Mr NORTHE (Morwell) (12:34): I rise this afternoon to speak on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Drug Court and Other Matters) Bill 2020. Firstly, the bill amends a number of acts, including the County Court Act 1958 to establish a Drug Court division of the County Court; makes consequential and related amendments to other acts, including the Limitation of Actions Act 1958 in relation to previously barred courses of action relating to child abuse; and makes miscellaneous amendments to a number of acts, including the Charities Act 1978, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 1998 and the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005.
Like other members, I will focus my contribution on the Drug Court component of the bill. As many speakers have noted previously, drugs, unfortunately—and alcohol—can cause horrible harm to many individuals, families and indeed communities. Particularly in recent years the scourge of ice and other such drugs have really become ingrained in many communities, including in many regional communities, and unfortunately in the Morwell electorate in the Latrobe Valley the reading is not good. One only has to look at some of the drug offences aligned with crime statistics in my community to understand the level of drug abuse and drug addiction that occurs there.
I note the previous speaker talked about some of the issues arising from the disadvantage that is prevalent in some communities, and maybe people who live with disadvantage are more prone to being addicted to drugs and alcohol. But be assured it is not confined to that, and unfortunately there are many children from good families who have become addicted to these particular drugs and find it very difficult to come out the other side. Unfortunately I can talk personally to that. We are not alone; there are many families like ours who deal with that.
But there are some wonderful groups and organisations in communities across Victoria who do great work. One of those in our community is the Australian Community Support Organisation, and to all the team at ACSO: you do a fabulous job. In particular, I give a call-out to Charlotte and her team. She is just a saint, and an amazing person who not only supports the individual who is grappling with drugs but also a number of families and networks, and the support to parents is absolutely sensational and first class.
I know this is a justice bill, but the Minister for Mental Health I find is a very caring person, and I have a lot to do with him outside of Parliament in talking about the needs of and services in the Gippsland community. Whilst there is a lot more to do, we are grateful to the government for some of the services they have introduced into our community, particularly around rehabilitation as well. So whilst it is in the member for Gippsland East’s electorate, the Hope Restart Centre, which has just recently opened, is a great initiative and supported by all levels of government, and we are grateful for that.
In the Latrobe Valley there is a proposed youth residential facility—a rehabilitation facility—that is earmarked for development, and that is good, but we do need more, and we certainly need more detox beds in the region. At the moment, unfortunately, when you go into rehabilitation there is normally as a precursor to that an undertaking of detox, and unfortunately there are a very limited number of beds in our region, which means that people have to go to Melbourne or to the outer suburbs to find a place before going into a rehabilitation facility.
As I said, the impacts of drugs and alcohol are not only on the individual but on families and communities, and invariably it means they are interacting with the law at some stage. There are just so many stories of families who have got kids, and the last thing they ever thought they would find themselves doing is having conversations with the police. But I must say from a local perspective that we have got a great cohort of police, led by Superintendent Mick West, who are not only sympathetic to the families but very supportive in trying to get help for individuals and families who need that help but also want to get better as well.
As noted in the bill, the Magistrates Court Drug Court is currently in place. It does not exist in my region, and hopefully that is something the government and the department might consider in the future. Particularly given the prevalence of persons who are addicted to drugs in the region, I think there is really good cause for that to happen.
I do note the expansion to the County Court. The catchment areas have not been determined at this point in time, but again I would ask that consideration be given certainly to the Gippsland region, that that be expanded into some of those regional communities, although it is good to see it going into Shepparton and Ballarat as well. But if Gippsland could be considered, obviously, given the statistics are so poor, that would be wonderful as well.
In terms of the treatment orders, I did ask a question in one of the briefings, and I thank Number One Noni for her answers to my questions. At the moment it would require, obviously, the offender to agree to undertake a treatment order. I have always thought in my mind about whether the judges would have the authority or jurisdiction to actually compel somebody to undertake a drug and alcohol treatment order. That is on the basis, I understand, that when somebody might agree to undertake a treatment order there are the drug and alcohol services to back them up.
Two different people might be in two different spaces when they appear before a judge; one person might be willing and ready for that treatment, and the other person may not be. So is it best for that person to be directed towards that, even though in their own mind they might not think they need it or it might not be warranted? I worry about this person who does not agree—what is the future for them? Do they continue to take drugs and alcohol? Do they continue to offend? Possibly that ends up as a worst-case scenario for that person. I flag it as something for consideration. I am not advocating for it, because there is probably some downside to that as well, but the bill explicitly says that the offender has to agree. I just wonder whether in the future we consider more powers for judges to actually compel a person to undertake treatment when they might not necessarily see that they need help or treatment. That is the biggest issue around drugs that you see. Unfortunately, the people that you love and care for cannot see the forest for the trees. They are so ingrained; these drugs do silly things to their brains. They make bad decisions, they make poor choices and they end up in the courts, and sometimes they cannot see it. So is it worth consideration that there are some stronger directives to compel a person to undertake those treatments by the courts?
The other thing I would say beyond that is that, obviously, the drug courts have been quite effective, and it is great to see them being expanded in the County Court for certain offences. I digress slightly to note the coalition’s amendments about where those offences should lie. I will give due regard to those as well. But if you are going to apply drug and alcohol treatment orders, then I think, from my perspective, it is really important you have local services and support available for that person. Again from personal experience, if you are sending a kid from a regional community to Melbourne for treatment, that does not necessarily augur well. The best possible service you can have is within your own catchment area, in your own community, rather than sending them off in all different directions. I think it is a pretty important part of the consideration that if we are going to expand these drug and alcohol treatment orders then we must have the local services and support within those catchment areas and their communities and not be sending people off into the outer suburbs or into Melbourne if they are from a regional centre.
In conclusion, Acting Speaker Ward, thank you for your indulgence. I think these are sensible measures and if in any way we can help people and families who come before the court who are addicted to drugs, then that is a good thing.