Tuesday, May 16, 2006
This is the relevant text of the parliamentary speech given by Australian Sate MP Sandra Kanck on the subject of illegal drugs, in particular Ecstasy. The speech, on 10th May, caused a hurricane of protest from politicians with much misrepresentation from the press. There were demands, from within her political party, for her to be sacked. Fortunately it looks like she will continue in parliament no matter what happens. That's surely a good thing, she's the only one in that parliamentary chamber who has any balls.
See: Party fury puts Kanck on brink
In relation to the Hon. Anne Bressington, towards the end of last year my former parliamentary colleague, the Hon. Ian Gilfillan, held the last of his well accepted balanced justice seminars, and all MPs received an invitation. The Hon. Nick Xenophon brought along this woman called Ann Bressington, the Director of a group called ADTARP, and she sent me an email afterwards criticising what she had heard at the seminar in relation to recreational drug use. I gave her a limited response at that time and said that I would get back to her about it when I had more time to respond. The next time I saw her was at the declaration of the Legislative Council poll, at which time I said to her that I would now be responding to what she had to say within parliament, and I intend to take that opportunity today. In the process I will put on record my party's concern about the whole `tough on drugs' mantra that has been adopted by most of the parties now represented in this parliament.
The two best known and most used recreational drugs are legal ones, alcohol and tobacco. In looking at this debate about drugs we should see what that legality brings. It brings standards so, if you go and buy a bottle of wine and it says on the label that it is 11 per cent alcohol, it has to stand up to that claim. It means that as a drinker you have a fair idea of what you can expect of the impact of that glass of wine or bottle of beer on your metabolism. You can be sure that if the label says it has sulphur dioxide in it that it does. If you are one, and I am, who has a reaction to sulphur dioxide, you can make an informed decision to not buy it because it has a very bad effect on your system. It brings opportunities to extol health warnings, and I think it was just yesterday or the day before that the Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse told us about the ads she had the pleasure to launch with the new tobacco packaging. It allows health authorities to confidently make statements about what you can expect.
I pulled two magnets off my fridge this morning which say, `Know your standards drinks'. It has a bottle of white wine with 12 per cent alcohol by volume and states that a 100ml glass is one standard drink and, if you drink the whole bottle, it will be 7.1 standard drinks. A cask of the same wine will give you 19 standards drinks. With a beer that is 4.9 per cent alcohol, one 285ml glass will give you one standard drink. A 750ml bottle of that same beer will give you 2.9 standard drinks, and a 375ml stubby or can will give you 1.4 drinks. On that basis you then know how much you are drinking and it allows anyone who drinks alcohol and decides to drive to know what is a safe limit for them. Everyone is the beneficiary of that legality. It allows these commodities to be taxed, so there is a financial base for the system to respond to the health disbenefits that arise from the use of those drugs.
We know, as the minister told us yesterday, that many people who smoke end up having their legs amputated. By having knowledge like this, and having the capacity to tax a legal drug, we have money to put into the health system to deal with that, and it allows us to have money for advertising campaigns and to tell people what it is they could be doing to themselves. It allows researchers and academics to check out what it is we are taking. But with illicit drugs we have none of those controls or opportunities. In fact, opportunities are denied for researchers and academics.
I raise the question of the testing of pills at rave parties. I wrote to the then health minister, Lea Stevens, at the beginning of last year about this, seeking her approval for such pill testings to be done at rave parties in South Australia. I suspect that it was a cabinet decision rather than the Hon. Lea Stevens' own decision, but the argument she advanced to me in her response was that the government could not approve pill testing because the pills would be given back after testing. Quite clearly if you do not give pills back to those who offer them for testing there is no chance that they will offer them for testing in the first instance. So the refusal to test is counter-productive if we want to minimise harm.
International experience of pill testing shows that the large majority of potential users, when they are shown the results and find that the pill they have submitted does not contain what they thought they had bought, hand them back. They do not use them but throw them away. Pill testing, therefore, results in a reduction of usage. If we believe in reducing
The Hon. A.M. Bressington: There is no evidence to support that at all.
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: That interjection probably does need to be included on the record, because there is plenty of evidence to show that pill testing does produce that positive result. In fact, I believe that we should have a controlled testing program in South Australia, with the government supervising it, so that we can get our own results and so that the sorts of claims that the Hon. Ms Bressington is making can be shown to be incorrect. If we believe in reducing harm, logic dictates that we should have pill testing at rave parties. The Rann government's 2002 Drug Summit recommended such testing.
The Hon. A.M. Bressington: And that wasn't stacked at all, was it?
The PRESIDENT: Order! The Hon. Ms Bressington will cease to interject.
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: I have an interesting little book here called The Outlaw Antidepressant, which is about ecstasy and rave culture.
The Hon. A.M. Bressington interjecting:
The PRESIDENT: Order! The Hon. Ms Bressington has had her opportunity and she will cease to interject.
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: I did not interject when she gave her information. Thank you, Mr President.
The Hon. A.M. Bressington interjecting:
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: Well, it deserved to be interjected on and I am now responding to it. This book was produced by a young woman who wanted to do this as her PhD thesis. Unfortunately, the university she was attending refused to allow her to do it on the basis that it was about illegal drug use. This is obviously a very erudite dissertation, but I will quote what she says, as follows:
Two points must be made here: firstly, this suppression of knowledge and understanding from the university merely supports the theories of Foucault and Bourdieu. Secondly, why is it acceptable to travel outside of one's culture and into another's for the sake of anthropological research and take drugs in the context of various rituals and yet be exempt from a similar bias? It is ethnocentric and one-eyed of Western academia to view drug-taking rituals in native cultures as acceptable for researchers to participate in yet a similar investigation into a Western subculture can't be done.
And herein lies the problem. We cannot get to the truth of so much of this if the research cannot be done. Samantha Lee Kelly went ahead and did this and has published it herself in order to get some of the truth out about ecstasy.
When the Hon. Ann Bressington wrote to me last year (when she did not have the title `honourable'), she said in her email to me:
When we (parents and other significant adults) tell them that drugs are harmful we expect that professionals will support that statement. What we get are some professionals who are prepared to test these pills that contain dangerous substances.
There is a huge illogicality in that. We cannot know that they contain dangerous substances unless they are tested.
The Hon. A.M. Bressington: MDMA is dangerous on its own.
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: This is good; I will get to that in a minute. If testing is permitted and the pills are shown to contain dangerous substances, the health professional can advise the potential user of that fact. With no testing, how can any professional say to that person that what they intend taking is dangerous, as Ann Bressington was asking of me at that stage? If it is an ecstasy tablet, can a health professional, in all honesty, speak the truth if they say it is harmful? The drug 3 4-methylenedioxy-n-methylamphetamine, MDMA, or as it is more commonly known, ecstasy, was originally used as a psychotherapeutic drug. The US Drug Enforcement
The Hon. A.M. Bressington interjecting:
The PRESIDENT: Order! The Hon. Ms Bressington will come to order. The Hon. Sandra Kanck has the call, and interjections are out of order.
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: She is a bit obstreperous! The US Drug Enforcement Administration put forward a proposal in 1984 to schedule MDMA but, before the hearings commenced, in 1985 the DEA invoked powers to place it on schedule 1 on an interim basis.
The Hon. A.M. Bressington: In 1984?
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: Yes, 1984. Schedule 1
The Hon. A.M. Bressington interjecting:
The PRESIDENT: Order! I will not tolerate any more interjections from the Hon. Ms Bressington. In this council sometimes people will stand up and disagree with your point of view. That is democracy. You will allow the Hon. Sandra Kanck to continue her speech.
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: Thank you, Mr President. This schedule 1 that MDMA was placed on in 1985 is for `damaging and addictive drugs without medical use'. This scheduling onto the highest rating on the list was done before any hearings on the DEA's request that it be put on its list, and before any tests were done to find out whether it was, in fact, dangerous. In the same year, this listing by the DEA then resulted in the UN recommending that it be placed on schedule 1 of the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, again, without any actual scientific basis. It was like dominos falling; if the US did it, it must be bad and everyone should follow.
A coalition of doctors, scientists and therapists, one of whom is Professor Lester Grinspoon, emeritus professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, so he is no slouch, then initiated legal proceedings in response to the DEA's action. The arguments that were given against MDMA cited studies of MDA on animals and ignored any evidence about MDMA on humans. Despite that intellectual dishonesty by the US government in those hearings, the court decision in 1986 was for MDMA to be placed in schedule 3, which allowed for research and limited usage while the hearings took place, and remember this happened back in 1985.
The judge's decision was then appealed against. That was ultimately overturned, and the emergency scheduling of MDMA was reinstated as schedule 1. This doctors group again appealed, and the Appeals Court ruled that there had been `improper interpretation of accepted medical use' and recommended reconsideration of the DEA's decision. It was deleted from schedule 1, but a month later, still with no scientific studies and still no hearing, it was reinstated.
We have been told that ecstasy is a dangerous substance. We do not have the evidence; the Australian government has followed down the path of doing this without the evidence. That original 1985 listing of ecstasy, or MDMA, on this schedule 1 is still being contested. So, more than 20 years later, the matter has not been resolved. Yet we are being asked to believe that this is a dangerous substance. We do not have evidence that it is a dangerous substance. In fact, I was saying to people last year, after the bushfires on Eyre Peninsula, with all the trauma that was associated with it, that one of the best things you could probably have done for the people on Eyre Peninsula who had gone through that trauma was to give them MDMA. However, one dare not advocate that, because we are all being tough on drugs, aren't we!
It seems to me that we have not learnt the lessons of alcohol prohibition. What happened when we had alcohol prohibition was that we had the sorts of alcohol that were very dangerous to people; people died as a consequence of drinking alcohol. People die as a consequence of taking drugs for exactly the same reasons, because they are illegal and because they do not know what is in the drugs, and we just keep on putting our head in the sand.
In the letter Ann Bressington sent to me last year, she said:
As a treatment provider of a very successful program in the northern suburbs I can only state that your intentions are absolutely counter-productive to the objectives of what most believe to be our harm minimisation policy.
Underneath that, she has three bold dot points, stating:
To reduce the harm
To reduce demand
To reduce supply.
I wrote back and told her that I think we do need to do that. We need to get a message across to all people that all drugs, licit and illicit, are not the way to go. In her letter to me, and also in her Address in Reply speech, the member has extolled the virtues of the Swedish program. Sweden does have tougher drug laws than neighbouring states, but the consequence appears to be higher mortality rates amongst its drug users and, surprisingly, amongst the addicts undergoing compulsory treatment.
For some time, I have received unsolicited emails from a group called DACA, and I assume that other MPs have received them as well. When one goes a little further into the DACA web site, one comes across a very interesting article that states that Christians should reject injecting rooms. This, of course, raises some other interesting questions for me when we start dealing with issues that are essentially health issues as moral and religious issues. I have printed off about three pages from the section that states that Christians should reject injecting rooms. It says things like, `All Christian denominations condemn drug taking as evil because of its self-destruction and self-centred lifestyle.' Well, I do not know how many Christian denominations condemn the use of alcohol and tobacco. Having been brought up a Methodist, yes, there was one denomination that definitely did condemn them as evil. However, 95 per cent of drug taking is in the form of alcohol and tobacco, and most churches do not condemn them.
Some of the headings are quite frightening, such as `Drugs are evil'. Well, is alcohol evil? I do not know how many members in this place would say that alcohol is evil, and I do not know how many members in this place would say that tobacco is evil. Certainly, the Hon. Ann Bressington uses the latter of those two, and I doubt that she would be saying that it is evil.
An honourable member interjecting:
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: No; I'm reading off this, that is, that `Christians should reject injecting rooms.' It is a very disturbing document, particularly knowing that we as MPs receive this information from DACA in our emails, and it is not clear who this group is
The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink interjecting:
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: Well, it is always interesting to know your enemy. I find some of the stuff that is in there very disturbing. I remind members who might think that all drugs are evil that Jesus partook of wine. He did not have any silly laws that said, `This drug is legal, and this one isn't legal.' He drank wine, and when he was asked on one occasion to produce more of it, he did so, on request.
The Hon. D.G.E. Hood: He didn't have ecstasy, though.
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: But ecstasy is not a dangerous drug.
The PRESIDENT: The honourable member will not respond to interjections, because they are out of order.
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: Interjections are definitely out of order; thank you, Mr President. This issue of where Christianity stands on drug taking moves into the next topic that I want to address, and that is the question of the involvement of the church in politics. I have been quite disturbed by an emerging trend of conservatism in politics. After the election, I made a statement in the media that progressive politics was the loser from the election. Somebody asked me, `What about Nick Xenophon?' and I said, `Well, he's conservative as well. You only have to look at his voting on my dignity and dying bill a couple of years ago'. Although he did not actually speak against the bill, he told me, before the vote was taken, that I would understand, wouldn't I, that because of his Greek Cypriot background of course he could not support it.
In terms of other examples of conservatism and, in fact, on that same bill, the Hon. Terry Stephens said, back in 2002, that he sought `the correct moral, legal and spiritual course' in deciding how he would vote, and he said:
I am a Catholic, and I am very proud of my faith. Certainly, the sanctity of life is something I hold dear, but religion alone has not shaped my final position.
I have noticed in the speeches that have been made in both this place and the other a certain level of conservatism. In his Address in Reply speech, the Hon. Dennis Hood rejected Darwin's theory of evolution. He did not quite say what he believed in, but I took it to be, from what he had said, that he believed in creationism, or perhaps the new name that they have for creationism, intelligent design. I also note that in the past the Hon. Andrew Evans has presented a religious view that homosexuality is a choice, and I have argued with him to the contrary, and argued very strongly with him.
The Hon. Ann Bressington, I understand, presented the Festival of Light's position on drugs to a senate inquiry, so she obviously represents a conservative point of view. We know that the right faction of the ALP has taken control of the parliament. Looking at the contributions from some of the right faction, we had the Hon. Mr Finnigan's comment the other day. He told us that he wanted to acknowledge, `I am a servant of Christ, and subject to His reign in history.' Well, I am glad that that makes him glad, but I hope he is not going to use that in making decisions on abortion, prostitution, voluntary euthanasia, sex education and other issues, but I fear that he will.
In the House of Assembly, new MP Tom Kenyon said in his Address in Reply speech that `abortion is the killing of a human life'. I suppose I should have shrugged my shoulders and said, `So, what's new about a man telling a woman what she should do with her own body?', but let us be clear on what we are talking about. Of abortions in South Australia, 60 per cent occur in the first six weeks of gestation. At that point, there is something there that is the size of a pea or, if it is really, really big, the size of a coffee bean. It is mostly blood and tissue and, when you look at it under a microscope, it looks vaguely like a lizard. It is so insignificant that many women have miscarriages and never even know that they were pregnant. The rate of abortion in South Australia is now lower than it was in 1969 when amendments were made to the Criminal Law (Consolidation) Act that allowed an abortion to be performed without criminal penalty provided that certain rules were followed.
The Weekend Australian Magazine of 29 April reported on the Hillsong Church in Baulkham Hills in Sydney. In particular it quoted the Hillsong Church web site, and the quote they gave stated that `depression is a supernatural spirit straight from the devil'. The interesting thing about this is that this quote disappeared off the Hillsong web site within 24 hours of The Weekend Australian Magazine revealing it. If you go to it now and try to get there, it states that this page does not exist. Fortunately for us, my Senate colleague Andrew Bartlett went looking for it as soon as he saw the article in The Weekend Australian Magazine and captured it, and he has it on his blog site. I want to read the entire quote, as follows:
Depression is a supernatural spirit of destruction straight from the devil, and as such, needs to be treated like an enemy. We must take a strong stand against it and deny it any power in our lives. Depression stems from an underlying root of unbelief in God's care, His goodness, His faithfulness, or even His ability to get you out of seemingly `impossible' situations.
At 19 years of age I was hospitalised, and I had a near-nervous breakdown; it came from a doctor-prescribed drug. To read this, this poisonous stuff, that tells me that that is why that happened when it was a doctor-prescribed drug makes me extraordinarily angry. And what about women who get post-natal depression? To say that that is why they have it is absolutely appalling, and churches that advance things like this should be utterly ashamed of themselves.
533 I certainly hope that the two Family First MPs in this parliament do not ascribe to such a view. How can we possibly deal with issues of mental health if that is the underlying belief of parliamentarians, that people bring it on themselves through their lack of belief in God? The first step of the Hillsong church counsellors' providing support for someone who has depression is to lay a guilt trip on them. That is a great cure for depression, not. I certainly hope that that group is not receiving taxpayer funding for this.
These sorts of wild statements about depression extend also to what are regarded as mainstream Christian churches. It is not just depression, it is a range of things. I refer to some of Archbishop Pell's comments made recently in order to show some of the stupidity of religious people talking about the decisions that are made in our parliament. This was a speech given by Archbishop Pell to the Legatus Summit in Naples, Florida in the United States. He spoke about the need to increase population and he began with the idea that `faith ensures a future'. That was his first statement. My view is that futures happen regardless of faith and, if you want to have that proven or not, have a look at rabbits and cockroaches because they do not need faith or a belief system to ensure their future. He said:
As an illustration of the literal truth of this, consider Russia and Yemen. Look also at the different birth rates in the red and blue states in the last presidential election in the USA. In 1950 Russia, which suffered one of the most extreme forms of forced secularisation under the Communists, had about 103 million people. Despite the devastation of wars and revolution the population was still young and growing. Yemen, a Muslim country, had only 4.3 million people. By 2000 fertility was in radical decline in Russia, but because of past momentum the population stood at 145 million. Yemen had maintained a fertility rate of 7.6 over the previous 50 years and now had 18.3 million people.
Presumably, we should cheer at this point because we have more people on the earth who can use up more resources and destroy more of the environment. Archbishop Pell continued:
Median level United Nations forecasts suggest that even with fertility rates increasing by 50 per cent in Russia over the next fifty years, its population will be about 104 million in 2050a loss of 40 million people. It will also be an elderly population.
Perish the thought! Look at all the elderly people in here. It seems that there is something terrible about being elderly. The speech continued:
The same forecasts suggest that even if Yemen's fertility rate falls 50 per cent to 3.35, by 2050 it will be about the same size as Russia102 million, and overwhelmingly young.
One wonders how Yemen is going to cope with a population that size, given that it is mostly a desert country. He then goes on to compound his ignorance about the environment as follows:
The situation of the United States and Australia is not as dire as this, although there is no cause for complacency. It is not just a question of having more children, but of rediscovering reasons to trust in the future. Some of the hysterical and extreme claims about global warming are also a symptom of pagan emptiness, of Western fear when confronted by the immense and basically uncontrollable forces of nature. Belief in a benign God who is master of the universe has a steadying psychological effect, although it is no guarantee of Utopia, no guarantee that the continuing climate and geographic changes will be benign.
Now wait for this, because this is really something. It continued:
In the past pagans sacrificed animals and even humans in vain attempts to placate capricious and cruel gods. Today they demand a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.
What does this man, who purports to speak on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, know about any of this stuff? He is in such a powerful position yet he makes statements like this that basically go unchallenged by his own church and, in many cases, it will be followed by the adherents.
Another of the things that the Roman Catholic Church teaches is that homosexuality is intrinsic evil. It implies that it is a form of mental illness. I wonder how South Australia's new Commissioner for Social Inclusion, Monsignor David Cappo, will deal with that issue as he is charged with reforming our mental health system. After all, in 1986 the Vatican issued a letter to bishops entitled `The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons'. It forbids any support `even the semblance of support' for groups that do not clearly oppose homosexual acts. One can only guess at the sort of policy distortions this type of thinking could produce in respect of counselling services for people struggling with their sexuality. I do not object to the church taking a moral stand on issues, and I strongly welcome their principal contribution on Aboriginal reconciliation, native title and asylum seekers as examples, but the problem to me appears to be extremism.
I think it is interesting in the light of contributions that we have heard from some of the members of the opposition in recent days that the Liberal Movement, when it broke away from the LCL, had as its campaign theme `Leave the extremes'. In that regard, I was heartened yesterday by the comments of the Hon. Stephen Wade in his address in reply. I told him later on in the afternoon that, having heard his CV during the course of the casual vacancy hearing and that his father is a Baptist pastor and that he is a Baptist lay preacher, I thought we were getting another fundamentalist in our midst, but I was reasonably reassured after hearing his contribution.
I do not say that the church should not be involved in politics but, rather, we need a responsible mix of law, religion and politics. My grandfather was a Methodist minister; my 77 year old mother is still a church organist in the Uniting Church; and my 83 year old father is still a lay preacher in the Uniting Church. So, I have a strong knowledge of religious beliefs and history, and I assure members that, if at any stage we are going to talk religion, I can mix it with the best of them.
In that regard, I want to put on the record a little bit of email correspondence that occurred earlier this week relating to the Address in Reply speech given by the Hon. Ian Hunter. There was an article in The Advertiser about that speech, and a somewhat vitriolic email was sent by a member of the public to many members of this place. This person was talking about Sodom and Gomorrah and how homosexuality is a terrible thing. I responded by asking him whether or not the visitation of fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah might have had something to do with the fact that Lot had actually offered the people of Sodom his two teenage daughters to be gang raped.
This man was quite surprised that I had this knowledge, and we have had a little bit of off-list, so to speak, communication since then. I said to him that one of the things that has always interested me about that story is that Sodom and Gomorrah had hellfire and brimstone rained on them but, if you read the story in Genesis, Gomorrah does not get a mention until that point. Sodom is the only town involved, and when the Lord decides to unleash hellfire and brimstone he unleashes it on Gomorrah. Obviously, the poor people of Gomorrah did not know what hit them because of something that someone had done in the town of Sodom.
So, I have this grounding in Christian precepts, and it is very useful. It allows me to respond to all sorts of dilemmas that are presented to me in a way that provides justice to the greatest number of people.
The Hon. A.M. Bressington: How big of you.
The Hon. SANDRA KANCK: I thank the honourable member for that comment. I think we need to respond to dilemmas in that way to provide justice for the greatest number of people, and I include in that non-humans. When I make a decision, I think that animals who cannot speak for themselves also have a right to be represented.
One of the tasks I have taken on in my remaining four years in this parliament is to turn the spotlight on fundamentalism and extremism and to let the public know what the people they elected really stand for. I am not scared of a public backlash, because I will not stand for re-election. I am quite happy to take a position against the mainstream, but it will always be a well-researched position, as I showed regarding the history of MDMA. Simply because something is mainstream is not a good reason to take a position in support of it.
This government, often joined in beautiful harmony by the opposition, has taken a knee jerk, easy fix, populist, tough on drugs and tough on crime stance. I will stand up to them. I will make a strong stand in support of a woman's right to choose abortion; I will stand up for the little people who get bulldozed by government in their pursuit of economic growth, for example, the residents of East Whyalla; and I will make a strong stand in support of the environment and the survival of the planet. If that means that in the next four years I will have to take on most members of this parliament, I will be pleased to do so. I support the motion.
The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY secured the adjournment of the debate.