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Broken Hill drug offences double state average

Dark and stormy not only described the weather on Wednesday in Broken Hill, but also the message delivered by Joanne van der Plaat, President of the Law Society of NSW, and President of the Far West Law Society, Eric Craney.

“With illicit drug offences in Broken Hill in the year to March this year at about double the state average, and bail breaches at almost three times the average NSW rate, it’s clear that current approaches are not working.” Ms van der Plaat said

Ms van der Plaat and Mr Craney were in town to call for better drug rehabilitation and diversionary support to address the causes of offending for many illicit drug users.

“I am delighted to be visiting Broken Hill to listen to the local legal profession’s concerns about the challenges they face in serving the justice system in this vast area,” Ms van der Plaat added.

With rates across multiple offence categories at two and three times the state average, Broken Hill needs an alternative approach to making its community safer, say the Law Society leaders.

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Ms van der Plaat said the Government has failed to respond adequately to the recommendations of the Ice Inquiry [The Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug Ice] released more than two and a half years ago, in which former Commissioner Dan Howard provided the Government with a road map towards defeating the scourge of drugs in our communities.

“Since that time, the Government’s only responses have been to dismiss five harm minimisation measures; promising a Drug Court in Dubbo; and announcing a very small Aboriginal Justice Package,” Ms van der Plaat said.

“Earlier this month, I stood shoulder to shoulder with the President of the NSW Bar Association of NSW and former Commissioner Howard to implore the Government to implement four ‘no-brainer’ recommendations

Introduce a state-wide pre-court diversion scheme for possession of small amounts of drugs, supported by appropriate health supports (recommendation 12);

Expand the Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment (MERIT) program to ensure access to all eligible defendants, including young people (recommendations 13 & 16);

Urgent increased investment in specialist alcohol and other drugs (AOD) health services to meet significant unmet demand (recommendation 31); and

Partner with Aboriginal communities to urgently develop and significantly increase the availability of local specialist drug treatment services that are culturally competent and culturally safe (recommendation 58).

President Craney said the establishment of AOD health and culturally safe treatment services in Broken Hill would be a major step in helping to reduce the shocking levels of overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system.

“Additionally, the Government should extend the Dubbo Aboriginal Bail Pilot across regional areas including Broken Hill, to reduce the incidents of technical bail breaches that cause no safety risk to the community, but which can result in unnecessary incarceration of vulnerable defendants,” Mr Craney said.

Ms van der Plaat said it was time the government treated the problem as a health problem, not a crime problem.

“This is where you need to be investing time and resources into rehabilitation and pre-diversionary court measures.

“Although there are sections of the community that say well that’s not right, these people have done the wrong thing they need to be locked up, but you can’t get rehabilitation if you’re in a gaol cell, you can’t go out and fix yourself up, get a job or provide for your family.

“That’s not to say that the manufacturers and importers [should get away with consequences], they should be the ones facing the full force of the law.

“The ones that they are peddling their misery to, that’s who we are talking about. They’re the ones these recommendations are for.

“Another issue is lack of available legal representation to people in the far west.

“There is a focus on the lack of doctors in regional areas, rightly so, there is also a problem in lawyers being encouraged to practice and be retained in regional and remote areas,” Ms van der Plaat said.

PICTURE: President of the Far West Law Society Eric Craney and President of the Law Society of NSW Joanne van der Plaat. PHOTO:  NOEL FISHER

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