In a budget reply speech yesterday, New South Wales Labor leader Luke Foley laid out an expensive and controversial plan for confronting ice addiction in the state. He proposed that if elected, he would see to the introduction of several mandatory detoxification and rehabilitation centres across NSW. The $100 million plan involved the establishment of six centres, four in regional areas, with the combined capacity to treat 1,300 people a year.
The multi-step, non-voluntary system would give police and healthcare workers the power to refer individuals to be assessed by medical practitioners who could in turn issue an admission certificate. The mandatory admission would be reviewed by a magistrate, and in the case of minors a guardian would need to approve compulsory treatment.
Foley presented the plan as a “head on” approach for "the most dangerous ice addicts". Reflecting, "We can't keep doing what we are doing because it just isn't working."
The proposal was met with support by Anne Jones, the Deputy Mayor of the Dubbo region, which has been deeply impacted by ice and addiction. "At the end of the day, it's about protecting our community and people that are affected by ice and other drugs are definitely not part of our society today," she said.
Not surprisingly, the proposal has been slammed by individuals working in rehabilitation. Speaking to the ABC, Alan Bennett manager of drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre Orana Haven accused the plan of having "more money than sense". Orana Haven estimates that 90 percent of their patients are ice users, but this hasn’t resulted in such a hard-line approach. "It's like trying to force an alcoholic to stop drinking if he's not ready or she's not ready—they are not going to stop," Bennett explained.
Rather, he suggested it would be smarter to review and improve the existing support structures and funding of the state’s rehab centres.
A similar scheme was proposed by former Tasmanian Independent Senator Jacki Lambie in 2015, when she called for legislation that would allow parents to force their children into rehab.
Reflecting on the suggestion for The Conversation, Associate Professor at the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction at Flinders University Nicole Lee explained the issues with mandatory treatment. Primarily that treatment isn’t effective until the individual wants to receive the information and help offered.
For a deeper look at Australia’s war on drugs, check out our series High Season.