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Interview with Craig Zonca and Rebecca Levingston on ABC Radio Breakfast Brisbane

Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's interview with Craig Zonca and Rebecca Levingston on ABC Radio Breakfast Brisbane regarding $11 million in funding for drug and alcohol support services in Brisbane’s north.

The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Former Minister for Health and Aged Care

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We were talking earlier about the drug ice. The Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart, he says that is the biggest issue for him, his officers on the enforcement front, but also then on the prevention, and it’s tearing communities apart here in the South East, right across the state.

And you heard the example from Leah Tickner, who’s the clinical services manager at Lives Lived Well, before 9 o’clock. So that organisation based in Caboolture, trying to help those with an addiction, to break that cycle. She spoke about the fact that there are instances less than an hour from the Brisbane CBD where drug dealers are selling cannabis laced with methamphetamines to children as young as 10. They want to get them hooked.

Greg Hunt is the Federal Minister for Health, he’s in Caboolture today. Greg Hunt, why does it take a by-election to get action from the Federal Government?


Good morning Craig, and good morning Rebecca. In fact, this was one of the first things that Trevor Ruthenberg or big Trev, our candidate, put on the agenda. He knows the community, he’s from the area and he said this is a huge issue. Ultimately, this is something that the state should have picked up but we're going to step in and do it and it's a really positive thing.

I'm actually at Lives Lived Well in Caboolture now, and we'll be all up contributing $11.1 million towards drug and alcohol rehabilitation here, and $3.6 million of that is for demand at the detox facilities and the day rehabilitation, and another $7.5 million for a 20-bed residential rehab facility. So this is the sort of thing that will make an immense difference to a community which is in real need.


They will welcome the funding, but there is some scepticism, certainly from the callers that we've had, that it is around timing. And it's a by-election, and that's the time when the Federal Government comes with a cheque to make everything right again.


Look, I think it's important to recognise something that's deep and needed. It comes from the assessment of what's called the Primary Health Network, the Primary Health Network for Metro North identifies this as the number one drug and alcohol need. Caboolture is an area which should be served incredibly well, because it has higher than the state average needs in terms of ice.

Exactly as you said, with some of those heartbreaking calls which I heard earlier, this is the time and this is the place. And unfortunately, there has been some underfunding at state level, but I don't really want to focus on that. You've got a line like Trevor, who has said: look this is my time at my watch and I want to do something right now, not in three or four or five years’ time, but funds that will flow and be available from 1 July. So immediate, real impact to help meet demand, to help with detox services, to help with day rehabilitation and then also to provide a residential facility, so things that will change and transform lives and save and protect lives.


Minister, funding for treatment is one important aspect of this, but as the Federal Health Minister, when you pull back and look at why there are circumstances in a First World country like Australia, where people are turning to such a dangerous and debilitating drug, what are you doing in terms of prevention to make sure we don't get here in the first place?


That is a very important question. And all up, there’s a $700 million drug and alcohol strategy of which the National Ice Action Strategy is the overwhelming majority, and that includes, exactly as you say, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. The prevention part is really a combination both of education and early intervention and very tough policing.

So part of our task is to ensure that there is very strong policing, whether it's at the borders or through the work of the Federal Police. The relevant states have to deal with the local issues on the ground, but also to have a strong educational component. And a lot of that we are doing through local drug action teams.

Also through the sports clubs and sports facilities, to get to young people, both to have them engage in sport but also when you talk to the mums and dads who are the coaches and the leaders, they want the information to be able to see the signs early, to talk to their kids and to build peer support.

So, kids are looking after kids. So that there's a whole, as you say, big picture, when you step away from an individual area, but truth is Caboolture and the surrounding area does have a real need. And you know, I have not come across a stronger advocate than the way that Trevor Ruthenberg has gone about it.


We had a conversation with the Queensland Police Minister yesterday, who cautiously but clearly signalled that perhaps it's time for a conversation in Australia about how drug addiction is viewed or framed. Greg Hunt, do you see drug addiction as a criminal issue or a health challenge for Australia?


Well, in fact you have to have both. If we were to go soft on the policing of this, I think that you would see a catastrophic outcome. What we have to do is to ensure that for potential users, for users and for people who are being rehabilitated, there are exactly the sorts of services that we have here.

For those that are involved in the pushing and in the distribution of drugs, I think we have to have an absolutely legally ruthless approach. And I know there are some with other views, but that's not my view and that's not our view as a Federal Government. The risk of normalising heavy drug use is, I think, a dangerous and frightening pathway, and one that we will respectfully but categorically reject.


Well I don't know that necessarily a conversation about drug laws equates to normalising heavy drug use. But I wonder, have you looked at in other countries where drugs have been decriminalised, or the approach has been different to that which doesn't work in Australia or in America. It doesn't work in terms of the way that laws are framed around drugs, selling, addicts, that kind of thing. You talk about- it could be a catastrophic impact. Has that been the case in countries where they have decriminalised drugs?


Well I think what you’d find is that when there was a discussion in Australia recently with regards to, say for example, cannabis and the attempt by the Greens to legalise cannabis use, the evidence is that this is a gateway drug and indeed the examples that you gave earlier of cannabis being laced with methamphetamines to bring people on is a classic example of the gateway.

Also, the evidence of- the health evidence about the links between marijuana and psychological and mental health challenges is increasingly strong, whether it's the evidence coming out of the UK College of- Royal College of Psychiatry or from around the world.

It's absolutely clear that marijuana, and this isn't a moral judgment, it's a health judgment, is increasingly being associated with hard evidence about the mental health impacts. So that it can itself be a profound effect. So mental health can be a pathway into drug and alcohol addiction. But equally, a drug and alcohol addiction can be a pathway to deep, profound, systemic mental health challenges.


It's a big job you have as the Federal Health Minister. Greg Hunt, really appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.


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