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Anderton opens Whakatane public forum on P

Anderton opens Whakatane public forum on P, alcohol and other drugs

7.30 p.m. Public forum on P, alcohol & other drugs

Reception Lounge, Whakatane War Memorial Centre, Short Street, Whakatane

I would like to very warmly welcome those on the panel with me tonight and they are:

Simon Williamson, Manager Investigations - Drugs, New Zealand Customs Service

Sgt Neil Peterson, Whakatane Police

Alison Struthers, Student Support Development Officer for Waiariki, Ministry of Education

Peter Jones, Team Leader, Community Mental Health Services, Bay of Plenty DHB

Maude Takarua, Health & Social Services Manager, Ngati Awa Social and Health Service Trust and Annie Rogers Marshall, local CAYAD project worker

Paul Stanley, Ngaiterangi CAYAD

There is going to be a panel discussion shortly, and we will hear from these panellists, then answer your questions.

But first, an overview of drugs and alcohol in our society.
Every month I host a meeting like this one.

To me these forums are a symbol of hope.
They are a symbol of individual communities recognising an issue we all have to deal with.

And most importantly, they are a symbol that communities themselves are taking responsibility for their own solutions.

So to me, these events are about stronger communities. If there is one principle I stand for, it’s giving our young people a future in their own communities.

They need our support to be all they can be.

We all have a responsibility to play our part.

The Whakatane and Bay of Plenty community is well up to fulfilling its responsibilities.

It was not long ago that I visited Murupara, which is a perfect example of a community that is motivated to change.

That community instigated its own “P-free" message as it had seen what the drug was doing to its community and it didn’t like it.

They didn’t wait for central or local government support they just said enough is enough.

However, in taking that first step they galvanised action from both central and local government, and led to government funding for a CAYAD, a Community Action Youth on Drugs programme in Murpara. This funding was secured from the National Drug Policy Discretionary Fund that the Progressive Party won in Budget 2004.

The Murupara CAYAD was launched a couple of weeks ago and its members are I understand in the audience tonight. This CAYAD will ensure that the initial steps taken by that community against drugs are not lost.

Recently a hard-hitting song by a young local Whakatane musician and songwriter Calvin Kingi came out with a strong anti-P message.

Individuals and Communities can and do make a difference.

Another example was the recent announcement at an Auckland marae of a region-wide rahui (ban) on using or dealing in P or pure methamphetamine.

P had had a devastating effect in that region. With some families and whanau being ripped apart. There was also an acknowledgement of an undercurrent of growing violence and criminal activity within the community. So a rahui was declared.

Less dangerous but insidious is the promotion of “legal Highs” which has been occurring in New Zealand.

Recently I clarified the legality of selling nitrous oxide for inhalation purposes and now everyone is clear that legal opinion to the government and police is that the sale and purchase of nitrous oxide other than as a prescription medicine is illegal.

Enforcement of that opinion started with a crackdown on importers. Now attention has been turned to retailers, with the initial grace period from prosecution over.

Last year, I introduced legislation into the House to regulate BZP or Party pills and that legislation was passed last month by Parliament with the support of all parties except one, ACT.

City Councils up and down the country responded by looking at ways to control these substances at a local level.

But in the end it is the community, school principals, health professionals and parents raising concerns and offering solutions that have the most impact.

In Christchurch, it was the public outrage voiced at a local level that recently made the owner of a local Nos Bar decide to shut up shop.

As Minister for Economic, Regional and Industry Development the closure of Nos bars is one business growth opportunity I am not sorry to see gone.

These days the economy in the Bay of Plenty is very much stronger than it was in the past and there are far more jobs around.

I used to say that if we could halve the rate of unemployment, we would see a drop in the rate of crime.

Since unemployment has come down to half what it was five years ago, our crime rate has dropped to the lowest level in 21 years.

It can’t be a coincidence.

But I’m not a Pollyanna and I’m not going to tell you the problem of crime has gone away.

When you look for answers it’s hard to go past alcohol and drug abuse as one major cause of crime.

When more than ninety per cent of prison inmates have drug and alcohol problems, that’s a clue.

And when front-line police tell me that up to 90% of the criminal activity (from family violence to road deaths) has its origins in alcohol abuse, that also is a clue.

This is not a problem isolated from Whakatane and the Bay of Plenty.

The Whakatane Beacon and other Bay of Plenty newspapers seem to have a report almost every day on some drug related crime.

The government has taken tough measures in response to this situation.

A proceeds of crime Bill was introduced to Parliament in June which will make it easier to strip crime gangs of their assets.
• Police and customs have also been given new powers and resources to intercept criminal gangs.

The Misuse of Drugs Bill that I introduced was also enacted into law in June and among other things it means that:

Substances that are available at the chemist – like ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrine -- have been made ‘controlled drugs’.

These are used to make ‘P’, so Parliament had a responsibility to toughen up on them.

The Customs Department is now able to better penalise illegal importers of these products.

Police and Customs have broader powers of search and seizure without warrant.

I accept that these laws are very tough and some have said draconian.

But the challenge society faces from these drugs is extreme.

P is an evil drug.

We must be very strong in our collective response.

We must not allow P to take root deeper into our society, to become more widespread, more acceptable and to cause more destruction.

As we all know community safety is not only an issue for the government or for police and other authorities – though they have important roles.

It is also an issue for each community to take responsibility for itself.

It’s no good just hoping someone else will fix the problem; we all have our part to play.

For communities, it starts by accepting that a community-wide response is called for.

For my part I accept Ministerial leadership is required in this area in much the same way that leadership was needed in the economic development of our regions when I first entered government in late 1999.

As Minister for Regional and Industry Development, I brought local government together with central government agencies, and the community – with different iwi groupings, businesses and everyone who has a stake in the future of their community.

I am doing the same in trying to help communities rid themselves of drug and alcohol abuse.

That’s why we have police, customs, health and other agencies here tonight.

In the Bay of Plenty and other severely affected communities, CAYADS or Community Action Youth and Drugs programmes have been established and are integral to a community approach to drug issues.

Back in the nineties, the previous government set up five CAYADs. One of which was in Opotiki.

They were a good idea, and they were having a positive impact.

So when I became Minister in charge of the government’s drug policy I made it a priority to set up more of them.

As a result the Labour-Progressive Government provided $2.55 million more for fifteen new community action youth and drug programmes in 2003-2004.

The CAYAD located here in Whakatane was one of these.

This year, another two CAYADs were established in the Bay of Plenty one in Taneatua and one in Murupara .

In Budget 2005, the Progressive Party sought $3.23million worth of funding for a further five CAYAD programmes to be established in at risk communities where illicit drug use has been identified as being far too high.

The coalition government is tackling drug and alcohol abuse with three strategies.

1. Reducing supply.
2. Reducing demand.
3. Treating drug users to limit the problems.

We need to work on all fronts at the same time to get results.

This forum today is to inform you about the issues we face together and to give you an opportunity to listen and question.

I’ve talked to you about the tough laws and regulations the government has introduced to tackle drug-related offending.

So we’re working on the supply end.

We’re also reducing demand and helping victims of drugs and their communities.

We need to face the fact that drug taking is a trigger to suicide for some people with mental illness.

So the government, through the Progressive party budget bids, has stepped up funding for national initiatives dealing with depression and suicide.

It’s important for you to know what we are doing to protect children from the misuse of alcohol and drugs.

Last year I sent out a School-Based Drug Education Handbook and Practical Guide.

It’s designed to help schools deal with the issue.

I got a letter back from the principal of one quite large school from the Christchurch area.

Let me emphasise his letter, because it helped to convince me we’re on the right track:

“It greatly concerns me (he said) that some political parties criticise schools for having Coca Cola in our canteens, whilst at the same time they want to legalise marijuana!
“Whilst accepting that Coke is not a healthy food it is nowhere as destructive to our people’s education as is marijuana.
“It is comforting that the huge concern amongst secondary schools is being addressed…
“Whilst my colleagues have vastly differing views on most things they have a very unified view on drugs!”

But however bad marijuana is, and I don’t accept its illegal status should ever change while a significant section of the scientific community has concerns about its potential serious harm to some vulnerable people, particularly our young people, our number one drug problem is alcohol.

When does a weekend go by when we don’t hear something more about it?

In my view New Zealand’s binge drinking culture has been affecting younger and younger people since the alcohol purchasing age was lowered.

My Progressive Party colleague, Matt Robson, has a Bill to strengthen the rules against supplying liquor to minors, to further restrict the amount of time available for liquor advertising on television and to raise the legal minimum age for buying alcohol to twenty.

That bill was supported by a large majority of Parliamentarians to go to the Law and Order select committee where the public can have their say.

I urge you to do so by the deadline August 12 –send your submission to the Chair of the Law and Order Select Committee, Parliament NO STAMP REQUIRED.

It is not just one measure that will make a difference. It will require a package of measures in order to change NZ’s drinking culture for the better, but day after day we get reports that indicate that Parliament’s decision to lower the drinking age to eighteen, in 1999, was a mistake and I believe we should rectify it.

I want to end my presentation by saying drug and alcohol issues are at the top of my list when I sit down with our coalition partners in government.

There are many competing demands for the government to spend money or alternatively to reduce income tax.

Drug and alcohol abuse and suicide prevention gets funding because it is a top priority for the Progressive Party,

In last year’s budget $53.6 million was secured to fight “P” alcohol and other drug abuse.

In this year’s budget I secured another $13.5 million to continue the fight against drug abuse and for programmes to prevent suicide. That is public money. It is taxpayers’ money utilized to enhance the well-being of the whole community and these investments that wouldn’t be made if the government’s income tax revenue base was eroded.

On the panel today, I’m very pleased to have with me a number of professionals involved in drug and alcohol issues in this community.

I’m going to start off the panel discussion by asking each member of the panel to give a brief perspective (10 minutes) on how this community is responding and can respond to the challenge of drugs and alcohol.

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