By Michael Giles

IT’S time that State Government authorities cleared up one thing for the people of Wonthaggi and Bass Coast, a concern that revolves around the use and abuse of that most hideous of drugs, Ice.
Every region in the state has a problem with drugs, we accept that.
Well, that is to say, we understand it, we don’t accept it!
But there is a perception locally that there was a significant escalation in the availability and use of drugs, particularly Ice, from the time construction on the Wonthaggi Desalination Plant stated in October 2009.
And that the hangover from those heady days includes a trailing problem with Ice use that is well in excess of the started average, possibly high within the local trades.
It stands to reason.
It’s a perception locally, that’s supported by anecdotal accounts of drugs being much more available generally at the time, of people being able to buy drugs on site at the project, including Ice, and of people even going out into the carparks at lunchtime and smoking Ice.
There were random alcohol and drug tests performed on site but we are told by people who worked there, or provided contracted services to the project, that these were isolated rather than the constant testing carried out at mining and major private construction sites.
We’d like to see data on the amount of testing carried out, for example.
At the height of construction on the desal plant, the workforce peaked at 4500 people and the majority of them were living at least part of the week in the local area.
A total of 10,500 people worked on the project over the period from October 2009 to its completion in December 2012. It’s a big number and there would have been significant impacts – good and bad.
There should have been a comprehensive report done that described those local impacts. Perhaps there was a report but if it looked at the problems left behind in the local area, including drug abuse, after the temporary workforce departed, we’ve never seen it.
Is the problem with Ice in Bass Coast worse than that being experienced in comparable country areas in the state?
How many towns have, for example, had shots fired into an occupied domestic shed by masked men?
Is the use of the drug Ice indicated in a higher percentage of cases coming before the courts out of Bass Coast than in other country areas in Victoria? It certainly is heavily indicated in domestic violence and other crime in this area, we know that.
It’s important this concern is cleared up once and for all because if there is even a scintilla of evidence that the desal project has added to our drug problem, there needs to be action taken.
In the first instance, there would need to be a larger and more sophisticated police presence in the area to bring the problem back to a reasonable level, not just rounding up the users and local traffickers, but also the manufacturers and big operators because the reality is that most of the Ice is coming into the area from outside.
Next there would need to be a greater health and mental health support effort actually located in the Bass Coast area to deal with the problem.
Has the desal plant’s construction left us with a problem we can’t handle ourselves? It’s a fair question that we’d like answered.