Five weeks ago, Bill Shorten visited Cherie and Trevor Dell in their Sydney home to talk about how medicinal cannabis is helping their three-year-old daughter Abbey. The very next day, the police came knocking.
Abbey suffers from a rare genetic disorder known as CDKL5, which results in constant violent seizures.
They tried every legal medicine and treatment under the sun but found that nothing worked. Eventually, desperate to relieve Abbey’s suffering, they turned to the underground suppliers that provide illegal medicinal cannabis oil to families in need across the country.
Before the cannabis treatments, Abbey suffered dozens of seizures every day, with some of them lasting 45 minutes.
“Now we have possibly one per day and some days are seizure-free,” said Mrs Dell. “It has definitely helped.”
The transformation was so remarkable that the couple started thinking about how they could use it to help their other five children, all of whom suffer from disorders such as autism and ADHD.
After doing some research – and just before the Opposition Leader came to visit – they decided to start Abbey’s older brother on the same oil.
Before the cannabis, the boy was destructive and violent, often uncontrollable, they said – but as soon as he started the treatment he calmed down, got his emotions under control and started learning in school.
Mrs Dell believes someone at their son’s school notified the police.
They came on a Saturday, when she was out. Mr Dell let them in and admitted: yes, two of our children are using cannabis oil.
The couple believe that if Mr Shorten hadn’t just visited, things could have gone very differently.
Mr Dell showed police the pictures of the politician in their living room.
“They turned around promptly and said ‘see you later, have a good night’,” Mrs Dell said.
The Coalition, Labor and the Greens all support the legalisation of medicinal cannabis but differ over how to go about it.
Mrs Dell is confident it will be legalised in the coming years. But she believes there should also be an immediate amnesty for families like hers, so they do not have to live in fear of the police.
“There is still that risk of being charged and having a criminal record,” she said. “There still is that chance – of them coming and saying, ‘too bad, we know that you’re in the media but it’s our job’.
“We need something done now. Not in a few years, not after the studies are done.”
An amnesty could also let them access respite care that is currently out of reach because they’re breaking the law.
Mr Shorten has since written to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, expressing concerns that the government’s policy will leave families at risk of prosecution. He is urging Mr Turnbull to establish nationally consistent laws rather than leave decriminalisation up to the states.
“A person’s access to pain relief should not be dictated by the state or territory that they live in,” Mr Shorten wrote.
Mr Turnbull has not responded.