Talking about drugs

A National Drug Summit is coming up next month at Parliament House. It’s an event I’ve organised with colleagues across the political divide, to crack open a conversation about drug law reform.

By Richard Di Natale, Greens Leader
Friday, February 12, 2016

This is a conversation that’s been shoved into a deep dark corner since about 1999 (when then-Prime Minister John Howard stepped in to stop a prescription heroin trial) but it's a conversation we need to approach with courage, because what we’re doing now isn’t working.

Too often we read about drug overdoses, some fatal. We hear about festival-goers swallowing all their pills at once to avoid sniffer dogs. We see pressure being heaped upon police to fix what is clearly a health problem, and we know people who eventually seek help through our health system are often turned away due to a lack of resources.

In preparation for the National Drug Summit, I’ve been working with Greens MPs around the country to host a series of roundtables. In Melbourne, Adelaide, the Gold Coast, Sydney and Newcastle, to name a few, we’re sitting down with health professionals, law enforcement, community leaders and people with lived experience of drugs to talk about what drugs are prevalent in their areas, how the effects are manifesting, what obstacles they come up against and how they think drug harm could be minimised.

These personal and localised accounts will be incredibly valuable in informing the national debate that we plan to kick off at the National Drug Summit. On the basis of the urgent need for reform, the Sydney Morning Herald has already forecast that “drugs may become 2016's equivalent of the campaign against domestic violence.”

Drug harm affects our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers. It endangers our friends and colleagues and is an even bigger threat to those without stable housing, employment or social engagement. It has an intergenerational impact on families and it’s one of the things I entered parliament to address.

Having worked as a drug and alcohol clinician, I’ve felt immense frustration at our society’s overall failure to treat drug use. It’s usually ‘treated’ as a criminal matter or not treated at all. The Greens play a critical role in our legislature as leaders in opening up tough discussions and challenging the status quo.

We’re doing it on marriage equality, on contemplation of Australia as a republic, on the prospect of a treaty or treaties with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. On tax changes that reduce inequality, on an ambitious switch to 90 per cent clean energy by 2030, on the notion that there are alternatives to going to war, and on refusing to accept that people have to be locked up in detention camps or they’ll drown at sea. Those are not the only options. 

As Malcolm Turnbull backs away from every challenge left to him by Tony Abbott and Labor is reduced to a conversation about lettuce, I’m proud of the way the Greens are showing courage and vision in our parliaments and in our community to demand better. Every rally you attend, every submission to an inquiry, every Facebook post you share, and every moment you volunteer on a campaign makes a difference in changing the national conversation, and ultimately the law.

Keep it up,