Question without notice
My question is for the Minister for Mental Health. The establishment of a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre in my electorate has been on the agenda for quite some time.
It was initially flagged more than two years ago for a site in Mooroopna; later it moved to Numurkah. In July this year VCAT overturned a decision by Moira Shire Council to block a permit for the facility to be made on various planning grounds. The reputed ice epidemic affecting our young people, the ongoing and well-known issues of alcohol addiction and the overall lack of residential treatment facilities in regional Victoria make this really important. The permit for the facility requires construction to commence within two years. Minister, what is the current position of the government in relation to ensuring that such a facility is established in my electorate?
Mr Foley, Minister for Health:
I thank the honourable member for Shepparton for her question and for her leadership in making sure that this nationwide issue of alcohol and particularly drug addiction gets the support that it quite rightly should at all levels of our community.
The honourable member for Shepparton was describing the process that surrounded an application by the Australian Community Support Organisation (ACSO), which has gone through a series of iterations as one of our leading community providers across a whole range of social community services. ACSO have led a proposal that has gone through a series of iterations now and, as the honourable member quite rightly says, that is reflected in a recent VCAT decision. That VCAT decision allows this development to go ahead under the conditions that the honourable member referred to. There cannot be a more serious issue in this state. I know that the honourable member for South-West Coast has this view, and I know the honourable member for East Gippsland has this view. This is a particular issue that is ravaging our regional communities, in fact more so than it does in Melbourne metropolitan areas, and that is in fact a high benchmark that, sadly, those and other communities have passed.
In the Hume region, which encompasses the honourable member for Shepparton’s electorate, for some time now the number of referrals to support agencies for illicit drugs have passed referrals for alcohol. This is a major issue, particularly in the honourable member’s electorate. That is why as part of our most recent budget we allocated $9.7 million for the delivery of land for dedicated new residential rehabilitation facilities in the Hume region, in the Barwon region and in the Gippsland region. In terms of how that is playing out, I can inform the honourable member that my department is well and truly aware of that recent decision. We are well and truly aware from discussions that have been going on with ACSO as the proponent of that application of what that means.
What I just reflect on is that this is an issue that transcends, you would like to think, daily partisan politics. These facilities are there for any Victorian, whether it is our children, whether it is our partners, whether it is our family members or whether it is our community members. The fact that this is a particular issue in our regional communities is a focus of this government, as it rolls out a doubling of residential rehabilitation beds. It is important to recognise that when we came to government there were 208 beds for residential rehabilitation support in Victoria, and by the time this political cycle ends in a little over 12 months there will be 420 beds in the system.
Minister, I think it is fair to say that there is wide recognition that we need drug rehabilitation services in regional Victoria, but there is also a really strong tendency to say, ‘Not in my backyard’. There are local concerns in my electorate about where such a facility should go, so I am just wondering whether you can provide any sorts of resources or outline processes which your government might be able to provide to try to address the issues around location and also the mitigation of the sorts of risks that communities raise.
Yes, the honourable member is right. Sadly there is too much of the kneejerk reaction. Communities at one level have an understandable concern about addiction services coming into their community, but when we see these services land and when we see these services properly negotiated and supported in the community, we see community support.
I understand that the recent VCAT process in the honourable member’s community saw some of that community opposition, and I am aware in recent days of some of that community opposition. I undertake to the honourable member that our department, the proponents of the scheme, which will bring in other partners — reputable partners, as I understand it, who have a long and proud history of success in this difficult and challenging space — will work with the honourable member, her community and her local areas to make sure that community support is built for this important project.