As the internet helps spread the truth about the damage caused from current drug policies worldwide, many people are changing their minds about the approach we take with the issue of drug use. Harm Minimisation is starting to become better understood and misconceptions about legalisation and encouraging drug use are fading. Bronwyn Bishop’s attempt last year at destroying Harm Minimisation is slowly slipping into the dark depths of John Howard’s undie draw. The heavily criticised report, “The Winnable War on Drugs” is barely mentioned now except that it was fundamentally flawed and offered nothing to society except pain, misery and a false sense of security. This was at the height of the Zero Tolerance push by John Howard and his moral crusaders (as opposed to Kevin Rudd’s moral crusaders). That dark era may well be behind us if Kevin Rudd follows through with his promise of evidence based policy. Some much needed changes have taken place since then. For example, NGOs are no longer threatened with funding withdrawal or losing their tax-deductable status for donations if they became critical of government policy.
In 1991, just five years before the Howard Government came to power, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Community Affairs brought down a report in which it commented on the role of non-government groups. The Committee said: An integral part of the consultative and lobbying role of these organisations is to disagree with government policy where this is necessary in order to represent the interests of their constituents. Note that they said non-government organisations should ‘disagree’ with Government where necessary. Contrast this Parliamentary Committee statement with John Howard’s Menzies Lecture, delivered in 1996, the year he came to power. The lecture was entitled, ‘The Liberal Tradition: The Beliefs and Values Which Guide the Federal Government’. In it, Howard referred to the NGO sector as ‘single-issue groups’, ‘special interests’ and ‘elites’ and he promised that his government would be ‘owned by no special interests, defending no special privileges and accountable only to the Australian people’. [...] De-funding has shut down many voices, but it is only a small part of the picture. At the same time, forced amalgamations have silenced alternative views, purchaser-provider contracts bring NGOs closer to being an arm of Government and confidentiality clauses are explicit restraints upon freedom of expression. -Joan Staples Report - NGOs out in the Cold: Howard government policy towards NGOs University of New South Wales Faculty of Law Research SeriesNGO’s no longer have a clause in their contracts that prohibit them from speaking to the media or releasing any report before seeking the approval of the federal government.
Thirdly, confidentiality clauses appeared at the same time that purchaser-provider contracts became the norm. They now appear in some form in most contracts that NGOs have with the Federal Government. These clauses have requirements that the organisation not speak to the media without first obtaining the approval of the appropriate department or minister. Some appear to forbid any public activity. Apart from the direct censorship involved, voices are likely to be silenced, even if a media release is approved, because delay risks lack of relevance with the speed of media stories today. Even groups working on habitat rehabilitation and feeding the homeless are now finding that any relationship with Government results in confidentiality clauses being imposed on them.It seems, one important organisation in particular has also changed, The Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD). Although the changes are small, there appears to be a move away from Howard’s Zero Tolerance. The ANCD was originally chaired by Brian Watters, who was hand picked by Howard for his like minded, black and white approach to drugs. Over the years, there have always been members like Watters who have no interest in HM or evidence based policies. Ann Bressington, Craig Thompson and currently Jo Baxter, who along with Watters are all members of Drug Free Australia (DFA). The one constant has been Secretariat, Mr Gino Vumbaca. Reading through the transcripts from Bronwyn Bishop enquiry, Gino Vumbaca was continually attacked by Bishop for stating the simple truth. Bishop desperately tried to tie HM with failure but Gino stood his ground. This is a man with principles. It seems that current chairman, Dr John Herron, is also changing since the Rudd government. Maybe the pressure to mislead the public is off since the change of government. Who knows? An opinion piece by Dr. Herron in The Australian last week is a clear sign that finally evidence based strategies are replacing the mumbo jumbo that for so long was called drug policy.
Battle Against Drugs Needs Realistic Approach Dr. John Herron The Australian - August 23, 2008 IN 1998, the United Nations held a general assembly special session on drugs and set 2008 as the target date to eliminate, or significantly reduce, the world's drug production and use. Well, here we are in 2008, and while we've certainly come a long way, drugs still remain a worldwide problem. The elimination of drugs is an ideal many would like to see achieved, but we need to approach drug issues in a realistic and pragmatic manner. Fortunately, the next UN initiative sees the potential to formulate realistic goals and some positive changes for the future, including to the drug control conventions which govern global drug control, and to which many countries (including Australia) are signatories. Why do we need to make changes to our global drug control efforts? To start with, the three drug control conventions currently have a heavy law enforcement focus. While this is a key aspect of any comprehensive drug control effort, law enforcement is just one of many areas that need to be engaged when tackling drug problems. Even the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, has himself said that "tighter controls in one region, or on one product, produce a swelling of activity elsewhere. As a result of this balloon effect, the problem is displaced, but not solved." In addition, it is quite concerning to me and many others that human rights, and their protection, are only referred to once across all three drug control conventions. Frankly, this is not good enough, especially when considering that those with drug problems are often subjected to severe stigmatisation and discrimination in communities across the world. To put it simply, we have to update the conventions to reflect our most modern and effective approaches of tackling the world's drug problem. Both Australia and New Zealand have balanced and pragmatic drug policies compared with many other regions in the world. Why do we do this? Because it works: our national drug strategies are also among the few that are subjected to comprehensive evaluations, and as a result we have long had an evidence-based approach to formulating our drug strategies. This had led to declining levels of drug use and overdoses, and the maintenance of one of the lowest rates of HIV amongst injecting drug users. We have a global responsibility to share our knowledge and success with other countries and to learn from the approaches of other nations in areas they have done better. In our region, non-government organisations (NGOs) provide many services within the alcohol and other drug sector. Inevitably, NGOs are confronted with many challenges from being under-resourced and overworked -- which makes attracting and keeping staff a difficult task for many agencies. Despite this, or perhaps because of these circumstances, many NGOs often offer the most innovative treatment approaches. It has therefore been very unfortunate that NGOs and their invaluable experience has not been utilised more in important decisions made at the UN level on drug issues. This time, however, a historic achievement was made recently when the UN actively sought input from NGOs in a review on drug control since 1998. NGOs across the globe reflected on what has been achieved in the past 10 years and provided recommendations on how to improve and strengthen these conventions, but also for enhancing NGO involvement in drug policy at the government and UN level. In Australia, the Australian National Council on Drugs worked with our colleagues at the New Zealand Drug Foundation to develop a report outlining the response from our region. Our regional report confirmed what many of us already knew: NGOs have much to offer including frontline experience, independent perspectives and innovative strategies for how to make our drug policy even more effective. I was very pleased and impressed that so many NGOs across the sector participated in this project in the face of such great time and resource limitations. Why did they do this? For the greater good. It is something which drives the NGOs in this sector, and they wanted the opportunity to influence global decision making and to promote the successes of our region in the hope of achieving better outcomes for others in the world. In July, regional representatives, including a delegation from Australia and New Zealand, met at an international forum in Vienna to propose new drug policy resolutions. This meeting concluded that equal weighting should be given to supply and demand reduction across the three drug control conventions. Furthermore, that each country should consider drug misuse primarily as a health issue. The importance of such resolutions should not be underestimated -- they have the potential to change the face of drug issues on a global scale. There seem to be so few opportunities to celebrate our success within the drug sector -- numerous challenges will always be apparent. However, what we have seen recently has been no small feat, and I congratulate the UN and most of all the NGOs, which gave their time and resources to participate. I now wait in anticipation for March next year when a high-level UN meeting of government delegates will meet to discuss the last 10 years of drug issues, including a very important NGO perspective. I urge them to adopt a realistic and ground-breaking approach to battling the world's drug problem, to ensure that the many victims of some current drug control strategies are helped to overcome problems rather than be further harmed. Dr John Herron is the chairman of the Australian National Council on Drugs