Sunday, 5 June 2011

Pollie Waffle

Blah blah blah ...
Image by Petula Bloomfield 
Have you ever wondered what happens when you send a letter to a politician? Do they read it? Do one of their lackeys reply for them or do they just bin your letter? 

I must admit that I have received some responses from politicians that have been answered personally. In general though, most responses from politicians are stock standard replies that somehow miss the point of your concerns and end up being promotional advertising for their party. 

I wrote to the Victorian Minister for Mental Health, The Hon. Mary Wooldridge MP and voiced my concerns that she was a keynote speaker at the 2011 VAADA Conference. (VAADA - The Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association Inc.). I thought it was a bit strange for a politician to speak at a conference held for professionals in the AOD industry considering her support for banning drug paraphernalia which most members of VAADA opposed.

My letter to Minister Wooldridge simply asked what her response would be if most of the experts at the VAADA conference either told her and/or presented evidence that the government's proposed banning of drug paraphernalia would do more harm than good. A question that really only has one answer. 

I implore you to ask for the views of those who deal with drug issues on a daily basis. The 2011 VAADA Conference is an ideal event to find out what the professionals think about banning bongs. If anyone has an insight into the issue it’s those attending the conference. They are experts who spend their lives researching and dealing with drugs. 
-Extract from my letter to Victorian Minister for Mental Health, The Hon. Mary Wooldridge MP

The theme of the conference was Transitions: people, policy, practice implies change and moving forward and the program will focus on the transitions and movements within the alcohol and other drug (AOD) field as we move towards 2020.

The conference asks the questions:
-What does the next decade hold for alcohol and other drug treatment?
-What are the current strengths and weaknesses of drug treatment?
-How can we reshape public debate about alcohol and drugs?
-How do we build a drug treatment system for the future?

How does Mary Wooldridge MP fit into this? The new Victorian Liberal government (with her support) wants drug paraphernalia banned although there is absolutely no evidence that it will achieve the desired outcome of reducing drug use. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence though that not having access to certain drug using equipment can help cause severe harm to drug users. Why would VAADA choose someone like Mary Wooldridge to be a keynote speaker when the theme of the conference is about moving forward with better drug policies and wiser practices for dealing with drug users?

First up, here is my letter to the Victorian Minister for Mental Health.

Dear Mary

I notice you are a keynote speaker at the 2011 VAADA Conference. This year’s theme is Transitions: people, policy, practice which implies change and moving forward.

I would like to know your reaction if most of the attendees agree that our current drug policies have failed and need to change. Will you change your decision to ban drug paraphernalia (cannabis smoking equipment) if most of the attendees think it is a mistake? Will you take into account their views if they feel that banning bongs will not deter drug use and may actually cause serious harm or even death to some people? 

Most importantly, will you reconsider your position if the latest quantified research clearly shows that what they say is true? Will you base your decision on evidence or anti-drug rhetoric and popular myths? 

The fact is, most of the public do not want bongs banned. Either do most health professionals, drug experts and AOD workers. Although the general public mightn’t solely base their decision on scientific data, health professionals, drug experts and AOD workers do. Your decision on whether to ban bongs, needs to also be based on scientific data and the best available evidence. Currently, the evidence is overwhelmingly clear that removing safe drug taking equipment from sale does not deter drug use at all. Instead, it just encourages users to make homemade equipment that when shared may spread HIV/AIDS/Hep C through cut or burnt lips. Homemade bongs may also produce poisonous chemicals from burning inappropriate materials and cause damage to the health of users. 

Trying to “Send a clear message that cannabis is harmful” by removing the sale of bongs is contradictory. Forcing users to make homemade bongs is already harmful. Removing bongs from sale is also counterproductive. Homemade bongs do not come with warnings or directions on how to get help. But including this information with any legal sale would target the very people you are trying to reach.  The legal availability of bongs does not determine whether someone users cannabis or normalises it’s use. There are many factors involved why people use cannabis but the legal sale of bongs is not one of them. Have you considered that like needle exchanges, a bong shop could give health workers direct access to users?  An elected official like you must do what’s best for the community and implement evidence based policies regardless of your own personal views or what you may think is popular. 

I implore you to ask for the views of those who deal with drug issues on a daily basis. The 2011 VAADA Conference is an ideal event to find out what the professionals think about banning bongs. If anyone has an insight into the issue it’s those attending the conference. They are experts who spend their lives researching and dealing with drugs. 

Awaiting your reply.


Terry Wright
The Australian Heroin Diaries

On April 13, 2011, a full three months later, I received a response.
NOTE: Her email contained a scan of a printed letter. I have retyped the contents.

Mr Terry Wright
The Australian Heroin Diaries
Dear Mr Wright

Thank you for your email dated 16 January 2011 regarding the Victorian Government's intention to ban the sale of cannabis smoking paraphernalia (bongs). 

The ban on the sale of bongs was a Coalition election promise made by the Premier, the Hon Ted Baillieu MP in January 2010. This amendment to the Drugs Poisons and Controlled Substances Act would see Victoria's legislation become comprehensive in banning all types of illicit drug paraphernalia, aligning with a ban on the sale of cocaine kits and ice pipes. 

Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug by young people in Victoria, and amongst regular cannabis users, bongs are the most common method for consumption. There is significant evidence on the risks of cannabis use to physical and mental health, particularly amongst those that commence cannabis use in their adolescence, and who use regularly. 

By banning the sale of bongs the Government is demonstrating their commitment to preventing uptake and reducing the harms caused by cannabis use. The Government will also provide improved community information and education about the ban and the harmful effects of cannabis.

Yours sincerely

Hon Mary Wooldridge MP
Minister for Mental Health

Mmmm. Doesn't really answer my questions.

The more I read her response, the more I am convinced that it is a cut and paste job from previous letters.

What are your thoughts?

2007 Election Letter
As I was writing this, I remembered about another reply I got years ago. It's a cracker!

Back in 2007 with only 10 days until the federal election, I wrote to the Shadow Minister for Health, Nicola Roxon MP. Assuming a Labor victory, I asked her if Labor was going to follow on with Howard's "Tough on Drugs" strategy and implement any of the recommendations from The Bishop Report: “The Winnable War on Drugs”?

Dear Nicola

What is the ALP policy on health & drug reform? I did not find any clear indication from the ALP website.

Is a new Labor Party government going to follow Howard’s outdated U.S. Lead ‘War on Drugs’ approach or is the Labor Party going to use health & science as their basis for treating drug addicts?

Is your party supporting ‘harm minimisation’ or supporting Bronwyn Bishop’s latest report findings. After Bronwyn Bishop’s report, I read so many negative opinions and nearly every health professional who commented on it, was scathing of the contempt The Prime Minister and Bronwyn Bishop had for harm minimisation.

All I ask is for Labor to follow the European lead and use science, heath and experts to determine this serious issue of drug addiction and not use fear or morals to enforce a law & order policy. It has not worked for 30 years now and in fact only drives up crime, repression and misery.

Terry Wright

What I received was classic Roxon and unadulterated election spin. But what stunned me most was that it was sent only two days short of election day. Read it if you dare.

Dear Terry

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. This is evidenced by a series of recent Labor policy announcements.

Labor has committed to a National Strategy to crack down on methamphetamines or “ice.” This included:
a ban on importing ice pipes and other drug paraphernalia; and
either further restrictions or a complete ban on sale of pseudoephedrine - a key ingredient of methamphetamine -  to minors;
work to restrict or ban the sale of pseudoephedrine over the internet; and
the extension of the special reference to the Australian Crime Commission to conduct a national investigation into the criminals engaged in the manufacture, sale and use of methamphetamine. 
Labor has also committed to boost Australian Federal Police numbers by 500 including tackling the importation of illicit drugs.

Labor supports the aim of helping those who use illicit drugs become drug free.  It must be recognised that illicit drug use and drug addiction in particular can be complex.   Despite the best efforts of families, Governments, health professionals and community groups such as churches, a small number of people still engage in drug taking behaviour. This is a tragedy that families across the social spectrum face.

How best to deal with those who are resistant to intervention is not an easy task but society should not give up on trying to engage them in treatments that will see them become drug free and minimise the harm they do to themselves and their families.  Labor believes that health professionals need to be able to use a range of prevention and intervention approaches and that these must be seen as part of a continuum that has freedom from drugs as an end goal.

Thank you for writing to Federal Labor about this important issue.

Yours sincerely
Nicola Roxon MP
Shadow Minister for Heatlh

Yes, it's real.

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Anonymous said...

I am shocked you even got a response from Nicola Roxon. She is my local MP and she ignored the letter I wrote to her voicing my concerns about the negative impact of punitive drug policy in her wider community. Her response to your letter is alarmingly out of touch with the needs of people ... just my opinion.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks Anon.

What you said is correct. Roxon's response was "alarmingly out of touch with the needs of people".

Actually, both responses sound like "Pollie Waffle".

But it doesn't matter what they say because they never get it right anyway.

I just want to know why they keep doing the same old shit when it has never worked. Why do they keep following the strategies of the US and UK when they have some of the worst drug problems in the world? No wonder Australia is also one of those countries with a shocking record.

Where's all the brave, intelligent politicians who are prepared to follow the evidence instead of voter friendly dribble?

Anonymous said...

Both responses are total cut and paste jobs. My guess is that their offices have a series of pre prepared and fairly generic responses to a variety of topics they think might come up. None of them would risk putting something in print that goes against the party line. Mediocrity and lack of courage is crucial if one is to succeed in either of the major parties. Keep up the good work! Jason

Writer.Unknown said... a must read drug blog

Anonymous said...

Stupid cow has no idea does more damage than good, please sack her bloody hell.