Medically Supervised Injecting Centre Anniversary

(Customs House, Barnet Long Room)

Thank you, Julie McCrossin and good evening, everyone. Welcome to Customs House. I would like firstly to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the traditional custodians of this land, and I pay my respects to the Elders, both past and present.

I would like to acknowledge Ministers Jillian Skinner and Kevin Humphries, Kristina Keneally and Reverend Harry Herbert.

I would also like to acknowledge Bob Carr and John Brogden who both, in the spirit of bi-partisanship, broke the constraints of narrow party politics to vote in support of the MSIC.

I also acknowledge, Dr Ingrid van Beek, AM, the Centre's former director, whose passion and commitment has driven the success of the centre and her successor Dr Marianne Jauncey. And thank you to all those who have worked, inside or outside the Centre, to support its efforts.

This 10-year milestone is an occasion to celebrate.

I became involved in this issue in the 90s as local member when injecting on the street and young people dying from overdoses had become a really serious problem for the Kings Cross community and for me as local member.

In 1997 the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee into Safe Injecting Rooms was established following Justice Wood's recommendation for the establishment of safe, sanitary injecting rooms.

After examining issues of illegal drugs and police corruption, Commissioner James Wood concluded in his 1997 final report that the establishment of safe, sanitary injecting rooms should be approved. He said:

"At present, publicly funded programs operate to provide syringes and needles to injecting drug users with the clear understanding they will be used to administer prohibited drugs. In these circumstances, to shrink from the provision of safe, sanitary premises where users can safely inject is somewhat short-sighted. The health and public safety benefits outweigh the policy considerations against condoning otherwise unlawful behaviour.
For these reasons, the Commission favours the establishment of premises approved for this purpose and invites consideration of an amendment of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act to provide for the same."

I am on the Committee and the other members are:

  • The Hon Ann Symonds, MLC, Chair, from 23 September, 1997
  • The Hon Patricia J Staunton, AM, MLC, Chair, to 2 September 1997
  • The Hon Ian Cohen, MLC
  • The Hon John Jobling, MLC
  • Mr Malcolm Kerr, MP
  • Ms Reba Meagher, MP
  • Mr John Mills, MP
  • Mr Bill Rixon, MP
  • Mr George Thompson, MP
  • The Hon Dorothy Isaksen, MLC, from 18 September, 1997

The committee visited Cabramatta and met with drug users; we visited Porky's in Kings Cross, which at the time was a de facto injecting centre, and with local residents I went to Caroline Lane in Redfern.

The Committee took compelling evidence from families, and we were presented with information on what was being done in other countries to more effectively address this serious health problem.

The February 1998 report titled Report on the Establishment or Trial of Safe Injecting Rooms recommended that the establishment or trial of injecting rooms not proceed.

Together with Ian Cohen, Ann Symonds and John Mills, we released a dissenting report that recommended a scientifically rigorous trial of safe injecting rooms as part of an integrated public health and safety approach to injecting drug use as proposed by Commissioner Wood in the Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service.

So how did the NSW Parliament arrive at the trial of the MSIC?

The breakthrough was in the lead up to the 1999 State Election with the front page Sun Herald story with a (fairly shocking) photo of a young user in Caroline Lane. In response Premier Bob Carr committed to a Drug Summit following the election.

This was held in April 1999. We heard evidence from experts and we heard about the experiences of families across NSW. MPs learnt that drug addiction does not discriminate - it has consequences for users and for their families, in the suburbs, in the country. And I moved the motion recommending the trial.

To me, the Centre is an important signifier of the kind of city we want Sydney to be: one that is compassionate and responsive to the needs of all it's people - including those who struggle with drug addiction.

And it is also centrepiece of a range of initiatives, including needle and syringe programs, community sharps disposal bins, and primary health care services that position Sydney as an international leader in harm reduction and in minimising the transmission of HIV and hepatitis C.

Residents and business operators in Kings Cross no longer see people slumped in doorways, streets and parks. Ambulances no longer get the huge number of callouts, and the emergency department sees very few drug overdoses these days. The City has received fewer complaints from Kings Cross residents and businesses about injecting drug activity and/or discarded equipment, and in fact, we've been receiving many letters from residents grateful for its positive effects on local amenity.

And if we must reduce this to economic terms, another report found - and I quote - that the centre had "an overwhelmingly positive outcome in economic terms".

More importantly, however, the Centre saves lives, as all the independent evaluations have shown. MSIC is a practical and compassionate solution to one of our biggest social challenges.

It is a tribute to all those of us who worked so hard to see it established and those quite wonderful people who continue to provide a much-needed service on a day to day basis. I hope there are no risks and threats around the corner with the new Government; however I want you to know that I'll be working with you to ensure that MSIC continues.

In the meantime, let's celebrate this wonderful anniversary and the good work done.