Mr CHAPPELL (Northern Tablelands) [5.37]: Some months ago Colonel George McLean of "Tenterden" station, Guyra, raised with me a matter which he felt was of concern. I gave it some thought and I agree with him. The matter was subsequently referred to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services in another place. Colonel McLean is concerned that whenever a marijuana plantation is raided by police, splashed over local and State newspapers is the fact that every single marijuana plant that is grown, whether in a small plot or a large plantation, is worth a couple of thousand dollars. Indeed, I believe that seed plants in full head are valued at about $5,000 per plant. Colonel McLean puts forward the proposition that the notification to the general public that every marijuana plant is worth $2,000 in the pocket of the grower would be an inducement for many people to grow marijuana. When one thinks about it logically, many would see it in exactly that way, particularly hard-pressed farmers or people looking for a quick cash flow. If they knew there was a dark corner somewhere at the back of a paddock where they could put in a few marijuana plants and pick up $2,000 a time, I am sure they would be induced to do exactly that.
On behalf of Colonel McLean I wrote to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services and put the proposition to him. Subsequently, in a reply, the Minister said that he had referred the matter to the Chairman of the Police Board and had the benefit of the chairman's reply. He said he agreed with the chairman that there were more pluses than minuses in notifying the general public every time there is a bust that marijuana plants are worth $2,000 a throw. Indeed, the Minister went on to say that for one or two technical reasons monetary values are placed on marijuana plants in such a public way. The information assists in determining the seriousness of the offence in the eyes of the general public and is taken into account when courts assess the seriousness of the crime. Of course, figures were also used in intelligence gathering for statistical purposes. All of that is well and good but I believe that Colonel McLean was right in his response to the answer in a further letter to me. He said:
I happen to agree. The suggestion - in these hard-pressed times, when there are plenty of people out there who would like to pick up an easy couple of thousand dollars or so for growing one little pot plant - that evidence against the notification of that amount is not greater than use of it, does not stack up. I believe it is important for the police and for the courts to know the gravity of the offence of growing marijuana but I do not think it is important that people should be incited to such an activity by being constantly reminded that they can pick up a substantial amount of easy money for relatively low risk. I have referred the matter back to the Commissioner of Police for him to have a further look at it. There is growing evidence - no pun intended - that these days people
from among the ranks of normal, middle-aged farmers in the community, who really have been hard-pressed by drought and depressed commodity prices and so forth, are engaging in this illegal activity. I believe they are doing so because, quite frankly, they have control of their own land and they know about a little shady corner in the back paddock and they are prepared the take the risk and grow a few plants.
The evidence is in favour of the proposition put by Colonel McLean. I would ask most sincerely that the Minister for Police and Emergency Services and the Chairman of the Police Board have a further look at this matter to see whether the statistical information-gathering needs of the department and the requirements of the courts can be satisfied by some other means than by media information, on every occasion when it reports a bust of a few plants or indeed of a plantation, publicising the fact that every plant that someone can get away with is worth a couple of thousand dollars. To do so simply encourages and entices people in pressed circumstances to engage in that illegal activity. [Time expired.]
Mr CAUSLEY (Clarence - Minister for Natural Resources) [5.42]: The reports in newspapers of the North Coast and the northern areas of New South Wales of the huge busts of marijuana crops and the enormous figures quoted are certainly alarming. As a private member - and certainly I am not speaking on behalf of the Cabinet or the Government - I would like to place on record my concerns about some of the penalties meted out to offenders not just for drug offences but in general. With regard to the poaching of abalone specific penalties are laid down by the Legislature, but judges on many occasions impose the lowest penalty. There is a real risk in this country of the law being undermined by bleeding-heart judges. Some of the penalties should be increased. in order to have some effect on the number of crimes that are committed. The honourable member for Northern Tablelands is quite right. This is not only of concern to property-owners, but property-owners have to be ever vigilant because, if someone is discovered growing marijuana on one's property, one has to prove that it is not his crop. There is no doubt that penalties are low and rewards are fairly high for selling the drug and obviously anything that highlights the value of such a plant does little to deter from its being grown.
The logic, or more properly the lack of it, in the letter is almost frightening. To claim that publishing an estimated value of $2,000 per marijuana plant will not encourage people to grow it displays a naivety normally associated with neophyte clergy.