Austalia21? Meh…next.

by Responsible Choice · 2 comments

The recent political response to the Australia21 report on illicit drug policy in Australia may have seemed positive, but in many ways the report’s release amounts to pretty much what we have seen in this country for the last 50 years or so.

An opportunity for tough talk on drugs.

This may seem surprising given that the report, titled The Prohibition of Illicit Drugs is Killing and Criminalising Our Children, and we are letting it happen‘,  takes a lot of its inspiration from the Global Commission on Drug Policy‘s submission to the global political community outlining the failure of prohibition and the war on drugs, and the necessity for new approaches to drug policy. It is worth noting that the following is an excerpt of key principles and recommendations that came out of the Commission’s work, published in a June report last year:

End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others. Challenge rather than reinforce common misconceptions about drug markets, drug use and drug dependence.
Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens. This recommendation applies especially to cannabis, but we also encourage other experiments in decriminalization and legal regulation that can accomplish these objectives and provide models for others.

Whilst the calibre of the individuals associated with the Commission has been somewhat publicised, the distinct lack of an adoption of any of their recommendations has not. Only South America it seems is willing to take up the challenge of reassessing their drug policy, in no small part due to the massive violence and corruption the War on Drugs has generated in Latin America.

And so we now have an Australia-specific report, focusing on issues pertinent to our illicit drug policy historically, and how it has fared over the past decades. The report was based on a high level round table held at the University of Sydney on Tuesday 31st January 2012 on the topic “What are the likely costs and benefits of a change in Australia’s current policy on illicit drugs?”, and contributed to by former state premiers, a current foreign minister and health professionals like Alex Wodak , amongst others.

So how do we stack up under scrutiny? To quote the Australia21 report;

The key challenges facing Australia in this area at the present are as follows:

Law enforcement agencies have had little or no success in reducing the availability of illicit drugs.

Large numbers of Australians—many of them young people— are receiving criminal convictions for minor drug offences, behaviour such as occasionally smoking cannabis that creates very little harm to themselves or to other people.

• Drug education interventions in schools and the community at large have had little measurable impact on the demand for drugs.

• In many parts of the nation there are serious shortages of treatment places available and long waiting lists for treatment.

• The misallocation of resources between illicit drugs, alcohol and tobacco and between prevention, treatment and law enforcement is seen as a problem, with the bulk of funding going to law enforcement and punishment (for which there is little or no evidence of cost-effectiveness) rather than to the areas that have been shown to be most cost-effective, especially treatment and harm reduction.

Damning. However…

A brief peruse of these types of anti-drug, ‘tough-talk’ comments from the Victorian and Northern Territory Governments, and you quickly realise that in Australian politics many politicians consider themselves to be the ones who make the laws, and change them, when and if they see fit. To quote the above linked article

Nationals leader and Deputy Premier Peter Ryan has told Fairfax Radio that he will never agree to decriminalisation.”I mean hell will freeze over before I agree to do this,” he said.

Good job mate. Way to listen to logic, reason and calls for reform from some of the most eligible and knowledgeable commentators in the country.

And on it goes…


What do you think it would take for our politicians to see current drug policy for what it is (an abject failure) and for them to want to make a transition to a more efficient and appropriate model? At the moment anything different would be better, except the changes that experts in the field of drug policy in Australia have just suggested, apparently.



{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt Riley April 23, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Prohibition it seems has an enormous amount of inertia. Even in the face of such a damning report it just keeps oozing along, sucking the edge of society away. Although the political response in Australia has been far from exciting the Australia21 report is a fantastic development in the battle for the minds of the Australian sheople. It’s about time there was some decent anti drug war propaganda, something we can make our disapproving mothers feel guilty with and generate a pulse of awakening through the Australian psyche. Even though our politicians simply don’t have the cojones to publicly oppose the WOD, I did feel a tinge of Aussie pride when I read the report… Common sense dressed up in drama! And I can’t be sure but is that Scott and Charlene 30 years down the track on the front cover? Brilliant!


Responsible Choice April 24, 2012 at 12:48 pm

You’re right, the report is excellent. I did a double take and reloaded the pdf when I first saw the cover page and read the title, just to be sure. It’s one of, if not the most supportive research document regarding drug reform in Australia I’ve seen. Boldly, honestly and simply put. It makes a pretty compelling case, and is unashamedly pitched at all parents in the country. Which is an important group to pitch to in the resolving of this war.

Cheers mate


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