July 27th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

TRADE: Sugar industry study backs failed policies, not new solutions

SOUTH AUSTRALIA: SA Govt to ignore Drug Summit call for harm minimisation?

ICC: a clarification (letter)

It's a cruel world ... (letter)

Welfare equity? (letter)

Islam and Australia (letter)

COMMENT: After Cheryl Kernot - character is important in public life

ASIA: Hong Kong: deflation and Big Brother

BIOETHICS: It's fact - life begins at fertilisation

COMMENT: Liability insurance and the abortion industry

COMMENT: How to uphold Australian 'culture' - plagiarise

BOOKS: 'ALIVE: The True Story of the Andes Survivors', by Piers Paul Read

COVER STORY: Why the Kashmir conflict won't go nuclear

EDITORIAL: The maternity leave morass

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Telstra sale splits minor parties - but will it be enough?

Government should act to secure super savings

MEDICAL SCIENCE: Nerve cells used in spinal cord regeneration trial

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Empty vessels at the old corral / Short-termism

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SA Govt to ignore Drug Summit call for harm minimisation?

by Paul Russell

News Weekly, July 27, 2002
It will be interesting to see how the SA State Government will act on recommendations which have come from the Drug Summit in Adelaide, which included a heroin trial and clean needle programs in prisons.

Premier Mike Rann has already made it plain that he did not agree with some of the decisions, indeed, he said that these do not have his approval.

He has indicated that his Government has fulfilled an electoral promise to hold such a the forum. That does not mean it will accept its decisions. Moreover, he has made it clear that proposals which do not follow ALP policy will not be accepted.

Expert speakers

The Summit was addressed by 38 speakers, most of whom were experts in various areas of drug dependency. The majority spoke in favour of "harm minimisation".

Discussions extended over five days with nine separate topic groups focusing on various aspects of the problem; for example, Aboriginal people and drug use; young people and drugs; breaking the drug and crime cycle, etc.

The most galvanising discussion centred around the Mt Theo story. It told of the petrol sniffing problem in the Yuendumu aboriginal community west of Alice Springs. A group of volunteers in collaboration with the families in the community and a station owner 150 kilometres further west at Mt. Theo were responsible for the program.

The petrol sniffers were sent to Mt Theo to work on the station where petrol was not available. After a time, if it was thought they were cured, they were allowed back to Yuendumu on the understanding that, if they returned to sniffing it was straight back to Mt Theo.

The experiment has worked and Yuendumu is free of petrol sniffers. It was agreed that the system worked because it had the support of families and the community.

It seemed to me to be a classic example of "zero tolerance".

It was pleasing to note that several of the experts who addressed the Summit insisted that close family ties and the resulting support and self-discipline which came from intact families was a big factor in any program which hoped to overcome the drug problem.

Such comments were in complete contrast from one of the leading speakers that it was "absurd" to speak of abstinence in the treatment of drug addiction.

During the course of a working group discussion, I asked a leading speaker why the Summit had not referred to the Swedish initiative on zero tolerance which had shown outstanding results in that country. He replied that yes, the Swedish initiatives had worked, however, we need to understand that the Swedes have a different welfare system than us which helped it to work. My suggestion that we should adopt their welfare system did not register with those present.

Mike Rann argues that he has fulfilled his Government's electoral promise by holding the Drug Summit. He gave no guarantees that he would act on any subsequent recommendations, indeed, he has completely disagreed with many of them.

The Premier issued a statement on Tuesday, July 6, saying that new drug laws would soon be released. They are expected to include a toughening of offences relating to the sale and supply of serious drugs, particularly relating to the procurement of children for the sale of drugs. He said he was targeting the "Mr Bigs" of the drug trade.

"People who deal in illicit drugs, including cannabis, and who pressure children to traffic these drugs will face life imprisonment," Mr Rann said.

Proponents of "precursor" drugs - chemicals to produce amphetamines and designer drugs such as ecstasy - face a prison term of up to 25 years for the sale of commercial quantities of the chemicals.

It will be interesting to see where the issue goes from here.

  • Paul Russell

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