Second injecting room set for Melbourne

Published by the Herald Sun on 5 June 2020

The state government has sparked a war with the City of Melbourne over controversial plans to develop a second supervised injecting facility a stone’s throw from the Queen Victoria Market.

The City of Melbourne were left blindsided by the announcement by Premier Daniel Andrews today, with Lord Mayor Sally Capp calling an urgent meeting with the government.

Mr Andrews said the government’s preferred site for the facility was on Victoria St, between Swanston St and Elizabeth St, opposite one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.

“This is very important because it will save lives, I’m convinced of that,” Mr Andrews said.

It is understood Lord Mayor Sally Capp has been left angered by the surprise announcement, saying the City of Melbourne was not consulted.

“Many businesses and residents will have legitimate concerns about the location of the facility. I am focussed on ensuring their best interests and welfare are protected,” she said.

“The Government must demonstrate to the City of Melbourne and the local community why it believes this is an appropriate site. It’s critical that a thorough consultation process is undertaken.

“I acknowledge that such services are recommended by health experts as a way to save lives and reduce harm for people battling addiction.”

Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood said while he supported a harm minimisation approach to drug addiction he was outraged by the lack of consultation.

“I can’t see how a safe injecting room on the doorstep of Queen Vic Market, our nation-leading $100 billion central city economy, residents and businesses makes any sense,” he said.

“This area is forecast for 20,000 new residents and is identified as an innovation jobs precinct, home to thousands of jobs and millions in gross local product.”

The proposal has also been slammed by the Police Association as “deeply concerning” and “bordering on irresponsible”.

“Our members, who police the immediate precinct around the Richmond North facility, have emphatically told us that it’s directly responsible for a spike in a whole raft of crimes in the area, including theft, burglaries and drug use in vehicles,” association secretary Wayne Gatt said.

“These concerns, which have repeatedly been echoed by the local community, are validated by crime statistics.

“For the government to ignore the serious concerns of those who have endured this experience by doubling down, not only to continue operating the Richmond North facility, but also establishing a second facility in the heart of the CBD without any consultation, is disappointing in the extreme, bordering on irresponsible.”

The comments directly contradicted support of the announcement by incoming chief commissioner Shane Patton who said he was “supportive of the trials”.

“It’s stopping people dying. That’s what it’s about,” Mr Patton said.

“We’re very comfortable with the medically supervised injecting room trials continuing.”

Legislation will need to pass parliament to establish the second site, while the two-year trial of the state’s first injecting room, in North Richmond, will also be extended.

There have been more than 119,000 visits to the North Richmond site and at least 21 lives saved.

The facility has handled 3200 overdoses and no one has died.

A review into the centre has told the government the preferred site for a second site was Cohealth Central City on Victoria Street, a short walk from the Queen Victoria Market.

Market stallholder Mark Scott, owner of Bill’s Farm Deli and representative for the market’s Dairy Hall, said the proposal had raised significant concerns.

“The general consensus here is that there are concerns over security and money because a lot of cash is kept here”, Mr Scott said.

“It’s such a popular place with tourists and for first-time visitors.”

“People just want to feel safe at the market.”

Other traders are understood to feel concerned about how the facility would impact the feel around the market area.

City of Yarra councillor Stephen Jolly welcomed the announcement, saying the facility would take some pressure off Richmond residents.

“Unless you’re going to put it out in the desert it’s always going to be close to people,” he said.

“The choice is you have a supervised facility and have people use it, or you don’t and it just happens on the street. People are going to take drugs.”

David Horseman, spokesman for North Richmond residents groups MRAC, said the announcement confirmed the considerable impact on the neighbourhood of the injection room.

“It’s also an acknowledgment of the large numbers of people coming into the area and that 80 per cent of visitors were from elsewhere,’’ Mr Horseman

But one resident said the decision to continue the operation of the Richmond injection room meant her family would leave the suburb in the coming months.

“Sad but a choice we need to make for our family,’’ she said.

John Ryan, one of the three-member independent panel which reviewed the North Richmond room, said an extension of the trial was appropriate to deal with the overdose crisis in Richmond.

“At the same time, announcing a second injecting room in the Melbourne CBD is the right and sensible way to continue reducing overdoses while also responding to community needs and concerns.”

Mr Ryan, who is chief executive of the Penington Institute. said the $9 million for community upgrades in Richmond recognised that creating injecting rooms alone was not enough.

“It is only by investing in communities that we will succeed in saving Victorian lives.”

Queen Victoria Market chief executive Stan Liacos said he learnt of the proposal for a second injection room near the market when it was announced by the Premier.

“We await further details from the Victorian government and will seek advice from the City of Melbourne,’’ Mr Liacos said.

Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association executive officer Sam Biondo welcomed the announcement saying that “the surging tide of heroin harms” highlighted the need for a second facility.

The state’s first injecting room opened in 2018, despite the prospect of the injecting room being consistently rejected by Premier Daniel Andrews.

But he changed his mind in late 2017 after the overdose deaths of 34 people in nearby streets, saying the government could no longer “stubbornly continue with a policy that’s just not working”.

“When you have expert after expert, law enforcement, doctors, people who’ve spent their entire life providing drug and alcohol support to a very vulnerable group of people and then of course when you hear stories of families that will never again be whole families where there is a loved one missing, that grief, that burden, that tragedy is with those families, every minute of every day – you have to rethink things and that’s what we did,” he said today.

Victorian Ambulance Union secretary Danny Hill also noted the facility’s figures so far, saying there’s not yet been “one life lost”.

“We have the best paramedics in the world here in Victoria. But they can never save the amount of lives the injecting facility will save from overdose.”