Aussie PM tackles 'ice' crisis

$308m strategy to focus on prevention and treatment while tackling sources

SYDNEY • Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday unveiled a new A$300 million (S$308 million) strategy to combat the growing use of crystal methamphetamine, following a government report that Australia has proportionally more users than most countries.

The new funding marks a shift towards prevention and treatment in addressing the "ice" scourge, with Mr Turnbull saying that law enforcement efforts to tackle its supply needed to be coupled with reducing demand.

"The responsibility for tackling this very complex problem can't be left to the police alone," Mr Turnbull said.

He said the new funding - based on recommendations by the National Ice Taskforce to boost support for families, communities and front-line workers affected by ice use - would be channelled mostly to primary health networks.

"Proportionally, Australians use more methamphetamine, including ice, than almost any other country," Mr Turnbull said.

He added that the use of ice had doubled since 2007 to more than 200,000 users in 2013, with anecdotal evidence of higher current numbers.

Consumption of the drug in regional, rural and indigenous communities had also risen, the taskforce report said, with the new funding set to improve access to treatment for users in remote areas.

The taskforce called for stronger intelligence coordination between states and territories and tougher security to stem the influx of the drug, as international crime syndicates were attracted by the top prices which Australians pay for illegal substances.

"The enormous amount that we pay for ice here means that organised criminal gangs, literally from all over the world, have an interest in the Australian market," Justice Minister Michael Keenan said.

"Mexican crime gangs, Iranian dealers, distribution networks from west Africa, and Chinese organised crime gangs as well, because we know that China is a very significant transhipment point for this drug," he said.

An Australian Crime Commission report published earlier this year found that while US$80 (S$112) bought 1g of ice in China, users in Australia paid US$500 for the same amount.

Mr Keenan said federal police were already working with China's narcotics control bureau.

Criminal intelligence officers were also embedded with their counterparts in the United States, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates to pursue the gangs, he added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2015, with the headline 'Aussie PM tackles 'ice' crisis'. Print Edition | Subscribe