NSW attorney general ‘disappointed’ by own government’s lack of action over ice report

Mark Speakman says he’s spent ‘hundreds of hours’ trying to get cabinet support for reforms from Howard inquiry

The New South Wales attorney general, Mark Speakman, has revealed his frustration at his own government’s failure to respond to a landmark report on ice addiction, saying he has spent “hundreds of hours” trying to secure cabinet support for the reforms.

It has been 30 months since Prof Dan Howard handed down the findings of the special commission into ice, commissioned by former premier Gladys Berejiklian prior to the state election in 2019.

Appearing before a budget estimates hearing on Monday, Speakman said he was “disappointed” by the government’s failure to respond, saying Howard’s inquiry was “founded on extensive research and evidence”.

The inquiry, which ran for 14 months, criticised the criminalisation of drug users as a “profound flaw” in the justice system, recommending the complete decriminalisation of drug possession in the state.

But beyond immediately ruling out five recommendations, including pill testing and the abolition of drug dogs, the government has yet to formally respond to the report.

The premier, Dominic Perrottet, has said for months that he is close to releasing a response, but declined to offer concrete timing.

Speakman has previously called for a drug diversion scheme which would see people caught with small amounts of drugs face $400 penalties rather than be arrested.

In June he said the state’s drug laws were “clearly not working”, and at Monday’s hearing agreed that drug addiction “should be” treated as a health issue.

While the government has made some changes, including increased funding for drug courts, Speakman said he was disappointed there hadn’t been an “overall response”.

But he has faced resistance to changes aimed at diversionary policies within his own cabinet, and on Monday said he had spent “hundreds of hours … trying” to make progress on a response.

“I’ve had extensive briefings from the agency, [I have] taken submissions to cabinet, spoken with colleagues to discuss the merits or otherwise of matters that fall within my jurisdiction, taken matters to expenditure review cabinet for funding for certain proposals,” he said.

Speakman was asked about the government’s response to a damning report from the state’s police watchdog which called for legislative overhaul to laws governing the use of strip-searches.

It came after the Guardian revealed on Sunday that more than 4,000 of strip-searches, including on children as young as 13, had been carried out in the past two years.

Despite the government repeatedly saying that it will respond to the report’s calls for an overhaul of the laws, Speakman could not guarantee it would occur this year.

“I can’t give you any timeframe,” he said.

Asked if he was “optimistic” a response would come this year, Speakman said: “I can’t say more than I’ve said.”


Michael McGowan

The GuardianTramp

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