Michelle Lensink

Drugbeat

This speech is in relation to the Drugbeat motion. This motion is to recognise the good work of the DrugBeat rehabilitation program. This motion continues to describe issues within the non-government sector in alcohol and drugs services.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (17:17): I rise to make some comments in relation to this motion which is to recognise the good work of the DrugBeat rehabilitation program. I would just like to open with some general comments about the non-government sector because I think that they typify what is happening in this area. I think DrugBeat is, at least in part, a victim of that and has been over the years.

Non-government sector employees in drug and alcohol services are paid at 35 per cent less than government employees with much worse conditions and lack of tenure because of their employing organisations' reliance on grant funding, which is often annual and advised late in the financial year and the funding cycle, so non-government organisations just cannot plan.

It is something the sector lives with because the people who work in it are passionate and dedicated. To a degree, a lot of the non-government sector faces the same deal, not just alcohol and drug services, unless they can obtain some more secure funding or if they, indeed, get to be large, as some of the church and charitables have, and diversify into a range of sectors.

The small organisations are hurt the most and the Hon. Ms Bressington spoke in her contribution of what is called the service excellence framework, which is a quality assurance program that the AOD NGO sector has undergone, imposed on them by the government. In the long run, I think such programs are good in theory as long as there is a point to all the hoops that the government makes them jumps through, but if there is not it is just red tape and a significant expense that many small organisations cannot afford as time and resources are diverted from the coalface work.

Then there are the vagaries of 'planning priorities': areas which receive attention and funding at the expense of the regular work. A cynic may call them fads but we do know that program priorities come and go and the sector has to ride that wave as well. In any community sector there are different points of view and groupings of philosophies. The AOD sector is no different and, in some ways, it is quite polarised, as I learnt when I attended a conference a few years ago called Thinking Drinking.

There are those who believe that alcohol should have the greatest focus rather than so-called hard illicit drugs; those who believe that if we legalise illicit drugs we can reduce harm; those who do not, with parallels drawn with the prohibition experience in the US. There are some who say addiction is a disease and some who say addiction is a condition. There are some who say that marijuana is a gateway drug and some who oppose clean needle programs and, of course, in relation to this motion before us, some say that abstinence-based programs do not work.

In the alcohol and drug space I believe that the most useful approach is to keep an open mind about most things and that one person's evidence-based program is another person's challenge to prove that there is another way to achieve the same thing. Personally, I have never tried to get into being labelled philosophically in any particular way as I do not think it adds to the debate and does not advance the sector. I think there should be space for multiple approaches to the treatment or management of addiction—that one size does not fit all—and that is why I will be supporting this motion, obviously.

Mr Andris Banders is the Executive Officer of the SA Network of Drug and Alcohol Services (SANDAS). He has written about the difficulties the sector is facing in the most recent publication of the South Australian Council of Social Services. It is quite an alarming read, and I would like to read an excerpt into the record, because I think it illustrates how things are travelling. He stated:

Most funding cycles have tremors. This year the tectonic plates shifted. Many alcohol and other drugs (AOD) NGOs in South Australia woke up after the 2012-15 tendering rounds for SA Health and the Commonwealth, and felt shock and awe. Paid and voluntary work and jobs have been put at risk. Years of skill investment, training and knowledge capital might be lost off the sector's balance sheets. Some NGOs fared well and some will stay very partially afloat. Others, after years of going the distance and being there for clients when no other doors would open—well, they just won't be there. And amid all the rhetoric of Closing the Gap, the chasm for Aboriginal people with AOD and comorbidity has widened. The loss of Aboriginal-focussed services is considerable.

He has quite a bit to say, and I am not going to read it all into the record, but it is worth reading his comments. He finishes the article with a story about a lady named Kendall who spent nine months in a residential rehabilitation program and how she and others fear that without that sort of service people in similar situations literally will not survive. The fear within the NGO sector is that effective programs are about to close. The sector will lose expertise and other parts of the services sector will be under more pressure. The ability to draw on AOD's experience will be lost forever. It's all short-sighted and will cost governments in the end anyway without any addicts experiencing recovery.

I spoke to the Hon. Dean Brown in relation to this motion because he clearly had a lot to do with the initial funding provided and for the provision of a Housing Trust property. He still feels as strongly today that DrugBeat was and is a worthwhile program and should be proud of what has been achieved. As well as recognising the personal commitment of the Hon. Ms Bressington in helping people to overcome addiction, Dean believes it is important to place on the record that this program was a trailblazer in being one of the first, if not the first, to recognise the contribution of social and family supports to success.

Dean has been extensively involved with youth mental health advisory bodies, and he pointed out that many programs prior to DrugBeat failed because they only looked at the medical or physical components in trying to break addiction. There is no doubt that the mover of this motion has a great deal of experience working with addicts and that her personal commitment to helping people is unlikely to ever be matched by another parliamentarian. DrugBeat has many supporters; it is embedded in the community and those people who have been helped by it have come through to help others. I commend this motion to the house.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon T.J. Stephens.

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