Aussie suburb hiding dark problem
THE sweeping St Kilda esplanade curves towards the bay from Acland St, past the gaping mouth of Luna Park and the unmistakeable facade of the Palais Theatre where fans of live music have been serenaded since the 1920s.
Then the soft white sand appears and it's clear why this part of Melbourne is so popular.
Just a short tram ride from the CBD, St Kilda is part bohemian, part beach retreat, part bustling cafe scene. But the shine comes off when you dig a bit deeper.
The problem with St Kilda is drugs. It's been that way for decades but nothing is changing.
Between 2009 and 2015, there were 132 deaths by drug overdose in the area, a rate that puts it second only behind the City of Yarra.
The City of Port Phillip, which encompasses St Kilda, Albert Park, Elwood, Windsor and Ripponlea, was visited almost twice as often as metropolitan Melbourne last year by ambulance workers treating patients for illicit drug use.
And there were two-and-a-half times more hospital admissions from drug use in the Port Phillip area last year than in metropolitan Melbourne.
Heroin and ice are the main problems, but what's the solution?
If you ask Jarryd Bartle, the Reason Party candidate for Albert Park and former adviser for several Victorian governments, the solution is simple.
Mr Bartle, 29, is in favour of setting up Melbourne's second medically supervised injecting room in St Kilda. The government opened a safe injecting room at North Richmond in July.
Mr Bartle is the only candidate for Albert Park who supports such a measure. Neither incumbent Labor MP Martin Foley or Liberal challenger Andrew Bond want anything to do with the proposal.
Mr Bond went so far as to tell news.com.au it would "attract more ice users to St Kilda" and "be a disaster for the suburb".
Mr Foley, also the Health Minister, said there are currently no plans to "expand the trial (at North Richmond) to other locations".
But Mr Bartle says it's the only thing that will help.
"We know drug-related harms are concentrated in that area. St Kilda is the main area of harm," he said.
"We know from the Kings Cross centre (in Sydney) as well as from centres overseas that medically supervised injecting rooms prevent drug-related deaths, reduce syringes in public places and limit the spread of bloodborne viruses.
"In just a couple of months of operation, the North Richmond injecting room has had over 8000 visits and saved at least 140 lives. We need to expand this vital service to areas in need."
Mr Bond said residents and traders have "had enough of the problems being caused by ice users on our streets" and "complaints to the local member have been ignored".
But he refutes the idea that a safe injecting room is the solution.
"Under no circumstances should a facility that would attract more ice users to St Kilda even be considered until a plan to resolve the current crime and safety issues in St Kilda is devised and implemented.
"Introducing an ice injecting facility to St Kilda given the issue at present would be a disaster for this suburb."
The Victorian coroner in August revealed that fatal heroin overdoses had reached a 17-year high.
Drug-related crime in St Kilda is such a problem that the Andrews Government funded CCTV cameras for Little Grey St where, according to the Herald Sun, "crime has surged since the closure of the infamous Gatwick Hotel in nearby Fitzroy St".
Victoria Police Chief Graham Ashton once said drug use in St Kilda made dealers so much money they didn't need to work.
"We're hearing it's easier for them to deal drugs than to deal with the bureaucracy of Centrelink," he said. "It's easier to steal than to earn."
In February, 400,000 people will cram into the bayside suburb for the St Kilda Festival. Drug use at the festival is a given. Mr Bartle said the festival presents another opportunity to debate the merits of pill testing.
"We know pill testing changing drug-taking behaviour," he said.
"It means people aren't going to take drugs that are going to do them harm. We can lecture them about their poor decisions after we've kept them alive."