or ice, shipments. Has this put a dent in the ice usage?

Fiona Nash: Well it certainly- you would expect it would put a dent in the, I suppose, in the intent of bringing this in. Well you hope that it would. But it really is still only just a small part. The Minister, Michael Keenan, has been doing a tremendous job in relation to customs and border protection.

But as you say Fran, it's not just one single part of this that we're going to have to deal with. We're going to have to deal with demand; we're going to have to deal with use. We're going to have to deal with supply. And I think really importantly, as a part of this, we have to deal with education. We have to be talking to our young people; making sure that they never start. We've certainly got to deal with what's out there, what we know is causing such devastation across our communities. But we also have to deal with the fact that we need to focus on making sure that our young people never start.

So it's those sort of things that the Government's working through at the moment to ensure that we come up with the best possible strategy for dealing with this. It is really important that we get it right.

Fran Kelly: It's 19 minutes to eight on Breakfast; our guest is the Assistant Minister for Health, Senator Fiona Nash, she's in Vienna at the moment at the UN, talking about issues of drug usage, particularly ice in Australia and other countries. As the Assistant Minister for Health, your concern around this too, I suppose, is treatment. I mean, it's one thing to try and stop the drugs coming in or being manufactured. It's another to make sure we are educating young people so they never start using ice. But for those who have who are a problem right now, treatment options - how much is Australia doing on this front? And how much more do we need to do?

Fiona Nash: Well, we're certainly doing it through our treatment services, which are primarily a state and territory responsibility. The Federal Government is giving, at the moment, around 200 million a year to those frontline treatment services. But what I also want to do, Fran, is take a stocktake of how that's working. We need to know that our people who are being affected, particularly young people and their families, have options and access to treatment services that they need. And that's one thing I'll be doing a stocktake of over the very - the very soon period [sic] of time.

Fran Kelly: And Senator Nash, just on another element around the UN; your speech to the UN Commission in Vienna, you called on the UN Office on Drugs and Crime to continue its efforts - also to abolish the death penalty. You called on the UN to continue its efforts to abolish the death penalty for drugs. Just yesterday our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, criticised the UN Report on Human Rights. He said Australians are sick of being lectured by the UN. Can't have it both ways, can we? We can't exhort the UN to do more, to pressure other countries to change their policies - then criticise the UN when it criticises us.

Fiona Nash: Well, certainly my role here, Fran, at the UN, is relating to drugs. This is about what we need to do in terms of drugs. And that's been very much my focus…

Fran Kelly: [Interrupt] I understand that, but I just wondered if there's anyone voiced any concerns to you about the Prime Minister's reaction to a UN Human Rights report yesterday, where he says Australians are sick of being lectured by the UN?

Fiona Nash: No, no one's raised it. I certainly raised again today that we oppose the death penalty. It's a very long standing opposition to the death penalty that Australia has, in terms of my role here - it's very much focused on talking to those other nations about that situation for their countries when it relates to drugs and being part of the UN arrangements here. I've found it very productive and very useful.

Fran Kelly: Fiona Nash, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.

Fiona Nash: Thank you very much, Fran.

Fran Kelly: Senator Fiona Nash, she's the Assistant Minister for Health, joining us there from the UN conference in Vienna.

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