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Australia: For Users, Writing Is On The Wall

Media Awareness Project27 Apr 2000

The Age, (Australia)

Australia: For Users, Writing Is On The Wall

By Sally Finlay, Urban Affairs Reporter

In the grounds of Wesley Mission in central Melbourne a small shed has a sign that reads: “This is not yet an injecting facility.”Now that independent MP Russell Savage has stated his opposition to injecting rooms, it looks unlikely to ever become one.

Wesley Mission yesterday urged Mr Savage to further consider backing a carefully controlled trial between now and the spring session of Parliament, when he will cast a vote on the controversial legislation.

“Mr Savage is right when he says something is going very wrong – there is a very serious heroin problem,” said Judy Leitch,the managing director of Wesley Mission in Melbourne.

Wesley has spent $400,000 on an injecting facility that remains unopened in the Lonsdale Street church grounds.

Ms Leitch said supervised injecting facilities were one part of an overall drug strategy and her recent tour of European cities had convinced her that Australia should commit itself to a trial.

“We heard from city council officers that communities who were initially opposed to them are now very supportive of them,” she said.

On the other side of the building that Wesley has designated for an injecting room a different sign was painted. In large green letters it said: “Residents say no.” By the time The Age left, the sign was already being painted over.

Last week Ross, who says he has been a heroin user for 14 years – almost half his life at 30 – had reason to believe the small shed and adjoining building would become a room where he could use heroin privately and safely.

“It wouldn’t be in any one’s face then,” he said. “You wouldn’t get stood over by someone threatening to bash you for your hit and it would help save lives.”

Yesterday Ross said the response from Mr Savage to the recommendations in the Penington report was disappointing. “He probably has no idea what goes on, most of them (politicians) wouldn’t,” he said.

Ross and fellow user Karen, 29, said they would both use an injecting room, and now use laneways because there is no alternative. “It would clean up the dirty needles you see everywhere and make it safer for everyone,” said Karen.

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