HON PIERRE YANG (South Metropolitan) [11.28 am] — without notice: I move —

That the Legislative Council notes the McGowan government’s whole-of-government, comprehensive response to the Methamphetamine Action Plan Taskforce report and supports the McGowan government to continue the fight against ice.

Comments and speeches from various members

HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [11.51 am]: I rise to indicate my support for this motion. One of the reasons I am happy to support the motion is that I appreciate the measured tone that Hon Pierre Yang has taken to this. I think that the government’s investment in this area should be acknowledged. Of course I support the work that has been done towards trying to address what is effectively a meth crisis in this state. I appreciate that there has not been a sense of congratulations or anything like that to perhaps suggest that we are there. As members are well aware, if we are to accurately represent the situation at the moment, we still have a long way to go to address the issue of meth. It is important and valuable that this government has decided to take the issue so seriously. As such, I welcome this.

I also want to comment on a few of the measures that have been progressed, and make some comments about areas that still desperately need some attention. I welcome the additional moneys going into prevention, noting that money will be invested in our schools. Early intervention is a key part in trying to address what will happen in the future. It is very welcome that the government has been up-front in dealing with its harm-reduction measures. People who are perhaps not very well informed sometimes try to criticise and maybe get some political mileage out of this issue, which is a desperate shame when talking about saving people’s lives and making sure that people’s health is maintained. I applaud the government for being prepared to look at things like expanding needle exchange programs and those sorts of things. That is good public health policy. I am really pleased to see those sorts of provisions in there.

Although additional funding is absolutely welcome and this investment recognises the valued role that our alcohol and other drugs sector is playing, not enough services are provided to meet community demand. We are still not meeting the level of demand that has been articulated in the 10-year mental health, alcohol and other drug services plan. I recognise that we are at least seeing progress towards trying to address this.

I will make a brief comment about the issue of supply. I note that $21.2 million has been allocated to the Western Australia Police Force for the meth border force. I will reflect briefly on comments that were made by police at a public committee hearing, which have subsequently received media attention. The comments were made to a committee that I chair. The only reason I am happy to speak about it is that it has already been very much in the public domain. Police made the very clear observation that WA has a largely open coastline that is not being monitored, and that there has been a lack of federal government investment available to enable federal police to monitor our borders for drugs. That really highlighted that although there have been some gains in being able to mitigate it to an extent, the issue of supply has largely not been touched. That is why we have so much meth in our system and why it is effectively so cheap to buy. This remains a massive problem and is why we need to focus on the issue of demand. Quite frankly, if tonnes and tonnes of ice is coming through our borders but no-one wants to take it, or hardly anyone wants to take it, there will be no market. My primary issue will always be how to stop people taking meth in the first place. That should be our number one priority. When people get caught in the devastating cycle of meth addiction, what can we do to ensure that those people are able to recover from their addiction as soon as possible? Once people hit the point of recognising that they have a problem, they need to be able to access services immediately. We know that. This is something that has been researched and recorded over and over again. We need to ensure, during that small window when people say, “I have a problem; I need help”, that we can get them into services as soon as possible. Unfortunately, even with the significant investment proposed in this state budget, there is still a significant gap within this space.

I am very concerned that we still have an issue whereby the staffing profile within our public hospitals is not able to adequately address these concerns. In my remaining minutes, I am not going to focus on the issue of beds. That is a discussion for another time. We already know that we need more residential care beds. Some are being made available, but of course the demand is huge and we still need to expand. I want to particularly touch on the issue of addiction specialist clinicians within our WA health system. I have been asking some questions about this. I appreciate the government’s fulsome and fairly frank responses to the questions that I have asked. It highlighted that we currently have a shortage of addiction specialist psychiatrists and physicians within the WA health system. In answers to questions that I asked in Parliament, we discovered that we have only two registered specialist addiction psychiatrists and 14 registered specialist addiction physicians employed within the entire WA health system. Further, only a 0.9 full-time equivalent of an addiction psychiatrist position and a 0.6 full-time equivalent of an addiction physician position are currently employed within public hospitals across the whole state. Members, this is deeply concerning and is not remotely in line with the sort of staffing profile that exists in other states. This is a huge oversight. These particular addiction specialists play a vital role when it comes to the issue of treating addiction. Although the government’s investment in the meth action plan is absolutely welcome—of course it is— we need to ensure that special attention is paid to the issue of specialist addiction clinicians so we can ensure we have timely access to treatment services for anyone who turns up in mental health services in our hospital system and says, “I need help and I need it now.”

The situation is even worse for people living in the regions. Because there are already far fewer alcohol and other drug services in the regions, it means that our regional public hospitals are playing an even greater role than their metropolitan counterparts at the forefront of presentations by people who have serious addiction. In this context, I have to say that it is absolutely appalling that we do not have even one addiction specialist psychiatrist or physician in any regional hospital across this entire state. That is an appalling position to have found ourselves in. This area needs urgent attention from the government and needs to be addressed urgently by all the area health services, but most notably the WA Country Health Service. They will have to remedy this situation and we need to make sure that we have addiction specialists employed as part of our overall staffing profile.

I am very concerned that this is the current situation in Western Australia, particularly considering that we still have per capita the highest rate of meth use in this country. We know that this is a huge issue for us and that we need to provide the capacity for people to access those very clear, trained specialists at the forefront when they present. Unfortunately, we have the specific situation in Western Australia right now whereby the people best trained to address this issue have not been employed. I have not even started on the issue of consultant liaison psychiatrists—that is a whole speech for another time and one that I will pick up on. I suppose what I am particularly pointing out is that we do not have those specialists within our system at the moment. I am really concerned that things have been able to get to this point, because this is a key area that we need to address. Lots more could be said about this issue. I thank the member for bringing this motion to the attention of the chamber because we could be talking about this for a very, very long time. I welcome the investment, but we still have a long way to go.

Comments and speeches from various members

Motion lapsed, pursuant to standing orders.


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