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.