Conduct of the inquiry
On 18 March 2015, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement
(the committee) initiated an inquiry into crystal methamphetamine (ice), which
lapsed at the end of the 44th Parliament. Submissions had been
received and a number of hearings held at the time the inquiry lapsed.
On 12 October 2016, during the 45th Parliament, the committee
re-instated the inquiry. The committee resolved that documents received in the
44th Parliament, including Hansards transcripts and submissions,
would be considered in respect of the re-instated inquiry. The committee also
accepted additional submissions.
The terms of reference for the inquiry were as follows:
Pursuant to the committee's functions set out in paragraph
7(1)(g) of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement Act 2010, the
committee will examine the criminal activities, practices and methods involved
in the importation, manufacture, distribution and use of methamphetamine and
its chemical precursors, including crystal methamphetamine (ice) and its impact
on Australian society.
In particular, the committee will examine:
role of Commonwealth law enforcement agencies in responding to the importation,
manufacture, distribution and use of methamphetamine and its chemical
adequacy of Commonwealth law enforcement resources for the detection,
investigation and prosecution of criminal activities involving the importation,
manufacture, distribution and use of methamphetamine and its chemical precursors;
effectiveness of collaborative arrangements for Commonwealth law enforcement
agencies with their regional and international counterparts to minimise the
impact of methamphetamine on Australian society;
involvement of organised crime including international organised crime and
outlaw motorcycle gangs in methamphetamine related criminal activities;
nature, prevalence and culture of methamphetamine use in Australia, including
in indigenous, regional and non-English speaking communities;
to reduce the high demand for methamphetamines in Australia; and
The committee received 82 submissions during the 44th
Parliament and a further 37 submissions during the 45th Parliament
(listed at Appendix 1). The committee also received a number of additional
documents and answers to questions on notice (see Appendix 2).
The committee invited a number of individuals and organisations, many of
which had submitted to the 44th Parliament, to comment on:
the National Ice Taskforce's (NIT) final report;
the government's response to the NIT; and
the National Ice Action Strategy (NIAS) 2015 endorsed by the
Council of Australian Governments (COAG) on 11 December 2015.
During the 44th Parliament, the committee held 10 hearings in
the following locations:
Melbourne, Victoria (27 July 2015);
Mount Gambier, South Australia (28 July 2015);
Liverpool, New South Wales (29 July 2015);
Caboolture, Queensland (30 July 2015); and
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory (12 August, 9 September,
14 October, 11 November, 25 November and 2 December 2015).
A further two hearings were held during the 45th Parliament
in Canberra (24 March 2017) and Perth (3 May 2017).
In total, the committee took evidence from 69 organisations over the
course of the inquiry. A list of witnesses who appeared at the public hearings
is at Appendix 3.
This report is the committee's first report. It is the committee's
intention to present a second report (outlined in more detail in paragraphs 1.16
to 1.24) following a visit to Portugal.
This report's focus is on law enforcement, or supply reduction measures
to address crystal methamphetamine. This report is cognisant of the work done
by the NIT and the NIAS. For this reason, this report's primary aim is to build
upon, and provide recommendations that complement the work of the NIT and NIAS
to address the issue of crystal methamphetamine use in Australia.
Chapter 2 of this report provides an overview of crystal methamphetamine
and its use in Australia. First, it describes the substance and how it differs
from other methamphetamines. The chapter then examines:
crystal methamphetamine use in Australia;
problematic use versus non-problematic use, especially for groups
of users identified as at risk of developing problematic consumption;
the mental and physical impacts of crystal methamphetamine
including violent and psychotic behaviours;
factors that contribute to problematic crystal methamphetamine
use and people's motivations for using the drug;
the price and purity of crystal methamphetamine and how this has
changed over time, as well as methods of its administration;
how crystal methamphetamine use is often associated with poly-drug
use and how this influences users' health outcomes; and
finally, national data on illicit drug arrests and illicit drug
offences recorded in Australian courts.
Chapter 3 looks at Australia's drug strategies and work already done, at
a Commonwealth level, which focuses on crystal methamphetamine. This analysis
an overview of the National Drug Strategy and its promotion of
demand, supply and harm reduction measures for all drugs, including crystal
consideration of the NIT and the government's response to the
NIT's final report;
examination of the NIAS and the establishment of the Ministerial
Drug and Alcohol Forum (MDAF); and
initial commentary from stakeholders following the release of the
NIT's final report and the NIAS.
The chapter concludes with analysis of the NIT and the NIAS and the
apparent shift in Australia's strategy, away from a law enforcement approach
and towards a health-focussed approach.
Chapter 4 provides an overview of a number of current Commonwealth law
enforcement activities, followed by:
consideration of data on the number of detections of crystal
methamphetamine at Australia's borders, existing border control measures and
embarkation points for crystal methamphetamine into Australia; and
the role of outlawed motorcycle gangs and other organised
criminal groups in the manufacture, importation and sale of crystal
methamphetamine in Australia.
The examination of law enforcement strategies continues in chapter 5. This
chapter looks at the strategies announced in the NIAS and considers how current
and planned future strategies might be improved. Specifically, the chapter
the development of the National Criminal Intelligence System;
a nationally consistent unexplained wealth regime;
the development of a Swift, Certain and Fair Sanctions model
based on the Northern Territory pilot program;
the role of drug diversionary programs;
combatting the availability of precursor chemicals and equipment
to prevent domestic production of crystal methamphetamine;
eligibility criteria for aviation and maritime security identification
strengthening of international cooperation and bringing together
of law enforcement and health strategies; and
the limits of law enforcement strategies to deal with the problems
caused by illicit drug use.
A considerable amount of evidence provided to the committee discussed
the role of decriminalisation. Many of the submitters and witnesses that
addressed decriminalisation outlined the model employed in Portugal and
advocated that such a model was worth consideration in the Australian context.
For example, Dr Alex Wodak, President of the Australian Drug Law Reform
Foundation, argues that evidence from the Portuguese experience shows:
There is no doubt that drug overdose deaths decreased, drug
related crime decreased, HIV infection decreased and the number of prison
inmates serving sentences for drug related offences decreased. There is debate
about whether drug use increased, but there is no doubt that what the
Portuguese call problematic drug use decreased, and I think it is problematic
drug use that we should be principally concerned with. The evidence is starting
to accumulate and become quite strong that, rather than burdening the health
system, moving to reduce the penalties in the way I describe means that we are going
to see a reduction in the burden on the health service. That was the experience
in Portugal. At the same time, I have to emphasise that, when Portugal
introduced those changes in 2001, they also introduced a considerable
enhancement of their drug treatment system, with greater funding and
improvement in quality and access.
Dr Wodak also highlighted the popularity of this policy, stating it is
supported both politically and 'by 70 or 80 per cent of the people in Portugal
in opinion polls, so it has been a success pragmatically as a policy, and
Further, when compared with Portugal's neighbours, Spain, Italy and France,
'there were increases in drug use at the same time that were far greater than
what may have occurred in Portugal'.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime advised the committee that data
from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction shows a decrease
in the total number of HIV and AIDS cases in Portugal since the early 2000s.
Further, drug mortality rates among adults (aged 15 to 64 years) in Portugal is
estimated at 4.5 deaths per million, significantly lower than the European
average of 19.2 deaths per million in recent years.
In her evidence to the committee, Professor Nadine Ezard, Clinical Director
of St Vincent's Hospital noted the effectiveness of the Portuguese system,
especially in addressing relapse rates by decriminalising illicit drugs and
placing 'effort into expanding treatment places...integration–employment
opportunities and supporting employers to take someone off a treatment program
and retrain them into employment'.
The Honourable Ms Sheila McHale from the Palmerston Association declared
that Portugal provides a model of best practice
and countries that have adopted a decriminalisation approach have shown:
...that it is a good policy—it is a good public policy. If you
are going down that line, then there is a lot of education that has to happen
because, of course, it is one of those counterintuitive policies. It works in
other countries. It creates an environment where people can see their drug
addiction as a health problem and not a criminal problem—and we have not even
started to talk about the criminal justice system and what that does or does
not do for people with a drug addiction. That is a whole other inquiry, I am
sure. We would support consideration of decriminalisation.
Representatives from Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform also
expressed their support for the Portuguese model, arguing 'in Portugal the
price of drugs has gone down but usage has [also] gone down. This is
This organisation urged the committee to investigate this model further.
Another supporter of drug decriminalisation, Professor Rebecca McKetin advised
caution when adopting a policy developed within the context of another country
but also recommended that the committee consider the Portuguese approach.
From a law enforcement perspective, Mr Mick Palmer, former Australian
Federal Police Commissioner, stated that a decriminalised model in Australia
would not lead to an increase in drug use and:
...certainly in other parts of the world there are signs
that...usage rates have decreased–not markedly, but they have decreased. I do not
think there is a great danger of demand increasing. Even if there were
political reluctance towards moving to decriminalise...just simply allowing us to
deal with people who use it in a more humane and supportive way would really
encourage people to admit what they have done and tell police or paramedics who
arrive at the scene of an overdose or similar about what they have taken.
Providing support and treatment for people in that situation would be an
enormous step forward.
The committee has reservations about the decriminalisation of illicit drugs;
however, the committee agrees that Portugal's decriminalised drug policy is
worth more detailed consideration. On this basis, the committee sought and was
granted approval to travel to Portugal. The committee hopes that its visit
allows it to explore the benefits, limitations and risks of Portugal's approach.
In particular, the committee is interested in gaining a better understanding of
law enforcement agencies' perspectives on and experiences of the decriminalised
model, and how a decriminalised model has influenced policing within Portugal
and at its borders.
The outcomes of the committee's visit to Portugal will be presented in a
second report, following the visit. This second report will also consider
evidence concerning treatment and rehabilitation services, harm reduction
measures, and the allocation of NIAS funds.
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page