Leaders, grieving families unite in push for CBD injecting room but Premier gives no guarantees
Almost 80 CEOs of community, health and welfare groups have signed a joint letter calling on the state government to open a CBD safe injecting room, but Premier Daniel Andrews said there was no guarantee the facility would open in the central city.
The letter, from a broad spectrum of leaders, said deaths caused by overdoses were a “health issue” that required a “health solution”, and urged the community response to be “underpinned by care, support and compassion”.
It argued that the benefits in opening Victoria’s second medically supervised injecting facility were not merely “opinion” but backed by more than 120 studies that pointed to injecting rooms as an effective tool in combating serious harm caused by drug dependence.
In a vexed debate that often elicited emotive responses, the leaders’ stance was clear: “We need to look beyond the emotion, judgement and fear, and assess the hard evidence”.
It pushed for a small and discreet supervised injecting facility that contained wraparound health services (including for mental, sexual and oral health) and connected people to pathways out of drug dependence.
A number of signatories — including the Salvation Army’s Major Brendan Nottle, addiction specialist Dr Paul MacCartney and Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association CEO Sam Biondo — spoke to the media at Rainbow Alley alongside Katrina Korver, whose son Danial overdosed in the CBD alley in June 2022.
Ms Korver said trialling a second medically supervised injecting room in the central city was a must and would have prevented her son’s death.
“He shouldn’t have died that day; he had used the Richmond facility regularly and if there had been a medically supervised drug injecting room here in Melbourne, he would have used it,” she said.
“As his mother, I’m committed to ensuring this doesn’t happen to other families; that a medically supervised drug injecting room is made available in the CBD where there is a lot of heroin available.”
Major Nottle said there was an average of one overdose death in the city each month, and nine of those who have recently died were known to him personally.
“I sat with a young man who I met when he was nine years of age and at the age of 28, I held his hand as he passed away in intensive care because of a drug overdose,” he said.
These people are not just a statistic, these people are not just another piece of data – they are someone’s brother, someone’s sister, someone’s daughter, someone’s son … someone’s friend.
Debate surrounding the injecting room again increased in March amid an expected release of a report from former police commissioner Ken Lay which would recommend the best-placed site to house the facility.
In August 2022 when the government announced yet another delay to the crucial report, it said the new release date was “early 2023”.
However, Mr Andrews has now confirmed the Lay report would now not be seen until mid-2023 at the earliest, representing a more than two-and-a-half year delay on the original commitment of a late 2020 release.
He also provided no guarantees the CBD injecting room, which would become Australia’s third such facility alongside Sydney’s Kings Cross (opened in 2001) and North Richmond (in 2018), was certain.
Asked whether the government would definitely open a second injecting room, Andrews said: “No, I don’t think that’s the case at all.”
The Premier did, however, admit that the former Yooralla building at 244 Flinders St (long-speculated to be the government’s preferred injecting room site after it scrapped the initial preferred site on Victoria St near Queen Victoria Market) was, in fact, purchased for the purposes of housing an injecting facility.
“We bought a building. We think there’s a strong case to have a second injecting facility, however it’s got to be at the right location,” he said.
Prior to this statement, the government was yet to confirm this detail despite purchasing the site in 2021.
Mr Andrews also confirmed that after a five-year trial, the North Richmond safe injecting room would become a permanent facility.
An independent review found the trial has saved 63 lives and successfully managed almost 6000 overdoses in this time.
Speculations grows on Lay report as Pallas “misspeaks” again
At the heart of the CBD injecting room debate is the continued delay of the Lay report release which, as CBD News has previously detailed, has been pushed several times.
The government has said it would not make any decision without the report, which has continued to frustrate those both for and against the proposed facility.
Treasurer Tim Pallas further confused the situation when he said the government had “absolutely” received the report when asked on March 1.
“Absolutely — Mr Lay provided us with a report and the government is considering that report together with seeking to update that report,” he said.
Later that day, Mr Pallas issued a statement which said he had “misspoke” and apologised for the confusion.
Except it wasn’t the first time the Treasurer had made the same error.
In a May 2022 budget interview Mr Pallas had similarly said the report was in government hands.
“The government is still considering the report we’ve received from former police commissioner Lay,” Mr Pallas said at the time on 3AW.
We’re yet to make a final decision about location and as such any commitment to the resourcing and ongoing operation of a second facility is yet to be made.
However, a state government spokesperson told CBD News that the treasurer had misspoken, and the government was yet to receive the report.
Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Emma Kealy, said the Premier must be transparent with Victorians about the intentions for a second injecting room in the City of Melbourne.
“The Premier today confirmed that no recommendation had been made about a second injecting room in Melbourne’s CBD – so why has he bought a building and actively hiring staff?” she said.
“Local residents, traders and community groups deserve straight answers – the Premier must tell Victorians what his intentions are with respect to a second injecting facility.” •