Malcolm Turnbull pledges $300 million funding for drug treatment services

Treatment key to youth help

Almost $300 million will be invested in the drug treatment sector as part of a new national plan that shifts focus from policing to prevention.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will unveil the federal government’s National Ice Taskforce report on Sunday, rolling out a four-year strategy of improved treatment, aftercare, education, prevention, support and community engagement to tackle the crystal meth issue.

The new prevention focus marks a significant shift away from the hardline law-and-order strategy that has long failed to stifle supply.

The minister responsible for drug and alcohol policy,Fiona Nash, said that after “significant investment” in policing borders and streets to combat ice supply, work was needed to “reduce demand” for the drug.

In April last year, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced a new taskforce which, headed by former former Victoria Police commissioner Ken Lay, united state and territory authorities in the ice strategy.

Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash said that after “significant investment” in policing borders and streets to combat ice supply, work was needed to “reduce demand” for the drug. Photo: ABC

The response is a $241 million “boost” to the alcohol and drug treatment sector, with funding to be managed by the 31 Primary Health Networks set up by the Abbott government last year.

Asked if the funding was all new money, the minister’s spokesman said there was $297 “odd million” in fresh funding plus $15 million for advertising.

Matt Noffs, who as chief executive of the Noffs Foundation was part of the consultations, paid tribute to taskforce head Mr Lay, who he said was given “oxygen” by Malcolm Turnbull to take a “giant step forward.”

As the taskforce toured ice-ravaged communities starved of rehab services earlier this year, Mr Abbott’s own battle plan saw him announce the now infamous ‘dob-in-a-dealer hotline’ estimated to cost $1 million a year.

“It is my belief that Tony Abbott expected Ken Lay to say ‘we need more police’,” said Mr Noffs who added: “With Mr Turnbull as a conduit, Ken was far braver than that.”

Mr Lay has previous said: “Ice has been on the scene for over a decade and we’ve had a really strong law enforcement approach and it hasn’t resolved the problem. The time’s right now to look at the other options.”

“For social problems like these, law enforcement isn’t the answer. Unless you get into the primary prevention end, unless you stop the problem occurring you simply won’t arrest your way out of this.”

Almost $25 million will be set aside to arm families and communities with resources, information and support when ice issues emerge. A “key priority” of the plan will ensure that “indigenous-specific” and “culturally appropriate” mainstream treatment services are more widely available.

The action plan also includes significant investment in rural and regional areas, where the taskforce found specialist treatment services were few to non-existent.

After doubts were raised about continued funding for existing Commonwealth treatment organisations after June, a spokesman for Ms Nash said:”As the government recognises the need for greater certainty in the sector, all 160 Commonwealth-funded alcohol and drug treatment services will have their funding extended to June 2017.”

Long-term funding is still to be negotiated.

Dr Lynne Magor-Blatch, executive officer of the Australasian Therapeutic Communities Association, expressed concern that the Government had chosen to distribute money through the PHNs which she described as “incredibly patchy”.

“Many are still in a changeover state from medicare locals and not properly developed,” she said, adding: “How are those resources going to flow through the PHNs when many would not even have relationships with the community organisations that are doing alcohol and other drug work?”

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