BY MICHAEL HITCH
Following the deaths of five people at NSW music festivals since September 2018, and the cold fact that drug-induced deaths have now reached their highest number in 20 years, the matter of reforming drug policy in Australia has reached a critical point for many.
The Greens MP for Newtown, Jenny Leong, is one of those people.
The Greens support a harm minimisation approach for drug use, and strongly oppose the state government’s recent “no drug use” policy.
This policy is embedded in the “War on Drugs” mentality, which has demonstrated itself to be as effective as the “abstinence is awesome” approach to sex education.
Health and safety a top priority
Ms Leong told the City Hub that the current laws do not match community values, noting that health and safety should be the top priority in government approaches to drug use.
“We need better measures to recognise the reality that people take drugs in our community and what we need to do is make sure that they’re safe when they’re doing it,” she said.
“We also need to make sure that they’re not punished, when all they need is help.
“What we know is that for too long some politicians and political parties have been exploiting the issue of drug use in our community as an excuse to get tough on “law and order”, when a more constructive and safer approach is better education and better health care support.”
Ms Leong said that zero tolerance laws are nurturing an unhealthy relationship between the public and the police, especially among marginalised groups.
“What we know is that this kind of tough policing actually prevents people from reporting serious crimes involving sexual violence and other kinds of homophobic or racial attacks,” she said.
“We know that people who are marginalised, and who have less power and influence, are the ones who suffer disproportionately when these tough law and order approaches are implemented in our society.
“I have serious concerns that we could see aggressive policing through the use of sniffer dogs and strip searches in public places. These not only have a direct effect on the people involved, but they also breach fundamental human rights. They also have the regrettable effect of allowing people to see police as a force for punishment rather than as a source of help.
“We need to see community policing that protects the interests of the community, not policing that is there to implement a political agenda being pushed by the government of the day.”
The Uniting Church’s service arm, “Uniting”, is fighting alongside the Greens in separating drug use and criminality. It launched its “Fair Treatment Campaign” in October 2018, a campaign that aims to reform criminal drug policy in Australia.
In a statement to City Hub, a Uniting Church spokesperson said that the evidence supporting harm minimisation was overwhelming, and that health-based efforts such as the MSIC have had an overwhelmingly positive impact in the community.