As published in the Herald Sun, 25 June 2021, p56
If you asked any passer by what they think of when they think of Melbourne, it’s likely that top of that list will be our rich café culture and iconic laneways.
Degraves Street, opposite Flinders Street Station in the Melbourne CBD, is a pioneer of this quintessentially ‘Melbourne’ experience.
Lined with nostalgic restaurants and the distinctive Parisian umbrellas shading tables out the front of timeless cafes, it’s an idyllic place to pass the day – for locals and tourists alike.
The State Government recently purchased the Yooralla building, located on Flinders St just a few steps from Degraves St and in the heart of our tourist hub, in what it’s attempting to claim is supposedly an everyday acquisition.
Except it’s not.
Behind the scenes, the Labor Government has also been scouting sites for its second drug injecting room.
It comes as problems continue to plague the first injecting room trial site.
A man found dead at school drop off time in a park near the Richmond West Primary School, which is located next to the Richmond drug injecting room.
A man allegedly found wielding a knife on the school grounds, sending children, staff and parents into lockdown for their own safety.
Dozens of arrests for drug offences in a police crackdown in the local area in May this year.
Destruction of the liveability and amenity of the community, with reports of needles and other drug paraphernalia littering the streets, as well as drug users regularly found unconscious, dealing, defecating and urinating next to the primary school.
Local parents, families and traders are furious.
These problems still haven’t been fixed, so it’s no wonder Melbourne City councillors, Degraves St traders and local residents are fighting the Labor Government’s plan for a second injecting room on their doorstep.
Why would you take what has not worked in North Richmond and put it into Melbourne’s heart, the gateway to our city?
This is the wrong idea. Especially at a time when small businesses are on their knees after four lockdowns that forced traders to close their doors and sees foot-traffic and tourists vanish overnight – without warning.
One claim we regularly hear from Labor’s Ministers is that injecting rooms in Victoria should be located in drug crime hotspots.
Data published in the pages of this paper this week blows that claim out of the water.
Not only do the majority of Victorians oppose putting a drug injecting room opposite the busy Flinders Street Station, new figures from the Crime Statistics Agency show the site isn’t the epicentre of drug crime in the CBD.
It’s backed up by The Police Association’s Wayne Gatt, who says “Flinders Street is the wrong place to build a drug injecting room”.
The Flinders St site also has limited ability for ambulances to attend and a rear exit that will see drug-fuelled people wander straight onto Degraves Street.
Although this site is the wrong place for a drug injecting room, it has huge potential to change lives and save lives – without, as one Degraves Street trader put it, ‘killing the city’.
We must bring life back to the city, bring tourists back to the city, bring heart back to the city.
You can’t do that with a drug injecting room opposite Flinders Street Station.
I was on Degraves Street last week to announce the Liberal Nationals’ alternative plan for the site – as a mental health service that offers support to all Victorians struggling with their mental health.
This should include support services that help people get off drugs – not a centre dedicated to injecting them.
Let’s invest money in helping Victorians improve their mental health.
Even before the COVID pandemic, mental health statistics told a harrowing story.
There were 713 Victorians who didn’t made it through last year due to suicide. Alarmingly, 97 of these lives lost were young people.
There’s no doubt COVID has made the problems worse.
Four lockdowns, the time away from our loved ones, being unable to mourn the death of friends and family or celebrate milestones together, job losses – all coming together to turn our way of life, and our livelihoods, on its head.
Recent figures show that more than 6000 vulnerable Victorians were forced to wait more than eight hours in a hospital emergency room for a mental health bed.
The worsening data comes as the ratio of specialist mental health beds has declined, while almost one in four Victorians under the age of 18 who were admitted to hospital for mental health reasons are readmitted within 28 days of discharge.
Despite all their talk of significant mental health investment, the Labor Government has been slow to enact the mental health reform that Victorians so desperately need.
It’s time to stop talking about fixing Victoria’s mental health crisis and to actually get on and do it.