Pubdate: Fri, 08 Jun 2007
Source: Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
Page: 3
Copyright: 2007 The Sydney Morning Herald
Author: Andrew Clennell, State Political Editor
Bookmark: (Supervised Injection Sites)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


THE heroin-injecting centre in Kings Cross will be allowed to remain 
open for four more years - but may be shut down if client visits 
decline by more than a quarter.

The Health Minister, Reba Meagher, told Parliament yesterday she 
would introduce legislation to extend the trial of the centre until 
October 2011.

It is the third extension for the trial - two of those extensions 
have come shortly after an election win. The injecting centre was set 
up by the former premier, Bob Carr, in 2001 in an attempt to halt 
drug use in public places and stop deaths by overdose.

Ms Meagher later said the centre could not be made permanent because 
she received legal advice that if it was not regarded as a part-time 
medical trial, it could be challenged in the High Court using two 
United Nations anti-drug conventions that Australia had signed.

"We have sought legal advice from numerous sources, mostly from the 
Crown Solicitor's [office]," Ms Meagher said. "It [extending the 
trial] is the safest way to continue the operation of the centre 
without exposing ourselves to perhaps quite costly and lengthy litigation."

Ms Meagher's proposal passed through cabinet without opposition 
yesterday but three MPs - the member for Blacktown, Paul Gibson, the 
member for Mount Druitt, Richard Amery, and Greg Donnelly in the 
upper house - expressed reservations in caucus.

In particular, the MPs questioned if the centre was working when only 
11 per cent of people attending were being referred for drug treatment.

However, caucus passed the proposal, meaning Labor MPs will not have 
a conscience vote on the legislation, virtually assuring its passage 
through both houses of parliament.

The Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, later said Liberal and 
National MPs would be allowed a conscience vote. He would not declare 
how he would vote.

Unexpected in Ms Meagher's announcement was the provision that if the 
number of people attending the centre fell "below 75 per cent of 
current daily levels (208 clients a day), a formal review will be 
triggered into the economic viability and need for the centre".

The idea came from the minister's office and is understood to be 
intended as a sign from the Government that it is serious about 
reducing drug use and wants to eventually shut the centre, once 
heroin use declines.

The medical director of the centre, Ingrid Van Beek, and the 
licensing operator, the executive director of Uniting Care, Harry 
Herbert, welcomed the Government's decision to extend the centre yesterday.

Dr Van Beek said lives had been saved by the centre, with more than 
2100 drug overdoses occurring there without death or serious brain 
injury since its inception.

"There's no doubt that if some of those cases had occurred in less 
safe [situations] that some of those cases would have resulted in 
death," Dr Van Beek said.

Over six years, 10,000 addicts have used the centre - mostly for 
heroin - with about 6 per cent now using it for methamphetamine 
injection including ice. Ms Meagher said there was no consideration 
of establishing an injecting centre in any other part of Sydney, 
since Kings Cross, with its sex workers, had its own peculiar drug problems.

One of the MPs who will vote against the bill is the former 
opposition leader Peter Debnam, who had said before the March 24 
election that he would oppose it if he won office.

Mr Debnam said yesterday: "I won't be supporting it. It's a bad idea, 
it's bad for the community and it should be closed." 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake