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Collins: National Chemical Diversion Congress 

 
Hon Judith Collins

 Police Minister


25 November 2008
Media Statement

Speech notes for National Chemical Diversion Congress 


Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

A warm New Zealand welcome to the 12th National Chemical Diversion Conference.

It is a great pleasure and privilege to be invited to open this conference.

It is my very first official speech as the new Minister of Police and so it will live on, in my memory at the very least, as a particularly special occasion.

My briefing is that the Chemical Diversion Conference is essentially an Australian affair. For New Zealand, it is an honour to borrow the CDC for one year at least.

I also understand that the decision that New Zealand should host this event was really made at the eleventh hour. The Police working group managed to pull it together in just six months. I think that shows their commitment - and I'd like to acknowledge that - and it also shows how seriously New Zealand Police is taking the issue of chemical diversion.

Seventy percent of methamphetamine precursors are sourced nationally. The meth industry in this country is now worth an estimated $1.2 billion. New Zealand has one of the highest addiction rates to meth in the world. We take these statistics very seriously. As incoming Minister in the new Government, I can assure you that my colleagues and I are very determined that this scourge in our society cannot be left to grow.

Holding this congress in Wellington provides a timely opportunity to expose a good number of New Zealand delegates to precursor diversion activities taking place in Australia, the Pacific and other parts of the world. It's critical that we use these three days to soak up as much knowledge as we can, generate robust discussion, build understanding and make connections so the action inspired here will continue when we get back to our desks, and keep motivating us in our daily work until change is effected on the streets of our towns and cities.

To that end, I would particularly like to welcome delegates from other New Zealand government agencies - the Ministries of Health and Justice - plus industry and pharmacy groups. Your commitment to this gathering underlines an intention to work together on precursor issues which, as I'm sure will be demonstrated during this conference, is the only way we can effectively move forward.

That commitment is clear when you look at our sponsors. I would like to take a moment to acknowledge and thank all those who have contributed to the success of this congress:

The Australian Attorney-General's Department.

The Federal Department of Health and Aging.

Australian Crime Commission.

New Zealand Customs Service.

NZ Ministry of Health.

ESR.

And of course the New Zealand Police.

I would also like to acknowledge the Attorney-General's Department for facilitating representatives from Vanuatu, Samoa and Fiji - nau mai, haere mai to those five delegates.

A warm welcome also to Mr Liu Zengquan from the Office of the National Narcotics Control Commission in China - I'm sure you all look forward to hearing his keynote address.

The more countries we connect at this forum, the better. There is no doubt that chemical diversion is an international issue. The criminals moving precursors along the supply chain see international boundaries as no barrier; neither should we. In fact, the trend is for criminals to use the boundaries to their advantage, sending shipments from one place to another to cover their tracks, before they reach their final destination.

We must be ever more vigilant, more connected, more strongly aligned, to challenge those operations.

International connections and activities are vital to the big picture. That work must be done. But the real meaning only becomes clear if and when the effects filter down through the system to influence what happens at someone's front gate, or what goes on in their home.

Some recent activities at our own front gate have not been good; one was particularly tragic.

This September, New Zealand Police farewelled one of our own: Sergeant Don Wilkinson. In the line of his duty as a covert operative, Don was trying to install a tracking device onto a car connected with a suspected methamphetamine - or P lab as it is known in New Zealand, in Mangere, Auckland. He and his partner were discovered, and as they fled, Don was shot and killed. His partner also received multiple shots but survived.

This event was not only a shock to police, it was a shock to the country. The media storm which followed gave the general public its clearest picture yet of our P problem: that in suburban streets, in suburban houses, lived in by suburban families and children, people are manufacturing this dangerous and highly addictive drug.

New Zealanders have seen that methamphetamine use is not confined to any particular people, or any particular suburb. It crosses all socio-economic boundaries, wrecking the lives of wealthy, poor, and middle-class people, destroying families, skewing the values of those who would otherwise be responsible, productive, law-abiding citizens.

What's clear to police, but must be made clearer to the general public, is the link between what goes on in gangs, organised crime groups and clan labs, and what goes on at your own front gate.

Taking drugs such as P is not a personal lifestyle choice. It is a choice which affects us all.

For the families of P-users, that effect is immediate and obvious. For others, it may be more indirect but nevertheless shocking and disturbing, like the invasion of your personal space and the theft of the new flat screen TV you've saved for and which had pride of place in your living room.

Research conducted by Massey University, using Police data, has indicated a strong correlation between meth use and property crime. Recent data from the Illicit Drug Monitoring System backs this up, reporting increased involvement in crime for frequent meth users.

My disgust on this subject is not directed at the vulnerable people caught up in a spiral which leads them to crime. It is directed at people who make money out of other people's misery. The importers, manufacturers, dealers and suppliers who want the glamorous lifestyle but distance themselves from words like 'crime', 'gangs', and the rest of society. These people are targeting our children and we need to target these criminals instead.

We need to do more to make the risks real to people who would embark on this path. The traditional law enforcement path on its own is clearly not the solution. We need a comprehensive approach from government and the community. Collectively we must use every tool to find these people and strip them of their assets. We need to strip them of the proceeds of their crimes.

So what do we do? The Government's 100 Day Plan puts 'criminal gangs and drug trade' on its priority list. It is a key part of our Action Plan for violent crime.

We will immediately introduce legislation to clamp down on criminal gangs and the P-trade they support. The National government will not tolerate their criminal activity.

Let’s acknowledge what the police are already doing.

At the strategic level, New Zealand Police thinking on reducing and preventing drug-related harm, which includes diversion of chemicals into illicit drugs, has been tied together into the Illicit Drug Strategy to 2010, which is reaching completion. It focuses on a three-pronged approach: reducing supply, reducing demand, and reducing harm. All these prongs must be used to bring about change at the front gate.

At an operational level, we can congratulate all those involved in police-led operations targeting methamphetamine. Operation Viper, Operation Web and Operation Leo chalked up notable successes this year. Operation Viper resulted in 73 arrests across the Wellington District and the seizure of $500,000 worth of drugs plus firearms.

Operation Web brought together Police, Customs and Corrections with the objective of investigating the importation and distribution of controlled precursor drugs by 12 offenders, including eight who were inmates of Auckland Prison and the Spring Hill Correction Facility. During the six month operation, Customs and Police seized significant volumes of precursor chemicals and New Zealand Customs intercepted some 20 kilograms of Contac NT.

It is greatly encouraging to see the inter-agency relationships pulling off a success like this but I don't want anyone to rest on their laurels. I'm sure the ANZAC spirit will come to the fore in a determination to score more high profile wins in the war against the criminal gangs.

International evidence shows drug strategies in other countries have achieved higher levels of success when there is strong inter-agency cooperation to reduce drug harm.

It is useful, in this case, that global trends often reach New Zealand shores a little later. I note that Michael Miller's session about North Carolina includes 'warning lessons' for New Zealand and Australia. We have an opportunity to gather all the warnings, lessons and experiences of other countries, find out what works well, and consider if those options should be recommended for a New Zealand setting.

Significant work is also going on in the back rooms. A joint working group comprising Ministry of Health, Police and Ministry of Justice officials is investigating options for reducing precursor availability via domestic diversion in New Zealand and is due to report to Government on recommended options in March 2009. This will cover issues such as privacy, establishment costs and the impact on pharmacies.

I am sure a hot topic at this conference will be Australia's Project STOP.

Seventy percent of methamphetamine precursor identified in detected clan labs is sourced nationally. That's the packs of cough and cold medicine bought over the counter at pharmacies. Intervention at this stage of the supply chain has considerable knock-on effects, as demonstrated by the Australian experience.

This electronic recording and reporting tool means pharmacists are able, but not required, to refuse sale to a person who has already bought pseudoephedrine that day. It was trialled in Queensland in 2005, then rolled out across Australia a year ago. Since then, 18,000 sales of pseudoephedrine have been declined.

If we look to the UK, there is a current proposal to reclassify pseudoephedrine as a prescription only medicine. The UK also actively promotes products containing a pseudoephedrine alternative, phenylephererine.

On the harm-reduction side of the three-pronged approach, UK Police are able to refer arrestees directly to drug treatment as a form of diversion - a good example of interagency cooperation.

There are already many good ideas out there. I hope you will use the next three days to hear them, discuss them, and see how they can be adapted to your own jurisdiction.

The previous Congress in 2007 produced a list of 14 Resolutions and I hear most of them have been progressed or implemented. I look forward to hearing the Resolutions of this, the 12th NCDC congress, and continued national and international cooperation as we strive to effect positive change at community level.

Lastly, I would like to thank the members of our working committee: Stuart Mills, Alun Newton, Ella Vilipaama, Julian Rinckes and Rohan Verco. You've done us proud.

Thank you, I now declare this conference open.

ENDS

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