Sunday, 20 July 2008

Questioning Christian Behaviour at Beyond 2008

Last week at a drug policy strategy conference for NGO’s worldwide, Drug Free Australia (DFA) secretary, Gary Christian raised the hairs on some necks when he made an unplanned speech criticising the selection process. Some delegates were offended and many complained about Christian’s embarrassing behaviour which left the Australian and New Zealand delegation dumbfounded.

Is success of the conference being overshadowed by this selfish behaviour? The next few weeks will tell.

The United Nations are currently preparing a 10 year review of the 1998 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) which dealt with international drug issues. Next year, the Commission of Narcotic Drugs will meet in Vienna to present it’s findings and prepare policy for the following 10 years. This meeting is unique as it will be considering for the first time, the views of non-government organisations (NGOs), who recently met to prepare their strategy. The participants in the “Beyond 2008” NGOs Forum, included 13 consultations in all 9 regions of the world and involving over 500 NGOs from 116 countries and 65 international NGOs.

The conference was a success and a Beyond 2008 declaration was produced which encouraged the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) to dramatically change their approach especially concerning the human rights of drug users. The focus was on evidence based policies and consideration for the well being of those inflicted with drug addiction. Our regional delegation had 18 delegates representing 42 NGO’s from Australia.

Unfortunately, some of the US delegates upset the flow of proceedings by intervening and demanding that certain terminology not be used. These groups who oppose Harm Minimisation, now refer to it as “harm maximisation” and they regularly interjected when it was mentioned that current drug policies were causing damage to society or harming drug users. The general conclusion that tough drug policies were not working or the suggestion that drug users had valuable input was also met with objections and unnecessary delays. Incidentally, one of these groups was the US Drug Czar’s office who were not even an NGO and yet were seen to be the key trouble maker and led the interruptions and delays at the conference. 

Although 20% of all delegates were from the US, only a minority reflected the hard-line views of the US government. Ms June Sivilli from the US Drug Czar’s office appeared to be directing the interventions of these extremist and often mean-spirited US delegates.

The flagrant involvement of a government official in the operation of this NGO conference breached the meeting’s rationale. Some US-based anti-drug delegates intervened frequently to obstruct and delay proceedings, reject any suggestion that current drug policies cause any harm, oppose references in the text to 'harm reduction' or participation of people who use drugs in the policy making process.

-Dr. Alex Wodak. Australian Delegate.

But the worst was yet to come when on the final night before the closing ceremony, Gary Christian from Drug Free Australia (DFA) decided he wanted to stop proceedings and give a long, drawn out and unplanned speech. To the shook and dismay of the entire conference, Christian started criticising the selection process although he had been involved in that very process for several months. It seems that the outcome from the majority of the attendees was not to his liking and the DFA ideology was not popular amongst his peers except for some US delegates who heavily supported Zero Tolerance. Several tables were upset and jeered Christian who claimed to represent some participating groups who knew nothing of the speech he was giving. From some reports, I have heard that Christian made a complete fool of himself and lowered the integrity of DFA.

The Australian organisers, The Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD) received many complaints as did the the Beyond 2008 organisers. The ANCD has also made an official complaint to DFA. Strangely, all the trouble stirred up by Christian has seemed to go over his head as he posted his complaint on the official mailing list of the The Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia (ADCA). A day latter, Gino Vumbaca, the Executive Director of ANCD, posted a condemnation of Christian’s actions on the same mailing list, expressing his disappointment and explaining away Christian’s complaint as unjustified and improper. I am sure there will be much discussion to come and undoubtedly, Gary Christian, in typical form, will try to justify his actions. Gary Christian is infamous for his “logic loops” which shift from one point to another until he digs a hole bigger enough to fit the entire DFA board in it.

The statement was not prepared or discussed with any other members of the Australia and New Zealand regional delegation – with many having now expressed their strong dissatisfaction and opposition to the statement, indeed I am not aware of any member of the delegation that has supported the statement

-Gino Vumbaca, Executive Director - ANCD

Drug Free Australia (DFA) was part of John Howard’s plan to dismantle Harm Minimisation and effectively change our drug policy to follow the lead of the US and Sweden. With funding of $600,000 over 3 years, DFA have contributed nothing of substance to the drug debate except fear, irrational  junk science and religious ideology. Their research is often wrong, theoretical and regularly criticised by industry professionals and peers. Nearly every member is from a strong evangelistic/religious background including Australian Family Association, Seventh Day Adventists, The Salvation Army, Festival of Light and the patron is a TV evangelist who heals the sick on stage using the powers of Jesus. Is DFA the right organisation to be guiding drug strategies in this age of science and medical based treatments? Their resistance to evidence based policies and the proven success of Harm Minimisation leaves them out of step with experts in the field and encourages them use more extreme measures to be heard.

Drug Free Australia will continue to strive for pro health alternatives to illicit drugs and to ensure that harm prevention is not only a household catch phrase, but a reality, put into good practice, throughout our country. 

-DFA Website - About DFA 

Gary Christian embarrassed Australia, New Zealand, The ANCD, other delegates, DFA and himself. I just wonder if the severity of the situation will sink in or will he brush it off as being misunderstood? Since he bravely posted his complaint on the ADCA mailing list, I gather he is preparing to defend his position, not that it is unexpected. Gary has a reputation for not backing down in debates, even if the subject has to shift focus several times to achieve his goal. Disappointingly, Gary’s actions will effect others in the field especially those who worked so hard to represent Australia/New Zealand at the Beyond 2008, Vienna conference. The ANCD deserve much praise for their hard work, as do the participants who attended. The Beyond 2008 declaration is an excellent outcome and all involved should feel proud. 

I also need to advise that the statement provided to the VNGOC by the Drug Free Australia delegate after the Vienna Forum included even further criticism of the Australian consultation and delegation than is included in the statement posted here. I am not sure why this is the case, but again repeat my disappointment, as well as the disappointment for what I understand to now be all other delegates from Australia and New Zealand, as well as many other NGO delegates from around the world that have contacted me about the statement.

-Gino Vumbaca, Executive Director - ANCD

Gary Christian will probably never change his views but he at least should accept that the Beyond 2008 declaration is representative of most NGOs in the field of drug and alcohol treatment. If he has any integrity, he should also apologise to those he misrepresented and upset.


Beyond 2008 Regional Report: Australia and New Zealand

Global Drugs Policy Begins to Stir

Dr. Alex Wodak’s Letter to Crikey


mpcwebdev said...

Best post I've read in a long time. An official reply to Mr. Christians 'Jihad on HM' from the Beyond Forum couldn't do better.

We have our own "Christian warrior" moralists convinced [to quote DFA phrase writer, Bill Muehlenberg] "Moral civil war is waging in Australia over... sex, porn, euthanasia, homosexuality, etc...". Add NSPs, MMT, MSIC, drug education. We tolerate this intellectual cousin of barbarity due to political correctness.

We need to respect, that people who believe the world is 6,000 years old, God literally made man from clay, fighting climate change is blasphemy and JC is coming to take them home are speaking in Australian parliaments, US Congress, some are running the White House and now, for us, the UN review process of drug policy success & related harms.

The psychology we're missing is these groups fear both decline of society if we do not reverse many democratic freedoms, and associate secular values with immorality and disregard for life. It's not a minority or eccentric view: Howard ruled us with excess moralism because, yes he's a dick, but secondly he was afforded the power of the Christian right.

The reason we fail when we trust others, is because we don't understand the power of ideology. Sometimes, those of us who understand democracy, minority rights and the value of education and law reform, are blinded by our own awareness. Ignorance falls in the face of education. Belief has no reason, nor evidence. Only bias and error of assumption. As Mr. Christian notes himself, drug users deserve no human rights ["drug user rights = the right to harm as many as they please"] - which themselves are "a metaphysical illusion".

Christian had no intent ever of forsaking his role in this moral war. His semantics over democracy [which IMHO, suggest he doesn't understand it] don't so much show poor understanding, as an egocentric view. Society must act, to restrict the rights of users to achieve the aims of morality, behaviour, appearance, etc, by forcing use to stop. This then achieves the "best" for society, not individuals whose rights are illusory, because society must be in total morally pure. The logic of "compassionate" jail sentences - as it is on the DFA website - is the same as lighting the heretics pyre: to "save them".

His 'speech' serves to support ongoing rejection of HM, as he can now claim he has cogently argued why the process was flawed. Of course it's flawed, if he believes outcomes are inherently wrong. Which, he sincerely does, being convinced modernity and free choice equate to a clash of morality.

If Mr. Christian can name me one compassionate deed done in the name of his superstitions that cannot be done by a "non-believer", or a life-long drug user just for the sake of doing so, I'll happily join him. I'm sure you'll find none.

Flipping the coin, by the time you finish reading this sentence, you've already thought of an inhumane deed done in the name of religio-superstition.

I guess that's a longish way of saying, I'm not surprised and our greatest problem is being politically correct, ignorant, trusting and continue to associate institutions of superstition with socially cohesive outcomes.

Paul Gallagher:
DFA Watch

DFASecretary said...

If you have any regard for objectivity you will of course post my Vienna speech so that readers can decide for themselves.


Members of the International Taskforce on Strategic Drug Policy attending the Beyond 2008 NGO Forum applaud the efforts and enterprise of the organisers of this event.

However, if we as a forum of NGOs purport to speak for the world’s NGOs, we must have necessarily, from the beginning, used a different process of representation to this forum than the process that has been used.

The stated starting assumption of this forum was that it represent a ‘balance’ of NGO ideological outlook and engagement. This is very different to a democratic model in which the weight of representation in this room regarding drug policy would closely equate to the surveyed weight of NGO opinion on various issues back home.

Such an alternate democratic model of representation would require that:

• Every relevant NGO, not just a selection of NGOs, be invited to provide input through a transparent survey process. In Australia just 142 of more than 300 NGOs were invited to do the original survey

• This survey would extensively survey the weight of the varying drug policy opinions between NGOs and quantify responses. There was no quantification of response in our Australian consultation process

• Once responses to the survey were quantified, representation to this forum would then be chosen to reflect the outcomes. Our Australian representation was chosen on the basis of who could afford to attend (evidence attached) and not in parity to any quantification of varying views

Without the very necessary quantification of views, there is a less than transparent process for choosing representatives. A thoroughly democratic process would have yielded a representation where all contentious issues could have been quickly solved by a vote, and a majority voice recorded. This is not to deny that our processes here have not been without value.

Alternately, this forum’s assumption of a balanced ideological representation allows certain perspectives to punch above their weight in the achievement of consensus if, for instance, the real NGO community back home votes 70/30 on that issue. Our concern is that representation according to an artificial imposition of balance, rather than democratic representation, would likely have yielded different recorded outcomes on some of the more contentious issues before this forum.

Gary Christian
Drug Free Australia

jay said...

Shit .. i just want my prescription heroin so i can go to work and look respectable enough in the house of Jesus PTY LTD ha... you lot can prey/pray in the gutter all you like:)
Damn i missed Norm Stampers visit, why is it ya only find out about these things after the fact.. we need a central "events calendar" so people know where to congregate/share ideas...
Also i checked the newspapers in March RE UN summit for drugs/policy
..never found one mention of it
probably swept under the carpet along with the other heretics