Delayed response to drug use report due to ‘competing views’, NSW premier says

The New South Wales premier, Dominic Perrottet, has conceded there are “competing views” in his cabinet over a landmark inquiry that recommended the complete decriminalisation of drug possession.

Perrottet said his government would respond “very shortly” to the findings of the special commission into ice addiction – commissioned in 2018 – after the Guardian revealed there was still no response to the report.

On Monday, the report’s author, Dan Howard, a former NSW deputy senior crown prosecutor, said there had been no leadership from the government to stem addictions.

“There has been a complete lack of political courage and leadership in this regard,” he said.

The four-volume report of the inquiry, established by former premier Gladys Berejikian after a spate of ice-related deaths in 2018, called for an overhaul of drug laws. Howard recommended the complete decriminalisation of drug possession in the state as well as the expansion of medically supervised injection rooms and increased funding for rehabilitation.

But despite repeated promises, the government has yet to formally respond to the report. It is understood that there has been significant disagreement among ministers about Howard’s recommendations, something Perrottet conceded when asked on Tuesday.

“It was an extensive review and it requires an extensive response,” he said.

“They are complicated issues, the cabinet is considering them and we will have a response very shortly. Yes it has been a long time but when you’re talking about a technical area it’s important the government gets it right and that’s what I intend on doing alongside my cabinet colleagues.”

In a sign that a response may be forthcoming, Perrottet said the government had allocated “a significant amount” of funding to “provide support to the outcomes of that inquiry”.

“I won’t discuss matters that are before the cabinet [but] I can say the government is very close to a resolution on these matters,” he said.

“It’s better to take time [than] to rush into a resolution … these are complex issues and there are competing views.”

On Tuesday the NSW police commissioner, Karen Webb, alleged officers had “cut the head off the snake” of a criminal organisation after the arrest of 18 men.

The government was keen to talk up the early-morning raid in which more than $250,000 in cash, prohibited weapons, drugs, and 36 mobile phones were allegedly seized, for which police allege were being used to run a “dial-a-dealer” syndicate.

One of the phones had the contact details of more than 700 people, which the assistant police commissioner, Mick Fitzgerald, alleged was being used to generate about $250,000 a week in income through drug deals.

“People were contacting that phone asking for drugs,” Fitzgerald alleged.

The government announced an increase in police powers after a series of shootings in western Sydney. Howard said he believed successive “tough on crime” responses by the Coalition had failed to address the drivers of demand for illicit drugs by not responding to the causes of addiction.

Asked if he believed the arrests would stop the recent violence in Sydney’s west, Fitzgerald said only that he hoped that “people behave themselves”.

“But unfortunately police have to come in there and disrupt this crime when they need to,” he said.

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