Controlled Substances (Simple Cannabis Offence) Bill


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (10:43): If you drink and drive you are a bloody idiot, and if you consume illegal drugs you are a bloody idiot. I support the member for Morphett wholeheartedly in his reintroduction of the Hon. Ms Bressington's bill, for quite a few reasons. I am cognisant of the fact that you cannot throw the book and impose maximum penalties on every single person who commits a crime, for good reasons. Not every crime requires maximum penalties, but also there is a very unavoidable reality about clogging up the legal system with a whole range of things. This is a very sensible suggestion; to bring South Australia into line with other states does make sense. The fact that it is toughening things up a little bit, reducing the allowable quantity and increasing the fine, makes great sense.

We know that the trafficking, the sale, distribution and consumption of illegal drugs is not an activity that knows state borders; so it does make good sense to align our rules with other states in this area. Otherwise, as member for Schubert alluded to, if you are a soft touch you will end up getting hit harder than other states. If we have an environment whereby the penalties are lower and the allowable quantities are higher, then it only makes sense that the people who want to traffic in this sort of substance will push more into our state than other states. I think we should be pushing as hard as possible back against that.

This does also give me the opportunity to speak about a Liberal Party policy that was announced by our leader, Steven Marshall, at the Police Association of South Australia meeting about two weeks ago, and that is about drug diversions.

It may well surprise members of this house to know that a person who is apprehended for a simple possession charge, essentially for possessing small amounts of recreational drugs, can elect—they get to elect—that, rather than being charged and going to court, they will take a drug diversion program. The idea of drug diversion programs has merit. It is quite conceivable that a person who has been caught out for doing something that is pretty stupid could get themselves back on the straight and narrow or back on track if they just got the right sort of advice. I am not saying that that is not sensible.

However, we have a situation in our state at the moment where the person who is apprehended for one of these minor drug possession charges can elect to avoid being prosecuted and going to court as many times as they like. There is one person in our state who has taken that option 14 times. So, 14 times that person has been found to have illegal substances in their possession and 14 times they have said, 'Yeah, look, you're right. I'm really sorry, it was a big mistake and I'm a bad boy. I will get myself back on track. Could I just have one more chance? Could I please just have one more chance to go off and participate in one of these programs, get some advice, and I guarantee that this time it will work.' Of course, that is absolutely preposterous. It is a waste of police resources.

Police officers have to then run around. They have to make the bookings. They have to try to find out when one of these program is running and are there any available spaces? They have to book them in. They have to follow up and see whether they have participated, instead of doing far more valuable work. Our policy is that a person caught in that situation has two chances. They have two chances to elect to participate in a drug diversion program, but on the third time bad luck. On the third time, when you have taken that opportunity twice and you have clearly not availed yourself of the benefits of that opportunity—on the third time, you are going to court, and I think that is very fair.

If you go to court, there is still the opportunity for a magistrate—if the magistrate sees fit to give this person a third chance, the magistrate can decide to do that, but the person who is apprehended cannot say, 'I will have a third chance. I will have fourth chance. I will have a fifth chance.' That person cannot take that opportunity as many times as they like. I think that will go a very long way towards addressing the important issue, towards reducing the desire, opportunity and ability for people to traffic drugs in our state, and towards confining the opportunity to elect to take that diversion to the people who are going to make good use of it. Sure, once or twice, make good use of it—good. We are glad that that opportunity helped you and got you back on track. However, the third time, you do not get to make that choice any more. The third time, we will let the magistrate make that choice as to whether that is something that is going to help you.

This will focus people's attention. If they are going to go to a drug diversion program, they will say, 'Well, hang on, I had better make good use of it because, you know what, I'm on my first or my second go. The third go, if I am that stupid, I won't get to do this again, so maybe I had better listen to what they are trying to tell me. Maybe I had better try to follow their advice.'

It will also free up some very importance and scarce police resources. Instead of police officers having to chase around these idiots and give them non-stop opportunities, the police can get back to their mainstream work. They can make sure that the person goes to court and allow the magistrate to decide whether he or she thinks that this person deserves a third chance. We are not ruling out the possibility that that might be warranted, but the possibility that the person who is apprehended should perpetually get to be the one who makes the decision about whether they deserve another chance is clearly silly.

This is a very important Liberal policy commitment, which was announced about two weeks ago at the Police Association meeting by our leader. I think it shows our bona fides in both trying to be sensible and serious about addressing this sort of drug issue but also being quite genuine about retaining the opportunity for people who might find themselves on the wrong side of the law to participate in these programs, but not forever.

There comes a time when you must forgo the opportunity to make that election yourself and hand that over to a clearly far more responsible person (that being the magistrate). I support the member for Morphett in his reintroduction of this important piece of potential legislation, which is actually about trying to toughen up by reducing the allowable quantities and increasing the applicable fine, and it fits very fairly and squarely with Liberal opposition policy in this area.

Debate adjourned on motion of Mrs Geraghty.


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