“It’s the Gold Coast,” commented Justice John Byrne after hearing the details of a recent court case, in which two underage girls were supplied drugs by an infamous Gold Coast nightclub owner.
These four words capture the perception of the Gold Coast among both tourists and locals - a region that battles with a reputation for drug trade, gangs and violence.
So how much drug crime is there in this area?
The issue is most pronounced in the Moncrieff electorate, which is one of three federal seats on the Gold Coast, alongside Fadden in the north and McPherson in the south and west. Parts of the Wright electorate also fall within the Gold Coast City Council’s boundaries.
Moncrieff, which includes the suburbs of Broadbeach, Southport, Surfers Paradise and Nerang, was host to more than half (51%) of the city’s drug crime.
Between March 2015 and March 2016, Surfers Paradise had 1674 drug related offences recorded in the suburb, 16% of the Gold Coast’s total drug offences.
Drug crime statistics in Moncrieff and on the Gold Coast, broken down by suburb. Data source: Queensland Police Service Crime Map.
With a population of nearly 556,000 people and growing, the Gold Coast’s laid-back lifestyle and rich cultural diversity mean the city welcomed more than 900,000 international tourists in 2015, and Moncrieff (with a population of 150,000) is the main playground for both tourists and locals.
Since opening in 2014, the Gold Coast’s light rail system has connected the major tourist areas of Main Beach, Southport, Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach - all of which fall in the Moncrieff electorate. With world-famous beaches and notorious nightlife precincts, these suburbs are hotspots for nightlife and entertainment.
Yet it’s in the shadows of these suburbs, behind closed doors where the neon lights of the skyscrapers can’t quite reach, that a social problem not shown on our postcards thrives.
As Bond University criminologist and former police officer Dr Terry Goldsworthy points out, there’s more to the Gold Coast’s drug problem than meets the eye.
“I think that the drug market on the Gold Coast is alive and well,” Dr Goldsworthy said.
He said although a lot of the focus of the public discussion of the problem centered around bikies, the issue was more complex.
“There’s been a lot of focus on [bikies], but I think in reality, crime groups and individuals are playing bigger roles," he said. "I think the figures speak for themselves.”
Gold Coast doctor Michael Thomas has seen firsthand the impacts of drug use, and how quickly the problem is developing.
“I think the drug problem on the Gold Coast is changing,” Dr Thomas said.
“Five, ten years ago everyone was surrounded with drugs like marijuana, speed and ecstasy, whereas now ice is taking over," he said. "Because of the psychosis that comes with taking ice, many of those using it are filling up the emergency rooms.”