The Coalition’s harsh cuts to funds supporting alcohol and illicit drug treatment, including services for ice addiction, are having a particularly severe impact in the Illawarra.
The cynical “rationalising and streamlining” of health programmes will see close to $800 million cut from the Health Flexible Funds, which includes funds supporting alcohol and illicit drug rehabilitation and treatment as well as prevention strategies.
The Coalition’s mishandling of NGO treatment grants has also caused a funding crisis. Services are unable to plan for the future, retain staff and plan for the future. The delay in extending this funding and the fact that it was only extended for one year meant that many service providers saw it as a stay of execution.
Labor’s spokesperson for alcohol and other drugs policy, Stephen Jones, visited the Watershed Drug & Alcohol Recovery and Education Centre in Wollongong today and said that local citizens should be demanding better from Canberra.
“People in the Illawarra want the services available to help them get on top of alcohol and illicit drug use, including ice addiction.
“We need to get our priorities right. Although it is important to warn Australians about the dangers of ice, it is hard to justify spending $20 million on a graphic TV ad campaign when treatment services are crying out for funding certainty. Similarly, establishing a ‘Dob in a Dealer’ hotline seems a little generous when rehabilitation beds aren’t available in the Illawarra.”
Stephen Jones said that without properly funded treatment services in the local area problems associated with alcohol and illicit drug use will worsen.
“There is a severe shortage of available beds in treatment facilities across Australia as demand increases and the situation in the Illawarra is critical.
“Watershed turned away over 300 people last year due to excess demand for service.”
Recently, the CEO of Watershed, Will Temple, spoke out about the pressures his organisation is facing and said that the future of the service was in jeopardy.
Mr Temple has seen a 150 per cent increase in people presenting with ice addiction over the past four years. He said that he was still in the dark about federal funding for Watershed.
“We continue to lose skilled and experienced staff because I cannot promise them employment beyond June 30 next year.
“Our staff work with some of the most disadvantaged members of our community, the majority of them have serious substance use issues combined with multiple co-existing complex disorders. They really don’t need the added pressure and anxiety of having to worry about their futures.”
“More and more people are approaching Watershed to get treatment for their substance misuse problems.
“We turned away over 300 people last year due to excess demand for service. We can’t help people turn their lives around if our funding situation isn’t secure in the long-term.”
Right now workers on the frontline in the Illawarra are doing their best with one arm tied behind their back.
The workers at Watershed and the people they are trying to help have been abandoned by the federal Coalition.