16 June 2017

Please consider assisting Australia21

Some of you will know I chair an organisation called Australia21. We’re an independent, not for profit think tank promoting fair, sustainable and inclusive public policy through evidence-based research.
We tackle real-world social issues and environmental problems that defy simple solutions (so-called “wicked problems") and we think there are a lot of issues right now that need some evidence-based discussion, especially in this era of fake news and spin.
That is why I am posting this end-of-financial year request for your help.
Even though we run on a very tight budget, we’re able to achieve a great deal, thanks to our reputation as a respected non-partisan think tank, the expertise of our high-level hands-on Board and the pro bono contributions of the diverse networks we’re able to draw on. (All our Board members are listed on our website: www.australia21.org.au/evidence-and-expertise/our-people/our-team)
Last financial year we mobilised around 1300 hours of pro bono work including contributions from 45 external experts from around the country. This year we’ll exceed that with a long list of work on complex issues. For example, over the last 12 months we’ve:
-   finalised our third report on illicit drugs that Jeff Kennett and Bob Carr launched for us in March. This was an important step forward, because the senior law enforcement officers who put their names to it came to the conclusion that law reform is essential to saving lives and minimising harm from drugs. The media follow up and discussion since has helped to move the debate about illicit drug policy along;
-   launched a volume of essays on trauma-related stress in Australia drawing out the diverse groups of people affected and the huge cost to individuals and Australian society PTSD poses;
-   followed up with a large roundtable meeting of first responders (police, ambulance, fire and emergency services, and experts on the issue from Defence) to talk about better ways to respond to PTSD in our front line emergency responders – we’re writing up the report now;
-   run a multidisciplinary roundtable on the potential for algal farming to contribute to food and fuel security – we had scientists, business people, government policy makers, and a politician in the same room talking about what’s possible and how we might make it happen. The report is due for launch by Senator Janet Rice in August;
-   run a forum on mindfulness, empathy and compassion and launched the Mindful Futures Network, a venture that will provide a national space to map and develop the application of mindfulness, empathy and compassion at a systems level, particularly to improve the health and proficiency of Australia’s public and private organisations. UK MP Chris Ruane, who pioneered cross-party and public service mindfulness training in Britain helped launch the Network at our webinar in May;
-   run a Young Australia21 group, feeding their ideas into our projects;
-   through our Young Australia21 group and in collaboration with the Australian Lions Drug Awareness Foundation finalised and are about to launch a conversation pack aimed at starting discussions with young people about drugs and drug policy;
-   started work on a project looking at young people and the future of work – Making our Future Work – where we’ll seek to add to the research base by talking directly to young people about how they feel about the future and work, to provide insight for policy makers across a range of policy areas;
-   supported an Adelaide primary school to pilot a drug awareness education program inspired by our 2014 Smarter about Drugs forum for young people; and
-   started discussions for a project called ‘Imagining Equality’ canvassing possible solutions to growing inequality in Australia, following from our 2014 inequality roundtable and report.
We need funding to support and promote these projects, and to run our very effective small office.
-   We have the equivalent of one half time staff member managing our office and operations, raising funds, supporting projects and managing volunteers. Salary and organisation overheads cost us around $70,000 a year.
-   And we’ve identified we need to invest in expert communications help so our work is spread far and wide in the public arena. Our collaboration with a communications expert over the last six months has really paid off – the launch of our illicit drug report is a great example with solid media coverage and comment lasting well beyond the day of the launch helping to move public debate along in this area.
-   For each project that communications expertise costs us around $13,000.
We don’t receive any large government or corporate funding. We rely on project specific grants, and support from our donors. We need help to continue doing this work and this year we’re running an unusual end of financial year donations drive. A group of very generous supporters has pledged to multiply donations made to Australia21 in the next two weeks.
-   The first $21,000 we raise from 16-30 June will be multiplied 5 times thanks to our generous matching donors.
-   Every $1 donated will unlock $5. And if we reach our goal of $21,000 in the next two weeks we’ll release $105,000 for Australia21 to continue its work.
-   The drive is running for the last fortnight of June (16-30 June) and all donations of $2 or more are tax deductible.
There are a few ways you can help us.
-   We would very much appreciate any donation you could make, however big or small. We’d love to reach our $21,000 goal so we unlock the maximum of $105,000. Every contribution will make a difference. You can donate by going to our website www.australia21.org.au and clicking on the yellow donate button. Or you can go directly to our online donation site at www.givenow.com.au/australia21, donate directly to our bank account (bsb: 313 140, Account No: 2319 3882) or send a cheque to Australia21 Limited, PO Box 3244, Weston  ACT 2611. I can send you these details.
-   We don’t have a marketing budget for this drive so we’re relying on networks and word of mouth. I would be grateful if you would pass this message and the link to our short video https://youtu.be/8nRnHpS3w0g on to your own networks and help us reach out to a broader community.
-   Do you know any philanthropists that might be interested in our work? Would you be willing to talk to them and put us in contact?
We’d appreciate any help you can give us. Thanks!

Additional information
·        Australia21 Board members work directly on projects: running roundtables and forums; forming discussion networks and project teams; talking to politicians, researchers, policy experts and analysts, business leaders, young people, and people experiencing first-hand the issues we explore; writing reports; organising logistics; working with the media.
·        Running a roundtable costs about $61,000, and mobilises around $100,000 of pro bono work.
·        $127,000 would allow us to run the whole Making our Future Work project including four workshops with young people, a roundtable meeting, and a report. We’d mobilise about $83,000 of pro bono work.

25 March 2017

March in March 2017, Armidale

This afternoon I had the honour of addressing Armidale's "March in March" community gathering, on the subjects of asylum seekers and war powers. My notes follow.

Speech notes for Armidale Rural Australians for Refugees Vigil,
Central Park, Armidale
Saturday 25 May 2017

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is fond of extolling the virtues of a “rules-based international order”. She is particularly inclined to do that when other countries do things that don’t suit us, such as China building military installations on disputed reefs in the South China Sea and claiming sovereignty over them.

She is right in principle of course. We all have an interest in a rules-based international order. It’s either that or the law of the jungle. For a country such as Australia, the rules-based international order suits us very well. We are not powerful enough to get our way by force of arms or through economic power, but we are important enough to be listened to when the rules are being made, and we have a creditable track record in the development of international treaties and conventions that help to make the world a better and safer place.

The problem is in recent years our governments have become very selective about the rules they abide by. The ones I want to talk about this afternoon are those which bear on the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, and those which bear on how we go to war.

In our treatment of refugees and asylum seekers we routinely ignore the provisions of the Refugee Convention which we willingly and proudly helped to negotiate in 1951. I am sure you are all familiar with the many ways we flout the provisions of the Convention: describing and treating those who arrive by sea as “illegal”; mandatory detention rather than a short period of detention to conduct health and identity checks; interminable delays in processing asylum claims; denial of access to the Australian courts; transfers to third countries with associated claims that the asylum seekers are not our responsibility; failing to make adequate provision for the health, safety and welfare of people in detention; and more recently, refoulement – returning refugees to their countries of origin without due regard to the dangers they may face.

You may be less familiar with the disturbing behaviour our Government has shown in relation to our obligations under the Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), as recounted in Tony Kevin’s excellent 2012 book Reluctant Rescuers, and I would argue that our placing turned back asylum seekers in a lifeboat under the control of someone with no seamanship or navigation qualifications is in violation of that convention.

In addition, some of the turn-back operations have seen Australian military vessels violate Indonesian territorial waters, in violation of the U Convention on the Law of the Sea, and of course our interception of boats on the high seas is highly questionable in relation to that same Convention.

In considering our approach to the refugee issue we must also consider the contribution we make, through our military actions, to the fracturing of societies and the displacement of people. We go to war too readily, and we go to war too easily. Under the Australian Constitution the power to deploy the Australian Defence Force into international armed conflict rests with the Governor-General, acting on the advice of the Prime Minister and the Executive Council. There is no requirement for Parliamentary involvement in the decision-making process.

This means that the power is effectively in the hands of the Prime Minister; as former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser wrote, strong-willed Prime Ministers always get their way in Cabinet.

In 2003 John Howard took Australia into an illegal invasion of Iraq. Under the United Nations Convention, there are only two grounds for military action against another state: authorisation by the UN Security Council, or an immediate threat to the nation’s territory. Neither of those conditions was satisfied in 2003.

To make matters worse, the Howard Government sent the troops to war without obtaining the authorisation of the Governor-General, the only person who has the Constitutional power to authorise a deployment. Instead, an order was given by the Defence Minister under Section 8 of the Defence Act, a section which merely gives the Minister control of the administration of the Department and the Defence Force. It is not a power to make war.

In so doing, the Howard Government placed the soldiers, sailors and airmen and –women at risk. In the event of a claim that any of them had committed an illegal act under the Laws of Armed Conflict, the first question that would arise in front of a tribunal would be whether the individuals concerned were lawfully in the theatre of conflict, and without the Governor-General’s authorisation they could not argue that they were.

We deserve better than this. A decision as great as going to war - the biggest decision a country can make, and one on which the fate of millions of people will depend - must be subject to the most exhaustive scrutiny. Australia’s Parliament should be a vital part of that process and not simply a rubber stamp. Governments proposing a particular military deployment should be required to explain to Parliament why it is proposed, what it will achieve, and how the predictable costs will be met, including looking after its victims.

And if a war is worth fighting, it is worth the trouble to look after the victims, as we did after World War II, to the enormous enrichment of our society.

So by all means let us have a rules-based international order. But to show that we are serious about that, let us demand of our governments that they obey all of the rules, all of the time.

20 March 2017

Australia21 media release re drug law reform

Senior police and prison officers stand side-by-side with drug users to
call for law reform

Media release
Embargoed until 00:01 on March 20, 2017

Senior police and prison officers are today standing side-by-side with drug users calling for law reform, to bring an end to killing and criminalising young Australians.

Drug-related deaths, diseases, injuries, crimes and social costs continue to rise despite more than 80,000 consumer arrests in Australia each year.

So now four former Police Commissioners and Assistant Commissioners, two former heads of Corrective Services, a former Supreme Court Judge and a former Director of Public Prosecutions have made history, putting their names to a report that says it is time for decriminalisation.

‘Can Australia respond to drugs more effectively and safely?’ is being launched by Jeff Kennett, founder of BeyondBlue and former Liberal Premier of Victoria, and Bob Carr, former Labor Minister for Foreign Affairs and former Premier of New South Wales.

This remarkable Australia21 report does something that has never been done before: it tables solutions backed by the very people who were enforcing drug laws until recently.

It comes out of an unprecedented Roundtable convened by Mick Palmer, who has served as Commissioner of both the Australian Federal Police and Northern Territory Police.

“What we now have is badly broken, ineffective and even counterproductive to the harm minimisation aims of Australia’s national illicit drugs policy,” said Mr Palmer.

“We must be courageous enough to consider a new and different approach.”

Drug users and their families have welcomed the stand.

“If I had been given support instead of being jailed I would have spent 20 years as a productive member of the community instead of succumbing to my heroin habit that repeatedly ended me up in prison,” said Kat Armstrong, who has finally gone straight, cleaned up and founded the Women’s Justice Network to support other offenders trying to do the same.

“I don’t want more kids or anyone to die, or to ruin their lives like I did – we must intervene and help them now, before it’s too late,” she said. “I know, because I lived it.”

‘Can Australia respond to drugs more effectively and safely?’ recognises the weight of evidence from Australia and overseas that proves policing is singularly unsuccessful in reducing harms or changing drug use habits.

“The threshold step is to redefine drugs as primarily a health and social issue rather than one of criminal justice,” said Dr Alex Wodak, Director of the Alcohol and Drug Service at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney from 1982 to 2012 and current President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation.

The Australia21 report makes 13 key recommendations, aimed at:
  • minimising harms for drug users and those around them,
  • reducing the use of untested, unregulated drugs in unsafe environments,
  • providing health and social programs to reduce drug-related problems,
  • reducing and even eliminating criminal control of the drug market,
  • reducing the prison population and its associated progress to hard drug use,
  • supporting police and the judicial system to focus law enforcement more usefully.

The Australia21 report calls for an approach that distinguishes between high-end production and trafficking on the one hand, and personal use and possession on the other.

It does not recommend open-slather legalisation of all drugs; instead, it supports incremental, robustly evaluated steps towards a national policy of decriminalisation, standardising the discretionary approach to personal use and possession of cannabis and other substances that is already being adopted by front line law enforcers at the State and Territory level.

Advertising of any legalised and regulated drugs would not be permitted and some harder substances would require stringent controls, such as prescription by a doctor.

Recognition of the disconnect between harm minimisation and arrests for use or possession has already led to decriminalisation in many countries, including the USA (11 states), Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ecuador, Armenia, India, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay, Costa Rica and Jamaica.

The Australia21 recommendations have not been made lightly. They have been carefully considered after rigorous debate among the diverse group of Roundtable participants and it has taken more than a year to reach consensus on the details and sign off the text.

‘Can Australia respond to drugs more effectively and safely?’ is the third in a series of Australia21 reports examining drug law reform. The others are:

This latest report is being launched at 10:45am Monday 20th March, in the Jubilee Room at NSW Parliament House.

YouTube link to social video: https://youtu.be/cXrpNoXbQNE

For further information:
Director Deborah Rice: 0414 746648 deborah.rice@australia21.org.au
Executive Officer Anne Quinn: 02 62880823 anne.quinn@australia21.org.au
‘Can Australia respond to drugs more effectively and safely?’  

Summary of Recommendations

1.     The overriding objective of Australia’s national policy on drugs should be the minimisation of harm to users and those around them.

2.     The policy should include substantially reducing the size of (or eliminating) the criminal supply, by incrementally moving psychoactive drugs from the black market.

3.     More proportionate funding should be directed into harm minimisation and away from ineffective drug law enforcement.

4.     It should be recognised that criminal and antisocial behaviour resulting from drug use is largely a result of the high costs of maintaining a drug habit and only in some cases the specific effect of the drug.

5.     Users should be able to submit drugs for testing in a controlled environment to prevent avoidable deaths and overdoses.

6.     Current practices to test drivers for the presence of psychoactive substances should be to ascertain whether the driver is unsafe or unfit to drive, especially as new laws governing use of medicinal cannabis come into effect.

7.     Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that include arrest rates for use and possession of psychoactive substances should be considered only partial measures of ‘success’, unless they also include harm reduction measures.

8.     Savings made from cutting back unproductive law enforcement activities
should be re-allocated within law enforcement to areas of greater benefit to the community.

9.     Opioid Substitution Treatment (OST), including methadone and buprenorphine, should be available for all heroin-dependent prisoners, sentenced and remanded, and should continue to be available following release at reduced cost.

10.  The potential for an expanded OST service to substantially reduce the Australian prison population and associated costs should be explored by state and federal taskforces and warrants serious attention by the Australian Productivity Commission and the Australian Law Reform Commission.

11.  In view of the long and successful operation of the medically supervised injecting centre in Sydney, serious consideration should be given to the establishment of controlled drug consumption rooms in other parts of Australia.

12.  Australian authorities should review the effectiveness of the 2013 New Zealand Psychoactive Substances Act.

13.  Two pilot projects to trial and evaluate the health and social programs recommended in this report should be conducted — one in a remote disadvantaged community and another in an urban community with substantial social and drug related problems.

‘Can Australia respond to drugs more effectively and safely?’  

Roundtable participants

Mr Bill Bush
International Lawyer and Drug Law Reform Advocate

Mr Nicholas Cowdery AM
Director of Public Prosecutions NSW 1994–2011

Mr Keith Hamburger AM
Former Director General Qld Corrective Services Commission

Superintendent (Ret’d) Frank Hansen APM
Former NSW Police Force

Dr Stephen Jiggins AM
Professional Communicator

Mr Jack Johnston
Former Commissioner of Tasmania Police

Professor Desmond Manderson
Social Historian Australian National University

Mr Denis McDermott AM APM SIM
Assistant Commissioner Australian Federal Police

Mr Ken Moroney AO APM
Commissioner NSW Police Force 1965–2007

Dr Anne Marie Martin
Assistant Commissioner Offender Management and Policy Corrective Services NSW

Ms Vivienne Moxham-Hall
Secretary Australian Drug Reform Foundation

Mr Matt Noffs
CEO of the Noffs Foundation

Mr Mick Palmer AO APM
Vice President Australia21 and former Commissioner Australian Federal Police and Northern Territory Police

Professor Alison Ritter
UNSW and former President International Society for the Study of Drug Policy

Ret’d Justice Hal Sperling
Former Judge of the NSW Supreme Court and member of NSW Law Reform Commission

Mr Gino Vumbaca
Former National Director of the Australian National Council on Drugs

Dr Alex Wodak AM
Director Australia21 and President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation

The Roundtable was held under Chatham House rules, allowing comments to be recorded but without identification of the individuals who made them.