Australia21 has launched its ground-breaking new report exposing the health and social harms created or worsened by Australia’s current drug laws.
The national report is the result of an unprecedented collaboration between experts in drug treatment and community welfare, brought together by Australia21 in a Roundtable summit. They included representatives from the Kings Cross MSIC, Uniting ReGen, Anglicare Australia, the Noffs Foundation, the ACT Council of Social Services, the Victorian Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform, the Penington Institute, the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, the ACU Institute of Child Protection Studies, the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation and high profile addiction specialists, sociologists and criminologists, as well as participants with lived experience of drug use and imprisonment.
Australia21 is proud to have brought together this group — the legitimacy of their voices cannot be ignored.
“Local and international evidence shows that punishing people is not an effective way to reduce drug use; criminal prosecution can actually increase drug use and crime, as well as poverty, social disadvantage, unemployment, homelessness, family violence, child protection interventions, mental illness, stigma, discrimination and suicide,” said Australia21 Director Emeritus Professor Bob Douglas.
“The prohibition of drugs perversely promotes criminal markets, encourages the growth of prison populations, deters people from seeking help for problematic drug use and damages the lives of many Australian families, with adverse impacts across the whole community,” he said.
The report finds Australian governments have failed to take into account that many policies affecting people who use drugs are not considered drug policy, and many specific drug policies have large effects outside the drug domain. They have also ignored the evidence that many people who use drugs will not experience harm unless they come in contact with the criminal justice system.
Call for a new approach
The Roundtable participants are calling on the health and social sectors to work together to engage broad community support for the removal of criminal penalties for personal use and possession, in order to reduce the health, social and economic costs of drug harms ultimately borne by all Australians.
Here are some of their expert views:
“A large number of social outcomes could be improved rapidly if we had law reform in the drug area. I cannot stress strongly enough that many of the social disadvantages with which we deal are linked with the disadvantages and serious consequences of the operation of our drug laws.”Kasy Chambers, CEO Anglicare Australia.
“There is no question that Australia’s drug policy settings create and exacerbate social problems beyond the drugs field, narrowly defined.
“There is no question that Australia’s drug policy settings create and exacerbate social problems beyond the drugs field, narrowly defined. ReGen regularly encounters people experiencing multiple social issues, with drug policy negatively impacting not just on their experience as a drug user but their experiences of mental health issues, family violence and homelessness.”Laurence Alvis, EO Uniting ReGen (AOD Treatment and Education Service, Uniting Vic & Tas).
“Regardless of our views about drug use or people who use drugs, we all want to see those with problematic use be able to access care — yet demonising and criminalising them creates an enormous barrier to treatment and support.”Dr Marianne Jauncey, Medical Director Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre.
“The shame, stigma and marginalisation which goes hand in hand with prohibition drug policies stops many families from speaking out or seeking help. Contrary to popular belief it is not ‘bad’ kids who use drugs, but it could be anyone’s child.”Marion McConnell OAM, Founding member Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform.
“My overall view is yes, we can impact positively on apparently intractable social problems through improved social policy to address the currently illegal drugs. The harder question is “What will shift our country from the current state of complacency and resistance to a state of willingness to adopt harm reducing, life affirming laws and policies across all the domains outlined?” Susan Helyar, Director ACT Council of Social Services.
The Roundtable participants are concerned also about the diversion of scarce human and financial resources from effective management of health and social issues into ineffective drug law enforcement.
“Once in the criminal system, continued misuse of drugs and alcohol will, for many, lead to repeated incarceration, especially where long term, chronic drug use has led to criminal behaviour to support a habit. Cumulative trauma and institutionalisation impacts dramatically on an individual’s ability to gain control over their drug use and rebuild their lives upon release, if it is not addressed early.”Carol Nikakis, CEO Victorian Association for the Care & Resettlement of Offenders.
“Massive expansion of the correctional facilities, with a fourfold increase in the national prison population compared to national population growth over the last 20 years, includes massive financial and social costs to the states and territories.”Professor Peter Norden AO, Fellow Australian & New Zealand Society of Criminology.
“I spent 10 years in prison because I used drugs and I committed crime to support my drug habit. Until people are educated in local rural and regional areas as well as in the cities, and until the legislators and the people who have the power actually ‘get it’ and understand what and why people do what they do, and change the legislation, you are not going to get any kind of drug law reform.”Kat Armstrong, Lawyer and Co-founder Women In Prison Advocacy Network (now Women’s Justice Network).
“To trigger action it may be important to more strongly emphasise and personalise the reality of the problem — the multitude of underlying causes, the nature and reality of the isolation and suffering that drug abuse and addiction so frequently causes, the social reasons which lead to drug use, and the avoidable harm and discrimination which our current policy so often creates, all too often against the most vulnerable and defenceless of our people.”Mick Palmer AO APM, Emeritus Director Australia21 & former Commissioner Australian Federal Police.
Putting health and safety first
We All Pay the Price concludes that drug law reform can be implemented carefully and incrementally, assessing the impact as we work towards a world where people who experience problematic use of drugs are offered treatment not punishment.
The chorus of reasonable people demanding evidence-based law reform is sending a powerful message to our politicians and policy makers: our drug policies are hurting ordinary Australians and now is the time to put health and safety first.
In Sydney, the report was presented to NSW parliamentarians along with a petition from Uniting’s Long Walk to Treatment, which highlighted the need for better support services across Australia, particularly in country areas.
In Canberra, We All Pay the Price was presented to ACT Attorney General Gordon Ramsay and Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris.
The report was also taken to the Victorian Parliament.
Laurence Alvis: EO, Uniting ReGen (AOD Treatment and Education Service, Uniting Vic &Tas)
Kat Armstrong: Lawyer, former drug user; Co-founder, Women In Prison Advocacy Network (now Women’s Justice Network)
Paul Barratt AO: Chair, Australia21; Former Secretary, Departments of Primary Industries and Energy & Defence
Liz Barrett: Campaigns and Policy Advisor, Uniting Centre for Research, Innovation & Advocacy, Social justice advocate
Dr Yvonne Bonono: Director, Department of Addiction Medicine, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne; Director, Women’s Alcohol and Drug Service, Royal Women’s Hospital, Melbourne
Rebecca Bunn: Director and Community Engagement Manager, Australia21; Managing Director, Imprisonment Observatory, Monash University
Bill Bush: President, Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform; Former head of the Treaties Section in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Kasy Chambers: CEO, Anglicare Australia
Kyle Cox: Campaign and Advocacy Advisor, Uniting; Former senior staff member, US Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health
Emeritus Professor Bob Douglas AO: Founding Director, Australia21; Foundation Director, National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, ANU
Professor Suzanne Fraser: Program Leader, National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University
Professor Margaret Hamilton AO: Former: Foundation Director, Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre; Executive member, Australian National Council on Drugs; Chair, Capital City Lord Mayors Drug Advisory Committee
Susan Helyar: Director, ACT Council of Social Services
Dr Caitlin Hughes: Criminologist; Senior Research Fellow, Drug Policy Modelling Program, University of NSW
Dr Marianne Jauncey: Medical Director, Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre; Conjoint Senior Lecturer, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of NSW; Clinical Senior Lecturer, University of Sydney
Marion McConnell OAM: Founding member, Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform
Dr Stephen McNally: Deputy CEO, Penington Institute: substance use research and practical action
Geoff Munro: National Policy Manager, Alcohol and Drug Foundation
Emeritus Professor Jake Najman: Sociologist; Director, Queensland Alcohol and Drug Research and Education Centre, University of Queensland
Matt Noffs: CEO, Noffs Foundation; Co-founder of Street Universities
Carol Nikakis: CEO, Victorian Association for the Care & Resettlement of Offenders
Margaret Nimac: Representing the CEO of Uniting, Peter Worland
Professor Peter Norden AO: Fellow, Australian & New Zealand Society of Criminology; Hon. Fellow, Humanities & Social Sciences, Deakin University
Jon O’Brien: Head of Social Justice Forum, Uniting (the Uniting Church’s community service and advocacy arm in NSW/ACT)
Connor Palmer: Representing YoungA21; Pharmacy intern
Mick Palmer AO APM: Emeritus Director, Australia21; Former Australian Federal Police Commissioner; Former Commissioner, Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Service
Fiona Patten MLC: Member of the Victorian Legislative Council; Founder and leader of REASON, a movement of radical common sense
Emeritus Professor David Penington AC: Former Dean of Medicine and Vice Chancellor, University of Melbourne; Former Chair, Victorian Premier’s Drug Advisory Council, Capital City Lord Mayors Drug Advisory Committee & Victorian Drug Expert Committee
Deborah Rice: Director and Communications Manager, Australia21; Former ABC News Senior Reporter and Presenter
Professor Robin Room: Sociologist; Professor, Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, Latrobe University
Associate Professor Kate Seear: Associate Professor in Law, Monash University; Academic Director of the Springvale Monash Legal Service
Rosie Shea: Australia21 Volunteer; Member of Unharm
Lyn Stephens: Director, Australia21; Organisational development consultant
Associate Professor Stephanie Taplin: Institute of Child Protection Studies, Australian Catholic University
Associate Professor kylie valentine: Deputy Director, Social Policy Research Centre, University of NSW
Dr Alex Wodak, AM: Director, Australia21; President, Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation; Emeritus Consultant, Alcohol and Drug Service, St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney