This is the second part in a 3 part series that puts the spotlight on some of the most remarkable comments aimed at brutalising drug policy in Australia.
Marijuana leads to homosexuality ... and therefore to AIDS
- White House Drug Czar Carlton Turner, 1986
Do politicians make more silly remarks about drugs than journalists? That’s debatable but what is not up for discussion is the importance of their responsibility to tell the truth.
Some of the media can interpret events and facts according their particular agenda but why are politicians more renown for this shady practice? Doesn’t this defeat the whole process of democracy and elections? Politicians either lying or not knowing the facts when talking about extremely important issues is not acceptable and to even compare them with journalists for being deceitful is worrying. For politicians, it seems that lying or being void of the facts is acceptable as long as it is in the interest of their party, no matter how important the issue is.
It's time for Morris Iemma and Labor to wake up and realise that protecting families from drugs is more important than securing preferences from the Greens.
Ice is a scourge on our society. It's killing young people, it's undermining a whole generation and yet you have the Greens Party proposing decriminalisation.
-Peter Debnam. NSW Opposition Leader
The Greens drug policy including decriminalisation that Peter Debnam is talking about, caused much controversy in the media but it was mainly the politicians that used it as ammunition. The policy itself was very thorough and based on evidence. The problem was that in an effort to ride the current wave of controversy, the major political parties didn’t fully study the Greens drug policy and made some wild accusations that in hindsight, don’t really reflect the Green’s policy at all.
The Greens are not just about the environment. They have a whole lot of other very, very kooky policies in relation … to things like drugs and all of that sort of stuff.
-John Howard. Prime Minister.
That's why we're setting up specialised services in our hospitals to deal with this. It is just an absurd and ridiculous and disgusting policy.
-Morris Iemma. NSW Premier (In response to a proposal by The Greens to regulate drugs)
any MP who supported such a policy was completely out of touch with reality
-Morris Iemma. NSW Premier (In response to a proposal by The Greens to regulate drugs)
But I don’t think you can have at the core of it a message which says using heroin is ok. It is a deadly dangerous drug and I don’t think we want a party in Australia arguing that is actually is a good thing.
-Nicola Roxon. ALP - Opposition Health Minister
Any Member of Parliament who thinks we should de-criminalise drugs, including ‘Ice’, should take a good hard look at themselves, do the community a favour, and resign
-Peter Debnam. NSW Opposition Leader
One of the recent drug issues to cop a political hammering is a pure form of methamphetamine called ice. As we have heard over and over from the politicians and media is that ice is the most dangerous new drug to come out for a long time and it’s effecting us in epidemic proportions. The fact is, ice has been around for a long time and usage peaked many years ago. It’s only recently that we have seen reports of hospitals being ripped up by violent ice addicts and the epidemic levels of ice use but when use was highest, we hardly heard a peep. The effects of ice were largely over exaggerated but made a convenient issue for politicians to apply their “toughest on drugs” rhetoric.
Some of the stories of the way in which people have been terrorised and the way in which those who are addicted to ice lose all semblance of control and lapse into violent, uncontrolled, often homicidal rage and it is a frightening drug and we need a special emphasis.
Enough is enough, we must act before ice gets totally out of control as it can be purchased for $50
Ice had crept into the number one spot as Australia’s new problem drug. S.E. Asian crime organisations switched from heroin as their main export to ice but Howard and the AFP missed it. They were still trying to convince the public (and themselves) that they had stopped the heroin epidemic via the tough on drugs campaign ... which they hadn’t.
The tough-on-drugs campaigns have worked, it's just that ice has suddenly emerged in a way that the government wants to nip in the bud if it can
-Christopher Pyne 2007. During the peak of the so called “ice epidemic”
Poor Chris. under his watch, ice was here. Yes, ice was indeed here, but the government was still spinning their other successes.
And as a result of our strategy hundreds of young Australians spent last Christmas with their parents who otherwise would have lost their lives or taken their lives as a result of heroin abuse
-John Howard. 2007. During the peak of the so called “ice epidemic”
Whilst on heroin, a quick quote from that flossy ex opposition leader, Alex Dolly Downer. A classic “no WMDs” comment when asked about the growing opium trade in Afghanistan since the war on terror.
There may be links to the Taliban but it is certainly not believed to be a major source of funding for the Taliban (it was).
As opposition leader, Kevin Rudd was not going to be left behind in the race to fight the ice problem but his dilemma was whether he appeared to be tough on drugs whilst trying to follow evidence based policy. So he announced Labor’s new ice initiative.
Australia needs new ideas and fresh thinking when it comes to dealing with critical and continuing problems such as drugs and crime.
But our response must be tough, targeted and evidence-based
-Kevin Rudd. Federal Opposition Leader
And the great plan was - 3 new initiatives: a ban on the importation of crack pipes to smoke ice, a ban on the sale to minors of pseudoephedrine and a ban on the sale of pseudoephedrine over the internet. Very good Kevin, that should do it.
The real debate though was being “tough on drugs”. A recent development was that, instead of debating drug strategies, the politicians would try to score brownie points for being the toughest of the tough and try to brand their opposition as “soft on drugs”. Howard aligned himself with the Zero Tolerance cheer squad including Bronwyn Bishop, Ann Bressington, Christopher Pyne etc. and attacked Harm Minimisation including terminology like recreational / party drugs, state cannabis laws and anything else that was not Zero Tolerance.
As I have said previously concerned parents need to watch closely who opposes the measure that will send a clear message that drugs are not normal teenage behaviour, whether that be members of parliament educates or health care professionals it will be an indication of who is soft on drugs.
Labor's preference deal with the Greens, who were soft on drugs, showed the ALP was not as strict on the issue
No-one can accuse the Iemma Government on being soft on drugs
-John Watkins. NSW Police Minister
No-one can accuse this Government of being soft on drugs
-Chris Ellison. Federal Justice Minister
I wish the Greens wouldn’t be soft on drugs ... and national security
-Ron Boswell. Nationals Leader in The Senate
Dr. Alex Wodak gives his “soft on drugs” quote.
Howard can't lose on this. If he wins, he'll be wrapped in the Australian flag as protecting the youth of the future. If he loses, then the states get labelled 'soft on drugs'."
-Dr. Alex Wodak
Being tough on drugs never quite worked out though in the real world. The ice issue was got plenty of attention but what about other issues. Drugs in sport.
The NRL applies limited sanctions for the first position, and for the second, a more serious penalty. This accords precisely with the Government's approach - we don't give any quarter to anyone about drugs.
-Christopher Pyne. Congratulating the NRL on their 2 strike policy being an example of the government’s 1 strike policy
The Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC)
He (Mark Latham) wants to read books to kids when they're five and he wants to give them access to drug injecting rooms when he's 15.
-Tony Abbott. Health Minister
Politicians loved the MSIC. So much so, that when other states showed interest in the service, the federal government threatened to step in.
We would look at what the Commonwealth could do constitutionally. If there were any further proposals in Australia for heroin injecting rooms, we would look at what action we could take
-Chris Ellison. Federal Justice Minister
How about the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre AND ice
The Commonwealth Government does not support the heroin injecting room, and if it is becoming the ice injecting room we think that is the wrong approach
... how about everything ... including graffiti.
...social issues that are all too often underpinned by substance abuse, such as youth suicide; teenage pregnancy; abortion; unemployment; welfare dependency; poor school retention rates; family breakdown; child abuse, neglect and abandonment; domestic violence; prostitution; crime; road rage; road fatalities; and even graffiti, believe it or not.
... and think of the children
We do not hearabout how many babies are born addicted in this country. Now he was not just a heroin baby; he was a methamphetamine baby, a methadone baby, a dope baby, a pill baby. God knows how he turned out normal.
Ah, Ann Bressington ... Chris Pyne with a bogan haircut. Chris Pyne and Ann Bressington are birds of a feather. Both are from S.A., both with strong views against drugs, both with out a shred of credibility and both wanting to ban drug paraphernalia. What is Pyne speak for “ban the bong”?
I'm certainly concerned about the proliferation of apparatus for the use of illicit substances
This was par for the course. If they couldn’t stop people from using drugs, they were going to make it hard for them. It didn’t matter if it actually stopped drug use or not as long as there was a sound bite to go with it.
Imposing a ban on the sale of drug paraphernalia not only sends the message that drugs are socially unacceptable, but it makes it more difficult for first-time drug users to experiment with illicit substances.
First time drug users of course didn’t give a shit about whether they had a bong or not, they could just whip one up at home with their neighbours garden house and a orange juice container.
Ann had a different reason why the proliferation of apparatus for the use of illicit substances was wrong. It was for their own good because they didn’t really enjoy it.
... in her 11 years of experience she has not met one drug user that has not had underlying emotional issues, and this is why they use drugs, to avoid dealing with those issues. People who know how to enjoy themselves don’t use drugs.
Arh, Bressington logic. That explains why the millions who have used drugs, don’t know how to enjoy themselves.
With all this tough on drugs talk and each politician trying to get one up on the other, it was bound to happen. Yep, fighting amongst themselves was inevitable.
The Labor party room is divided in its attitudes to drugs. Duncan Kerr, a member of Mr Rudd's frontbench, is the convenor of the Parliamentarians for Drug Law Reform. This group supports decriminalisation and harm-reduction policies ahead of a tough, no-nonsense approach
I don't want to name those members but sometimes you have thoughts particularly if they are campaigning to legalise marijuana, cannabis and they think it's a harmless drug
I think the deduction could be, if that's their view, that they are using it themselves.
-Fred Nile. Politician - Christian Democrat
All health professionals and law-enforcement agencies are horrified by the impact of ice on our community, and here you see the State Government condoning - in fact, promoting - the use of ice
-Peter Debnam. NSW Politician. Alarmed that addicts were allowed to inject ice in the MSIC centre
What about the politicians nightmare, cannabis? The issue of personal use being decriminalised has seen several states reduce the penalties for cannabis possession to on-the-spot fines or similar. Moving towards a more rational approach on cannabis is long overdue but the previous government had other ideas. Alcohol was fine and received very little attention but a drug that causes a tiny percentage of problems in comparison was not.
We have to treat it(cannabis) as an illicit drug as dangerous as heroin, amphetamines or cocaine
Even though alcohol causes 100 times more damage than cannabis, the Howard government just couldn’t take the focus off grass. The National Cannabis Strategy was released, portraying marijuana as a dangerous, evil drug when the National Alcohol Strategy had this to say:
Alcohol plays an important role in the Australian economy. It generates substantial employment, retail activity, export income and tax revenue. Alcohol also has an important social role...
Personally, I like this quote about alcohol:
Woman: "Sir, you are drunk."
Winston Churchill: "Indeed, madam, and you are ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober."
We know that governments like to take credit whenever there is a dip in drug use statistics, but when those statistics aren’t so flattering, why try and explain it away, just make up your own results. This classic quote is from Christopher Pyne, answering criticism about research into a national anti-drug advertising campaign that found Australians already know the dangers and it was not actually stopping people from using drugs
It confirms research (it didn’t) that the Government's done, which shows that younger people, in particular, are becoming very well aware of the harmful effects of cannabis and other illicit drugs on their mental state
Yes, it’s true, he did say this.
It seems obvious now that tough drug policies, especially Zero Tolerance is the way to go if you want to be a successful politician. The problem is that Harm Minimisation is Australia’s official drug policy but it’s probably best not to let the public in on that. HM underlies all the success but ZT is the political profile that gets votes.
They are evil, all of them, and there should be an uncompromising social condemnation of drugs. Why can't we have the same attitude towards drugs that a large section of the community has developed towards tobacco?
Well for the life of me I can't see why we shouldn't have a completely zero tolerance, an uncompromising approach to illicit drug taking
The first and most important thing governments have got to do is communicate a message of unconditional hostility to the use of illicit drug
If only it was that simple. You see, Zero Tolerance doesn’t work and never has. Basically it’s prohibition but puts users in the same class as the big dealers and manufacturers. But the criminals at the top are very hard to catch, so rounding up users becomes the strategy to show success. The larger the drug problem grows, the more that easy pickings like users and small time dealers are targeted. It’s known as “drugs on the table” or the “numbers game”. It doesn’t help anyone but as the problem grows, the more the public want results so showing that the police are being tough on drugs is hailed as the answer. The problem being that the answer is the actual cause.
Zero Tolerance is the basis for the "War on Drugs". Bronwyn Bishop even named her infamous report, “The Winnable War on Drugs”. Is it really winnable?
There are naysayers who believe a global fight against illegal drugs is unwinnable. I say emphatically they are wrong. Our slogan for the Special Session is "A Drug Free World - We Can Do It!" The United Nations and the International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) will help lead the way. - Towards a drug-free world by 2008 - we can do it…
-Pino Arlacchi. 1998. United Nations Under-Secretary-General
“We can do it” ... we didn’t. Not only didn’t we reach the goal of a drug free world, drug use increased. Those zany, crazy UN people.
Prohibition has been proven not to work for both drugs and alcohol. Funnily enough, we always refer to alcohol prohibition as a huge failure but it is minor in comparison to the failure of drug prohibition. This is what one of the greatest minds ever known had to say about prohibition.
The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this.
John Howard was optimistic though.
We are making progress in the war against drugs, but we have a long way to go
There was one positive though according to US Republican and political commentator, P.J. O'Rourke .
Drugs have taught an entire generation of American kids the metric system.
So who is right? Howard? Rudd? Pyne? Roxon? Which policy is best for Australia? Harm Minimisation? Zero Tolerance. John Howard never really knew what the official drug policy was for Australia and always said we have to be tough on drugs including users. Does Rudd support ZT or does he support evidence based policy? Well that’s hard to tell because there has been no official drug policy from Labor since they took office. Let’s see what the Rudd and Howard governments have said previously. BTW, Harm Minimisation is still the official drug policy since 1985.
Labor strongly condemns illicit drug use and supports a “tough on drugs” approach as a means of protecting Australians from the terrible consequences of drug use and abuse.
Nicola Roxon. ALP - Opposition Health Minister
We will never adopt a harm minimisation strategy; we will always maintain a zero tolerance approach.
We're judgemental when it comes to the undesirability of starting drug taking in the first place. We shouldn't be judgmental about people who have become addicted. We should be helpful towards them, we should offer them support, we should offer them rehabilitation and we should offer them comfort and affection.
Our general approach when it comes to drugs policy is one of zero tolerance
-Kevin Rudd. Opposition Leader.
I believe in evidence-based policy
-Kevin Rudd. Prime Minister
And finally we turn to Christopher Pyne for the final word on the complex issue of drug policy in Australia.
We firstly have to make people understand that using drugs is wrong, it's bad for them, it's bad for the general society because of all the problems that it causes.
Yes, again, he did say this.
So there we have it, evidence versus politics. It might be of interest to note that recently, nearly every credible report commissioned by a government into a strategy for making progress on the drug problem has been completely ignored by the government itself. Our politicians cannot defend themselves as not having adequate information on alternative policies or not knowing the damage that current strategies are having on society. The quotes I have presented might be humorous or even absurd but politicians, of all people, should be taking this subject seriously. Yes, we hear it all the time now, that this subject or that subject is above politics but illicit drugs are the second largest industry on the planet. Larger than oil or legal drugs and only out shadowed by weapons/miltary spending. It is responsible for much of the world’s crime and divides communities more than any other subject except maybe religion. The biggest issue though, is that the above issues which are man made and preventable keep getting documented and ignored by politicians. That’s truly shameful.
In thoughtful circles, the debate is over, harm reduction wins.
Now the task is to get this through the political maze
-Dr. Alex Wodak
Next: Did They Really Say That? Part 3 - The Religious Right