Second Reading – Narcotic Drugs Legislation Amendment Bill 2016, Narcotic Drugs (Licence Charges) Bill 2016
Mr PITT (Hinkler—Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment) (18:33): It is always good to follow the member for Whitlam. I thank him for his brief contribution. I have a suitably brief contribution to make myself on the Narcotic Drugs Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 and a related bill.
Can I say at the outset that there has been a very unusual champion of this legislation in the former member for Hinkler, Paul Neville, who has some personal circumstances in which one of his grandchildren suffers from severe epileptic seizures. As a staunch conservative, the former member for Hinkler has been very supportive and very outspoken on the need for this legislation, and I certainly commend him for his actions.
The primary purpose of this legislation is to put in place protections for information provided by law enforcement agencies used in decision-making under the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967. Without these protections, law enforcement agencies will not provide to the Commonwealth the information necessary to prevent criminal elements from infiltrating the scheme for the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Amendments to the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967, administered by the Office of Drug Control within the Department of Health, will enable the cultivation of medicinal cannabis. The ODC is accepting licence applications from individuals or businesses right now. There are three types of licences relating to the supply of medicinal cannabis products. They are: the medicinal cannabis licence authorising cultivation or production or both; the cannabis research licence authorising a similar process for research purposes; or a manufacturing licence authorising the manufacture of a drug or product. Before any activity under a licence can commence, the licensee will need to obtain a permit. This will set out the types and amount of cannabis that can be grown and/or produced, and the types and quantities of medicinal cannabis products that can be manufactured under the said licence.
All applicants for licences under the medicinal cannabis framework will be subject to regulation. Licensing decisions on the cultivation of cannabis plants, production of cannabis or cannabis resins, and the manufacture of drugs are underpinned by a ‘fit and proper person’ test and other tests that are designed to exclude those that may represent a risk of diversion of the cannabis crop because of their criminal history or criminal activities. These regulations also include an applicant’s criminal history, financial viability, business history and capacity to comply with the licensing requirements. Sensitive law enforcement information will be used for the purposes of making licensing decisions under the Narcotic Drugs Act.
We should not forget that cannabis is an illicit drug. It does have a high street value. The legal cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes may be attractive to those criminal elements looking to profit by diverting some or all of the crop to illegal uses. In addition, prohibited substances that are narcotic drugs authorised to be manufactured under the Narcotic Drugs Act may also be subject to this diversion risk. It is essential to take all possible actions to prevent the infiltration of organised crime into the medicinal cannabis framework or into the manufacture of narcotic drugs. In order to achieve this, extensive background checks of the individuals involved in cannabis cultivation and the manufacturing enterprises will be required.
Information such as conviction history and noncompliance with requirements under the Narcotic Drugs Act is accessible. It is either publicly available or held by the Commonwealth. However, other information may be intelligence gathered by, and known only to, law enforcement agencies. Therefore the protection of this information would give law enforcement agencies confidence that they can share pertinent information that will not be released to the applicant or to third parties, thus protecting ongoing criminal investigations, investigation techniques and, very importantly, the lives of those involved in those investigations. This bill also includes provisions to allow the secretary to refuse to grant a licence where the applicant has provided false or misleading information, and also allows for the revocation of licences and permits where applicable standards are not met. Allowing for the creation and existence of a legitimate industry to ensure that Australia patients can get access to medicinal cannabis products provides a benefit to that industry by opening a new market for commercial cultivation, manufacture and sale of medicinal cannabis products.
The global supplies of cannabis for medicinal purposes are relatively scarce and expensive. This legislation will allow Australia to develop a safe, legal and sustainable local supply of cannabis for medicinal or scientific purposes. In turn, this will support greater local opportunities to research, develop, manufacture and supply medicinal cannabis based products for suitable products. Other benefits of a local supply include a potential new agricultural industry within Australia, similar to that already established for the use of Australian-grown poppies for medicinal and scientific purposes.
In my electorate of Hinkler there is already a company that has been breeding ultra-low-THC industrial hemp plants since 1998. Agri Fibre Industries has developed of a range of plants for food, fibre and other uses, including medicinal cannabis. With these changes to the legislation and the introduction of the licensing system, innovative firms like Agri Fibre realise there is potential for new industry in the region. This Bundaberg based company has explored making building products from hemp, which could make inroads into environmentally sustainable buildings. They have also considered the potential of low-THC hemp for food production. Some of its breeds, including large seed varieties, can be grown all year round. I hope that innovative companies such as Agri Fibre Industries are well-placed now to grab this opportunity with both hands and see what develops. If it results in a new agricultural industry, which would mean more jobs, I hope it happens in my part of the world.
The amendments already made to the Narcotics Drugs Act 1967, as well as the legislation I am speaking to today, show that Australia is on track to have a nationally-consistent licensing scheme regulating the controlled cultivation of cannabis for medicinal or scientific processes. It is another example of this government taking on challenging reforms, and it has been challenging. We will deliver sensible changes that will benefit Australians in need. It shows that this government is doing exactly what we promised: we are delivering. I commend the bill to the House.