Well thank you everybody. It’s a real privilege to be here today at St Vincent’s. This is one of Australia’s great public hospitals as well as part of one of Australia’s great public-private hospital networks. It has served the people of Melbourne with great courage, great distinction and great professionalism for so long now, and the St Vincent’s network is an absolute Australian icon and it’s fundamental to our health system.
I want to acknowledge Dr Andrew Walby, the Head of Emergency here at St Vincent’s; Associate Professor Yvonne Bonomo, the lead Addiction Medicine Specialist both here at St Vincent’s and at the University of Melbourne; CEO of the Hospital, Patricia O'Rourke; and Jack, who has very courageously agreed to tell his story as somebody who has seen the lows and has made a recovery through treatment.
Ice is a national tragedy. We know that over 200,000 Australians have some form of ice use or ice addiction. We know that this leads to many of the things which Andrew and Yvonne have shown me this morning and explained to me. That there can be violence, there can be addiction, there can be impacts in terms of the cardiac stability, there can be mental health effects, and of course lives can be lost.
It affects not just the ice user, but it also affects all of those around – friends, family, emergency department workers and specialists, our nurses, our doctors, our orderlies. And it can affect the general public, who can be subject of random violence or crime in other forms. So we have to take action on ice.
On the policing side, over the years since 2013, our Federal Police in conjunction with the State police have done an incredible job. They have seized over 14 tonnes of ice.
But at the same time, we must look at the health dimensions as a means to help young people – people such as Jack who has courageously made the recovery and been through the path and is willing to talk about his journey, make that journey.
And so, today, as part of our overall $298 million National Ice Action Strategy and as a message to young people who are going to Schoolies soon and may be involved in party drugs, we are launching the ‘Take Your Life Back From Ice’ campaign.
It’s a $10 million campaign. It’s focused on young people, and it’s focused on parents, and the message is very clear – ice can destroy your lives, but you can take back your lives, and there is help through drughelp.gov.au.
And it’s the treatment services, it’s the fact that there is a way through, that gives people a sense of hope. And with stories such as Jack’s, those young people and those parents who are seeking information and real support in terms of treatment, in terms of advice, in terms of the capacity to take back your life, have that pathway,
Andrew, and I might invite you talk about what you experience here at the Emergency Department.
DR ANDREW WALBY:
There’s no doubt that over my 30 plus years working in emergency departments, I’ve seen a progressive change in illicit drug use, an escalation in the number of people using illicit drugs, the array of illicit drugs has expanded.
In particular, ice is an enormous challenge, not only for the patients who are using, but the impact on their lives, their families’ lives, and those who have to manage them when they come into the emergency department. Violent, aggressive, psychotic.
And anything that can be done to arrest this problem in our society is very welcome from an acute health point of view.
And I might ask Yvonne to talk about the addiction medicine specialisation side.
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR YVONNE BONOMO:
Thank you. So, Andrew’s already mentioned the mental health problems, but there are also physical health problems that we see in people who are using methamphetamine.
Meth mouth, heart problems, strokes, unwanted infections or unwanted pregnancies. So it’s important to understand the impact of this drug.
The advertisement that’s been launched has two important messages. One, is to actually talk about these things. We need the community to talk about this and understand it, because we feel the community don’t understand methamphetamine and its nature quite as easily or as readily as other drugs.
The other important message is to get help. So later is better than never, but we’d rather earlier, because the earlier you get help, the easier it is to get back to a life that is connected with your family and your friends, and with your society.
And, finally, Jack. And I really want to respect what Jack is doing by being here today.
No, thank you for having me. It’s a great campaign and I’m glad to be here to support it because I’ve used many drugs in my addiction, but ice was the one that took me to my knees the quickest. It was very fast. And getting the right help and support, and my family being educated on how to get me the right help and support was incredibly crucial to helping me to turn my life around.
So, yeah, if you’re watching I’d like to say that recovery is possible and is about stepping out and talking to the right people as quickly as you can, and trying to get that support so that you can get back on the right track.
Happy to take any questions on the take your life back campaign, and other matters after that.
Do you think the process of addiction and the scourge of it here has been allowed to go on for too long?
Well it’s something that, as a Government, we took on board when we came in. We created the National Ice Taskforce and from that came the National Ice Action Strategy.
Personally, I think that not enough had been done until we came in, but the policing has been driven very, very hard to try to dry up the supply. But at the same time, there will be no resolution unless and until we take even more steps in relation to the treatment and the understanding that there is a way back.
We’ve also launched, at the same time, 40 local drug action and alcohol action teams. These teams around the country, that takes to 80, the number of teams that we’ve launched, and they’ll be at schools and in sports clubs and community groups explaining the problem, but also giving people direct access to counsellors.
Can you explain how the $10 million will be broken down?
Sure. The $10 million will be a mixture of advertising on television, online, it is targeted use of Facebook and other online tools that are able to directly address the communities that we believe have the greatest need and the greatest risk.
One of the opportunities we now have, which until very recently was never available, was not just the online world but the targeted online world where we can focus on geographies, where we can focus on age groups, we can focus on demographic trends.
Do hospitals directly get any of that $10 million?
In addition to that, we have almost $250 million on treatment, so there’s the $10 million but the vast bulk of our ice funding is for treatment, and that treatment is for our hospital system, through the local drug action teams and through the many different forms of treatment outreach. So treatment is the overwhelming focus of what we do.
Just on same sex marriage, thousands of people got unsolicited texts yesterday from the yes campaign. Was that appropriate? And do you know how, or do you have any idea how the numbers might have been passed on?
No, I have no details around that. I’ve only seen the media reports, so I’ll leave that for the Attorney-General.
What did you think of the two women who were on stage last night and kissed?
Look, I think the critical thing here is for each person to respect the right of others to their views. The whole point of democracy is that people are able to express their views freely, and that means respect for each others’ right to campaign, respect for other people’s right to their views.
Free speech only matters when somebody has a different view, and when somebody’s entitled to express that view.
What do you think about the ACT Government trialling drug testing at a music festival?
It’s a matter for the ACT, but it’s not a policy that we support, and the message is very clear – there is no safe level of ice, there is no safe level of ecstasy, or caps, or MDMA.
Minister, just on ATM fees, the Commonwealth Bank has removed $2 fees. Should other banks follow their lead?
Well I welcome that outcome. It’s good for the consumer and it’s good for the public.
It’s exactly what we’re trying to do in taking the pressure off private health insurance and taking the pressure off electricity.
I want to congratulate the Treasurer and the Prime Minister for the unashamed pressure they have put on the financial services and the banks publicly. I do want to congratulate them. I would be surprised if there was no connection between their work and the outcome. But it’ll be a matter for others to determine what they do. But I would urge everybody to follow the competitive lead of the Commonwealth Bank.
What do you think of the New Zealand election result? Is there any message there for Australian politics and your Party?
I think the last thing the New Zealanders needs at this point is advice from Australia. They’ve just voted. It was a competitive process, a very competitive election, and they will form a government soon enough one way or another, and I respect that. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with the New Zealand Government. They’ve been just a pleasure to work with as a partner.