COUNCIL WATCH A Dubbo drug rehab centre is one step closer
THERE are no dedicated drug rehabilitation detox beds in Dubbo yet, as Dubbo Regional Council (DRC) Mayor Ben Shields wrote in November 2017 in a Council submission to the NSW Upper House inquiry into the provision of drug rehabilitation services in regional, rural and remote NSW. Our “region services 120,000 people with high levels of social disadvantage”, he said.
The submission process was followed by public hearings this year, with one being held in Dubbo on Wednesday, May 9. Councillor Stephen Lawrence provided evidence to the hearing on Dubbo’s need for a dedicated rehabilitation facility.
He spoke at length of the need for a drug court to address the “insidious cycle involving drugs, social disadvantage and imprisonment”.
“As a council we are determined to be the voice for the community on these issues and we will continue to advocate and play an enabling role to assist in services being provided. There is, of course, a limit to what we can do,” Cr Lawrence said.
“The ratepayers of our LGA cannot and should not bear the burden of the capital expenditure and the recurrent budget of rehabilitation centres, drug courts and the like.
“These things are fundamentally State and/or Federal Government responsibilities,” Cr Lawrence told the inquiry.
The hearing committee listened and engaged with stakeholders on the issue for four hours.
Cr Lawrence is hopeful when the report and recommendations are handed down later this year, it will feed into public discussions in the lead-up to the State election.
“On behalf of Council, I certainly asked the Committee to make very specific recommendations to Dubbo’s needs in this regard, and I really hope that injects into the public discussion in the lead up to the election,” he said.
“It’s not clear to me whether the government will have to respond prior to the election. That will depend when the report and recommendations are brought down, but that would be good too if they were forced to respond to the recommendations.
“The government conventionally will respond to the recommendations of a parliamentary committee and say whether they agree or not, and intend to implement them or not.”
Most of the push for a rehabilitation centre in Dubbo has been community driven.
“There’s been a very much grass roots driven initiative. In my previous role in Aboriginal Legal Service I had a role in it; there was a committee formed in 2012/13 and Lyn Fields has been a consistent supporter of it, and she organised a petition,” Cr Lawrence said.
“What we’re doing at Council is: we’ve hired a consultant, and we’ve allocated $100,000 in the budget for the consultant to develop a business case proposal that meets the requirements of the State Government budget process.
“That will go through (Member for Dubbo Troy Grant) into the State Government processes. I think in the middle of the second half of this year, as I understand (the situaton), there’ll be a decision on that, well prior to the state election. That’s our plan at Council,” he said.
The amount of expenditure involved in the proposal means it would go to cabinet.
“Troy’s certainly told us he’s supportive of it. We’ll have to wait and see what happens in the internal processes of government,” Cr Lawrence said.
The consultant appointed by Council is in the process of talking to relevant stakeholders and service providers and putting together a proposal on how the centre would work with all the different support services.
A prevailing feeling is the centre is not a band aid, but a holistic approach to true drug rehabilitation.
“I’ve had meetings with Stephen Ryan at the Aboriginal Land Council where he said he thinks Dubbo needs a healing centre, and I think that is pretty consistent with the vision council is working towards.
“So it would be a centre that won’t just warehouse people with problems but be a centre that will try to address and help people in all areas of their life. A service of this nature in our region in inevitably going to have a high proportion of Aboriginal people accessing it and it will be really important to have the local Aboriginal Community input to make sure that the services are culturally effective.”
Three Rivers Regional Assembly chair, and member of both Dubbo Aboriginal Community Working Party and Dubbo Local Aboriginal Lands Council, Rod Towney, also presented to the inquiry committee.
“We need something in Dubbo to help look after our people .... The Orana Haven Centre in Gongolgon is a long way away from Dubbo. The Weigelli Centre at Cowra is also a long way away from Dubbo. People do not have the means to travel back and forth to visit people,” Mr Towney told the inquiry.
“Once you separate families there is a big gap, right there and then. Once you affect an Aboriginal individual and an Aboriginal family, you affect a lot of people within the community,” he said.
The quest to see a drug rehabilitation centre open in Dubbo is bringing Aboriginal organisations and Council together in ways never seen before.
“I just sense of real enthusiasm across the community for this centre because we’ve talked about it for so long. There hasn’t been a lot of political will to do it. There’s been a lot of community will. Hopefully Council joining the push is the thing that helps to get it over the line,” Cr Lawrence said.
Council aims to see a drug rehabilitation centre running in Dubbo by the end of next year.
This quantity of liquid methamphetamine, or “ice”, was disguised in various packaging when uncovered by Australian Border Force officers in Sydney. The “ice epidemic” in Western NSW is one of the reasons for renewed calls for a dedicated rehabilitation facility in Dubbo. PHOTO: REUTERS/JASON REED