A Heroin Injecting Room Experiment
It had inauspicious beginnings, 10 years ago.
The Howard Government was opposed and may have had the power to over-rule it. A part of the United Nations attacked us. The State Opposition, having just suffered a big defeat, denounced us for taking risks with lives. The nuns of the Sisters of Charity wanted to be part of it but church conservatives ordered them away.
On the other hand South Sydney Council said they wanted it and some workers in drug rehabilitation in Kings Cross were champions of the idea.
At the end of the 1999 drug summit convened by the government in parliament house two ministers, Craig Knowles and John Della Bosca, stood in my office with a proposal for a medically supervised injecting room and persuaded me. The ultimate argument ? It might just save lives – the lives of people who are using heroin until a time ( often their late 30s ) when they get sick of it and decide to make a break with that life. We need to sustaint them till they reach that point.
The facility, as my government designed it, would be a gateway to treatment. It would mean paramedics would not be called to dark carparks or back alleys to rescue a victim of an overdose at the risk of needlestick injury to themselves. By taking injecting indoors it would mean the streets of Kings Cross would be improved.
All this has happened, as we confirmed at a gathering of 400 supporters of the centre who gathered in Sydney last night. An estimated 90 lives have been saved and Kings Cross improved. Not the Sisters of Charity but the Kirketon Centre ended up running the centre and with their professionalism answered all the critics, or almost all.
As a politician I had the job of leading public opinion to accept this measured experiment. The public responded positively even as Rightwing media thumped away in opposition and Howard denounced it. The public understood what we were doing.
It remains the only centre of its type in Australia and last year Kristina Keneally legislated to put it on a permanent statuory basis, no longer classed as an experiment. The challenge is now with Barry O’Farrell who on two occasions voted against it in the parliament but whose minister made positive comments last night.