The Hon. J.A. DARLEY (16:48): I rise today to speak on the Statues Amendment (Drug Offences) Bill. This bill increases the penalty for drug offences, introduces the new concept of a prescribed serious drug offender and also creates aggravated offences in certain circumstances.
A person will be considered to be a serious drug offender if they have been convicted a number of times of certain offences within the past 10-year period. I understand the reasoning behind this is that these people would be regarded as recidivist drug offenders who have not been rehabilitated and continue to offend against the community, notwithstanding the fact that they have been convicted before. A person will be seen to have committed an aggravated offence if they are a member of or associated with declared organisations.
The government is seeking to increase the maximum penalties for drug offences. Their reasoning for this is to bring the penalties in line with other criminal offences and to reflect the community's attitude to drug offenders. These penalty increases include the penalty for possession or consumption of cannabis, which will be increasing from $500 to $2,000.
Globally, we have seen a move towards legalising cannabis, especially for medicinal use. Nine states in the United States have legalised cannabis for recreational use, as has Canada, South Africa and Uruguay. In 2016, our commonwealth government allowed for the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes; however, every week we hear of consumers who are frustrated at the difficulty they are experiencing in terms of accessing medicinal cannabis. The attitude towards cannabis is shifting slowly, and I do not believe it is a step in the right direction to increase the penalty by 400 per cent.
The bill also limits the number of times a person can go through the drug diversion program to two occasions within the preceding four years. I understand the reasoning behind this amendment is that people should be given the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves; however, drug diversion programs should not be seen as an easy way out for repeat drug offenders. I have asked about the success rates or the completion rates of these programs; however, I was advised that these statistics are not collected. This is curious, and I would be interested to find out if there is a high level of completion or dropout. If the latter is true, it may indicate that there is a need for the program to be reviewed.
I support the bill but would like to put on the record that I will be supporting the Hon. Mark Parnell in opposing clause 17.