Tele: Country towns will be hardest hit by plan to soften drug laws

Rural areas would be hardest hit by softer drug laws, with regional towns already struggling with an ice crisis and a lack of local drug rehab services, MPs say.

Any moves to soften drug laws would disproportionately hurt NSW rural people already struggling to cope with the regional meth and ice crisis and a lack of drug rehab services, say country MPs and indigenous advocates.

Concerns are also being raised about the Berejiklian government losing touch with its traditional base, with a series of progressive policies on koalas, renewable energy and now drug policy.

Dubbo Nationals MP Dugald Saunders described any scaling back of laws for personal drug possession as “premature”, and said they “haven’t really been thought through” in terms of their impact on the bush.

“Simply saying we go soft on drugs is not going to help anyone,” he said.

“Regional areas do not want to see a softening of the hard work that’s been done up to this point, people in communities want to feel safe.”

Mr Saunders said he had fought for a new $7.5 million drug rehab centre for Dubbo, but “there has to be a deterrent factor with support — if you don’t have a deterrent factor in any shape or support, how are people ever expected to stop the habit? In regional areas, we’ve seen a lot of the impact — particularly with ice because it’s been so cheap.”

NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research data shows the country town of Mudgee tops amphetamine charges for the entire state.

Rates of using or possessing the drug in NSW’s Central West are 96 people per 100,000 — compared to the statewide ­average of 90.

Indigenous advocate Warren Mundine, who has spent years in regional areas, blasted any move to decriminalise drugs as “totally bizarre”, given how ice was a huge issue in rural towns.

“The government is saying drugs are too hard for us to deal with — we’re very happy to ban alcohol, and licorice cigarettes but when it comes to hard drugs like ice, that’s OK.

“How do warnings and fines resolve a drug habit — this is a health issue.”

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party MP Phil Donato also said drugs — particularly methamphetamine and ice — were serious problems in small bush towns, and any move to wind back laws and allow usage would “send the wrong message completely”.

“People refer anecdotally to Wellington as Antarctica because there’s that much ice there, it’s very unfortunate,” he said.

“Going soft on the use, possession or supply of illicit substances, especially ice, is sending the wrong message.

“This is the left dictating policy.”

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