Senior police and prison officers stand side-by-side with drug users to
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:
- ‘The prohibition of illegal drugs is killing and criminalising our children and we are letting it happen’ (2012)
‘Alternatives to prohibition Illicit Drugs: How we can stop killing and criminalising young Australians’ (2012)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Executive Officer Anne Quinn: 02 62880823 email@example.com
‘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?’
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
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.