Saturday, 31 July 2010

Judge Needs a Reality Check

Being caught with 7 ounces of pot and charged with dealing cannabis should not encompass a prison term. Especially if that person has a clean police record. But, Supreme Court judge Justice Kerry Cullinane has deemed Danielle Sharp to be more dangerous than many violent criminals and sentenced her to 2 years jail (released after 4 months). This was her first offence.

I know the public are screaming out for harsher penalties from our judicial system and politicians are quick to take up the the "Tough on Crime” mantra but this decision by judge Kerry Cullinane is simply ridiculous. What positive outcome can possibly come from jailing Danielle Sharp? She has left the drug scene and worked solidly for two years since her arrest which makes me wonder about the judge’s wisdom. Is ripping her out of the community going to teach her a lesson or help society in general. Of course not. Is it going to deter others from selling drugs? Nuh. Are there any benefits at all? again … no.

Here’s the strange part. Justice Kerry Cullinane has been on an anti-drug mission for a long time now but for all his, "Tough on Drugs" rhetoric, he has dished out plenty of suspended sentences for drug offences. Offences that would normally attract jail terms. 

The judge then made it clear that the courts were getting increasingly tougher in drug sentences.

"We are (nowadays) getting away from cases where no conviction is recorded for small amounts of drugs for personal use, and I have to be fair to others who have been sentenced," he said.


But he accepted Mr Griffith's view that `this was an aberration for a young man of great promise, particularly in soccer'.

Justice Cullinane imposed a 12-month sentence, wholly suspended for two years, but warned Gabiola that if he returned to court facing similar charges, he would go to jail.

So why did Justice Cullinane jail first time offender Danielle Sharp after saying, “he had to be consistent in fairness to others he had sentenced on similar charges”? What made Danielle’s drug offence worthy of a prison term when other similar crimes were previously dealt with by a suspended sentence?

But Justice Cullinane said that while he noted the positive changes Sharp had made, he had to be consistent in fairness to others he had sentenced on similar charges. The weeping Sharp was sentenced to two years' jail, to be released after serving four months.
--From the article

Maybe it was the busy morning he had or as the Townsville Bulletin describes, “his concern at what he terms as 'a disturbing pattern' of drug offending that has started to appear in Townsville over the past few years”.

The 70 year old judge, who hails from North Queensland (Deliverance anyone?) is a member of the Order of Australia (AO). He is well known up north and even has a ‘Moot Court’ named after him at the James Cook University Law School. My worry is that the last 40 years, being his prime years in the law business, has firmly imbedded the “War on Drugs” rhetoric in his mind and any evidence suggesting the "Tough on Drugs" approach has failed, has not sunk in.

According to the Townsville Bulletin, he has commented several times that more and more older people are coming before him as first-time drug offenders. 

The final cautionary word for those tempted by drug dealing should come from Justice Kerry Cullinane. In a recent case, when a barrister suggested that some misguided older people were seeing drug dealing as a kind of superannuation, Justice Cullinane said if that was the case, many people would be spending their retirement in a place they hadn't planned. And anyone so tempted to the drug trade should know that Justice Cullinane is a man of his word.

OK, I get it, he’s a judge. It’s his job to apply the law. But it’s also our judges who challenge the law and give determinations that affect future decisions. For example, in an attempt by the Canadian government to shut down the safe injection centre, Insite, Justice Ian Pettfield ruled against them and determined that Insite was saving lives and sections of the Canadian Criminal Code contravened the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This set the stage for the supreme court to overrule a government appeal who may have very well got their way if not for the decision of the first judge. The initial ruling by Justice Ian Pettfield, declaring parts of Canada’s drug laws unconstitutional, shows how informed judges can really make a difference to judicial issues especially those built on ignorance.

I’m not holding my breath for Justice Cullinane to change his attitude any time soon. But with the mountains of research clearly showing that punitive penalties for drug offences has not achieved any positive outcomes, it is disappointing the judge continues his drug war babble. Especially when it sounds like an extract from some anti-drug propaganda piece.

And without people like Gabiola(accused drug user), dealers wouldn't have a business

As the old school moves into retirement, I wonder if the drug war rhetoric will continue with the new, up and coming beaks? Will the passing on of wisdom include the 40 years of brainwashing that most of our judiciary suffered?  Or will we see a new breed of pragmatic judges who are prepared to look beyond disastrous campaigns like “Just Say No” or "Tough on Drugs”? For the sake of those already affected by the misguided "War on Drugs" and those still in the firing line, we can only hope that the people who have the power of incarceration will be better informed than their predecessors.

Drug Dealers Sent To Jail
Roanne Johnson
July 2010

Supreme Court judge Justice Kerry Cullinane has expressed his concern at what he terms as 'a disturbing pattern' of drug offending that has started to appear in Townsville over the past few years.

During a busy morning of sentences yesterday Justice Cullinane commented that two of the matters before him involved young people with no criminal record landing in the dock on the most serious of drug charges, that of trafficking.

Justice Cullinane said the pattern had started to appear in only the past few years.

And the judge made it clear that only the most exceptional of circumstances, like extreme youth, would keep traffickers out of jail.

And he was good to his word, when Danielle Renee Sharp pleaded guilty to trafficking in cannabis sativa, and four related charges of possessing money and paraphernalia involved in the peddling.

Crown prosecutor Clare Kelsey said police, acting on a tip-off, had discovered various amounts of cannabis, amounting to 191gms, when they searched Sharp's Kelso home.

Officers also seized $1685 in cash and a mobile phone containing text messages relating to drug deals.

Defence barrister Wayne Pennell said Sharp had fallen in with the Townsville drug culture when she took up with a new boyfriend who was drug dependent.

But Mr Pennell said she had broken off the relationship and had turned her life around since she was charged with the offences in 2008.

He said she had worked her way up to become a manager of store in the western suburbs.

Mr Pennell described the 27-year-old Sharp as a 'naive young girl' and argued that her genuine and successful efforts to rehabilitate her life called for a wholly suspended jail term.

But Justice Cullinane said that while he noted the positive changes Sharp had made, he had to be consistent in fairness to others he had sentenced on similar charges.

The weeping Sharp was sentenced to two years' jail, to be released after serving four months.

And jail was also unavoidable for 23-year-old New Zealander Conan Anton Fenton, who pleaded guilty to trafficking in ecstasy and the relatively rare banned euphoric drug, benzylpiperazine, known on the street as BZP.

Crown prosecutor Kelly Stone said Fenton had been caught in an undercover drug squad sting, and was arrested after he had arranged four deals involving $4000 worth of drugs, including 300 ecstasy tablets.

Felton was sentenced to two years, but he will be released after serving eight months.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Bill Clinton Endorses Harm Reduction

Harm Minimisation (Harm Reduction) is the national drug policy for Australia and many other countries. But for the US and the UN, Harm Reduction is a dirty word and purposely omitted from any initiative put forward that recommends using harm reducing strategies. So when an ex-American president defies the US’s Zero Tolerance drug policy and publicly supports Harm Reduction, it signals that change is on the way.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

A Message to the Australian Government … End Failed Drug Policies

A message to the Australian government…

The "War on Drugs" is over. Drug prohibition and useless drug laws have failed. The world’s leading experts on health and drug use are now demanding that you stop with your outdated and useless drug policies, and instead, implement scientifically sound and evidence based strategies to deal with the issue of illicit drug use. It’s time to admit, that after 5 decades or more, our punitive drug laws have failed to meet any realistic goals. It’s time to acknowledge what experts have been telling you for years - current drug policies do not solve the problems associated with illicit drugs. It’s time to accept the evidence that is repeatedly presented to you. Now you must act.

The sad truth is, more people die and more harm is caused by current drug policies than drug themselves. The damage to society continues to grow yearly but still no goal has ever been met by law enforcement agencies. Every policy ever put into motion that penalises drug users has backfired leaving our friends and family to clean up the mess. Each new "Tough on Drugs" initiative only increases harm without reducing drug use. The failure of punitive drug laws has been researched, proven and documented dozens of times and clearly shows that the hundreds of billions of dollars wasted so far have not slowed down the drug trade. The evidence is in and the experts and the public want the carnage to stop.

You, the elected government have a duty to do what’s best for Australia. It’s your role to take the advice of experts and implement appropriate policies. It is not your role to make important decisions based on ideology, personal opinions, ignorance or pressure from agenda driven organisations. Please, take note of the Vienna Declaration and act like a responsible government.

About The Vienna Declaration
The Vienna Declaration is a statement seeking to improve community health and safety by calling for the incorporation of scientific evidence into illicit drug policies. We are inviting scientists, health practitioners and the public to endorse this document in order to bring these issues to the attention of governments and international agencies, and to illustrate that drug policy reform is a matter of urgent international significance. We also welcome organizational endorsements. For a brief listing of high profile endorsements to date, please click here.

This is the official declaration of the XVIII International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2010) to be held in Vienna, Austria from July 18th to 23rd. The declaration was drafted by a team of international experts and initiated by several of the world’s leading HIV and drug policy scientific bodies: the International AIDS Society, the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP), and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. To read the Declaration click here.

The Vienna Declaration
The criminalisation of illicit drug users is fuelling the HIV epidemic and has resulted in overwhelmingly negative health and social consequences. A full policy reorientation is needed.

In response to the health and social harms of illegal drugs, a large international drug prohibition regime has been developed under the umbrella of the United Nations.1 Decades of research provide a comprehensive assessment of the impacts of the global “War on Drugs” and, as thousands of individuals gather in Vienna at the XVIII International AIDS Conference, the international scientific community calls for an acknowledgement of the limits and harms of drug prohibition, and for drug policy reform to remove barriers to effective HIV prevention, treatment and care.

The evidence that law enforcement has failed to prevent the availability of illegal drugs, in communities where there is demand, is now unambiguous.2, 3Over the last several decades, national and international drug surveillance systems have demonstrated a general pattern of falling drug prices and increasing drug purity—despite massive investments in drug law enforcement.3,4

Furthermore, there is no evidence that increasing the ferocity of law enforcement meaningfully reduces the prevalence of drug use.5 The data also clearly demonstrate that the number of countries in which people inject illegal drugs is growing, with women and children becoming increasingly affected.6 Outside of sub-Saharan Africa, injection drug use accounts for approximately one in three new cases of HIV.7, 8 In some areas where HIV is spreading most rapidly, such as Eastern Europe and Central Asia, HIV prevalence can be as high as 70% among people who inject drugs, and in some areas more than 80% of all HIV cases are among this group.8 

In the context of overwhelming evidence that drug law enforcement has failed to achieve its stated objectives, it is important that its harmful consequences be acknowledged and addressed. These consequences include but are not limited to:

  • HIV epidemics fuelled by the criminalisation of people who use illicit drugs and by prohibitions on the provision of sterile needles and opioid substitution treatment.9, 10
  • HIV outbreaks among incarcerated and institutionalised drug users as a result of punitive laws and policies and a lack of HIV prevention services in these settings.11-13
  • The undermining of public health systems when law enforcement drives drug users away from prevention and care services and into environments where the risk of infectious disease transmission (e.g., HIV, hepatitis C & B, and tuberculosis) and other harms is increased.14-16
  • A crisis in criminal justice systems as a result of record incarceration rates in a number of nations.17, 18 This has negatively affected the social functioning of entire communities. While racial disparities in incarceration rates for drug offences are evident in countries all over the world, the impact has been particularly severe in the US, where approximately one in nine African-American males in the age group 20 to 34 is incarcerated on any given day, primarily as a result of drug law enforcement.19
  • Stigma towards people who use illicit drugs, which reinforces the political popularity of criminalising drug users and undermines HIV prevention and other health promotion efforts.20, 21
  • Severe human rights violations, including torture, forced labour, inhuman and degrading treatment, and execution of drug offenders in a number of countries.22, 23
  • A massive illicit market worth an estimated annual value of US$320 billion.4 These profits remain entirely outside the control of government. They fuel crime, violence and corruption in countless urban communities and have destabilised entire countries, such as Colombia, Mexico and Afghanistan.4
  • Billions of tax dollars wasted on a “War on Drugs” approach to drug control that does not achieve its stated objectives and, instead, directly or indirectly contributes to the above harms.24

Unfortunately, evidence of the failure of drug prohibition to achieve its stated goals, as well as the severe negative consequences of these policies, is often denied by those with vested interests in maintaining the status quo.25This has created confusion among the public and has cost countless lives. Governments and international organisations have ethical and legal obligations to respond to this crisis and must seek to enact alternative evidence-based strategies that can effectively reduce the harms of drugs without creating harms of their own. We, the undersigned, call on governments and international organisations, including the United Nations, to:

  • Undertake a transparent review of the effectiveness of current drug policies.
  • Implement and evaluate a science-based public health approach to address the individual and community harms stemming from illicit drug use.
  • Decriminalise drug users, scale up evidence-based drug dependence treatment options and abolish ineffective compulsory drug treatment centres that violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.26
  • Unequivocally endorse and scale up funding for the implementation of the comprehensive package of HIV interventions spelled out in the WHO, UNODC and UNAIDS Target Setting Guide.27
  • Meaningfully involve members of the affected community in developing, monitoring and implementing services and policies that affect their lives.

We further call upon the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, to urgently implement measures to ensure that the United Nations system—including the International Narcotics Control Board—speaks with one voice to support the decriminalisation of drug users and the implementation of evidence-based approaches to drug control.28

Basing drug policies on scientific evidence will not eliminate drug use or the problems stemming from drug injecting. However, reorienting drug policies towards evidence-based approaches that respect, protect and fulfil human rights has the potential to reduce harms deriving from current policies and would allow for the redirection of the vast financial resources towards where they are needed most: implementing and evaluating evidence-based prevention, regulatory, treatment and harm reduction interventions.

Sign the declaration here

Decriminalise Drugs - Chairman of the Bar Council (UK)

I just recently came across this brilliant article. It’s well worth a read.

The Chairman Of The Bar Council Is Right To Say We Should Consider Decriminalising Drugs
By Andrew M Brown 

Nicholas Green QC, the chairman of the Bar Council for England and Wales, has suggested we should consider “decriminalising personal drug use”. He seems to have in mind the billions of pounds the economy would save and the freeing up of police time as well the improvements in public health. And, to be sure, these are all perfectly good reasons to stop arresting otherwise law-abiding folk who use certain drugs to relax and unwind in their spare time.

Just look at Portugal, and in fact any country that has liberalised drugs laws. The evidence from studies suggests the experiment has resulted in improvements. It certainly has not lead to what the opponents of legalisation predicted, which is that problem drug use would immediately shoot up. So Portugal has been more radical in decriminalising personal use of drugs than anyone else I can think of, and yet their results are positive. They were facing serious problems, which is why they took radical action. Some harmful use of drugs has actually gone down since they changed their laws.

It’s true, casual use may have gone up, but that doesn’t automatically mean lots more addicts, since there is a basic fact about drugs which is often ignored in public discourse, but which most people know in their hearts, if they’re honest: drugs are not inevitably harmful, nor are they inevitably addictive. After all, nearly all adults regularly use one of the most toxic drugs there is – alcohol – without coming to much harm. Quite the opposite, in fact: alcohol users will tell you they experience great benefits in relaxation, elevation of mood, lubricating social contact and so on. More often, the problem is the people who take drugs, and what’s wrong with society that makes people abuse substances in a destructive way.

Ask your colleagues at work: I bet you’ll find a significant portion of them have used one illicit drug or another at some time in their lives, especially if they were born from the 1960s onwards, when drugs have been widely used in society. Some of them may still take drugs in their time off. It may be Valium or cannabis or cocaine or ecstasy, it may be an opioid painkiller – whatever it was, they haven’t dropped dead, they remain responsible citizens, they haven’t gone mad or lost their moral fibre.

Some individuals are more vulnerable to becoming dependent on drugs than others, just as some people will become problem gamblers and others will grow obese from compulsive over-eating. But the fact remains that millions of people drink or take other drugs without harm and with many subjective benefits and to penalise those people, even to lock them up, just with some idea of protecting the minority, seems crazy. If you take the societal problems that are routinely associated with drug use one by one, pretty well each of them can be shown to be the consequence of the prohibition of drugs and the “war on drugs” and not the actual drugs themselves.

For most of human history, drugs were not illegal. Our massive drug problem and the vast multi-billion dollar criminal enterprises that are funded by the illegal drug trade are direct results of prohibition. These are objective evils that prohibition has caused. Those who defend prohibition must ask themselves how they can justify these horrid by-products – the terrible havoc the war on drugs has wreaked in the developing world, for instance. The trouble is, prohibition has spawned its own lucrative industry for its enforcement, and those well-funded agencies will fight tooth and nail to protect their interests.

I think a sense of perspective is important, to talk about things as they actually are. There are cultural and political reasons why some drugs are legal and some are not. But drugs, including alcohol, all do the same thing: they change our mood for us, without us having to do anything. What moral difference is there between them – except that some involve breaking the law. I simply don’t see that getting completely plastered on alcohol, as plenty of respectable people do, including policemen, judges and lawmakers, is somehow morally more creditable than the ageing hippy who relaxes with a marijuana joint.

And yet the ageing hippy could have his liberty taken away. In some states of the USA the prisons are heaving with drug users who have never hurt anybody – poor drug users at least, I don’t mean the children of wealthy senators who get busted with cocaine, they don’t go to jail. Putting people like that in prison is wrong, and a waste of human life.

By the way I have no personal axe to grind here. The bottom line is I do not argue that legalising drugs (and what one means by “legalising” is a whole other issue) will lead to utopia, but I doubt things could get worse. And one can watch with interest the developments in California, where there are said to be more medical marijuana shops than Starbucks.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Ecstasy - Not Just For Ravers

Not many people know this, but ecstasy(MDMA) was originally a successful treatment for several psychological disorders including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

MDMA was first produced about 100 years ago but it wasn’t examined for it’s potential until the 1960s. It took another 10 years before it’s promising future was realised when a Californian psychotherapist postponed retirement to study it and started introducing it to therapists in Europe and America. In 1985, the DEA stepped in and banned MDMA after it started making the rounds of the dance club scene. Without any investigation into whether MDMA was being used for research, an emergency classification was made to have it classed as a Schedule 1 drug - the most restrictive category for drugs with “a high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use”. This was despite a court ruling that recommended MDMA should not be banned but left to medical experts for continued research.

Because of US drug policy and the DEA, thousands of people have missed out on a potential cure for PTSD. But this is just a fraction of the real damage caused by an ignorant and fanatical DEA. The worldwide crack down on ecstasy has seen the rise of dangerous fillers replacing the relatively safe, MDMA, resulting in a massive increase in deaths and related harms. But, with the current shift towards more evidence based policies and the realisation that current drug laws have failed, we may start to see drugs like MDMA once again put back in the hands of medical experts and scientists.

Researchers Use Ecstasy to Treat PTSD
By Madonna Behen - HealthDay Reporter
July 2010

A small study suggests that the illicit "club drug" Ecstasy may have one positive use: making psychotherapy more effective for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The drug, also known by its chemical acronym MDMA, appears to benefit patients for whom standard treatments have failed. But experts stressed that the study is preliminary and safety issues must be resolved before any recommendations can be made.

"PTSD treatment involves revisiting the trauma in a therapeutic setting, but many patients become overwhelmed by anxiety or numb themselves emotionally, and so they can't really successfully engage," said study lead researcher Dr. Michael Mithoefer, a psychiatrist in private practice in Charleston, S.C. "But what we found is that the MDMA seemed to temporarily decrease fear without blunting emotions, and so it helped patients better process their grief."

In PTSD, the sufferer typically "relives" the trauma via flashbacks or in other ways, such as becoming hyper-vigilant to everyday sounds. Other mental health issues include depression, anxiety disorder, adjustment disorder and alcohol and substance abuse.

Mithoefer and his colleagues studied 20 patients who'd had PTSD for an average of 19 years but had failed to get relief from psychotherapy and medications. The study participants underwent two eight-hour psychotherapy sessions scheduled about a month apart, with 12 patients taking MDMA, and eight taking a placebo. Subjects were also given psychotherapy on a weekly basis before and after each experimental session. An independent psychologist evaluated each patient's symptoms of PTSD prior to and after the sessions.

At the end of the trial, more than 80 percent of the patients who received a combination of MDMA and psychotherapy no longer met the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, compared with only 25 percent of the placebo group. In addition, the three patients who reported being unable to work due to post-traumatic stress disorder were able to return to work following treatment with MDMA.

During the trial, none of the patients had any drug-related side effects or neurocognitive problems related to the drug, the researchers reported.

The study is the first completed randomized, double-blinded clinical trial to evaluate MDMA as an adjunct to psychotherapy in any patient population, the researchers said. It was sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a Belmont, Mass.-based nonprofit group that focuses on the medicinal uses of psychedelic drugs.

The phase 2 study, the second of three phases of research required by the federal government before approving a drug for a specific use, was published online July 19 in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Before MDMA began to be used recreationally under the street name Ecstasy, many psychiatrists and other therapists in the United States and Europe used the compound as a catalyst to psychotherapy, the study authors noted. However, the drug has been illegal in the United Kingdom since 1977 and was criminalized in the United States in 1985.

People with post-traumatic stress disorder who may want to experiment with the drug should know it can be dangerous when not used properly, Mithoefer said. "It needs to be taken in a therapeutic setting with careful monitoring and a lot of follow-up to help patients integrate the experience successfully," he said. "I've had patients with PTSD outside the study tell me that they've used MDMA at a party and had bad experiences, because when feelings about the trauma came up, they weren't prepared to deal with them."

One important limitation of the study, Mithoefer said, was that most participants guessed accurately whether they were in the treatment or the placebo group, and trial investigators could detect raised blood pressure and other symptoms in the MDMA group. He added that an upcoming phase 2 trial -- looking at the effects of MDMA-assisted therapy on veterans with PTSD -- will hopefully avoid this problem, since all patients will receive the drug, but in different dosages.

Related Articles

Sunday, 18 July 2010

It’s A Bit Too Late For A Guilty Conscience

I feel for Scott Rush and his family. I really do. No one should have to go through what they have.

What really irks me though, is the sudden concern of the Australian Federal Police for the fate of Scott especially when it was them who effectively sentenced him to death. Scott’s father, Lee, tipped off the authorities about what Scott was doing in an attempt to save his son from a potential disaster. What the Feds did next is inexcusable - they informed the Indonesian authorities. Instead of stopping Scott from travelling overseas or waiting for the Bali Nine to arrive in Australia and arrest them, they opted to inform the Indonesian authorities knowing very well that they may face the death penalty. I can not even comprehend how guilty and betrayed that Lee Rush must be feeling. Trusting the AFP was the biggest mistake of his life and something that will haunt him forever.

Any rational person knows that Indonesia’s barbaric drug laws are straight out of the dark ages. In addition, it is common knowledge that Indonesian prisons have been condemned by human rights groups as cesspools, not worthy of housing animals let alone people. So why did Mick Phelan, the lead investigator tip off the Indonesian authorities knowing the accused may face the death penalty? Whatever the reason was, Phelan is now the AFP deputy commissioner. 

Even with the aid of hindsight, should the same set of circumstances present themselves again with another syndicate or other people, we would do exactly the same thing
--Mick Phelan (ABC's Australian Story)

Was this really an appropriate comment from a government organisation that is meant to protect Australian citizens? This and similar comments only added to the growing disillusionment with the role of the AFP and the government in protecting Australian citizens overseas. With the Schapelle Corby debacle still making headlines and government inactions involving the hanging of Van Tuong Nguyen in Singapore, many Australians were sceptical of Australia’s commitment to help the Bali Nine. 

So why is Phelan now so keen to help Scott Rush? What has convinced him to fly to Indonesia and testify on his behalf? 

The AFP was pilloried for its behaviour, knowing that Indonesia can apply the death penalty for drug crimes, and considerable pressure has been put on it to do everything it can for Rush

But Phelan is not the only one to suffer a guilty conscience. Several years ago, the then AFP Commissioner, Mick Keelty wrote a letter declaring that Scott Rush was indeed only a courier. This has been followed up by a recent letter dated May 2010 from Keelty, stating that fellow inmate, Martin Stephens was also only a “minor” player in the Bali heroin bust. At least one media report has claimed that Keelty is feeling remorse over his actions with the Bali Nine.

The episode is understood to haunt Mr Keelty, a devout Christian who personally opposes the death penalty and has now retired

It might seem noble to now make amends but their actions did help send these young people to hell and back. 

At the time, there was a treaty between Indonesia and Australia, where both countries could refuse to cooperate in a police investigation if the crime under investigation carries the death penalty. Under section 22(3) of the 1988 Extradition Act, the Australian attorney-general can only extradite a prisoner if assurances have been received that the death penalty will not be imposed or carried out. Defending the treaty breach, an arrogant Keelty made this excuse:

The policy is that we will not give evidence that will, or information that will, directly cause or result in somebody receiving the death penalty. But the reality is in this case, it would appear, on the allegations, that these people have been caught red-handed with heroin in Indonesia
--AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty

Yes, but only after a tip off by the Australian Federal Police. 

Lee and Christine Rush not only did what they thought was best for their son but acted above and beyond the duties of an Australian citizen. This incredible act of rectitude would ultimately ruin their lives because a bureaucratic process was more important than their son’s life. Why was a promise from one of Keelty’s minions, somehow impossible to keep in an organisation that has more wriggle room than a worm farm.

We would never have given any assurance, because there was no lawful reason to prevent him from travelling. My sympathy is with Lee Rush because somebody has misled him. Whoever gave Lee Rush the assurance that his son would be prevented from travelling acted dishonourably. There is no way anyone in the AFP would have provided that assurance because there was simply no power to detain him. He was not wanted on warrants, there were no conditions of his bail that prevented him from travelling overseas

Scott’s mother, Christine Rush summed it up.

I feel very let down by our Australian Federal Police – we tried to lawfully stop our son leaving the country, it wasn't done
The Federal Police can do, go wherever they want, do anything, anytime without supervision from the Australian Attorney-General or from the Justice Minister
This is not good for Australians and our laws need to be changed to protect our citizens and this must not happen to any Australian citizen again
-- Christine Rush

The Australian Federal Police have let down the Rush family, the Bali Nine and the Australian community. And their actions were supported by the PM, John Howard, the opposition leader, Kim Beazley, the Federal Justice Minister, Senator Chris Ellison and even the Federal Court. Maintaining ties with Indonesian has been a key ingredient in Canberra’s strategy for many years, despite the corruption, the human rights violations and barbaric practices that conflict with Australian standards. Why would the government let the lives of 9 lowly drug traffickers risk this special relationship?

Andrew Chan, Si Yi Chen, Michael Czugaj, Renae Lawrence, Tach Duc Thanh Nguyen, Matthew Norman, Scott Rush, Martin Stephens and Myuran Sukumaran conspired to import heroin into Australia. They are not murderers, rapists or violent thugs. The penalties, so easily dished out by the Indonesian courts are simply not reflective of their crimes and if they were apprehended in Australia, they would all be free now. Something is very, very wrong with this situation and unless something is done, we will continue to lose our loved ones because of misguided, manmade laws and the authorities who let it happen.

Soon I Learn Whether I Live Or Die, Rush Writes
By Tom Allard
July 2010

Unable to sleep in Kerobokan prison's death tower and aware his final legal appeal to overturn his appointment with an Indonesian firing squad was about to be lodged, Scott Rush composed a letter yesterday.

''This is likely to be my last chance to write to you before I know whether I live or die,'' he wrote to the federal parliamentarian Chris Hayes, one of many letters he has sent the MP since his arrest in April 2005. ''I am not a celebrity, I am a criminal deserving just punishment.''

It was a brutal sentiment characteristic of the youngest member of the Bali Nine drug smuggling ring, who is one of three on death row. He was unflinching about his fate and his own failings.

For his family, supporters and Indonesian and Australian lawyers , ''just punishment'' is not death but a 15-year jail term, the core of the judicial review submitted on his behalf yesterday.

A comprehensive and compelling case has been assembled. In an extraordinary development, Mick Phelan, the man who led the Australian Federal Police investigation into the Bali Nine and tipped off Indonesian authorities, has been persuaded to testify in Bali on Rush's behalf.

Rush's father, Lee, had pleaded with the AFP before his son took the fateful trip to Bali - his first overseas - to stop him from travelling, suspicious that Rush, dabbling with drugs, was planning to travel to Bali despite having no money.

The AFP was pilloried for its behaviour, knowing that Indonesia can apply the death penalty for drug crimes, and considerable pressure has been put on it to do everything it can for Rush.

Among the others testifying for him will be an Australian-based Islamic cleric, Suliman Sabdia, a Catholic priest, Father Tim Harris, and Rush's former solicitor, Judge John North.

Judge North has a letter from the former AFP commissioner Mick Keelty acknowledging Rush was a minor player.

Mr Phelan, who is now a deputy commissioner, has also provided a sworn statement for Rush, stressing he was only a courier and this was ''his first involvement in an importation of drugs''. ''Given recent sentencing history in Australia for similar offences, it is highly likely that a sentence much lesser than the maximum of 25 years would have been imposed on Scott Anthony Rush if he had been prosecuted in Australia,'' the statement says.

The AFP evidence will be pivotal to Rush's case, which rests in large part on proving Rush was only a courier. It also constitutes new evidence, one of the requirements under Indonesian law for a judicial review of a death penalty sentence.

Other arguments are that other Bali Nine members who played a similar role were given lighter sentences, and that Indonesian law requires that the death penalty be applied selectively.

Professor Andrew Byrnes from the University of NSW, who is recognised by Indonesia's Constitutional Court as an impartial expert on international law and the death penalty, has also provided a submission and will testify for Rush.

Numerous errors have also been identified in the sentence, including the assessment that only the death penalty can apply in Rush's case and a failure to consider mitigating circumstances such as his age and remorse.

It is also argued that Rush was incorrectly found to have ''exported'' drugs, when, in fact, he was arrested with heroin strapped to his body at Denpasar airport before passing through Indonesian customs.

Rush is unaware of much of the detail of his case, including Mr Phelan's unprecedented testimony.

''I truly feel sorry for the hurt and pain I've caused to my parents,'' he writes to Mr Hayes.

''I hope to have the chance to proove [sic] I am capable of reform. I want to give back to my community and be an ambassador against drugs.''

Friday, 9 July 2010

Q & A: Andrew Bartlett

Name: Andrew Bartlett
Role: Former Leader of the Australian Democrats and former member of the Australian Senate. Candidate for the Greens in the 2010 Federal election. 
Date: July 2010

I must admit, I have a special admiration for Andrew Bartlett. He represents what a modern, honest, clear thinking politician should be and his willingness to discuss important issues with anyone, regardless of their views or background is unique for someone with his experience. Like Sandra Kanck, Andrew is well known for his strong views on human rights issues as well as his support of harm minimisation. 

The evidence provided to the Committee’s Inquiry showed that scare campaigns, moral panic, heavy handed law enforcement and prohibition approaches have failed to curb the rise in substance abuse and the major social and personal harm it causes
While not condoning illicit drug use, it is imperative that we as a society recognise that the use of such substances is widespread, and that realistic and measured responses must prevail. As a consequence, I strongly endorse harm minimisation as a key principle for any drug policy response.
-- Andrew Bartlett in response to the 2007 report on the use of Amphetamines and Other Synthetic Drugs by the Parliamentary Crime Commission Committee.

If you want to exchange views with Andrew or see how an active, well kept blog should look, check out


Do you have strong views about drug policy especially, Harm Minimisation . If so, why?
Yes, I have strong views because bad policy in this area unnecessarily harms so many lives, and because public and political debate on the effectiveness of harm minimisation options is often deliberately sensationalised and distorted – compounding the harm and impeding progress to better policies.

When you were a member of the Democrats, you were vocal about the government’s drug policies. Do you think the current government will introduce more effective strategies than the Howard government?
I haven’t followed the fine detail of the government’s activities in this area, but haven’t seen any evidence which suggests there has been a substantial improvement, although there doesn’t seem to be much of the overt and deliberate sensationalising that occurred with some members of the previous government.

In 2007, you voiced your disappointment in Assistant Minister for Health and Ageing, Chris Pyne dismissing the Australian Crime Commission Committee Report within an hour of it being released. Do you see any changes in how the new government treats important committee reports?
In general the new government has been better than the final years of the Howard era in responding more promptly to committee reports, even when it has not agreed with recommendations in the report.  The open contempt for Committee processes and views which the government disagreed with is not so apparent, although reports on issues which one could describe as particularly politicised still tend to get short shrift.

The "War on Drugs" and prohibition has been a huge failure. Do you support legalising drugs in anyway?
I support shifting the emphasis in policies and programs that dealing with drugs to give more focus to the health aspects of the issue rather than an inflexibly punitive law and order approach.  This does not necessarily mean any move towards legalisation.

From your experience, do fellow politicians actually believe the hype that the war on drugs is winnable?
Those who view and speak of the ‘war on drugs’ as some sort of moral crusade probably believe in the prospect of ultimate victory, but I haven’t seen any indication that such people pay any attention to the real world evidence on the issue.  Those who view it more as some sort of war of attrition tend to see it more as a battle of containment rather than something with the prospect of an ultimate victory – I think many of those genuinely believe this is the most viable approach. 

Bronwyn Bishop chaired an enquiry into illicit drugs and produced a report called “The Winnable War on Drugs”. What did you think of it?
A farce and a disgrace which demeaned Parliament and harmed the reputation of parliamentary Committee Inquiries

The Greens were unfairly attacked by the NSW government and other political groups for their previous drug policy. Were the Democrats often targeted as well considering they had similar drug policies? 
The Democrats were attacked from time to time over the years, although I think the extreme and deliberate misrepresentation of the Greens policies on that occasion was more unjustified and unfair than anything I recall being directed at the Democrats regarding this topic.

What are your thoughts on The Greens changing their drug policy to be more in line with the major political parties?
The reality of extreme and deliberate misrepresentation, vilification and scare campaigns which tend to get directed to even the most moderate proposals to explore alternatives to a hardline, inflexible law and order approach to drug policy unfortunately stifles many attempts to have an informed, evidence based approach to the issue.  From my examination of the Greens policy changes, it seems they have been made to minimise the prospect of misrepresentation, rather than any sense of a dramatic u-turn. Sadly, the recent Tasmanian election demonstrated that even the most benign statement about drug policy by a Greens MP was deliberately misrepresented and distorted by the ALP in a well resourced last minute election scare campaign.

Australia appears to be following the US and placing more emphasis on religion in politics. Do you feel this effects our drug policy?
I don’t believe an emphasis on religion is a problem. Religious views are sometimes used as a justification or buttress for particular policies, but I see it more as a matter of progressive compassionate values and reason based policies versus regressive conservative values and policies based on assertion, not evidence.  Some religious organisations have been at the forefront of promoting more effective, evidence based, health focused and compassionate approaches to drug policy – and have drawn on their religious beliefs and values in doing so. Others have used their religious beliefs to justify a position which in effect highlights a moral judgement about drug users to drive their attitude and approach to drug policies. It is the policy and value base which we should focus on, not whether or not the person holding them is of a particular religion or not.

Do you feel it’s someone right to take illicit drugs?
A person has the right to take illicit drugs, but they also have to accept there can be legal and health consequences from doing so. People should be well aware of all such consequences before making such a decision.

Do you or have you used drugs(including alcohol) recreationally?
It’s no secret I have used alcohol recreationally. I haven’t ever used any other drugs.

Do you think a needle exchange program is needed in prisons?

Results from Heroin Assisted Treatment (HAT) programs have been very positive overseas and HAT is now more successful than detox, rehab and methadone for long term addicts. Is this program viable for Australia considering John Howard vetoed a HAT trial 11 years ago?
Any program which has shown to provide positive results should be an option. It should certainly be viable to trial such a program.

The media in Australia is responsible for much of the public’s views on drug issues. Do they (the media), especially opinion writers like Piers Akerman, Miranda Devine etc., have an obligation to tell the truth instead of spreading right wing ideology, misinformation and lies?
All people, regardless of their ideological leanings, who write or speak in the public domain on this (and any other topic) have a responsibility to be as truthful as possible – particularly on matters such as this which can have such a direct impact on so many peoples’ lives.

You were very critical of the Singapore and Australian governments about the execution of Van Nguyen in 2005. Do you feel the government does enough when Australians overseas are given barbaric punishments for drug offences?
I don’t pretend Australian governments can stop other governments from doing such things, but I do think we can take a more consistent and stronger approach towards opposing the death penalty in all circumstances.

What do you think of politicians being labelled “Soft on Drugs” when they suggest alternatives to current drug strategies?
Intellectually dishonest and somewhat pathetic, but unfortunately such attacks appear to be inevitable in such circumstances.

Have your views on the drug issue changed since leaving politics?
Not significantly

Finally, if you were Prime Minister Andrew Bartlett and you could change one law relating to drug policy or drug treatment, what would it be?
I would probably seek to legalise some form of treatment trials, but if I could only change one thing, I would prefer to first consult with those who have greater expertise than I do about which change would be likely to benefit the most number of lives.

Related Articles
Q and A: Kerry Wolf - Certified Methadone Advocate (USA)
Q and A: Dr. James Rowe - Lecturer at RMIT, School of Global Studies, Social Science & Planning
Q and A: Gino Vumbaca - Executive Director of the Australian National Council on Drugs
Q and A: Sandra Kanck - Former South Australian MLC. South Australia spokesperson for Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform (FFDLR)
Q and A: Tony Trimingham - Chief Executive Officer, Family Drug Support

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Cracker Comments - Steve Price(MTR)

Last month, Steve Price from radio station, MTR interviewed John Rogerson, the CEO of the Australian Drug Foundation. The topic was the AFL’s 3 strike drug policy.

Steve Price: What do you think of this idea that you can have 2 strikes and still not be named?

John Rogerson: I think it’s one of the strengths of the policy. This policy is about trying to help players who are using drugs to get off them.

Steve Price: Wouldn’t publicly shaming you after the 1st offence be more likely to get you off than keeping it a secret?

John Rogerson: The research is very, very clear on this. Public shaming does not work … one bit.

Steve Price: I don’t know how you can say that. 

Yes, the man known as the “Angry Dwarf” was not going to accept the word of a drug addiction expert or even the dozens of studies into the subject. He had his own views and it became obvious that nothing was going to change his mind.

Steve Price: How’s it working?

John Rogerson: It’s working because the number of players failing tests is decreasing.

Steve Price: That’s the numbers caught. You’re not really suggesting only 14 AFL players in the 2009 on and off season took illicit drugs, are you?

John Rogerson: I don’t know what else we can expect the AFL to do. They are testing and testing more and clearly the percentage of players failing tests is decreasing. I think what we need to bear in mind with this whole program is that if we look at the level of drug use in the AFL compared to what’s going on in the community, it’s far, far, far less so we look at the recent stats around cannabis use, 20% of males aged between 20 and 29 are using cannabis. The AFL have got one failed test.

Steve Price: Yeah, but those stats don’t match reality.

John Rogerson said on at least 5 occasions, that research clearly shows that publicly shaming drug users has a negative impact. What was Steve Price’s source of information? Why was he so adamant that John Rogerson was wrong and he was right? Price was more concerned with punishing a player than any need to help them.

Steve Price has a long history of trying to sensationalise moral issues, especially drugs. From way back in the days when he worked on 3AW, to his years on 2UE trying to crack the Sydney market, Price has been consistent with his “Shock Jock” image and bursts of moral outrage. For those who might not have had the pleasure of seeing Steve in action, here is a refresher.

The problem with bucketheads like Steve Price is that they take themselves so seriously they forget the need to check facts. It’s being perpetually angry, self righteous and having an insatiable quest for popularity that will enviably lead to taking short cuts and without the facts, it can backfire. ABC’s MediaWatch has at least 2 examples of this. But the biggest problem for Price is hypocrisy. Steve might hate drugs but his love affair with booze is somehow OK. He has written about his own excessive drinking several times for News Ltd and even has a police record for drunk-driving. Interestingly, his drunk-driving conviction didn’t stop him fronting a report on car hoons for A Current Affair. Conveniently, his current disqualification for drunk driving wasn’t mentioned and either were his 7 driving offences including 5 for speeding. Another example of hypocrisy was the failure to declare his wife, Wendy Black, worked for ex Workplace Relations Minister, Joe Hockey. How many interviews did he conduct with politicians without declaring that rip-snorter? And to top it off, it seems that the bulldog image he endears so much can be a wee bit sensitive at times. Steve Price has the honour of being one of Australia’s most litigious journalist. He has sued Steven Mayne from Crikey, Richmond’s Kevin Bartlett, Adnews magazine and Dr Turf as well as threatening various others with court action. Not surprisingly, he himself has been sued 3 times at least including one incident involving gay slurs.

Very much about different styles of talk radio and why Steve Price is moving to Sydney, and it's seen as quite a good move for Steve, because he probably suits the radio shock-jock culture that Sydney has got firmly entrenched far more than he suits Melbourne. His sort of abusive and abrasive style I think will sit very well in a 2UE where you've had John Laws for years and up until recently, Alan Jones, so I think he fits that genre of shock-jock quite well.

Let’s face it. Steve Price is not a journalist or a well researched opinionist. He is a shock jock like Stan Zemanek or Alan Jones. His holier-than-thou rants might boost his own self confidence but it is a far cry from the serious, hard hitting “journalism” that he tries to portray. Maybe, someone should tell him that defying experts on air with smug, bully-like tactics does not change the facts. It may entertain an ignorant public by sticking it to an ivory tower academic but it still just boils down to trash reporting from a uninformed, shock jock.

This is a big part of the MTR philosophy: you don’t have to read a book to know what’s what.

The interview with John Rogerson was disgraceful. Throwing in ridiculous comments like, “You think it’s OK to take drugs, do you?” or using out of context scenarios are just cheap ploys to win a straw man argument. But nothing stings your credibility more than not knowing who you are actually interviewing. 

Steve Price: OK Thank you John, John Rogerson CEO from the Australian Drug Foundation. Can we work out what the Australian Drug Foundation actually is? So I can tell people why that bloke has got such a stupid, soft view of the world. What a dumb thing to say. What an absolutely stupid thing to say. What are the Australian Drug Foundation? A marketing arm for drug dealers?

There you go. “Can we work out what the Australian Drug Foundation actually is?”  Maybe, this question should have been asked before the interview. I wonder if Steve would ask the same question about Good Sports, Australian Drug Information Network(ADIN), Community Alcohol Action Network(CAAN), Centre for Youth Drug Studies(CYDS) or the DrugInfo Clearinghouse? All these groups are part of ADF. They certainly are not, “a marketing arm for drug dealers”.

Full Transcript

Steve Price: What do you think of this idea that you can have 2 strikes and still not be named?

John Rogerson: I think it’s one of the strengths of the policy. This policy is about trying to help players who are using drugs to get off them.

Steve Price: Wouldn’t publicly shaming you after the 1st offence be more likely to get you off than keeping it a secret?

John Rogerson: The research is very, very clear on this. Public shaming does not work … one bit.

Steve Price: I don’t know how you can say that. 

John Rogerson: The research shows right around the world shows that if you want to help people with their addiction, where it drugs, sex, food, whatever. Then publicly shaming them has a negative impact.

Steve Price: So we should have kept Tiger Woods sexual escapades secret and he would have been more easily cured?

John Rogerson: Nah, definitely not saying that.

Steve Price: But you are saying that.

John Rogerson: No, the evidence on this is very, very clear. Public shaming is not to going to help anybody in our community get off any addiction that they have.

Steve Price: As an employer, shouldn’t I know if one of my employees is taking drugs illegally? 

John Rogerson: Well, I guess it depends on what you are going to do. If you look at the general community attitude towards illicit drugs, there is all sorts of hire and shame when they hear of anyone who takes illicit drugs. And in general Steve, it stigmatises these people. So therefore that doesn’t help with their recovery. So the whole purpose of this program is to help people recover. And stigmatising them, berating them is not going to help. 

Steve Price: It’s just a soft way out. It’s just saying we’ll keep it secret. No one will ever know, if you’re not a bad boy again, we won’t punish you.

John Rogerson: I don’t know how you can say that. Clearly this policy, this program is working.

Steve Price: How’s it working?

John Rogerson: It’s working because the number of players failing tests is decreasing.

Steve Price: That’s the numbers court. You’re not really suggesting only 14 AFL players in the 2009 on and off season took illicit drugs, are you?

John Rogerson: I don’t know what else we can expect the AFL to do. They are testing and testing more and clearly the percentage of players failing tests is decreasing. I think what we need to bear in mind with this whole program is that if we look at the level of drug use in the AFL compared to what’s going on in the community, it’s far, far, far less so we look at the recent stats around cannabis use, 20% of males aged between 20 and 29 are using cannabis. The AFL have got one failed test.

Steve Price: Yeah, but those stats don’t match reality.

John Rogerson: What would you like them to do Steve?

Steve Price: What I would like them to do is make public those players who are using drugs so if I have a 17 year old kid who is going to be drafted, I would like to know the club is going to be tough on their players who take drugs and they aught to be sacked. I’d be sacked if I got caught taking drugs.

John Rogerson: Well, you might be sacked.

Steve Price: Not might … would be!

John Rogerson: But the average person in the community who got caught using cannabis for example... 

Steve Price: Train drivers - sacked. Police officers - sacked. Ambulance officers - sacked. Doctors - sacked. 

John Rogerson: There’s an issue there about public safety. The average person in the community caught using cannabis does not get put in jail. They actually get support, treatment and diversion.

Steve Price: What about the average person who goes out and buys ice, ecstasy and cocaine from a drug dealer? That’s fine is it? What message are you sending to young people? 

John Rogerson: What this is about, and I know the view in the community is, let’s get tough on them, it actually doesn’t help them.

Steve Price: The community actually reflects what really should be the real view. They should get tough on people. This is just a soft way to deal with the issue. It is absolutely just ruining the lives of so many young people. 

John Rogerson: No, no… 

Steve Price: You think it’s OK to take drugs, do you?

John Rogerson: No, I definitely don’t think it’s OK to take drugs. But if we are going to help people using drugs get off them, then public shaming, putting them in jail, all that stuff … it doesn’t work. And the research and evidence is really clear on this. So it’s alright to have public opinion to be really tough on them but it doesn’t work.

Steve Price: OK Thank you John, John Rogerson CEO from the Australian Drug Foundation. Can we work out what the Australian Drug Foundation actually is? So I can tell people why that bloke has got such a stupid, soft view of the world. What a dumb thing to say. What an absolutely stupid thing to say. What are the Australian Drug Foundation? A marketing arm for drug dealers?