Police not consulted over second safe injecting room

Published by Herald Sun on 19 May 2021

Victoria Police was not consulted about the location of Melbourne’s second drug- ­injecting room, the Herald Sun can reveal, as outraged traders warn the proposed Flinders Street site will trigger a “flood of druggies and addicts”.

The police union has also savaged the proposal, branding the consultation process “underhanded” and questioning why the state government would set up a second injecting room when it hadn’t got the one in North Richmond right.

The Herald Sun revealed on Monday Flinders Street had emerged as the preferred location for a city injecting room, with the government understood to have been in talks to buy the former Yooralla building ­opposite the rail station, listed at $45m-plus.

The online advertisement was removed on Tuesday, but the government said nothing had been finalised.

Sources have added the government has been offering Melbourne City Council “sweeteners” — possibly to be unveiled in Thursday’s budget — with talks of tax breaks for owners of vacant city properties and stamp duty savings for CBD apartment buyers.

Victoria Police, while involved in giving feedback about the police response for a second injecting room, was not involved in the site selection process being led by former chief commissioner Ken Lay.

“Victoria Police has not been involved in any process to select a preferred second medically supervised injecting room site,’’ the force said.

“We have been consulted and will continue to work with the state government and local council on the operation of the trial to address and reduce any safety or amenity impacts.

“Community safety remains the key priority for Victoria Police.”

Police Association Victoria secretary Wayne Gatt cautioned against the expansion of injecting rooms given the “clearly visible” negative impacts at North Richmond.

“The government hasn’t yet got the North Richmond facility right,’’ Mr Gatt said.

“When the government finds a community that is ­willing to have a facility of this kind in its neighbourhood, that is accepting of the increased risk and decreased amenity that it will cause, we will change our mind. Until then, we stand with the community.

“The government told the community it was running a trial in Richmond. That seems to be the beginning and end of public consultation.

“It did not tell the community it planned to do this in the heart of the CBD. It’s underhanded, the people who will be most impacted are the people who get no say.”

Mr Gatt added: “Ken Lay’s report should be made public, it should be seen by the people his decisions will most impact.

“The public and anyone else interested has the right to know what concerns were raised and why, before any final decisions are made.”

Mr Lay on Tuesday briefed Lord Mayor Sally Capp and fellow councillors.

He will submit a final consultation report to the government later this year, which will be made public.

“We share the legitimate concerns of residents and traders who are in the vicinity of the reported location of this ­facility,’’ Ms Capp said.

“The City of Melbourne has acknowledged that medically supervised injecting services save lives and the data shows the need for one to be located within the municipality.

“The government needs to clearly outline to the community how it plans to protect amenity and ensure safety and security through upgrading infrastructure and increasing services.

“A process to consider feedback from the local community needs to be established so everyone can participate and provide their views once a ­location for the facility has been announced.

“We will work with local residents and businesses to share their concerns through this process and advocate on their behalf.”

Sites in Carlton, King Street and further along Flinders Street towards Spencer Street were canvassed for the injecting room.

But it’s understood the former Yooralla building, at 244-248 Flinders Street, was attractive given it was for sale, away from residential towers and near drug hot spot ­Degraves Street, where 200 syringes are collected in a five litre sharps container each week.

Listing agent Colliers declined to comment.

Small Business Australia executive director Bill Lang, who has demanded the government compensate traders, said: “Where is the community consultation?

“The plan seems clear, does it not? Buy the building, open the injecting room and let the locals deal with it,’’ he said.

Out of the Closet clothing store owner David Lydiate, a few metres from the likely injecting room, has fears for his business.

“I don’t want to have to deal with druggies — I just want to trade,’’ he said. “There will be a flood of druggies and addicts that are going to affect us and affect our businesses.”

A state government spokeswoman said Mr Lay’s work around the preferred site was not finalised. “Mr Lay is consulting with health and drug reform experts and key stakeholders, including Victoria Police, to consider and provide advice to the Victorian Government on operations, safety and amenity, and other factors to support the success of the service,’’ she said.

The facility would provide community health services, with the injecting area taking up 10 per cent of floorspace.

It would likely have fewer than the 20 injecting booths at North Richmond.