Injecting room: No sign of report as council yet to receive assurances

By David Schout

A report that will recommend the CBD location of Victoria’s second safe injecting room will likely be pushed back into 2022, representing a delay of more than 12 months. 

The report, by former police commissioner Ken Lay, was originally due by the end of 2020, but it has been delayed several times.

Mr Lay told the City of Melbourne in May his report to the state government would likely be completed in “eight to 12 weeks”, and the government had also committed to a release by the end of the year. 

But the state has since steered clear of committing to that timeline. 

The report is significant as it will recommend the CBD site most appropriate for Victoria’s second supervised injecting room, after a 2020 expert panel declared that the state’s first site in North Richmond required help dealing with demand.

“No decision has been made regarding the final location for the Medically Supervised Injecting Room,” a government spokesperson told CBD News in November. 

“With around one person a month dying from heroin overdose in the City of Melbourne, there is a real and growing need for a community health and wellbeing hub. A second supervised injecting service will save lives and change lives.”

It is strongly suspected the former Yooralla building at 244 Flinders St, which the government purchased earlier this year, was the new “preferred site” for the new supervised injecting facility, although this was yet to be confirmed. 

The government said Mr Lay’s report had been delayed due to COVID-19, which limited consultation with stakeholders.

More significant, however, is that the government scrapped its preferred injecting room site more than six months into the former police commissioner’s consultation.

That facility — community health service Cohealth on Victoria St — was subject to strong pushback from the council due to its proximity to vulnerable residents and the Queen Victoria Market.

On May 25 this year, councillors voted seven to four to affirm its support for the government to house the state’s second safe injecting room within the CBD.

In the most passionate debate at Town Hall in years, a motion by Cr Roshena Campbell to outright reject the facility within the municipality was also defeated.

However, it has since emerged that assurances sought by the council that night have not been met by the state government.

Councillors requested that Lord Mayor Sally Capp write to Health Minister Martin Foley to seek an “ongoing and formal commitment” from the government that, regardless of the injecting room location, there would be “no impact on amenity to surrounding residents, businesses and other visitors” and that “impacted residents and traders are invited to participate in an ongoing consultation process” with the government. 

It is understood these assurances have not been met. 

The council also confirmed it had not seen Mr Lay’s report. 

While the decision to open a safe injecting facility in the CBD is ultimately a state government decision, as the key stakeholder the council’s approval is vital. 

A recent report from the Coroners Court of Victoria has revealed that on average, at least one person died in the City of Melbourne each month during 2020 from heroin-related causes.

In 2020, 13 people died from heroin overdoses within the municipality — the second-highest number in the state, behind Brimbank (17).

Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association (VAADA) executive officer Sam Biondo told CBD News in August that the evidence overwhelmingly supported medically-supervised injecting rooms (MSIRs).

“Unless you want people using [drugs] publicly, impacting the amenity negatively, and dying in the streets, having a good evidence-based facility will reduce all that,” Mr Biondo said •

CBD safe injecting room report: Timeline

  • June 2020: Ken Lay AO APM appointed to undertake consultation and determine best CBD location for Victoria’s second safe injecting facility. Report due “by the end of 2020”.
  • November 2020: Timeline “has not changed”, according to government.
  • December 2020: Mr Lay requests to “extend consultation into the New Year”, which the government accepts. 
  • May 2021: Mr Lay tells City of Melbourne report is likely to be completed “in the next 8-12 weeks”.
  • November 2021: Government won’t commit to report being released by the end of 2021. “No decision has been made” regarding the final location.

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