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6PR Mornings with Gareth Parker



Subjects: ACT Cannabis laws

GARETH PARKER:  As he does most Thursdays, the Attorney-General, the Industrial Relations Minister, Christian Porter joins us. Christian, good morning.

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  Yeah. Morning, Gareth. How are you?

GARETH PARKER:  Yeah. Well. Thank you for your time. So, the ACT's move on cannabis is sort of the talk of the country. It's not the first time the ACT have struck out on their own on these things. We've seen them pass laws around voluntary assisted dying, which were overturned by the Commonwealth; on same-sex marriage, which were overturned by the Commonwealth. Do you intend to overturn these cannabis laws?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  Look, I'll have a look at them. I think the first point is that we actually can't find them on any website anywhere. I think they passed last night. We had some line of sight onto the original version of the bill. It was a private member's bill. It may have been amended by government members on the way through. But in its earliest form, like the way it was introduced, it simply withdrew, if you like, the laws that apply to amounts under 50 grams so there was no law that would apply. So therefore, you couldn't be charged under that law. But there are still Commonwealth laws that apply in the ACT for those amounts as a possession offence. So, I'm not quite sure what final form the bill has taken. I'm going to have a good look at it…


CHRISTIAN PORTER:  …in its final form.

GARETH PARKER:  So you haven't actually got the - you haven't been able to assess the actual legislation itself?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  No. No. I mean, oddly enough, this just doesn't seem to be available. It seems to have passed last night. And look, for West Australian listeners, the ACT, by population, is a very small place. I mean, it's not much bigger than large councils like the City of Stirling in WA. So they do go out on the edge on a lot of these sort of social crusades. Drugs is one of them. I must say I think this is personally a very bad idea. But nevertheless, they have a Parliament. We'll have a look at their legislation and reserve our position. But the most important thing is that if you're in the ACT waking up today and you want to possess marijuana, be careful because there are Commonwealth laws that still apply.

GARETH PARKER:  Would you expect- I mean, I presume it's up to the AFP to police those laws. Would you expect them to do so?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  Well, that's something that I will meet with them about and receive their views on. But my expectation would be that to the extent that a law of the Commonwealth is a valid law and applies, that it's enforced like any other law of the Commonwealth. So, that' something we'll be discussing with the AFP. But the expectation is that Commonwealth laws are enforced.

GARETH PARKER:  I mentioned voluntary assisted dying and also same-sex marriage. I mean, there's pretty clear precedents here for Commonwealth governments acting when territory laws are in conflict.

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  Yeah. I mean, there are precedents for it. I mean, they're three very different issues. But as I said, I'll have a look at the actual bill and see how it actually interacts with the Commonwealth law. But the first point and the most important point is that there is still Commonwealth law that applies to the ACT, where a person commits an offence if they possess a prohibited substance, which would include marijuana. So whether or not this law actually does what is seeks to do is an open question at the moment. Certainly, in its original form, the way it was introduced, it didn't seem to me that it, in any way…

GARETH PARKER:  [Talks over] Well-

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  …overrode the Commonwealth law, in that you would still be breaking the law if you possess marijuana.

GARETH PARKER:  What if the AFP turn a blind eye to it?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  Well, that won't be the expectation that we would have as a Government. But we'll talk to the AFP about that. But as I say, look, it's very early. I haven't even really seen a copy of the legislation yet and certainly there was no interaction with us before the law was passed, it just kind of happened.

GARETH PARKER:  Okay. You said earlier you think it's a bad idea. Why?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  Well, I mean I think marijuana and its use and its levels of addiction which are very high has been shown to cause enormous social problems, enormous problems for the individuals who use it and become addicted to it. So the idea that you can use any mount of it safely or that it doesn't lead to addiction and long term serious health consequences- to me, it's not a drug that you want to make easier to access and cheaper to access. I mean it's something that we should put every effort and resource into ensuring that people don't use, not pass laws which encourage people to use it. I think it's crazy.

GARETH PARKER:  That's not been the trend though, is it? In certainly, North America, you're seeing some American states start to go even much, much further than the ACT have gone. You're seeing it in Canada as well. Do you think that other Australian states will follow this path?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  Well look, you know places like California seem to me to be not quite the best examples about how we want to run policy in Australia. And I think this is a really dumb idea. I recall that it occurred, as a level of decriminalisation in WA where you were allowed to grow a certain number of plants and that was reversed.

GARETH PARKER:  [Interrupts] Yeah, it was the Government that you were a part of that reversed it.

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  Indeed. And I think that was the right thing to do. Look, this is a terribly dangerous drug, marijuana. It destroys individual lives. The documented, scientific evidence about the sustained use of it causing extreme mental health problems, including psychosis, is just beyond doubt. Why any jurisdiction would pass a law which effectively encourages more use of a drug like this is beyond me.

GARETH PARKER:  Would you be better off treating it as a health issue though, rather than a criminal justice issue?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  Well the two things aren't mutually exclusive. But where you have the ability to make something unlawful, and historically, marijuana in all other jurisdictions, its possession, its cultivation has been unlawful. You do that because you recognise that the health effects of its use are terrible. So one doesn't mean that you don't do the other. I mean of course, it's a health issue. But I think the starting point is the clear message from any responsible society that this is not a drug that we accept that people should be using.

GARETH PARKER:  Okay. I mean I'm sure you've seen the jokes doing the rounds already, about politicians in Canberra and, you know: we think they're on drugs anyway. Would you expect any MPs to take advantage of this ACT law when they descend on Canberra for sitting weeks?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  Well, I know The Daily Telegraph in Sydney had a massive picture of a joint above Commonwealth Parliament House, but it's not our law. I mean this is the law of the ACT Assembly. So look, I think that's a big stretch. I think what I'm concerned…

GARETH PARKER:  [Talks over] Who'd be most likely? Who'd be most likely? Which MPs would be most likely?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  Mate that is a matter for individual MPs but I'm not aware of any use of the substance around Parliament House.

GARETH PARKER:  [Interrupts] Not even the Greens?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  Well, I mean, who knows? But this is a serious issue for a place like the ACT. I mean do you want to have a jurisdiction in Australia that effectively encourages through the law the use of an extremely dangerous drug with capacity for long-term addiction and incredibly destructive health effects. Now, the answer that I had to that question when I was a State Attorney-General was: no, you shouldn't do that. My view is the same as a Commonwealth Attorney-General and we'll have a good look at the legislation.

GARETH PARKER:  Okay, sounds as you're not really keen on it at all then.


GARETH PARKER:  Alright. Thank you for your time this morning.

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  Okay. Cheers, mate.

GARETH PARKER:  Attorney-General Christian Porter.