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

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"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."

Who are those people?