No decision on injecting room site until 2023
The state government cited “shifting patterns of drug harms in the CBD” as a reason for the latest delay to the release of a crucial report.
A report recommending the CBD site to house Victoria’s second safe injecting room won’t be released until 2023, more than two years later than first planned.
After delays due to COVID-19 and the state government scrapping its initial preferred site, Premier Daniel Andrews admitted in August that the report now won’t be released until after the November 26 state election.
Mr Andrews said the reason for the latest delay was due to “shifting patterns of drug harms in the CBD”.
“The pandemic has significantly changed aspects of the CBD including population, foot traffic, drug harms and homelessness patterns,” a government spokesperson told CBD News.
“This includes the types of drugs people buy, and where they consume them.”
It is suspected the former Yooralla building at 244 Flinders St, which the government purchased in 2021, is the preferred site for the new supervised injecting facility, although this was yet to be confirmed.
The latest state government delay saw City of Melbourne Cr Roshena Campbell put forward a motion at the August 16 Future Melbourne Committee meeting calling for, among other things, confirmation of the sites currently being considered and an independent review into the amenity impacts of the state’s first-ever safe injecting facility in North Richmond.
“[Residents and traders] are sick of being kept in the dark for years, and they want answers now,” Cr Campbell said.
“If this state government is committed to the economic recovery of this city, it’s time for it to come clean on its plans for a CBD injecting room.”
However, the motion was defeated six votes to three, a majority of councillors reiterated their support for an injecting facility with wraparound health services within the CBD.
Councillors had similarly voted in favour of a medically supervised injecting room within the CBD during a passionate debate in May 2021, and the latest vote indicated numbers at Town Hall had not shifted within the past 15 months.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp acknowledged the “sensitivity” of the issue but reiterated her backing for the injecting facility.
Cr Davydd Griffiths expressed frustration that, while the motion may not have intended to, the submissions it drew again saw debate regress back to whether the facility was appropriate or not in the city, despite the fact this was now unequivocal according to independent experts.
“Nothing substantive has changed since that time in terms of the medical and scientific evidence that backs up a need for safe injecting facilities,” he said.
Where is the Lay report?
Former police commissioner Ken Lay was appointed in July 2020 to find the most suitable CBD location for the the state’s second safe injecting room — a hygienic place where people can inject drugs in a supervised health setting.
Early that year an independent expert panel had found that the North Richmond site had saved at least 21 lives in its first 18 months and thwarted 271 “extremely serious overdose incidents”.
It concluded that North Richmond required help dealing with demand, and that the next location should be within the City of Melbourne.
When Mr Lay was appointed, the government said that a report would be handed back within six months.
However, this has been pushed back on numerous occasions, firstly due to COVID-19 preventing the required consultation with relevant stakeholders, but more notably the government scrapping its initial preferred site.
That facility — community health service Cohealth on Victoria St — was subject to strong pushback from the council due to its proximity to vulnerable residents and the Queen Victoria Market.
While councillors were against that site on Victoria St, a majority have maintained their backing for the facility within the CBD.
The decision to open a safe injecting facility in the CBD is ultimately a state government decision, but as the key stakeholder the council’s approval is vital.
Soon after the government had moved on from the Cohealth option, Mr Lay told the City of Melbourne in May 2021 that his report would likely be completed in “eight to 12 weeks”.
However, Cr Capp revealed the council had received “no new information” since that time.
The Premier has now said the report was now “expected to be completed by early next year”.
It is understood the government asked Mr Lay to extend his investigation to include targeted engagement with the likes of Ambulance Victoria and Victoria Police to ensure his advice was informed by their current insights.
There were growing frustration among some traders and residents about the report’s delays.
Small Business Australia executive director Bill Lang said it created uncertainty among traders.
“There are business owners with leases coming up for renewal,” he said.
“The property owners in those areas, they don’t know. Every business owner and property owner in Melbourne has this increased uncertainty due to the government’s refusal to release the list of locations being evaluated.”
Researchers call for more rooms
Australia has only two supervised injecting facilities; in Sydney’s Kings Cross (opened in 2001) and in North Richmond (in 2018).
They are designed to benefit vulnerable and marginalised people who inject drugs and are particularly aimed at people who inject drugs in public settings.
Recent research from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre suggested it’s not just the CBD that should house a safe injecting facility.
It found that more facilities should be considered across metropolitan Melbourne to overcome the distance barrier for people to access the service.
Upper House MP and Reason Party leader Fiona Patten told CBD News that while the issue was at times divisive, constituents on the whole recognised it as positive.
“Obviously there is always a range of views on progressive measures, but the evidence is that safe-injecting rooms not only reduce harm, they save many lives and the majority of the community supports such harm-reduction measures,” she said.
“Crucially, three-in-four people seeking help through using these facilities engage with services that help them find and remain on a path to recovery.”
CBD safe injecting room report: Timeline
- July 2020: Ken Lay AO APM appointed to determine the best CBD site for Victoria’s second safe injecting facility. Report due “by the end of 2020”.
- November 2020: Timeline “has not changed”, according to government.
- December 2020: Mr Lay requests to “extend consultation into the New Year”, which the government accepts.
- Early 2021: Government scraps “preffered site” on Victoria St.
- May 2021: Mr Lay tells the City of Melbourne the report is likely to be completed “in the next eight to 12 weeks”. The council backs room in the CBD.
- May 2022: No funds in budget for injecting room but government commits to releasing report by end of year.
- August 2022: Premier Daniel Andrews says report now expected in early 2023.