Ice Inquiry Response: Health focus welcome, diversion scheme still at mercy of politics


The Law Society of NSW broadly welcomes the NSW Government’s long-awaited response to the Special Commission of Inquiry on the Drug Ice, but is concerned a potential delay beyond the state election could endanger the proposed pre-court drug diversion scheme.

President of the Law Society of NSW Joanne van der Plaat said this week’s $499 million package is a significant investment in refocussing the scourge of illicit drug addiction as a health problem rather than a criminal justice problem.

“It’s pleasing that the Government appears to have listened to the Law Society, Bar Association, the Aboriginal Legal Service and former Commissioner Dan Howard’s demands at the beginning of this month to at last take action to respond to the Inquiry, two and a half years after its publication,” Ms van der Plaat said.

“The response appears to have at least partially addressed the ‘no-brainer recommendations’ endorsed by the representatives of the NSW legal profession and Mr Howard as being the bare minimum needed to meet the challenges of illicit drug addiction in the community.

“The $168 million investment in expanding Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) services particularly to regional and rural areas is a welcome if delayed recognition that health services are much better placed to deal with the effects of illicit drug addiction than the criminal justice system. 

“The expansion of the Sydney Drug Court from one to five days a week will also assist more serious drug related offenders tackle the root causes of their offending. We note new funding to expand the Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment (MERIT) program, but are disappointed the program is not being made available at all Local Courts and will not apply to young offenders.

Ms van der Plaat also expressed concern that the much-vaunted pre-court drug diversion scheme for low level possession and use offences is in danger of being politicised through a bruising election campaign.

“It’s almost incomprehensible that after two and a half years, the Government needs another nine months to nut out the details of a simple scheme to get small time users the health assistance they need. The final implementation date of 30 June 2023 will likely push this scheme beyond the state election and potentially into oblivion,” Ms van der Plaat

“We welcome the Attorney General’s indication that the scheme, when or if it is implemented, will operate state-wide and not exclude any illicit drug. The Law Society urges the Chief Health Officer and Commissioner of Police to work urgently towards implementing this scheme before the next election.” 

The proposed scheme adds a health support to an expanded infringement notice scheme that already operates at music festivals.

Friday, 23 September 2022