Victoria’s ice crackdown: Andrews government’s $45m plan to include more rehab, needle programs

Tough new laws, a boost to police to crush ice drug labs and better access to rehabilitation and needle exchange programs are central to the Andrews government’s $45.5 million plan to tackle Victoria’s ice epidemic. The package has been widely applauded as a positive first step by police and frontline social workers.

Premier Daniel Andrews said 80,000 Victorians used the highly addictive drug in the past year, which has driven up crime and made attacks on frontline service workers more common. The previous government introduced tougher sentences for people convicted of attacking emergency service workers, and Labor will spend $1 million to better protect and train frontline staff to deal with ice users. Mr Andrews said workers, including emergency services, had been getting by “on their wits” when dealing with ice users .

Under the $45.5 million package, $18 million has been allocated for more rehabilitation services, particularly in rural areas which have been struggling to keep up with demand. More users are now injecting the drug so existing needle and syringe programs will also be bolstered to reduce the danger of disease.

Labour will pursue four new laws in parliament, including punishing those who publish ice “recipe books” as well as those who push drugs near schools. Dealers who use stand-over tactics to force buyers to sell ice will also be punished as will landlords who allow manufacturing or dealing on their premises. “If you are a landlord or a nightclub owner and you turn a blind eye to the fact this poison is being manufactured in your premises or being dealt in your premises you are part of the problem.”

The $45.5million will be in May’s budget and will be spent over the next four years.

Police will receive a $4.5 million investment to expand the Forensic Drug Branch which will crackdown on clandestine drug labs, as well as increasing drug profiling and intelligence. A further $15 million will be spent on new drug and booze buses. Families of addicts will also receive a $4.7 million fund to help people identify users and direct them to services. Support for families will also be expanded and a dedicated Ice Help Line will be set up.

Sam Biondo, executive officer of the Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association, said it was a “very positive move” to begin to address the complex problem. But Mr Biondo said there were still many issues that needed to be tackled, including looking at how the justice system approached the drug users.

He said the Napthine government’s  “tough on crime” rhetoric had helped exacerbate the problem, with Mr Biondo calling for a discussion on how people were rehabilitated. “There were a lot of words but the only actions were in corrections,” Mr Biondo said. He said diversion schemes would deliver far better outcomes than simply sending people into prison.

The Premier also flagged working with the Commonwealth and other states about stopping the importation of drugs as well as cracking down on “unexplained wealth” from suspected drug players.

The opposition welcomed the plan but also accused Labour of ripping out $5 million from community education forums and community grants programs.

“The fight against ice has bipartisan support, but Daniel Andrews’ record must be judged on his acts in cutting funding to ice programs,” opposition spokesman Tim Bull said. 

Source: 5th March 2015

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