Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE:
I ask the Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations a question without notice. Is it a fact that some western Sydney health workers are sabotaging the smooth operation of the Drug Court by refusing to undertake court orders for drug treatment referrals and collection of urine for drug testing? Is it a fact that the Attorney has received a written complaint from the Drug Court regarding certain Health Department officials and their refusal to follow the court orders? Will the Attorney explain to the House what action he and the Government are taking to resolve this dispute in the interests of the efficient operation of the Drug Court?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW:
The honourable member’s question is entirely appropriate. I expected it from the Opposition, but that is the way things go. There are obviously, and I suppose inevitably, some operational problems that will impact upon the day-to-day operations of the Drug Court, and I expected that to be the case. It is an innovation, it is somewhat radical, it is a new development in the New South Wales court system. To say that there might be hiccups or a few problems down the line is to state the obvious. The media report suggesting that the Drug Court was crippled by problems with the provision of back-up treatment services is wrong.
I am informed that difficulties have arisen in relation to one area health service, but officers from my department and the Health Department, and senior officers of the Drug Court, have held a number of discussions on the matter. I believe they are discussing it this afternoon. I am confident that any difficulties will be satisfactorily resolved. It is hardly surprising that the Drug Court might experience operational problems in its first few
months. The legislation established a new court with a unique jurisdiction. Drug Court programs involve intensive judicial supervision and case management of offenders. Such programs depend on intensive and expanded treatment, and rehabilitation programs and options.
The project also demands a high level of interagency co-operation. I feel a sense of bipartisan support for this approach across the House. It is a case of the agencies and the public service bodies getting their acts together to ensure that the Drug Court is adequately supported. I think it is the will of the Parliament that this project ought to be adequately supported. The problems are not unique to New South Wales and, I am informed, have been a feature of many drug courts in the United States of America, where a high degree of co-operation from a range of agencies and professions is required to make the project work effectively. I also signify to the House that the Drug Court Act 1998 will require minor finetuning amendments to deal with the mechanisms for treating drug offenders.
Those changes, which will be brought to this House, are of a machinery nature and they will not affect the philosophy or the approach of the Drug Court program. I intend to introduce those amendments as part of reforms in the present session of Parliament, if that is practicable; if not, I will introduce them in the next session. We are in consultation with Judge Murrell of the Drug Court and we would obviously give her recommendations the greatest weight as to finetuning developments. We will iron out any inevitable problems in the provision of services. Let us not be distracted from what is a great initiative, a positive development supported across the parties. The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti acknowledges it as a good initiative.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti:
I do, but where is the money?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW:
We will provide resources and the infrastructure to back up that development.