tip off

Drugs are a societal, not a judicial, problem

Crikey says: In yesterday’s Tips and Rumours we stated there were no Fairfax journalists at a Qantas function on Thursday. That was wrong — two Fairfax scribes have told us they were indeed in attendance (and that SMH editor-in-chief Sean Aylmer spent a considerable period of time there). We’re happy to note the error.

Drugs:

Don Wormald writes: Re. “Tough on drugs? Tough too as cost of new laws goes to pot” (yesterday, item 4). Lisa Pryor’s article in yesterday’s Crikey hits the nail on the head — the debate about drugs is simply not rational.

During the 1970s I was on the ministerial office staff of the NSW attorney-general, the late Frank Walker, with particular responsibility for “victimless crimes” including drugs legislation. In 1977 Walker, in concert with premier Neville Wran, determined to bring in more sensible laws governing the use of “soft” drugs such as cannabis. This was following the Nimbin drug raids, which attracted particularly bad publicity at the time over heavy-handed police tactics.

Wran and Walker wanted to decriminalise cannabis use (legalising such drugs faces problems due to Australia being a signatory to a 1960 World Health Organisation treaty, which classifies cannabis as a “narcotic”). As directed, I wrote a cabinet submission proposing the use of cannabis in small amounts be decriminalised. It would be legal to grow three marijuana plants in your backyard for personal consumption.

The proposal was defeated in cabinet by the then conservative-Catholic right wing led by minister Pat Hills, in response to a letter-writing campaign instigated by the Catholic Diocese of Newcastle. It was, as usual, the fear of losing seats that dictated public policy.

Not to be completely defeated, Wran, as minister of police, issued instructions to the police directing a softer line on enforcement. This recognised the economic reality prevailing at the time: a first offender could expect to get off with a good behaviour bond with no conviction entered and an $80 fine. The cost to the justice system was in excess of $300 in bringing the charges.

This approach also recognised a long-held view within the justice system  — that when more than 15% of the population breaks a law that law is effectively rendered ineffective. With more than 50% of the population admitting to having tried cannabis, the jails would be overflowing in every jurisdiction if the full penalties were enforced. Yet not to enforce the penalties diminishes the law.

What really gets me about the whole debate is the sheer hypocrisy expressed by conservative elements prognosticating over their whiskeys. The runaway highest costs to society of drug abuse are tobacco, alcohol and prescription medication. The costs to society of the drugs Pryor mentions, cannabis and ecstasy, are minute by comparison. The pharmaceutical company Parke Davis used to sell cannabis as a tonic to increase appetite (munchies anyone?) until about 1938 and ecstasy was originally used in Germany as a drug found to be useful in marriage counselling. The prohibition of cannabis is really an accident of history.

But the biggest hypocrisy in my mind is the number of legislators, judges and prosecutors who have used such drugs yet sagely nod their heads in agreement with harsh laws. I can vividly recall a judge, in his cups, becoming very emotional one evening and pouring out to me his disgust with himself over sentencing a drugs offender to jail for something he enjoyed himself.

Drugs abuse is a crime where the perpetrator is also the victim and, as such, is really a societal problem rather than a problem properly dealt with by the criminal justice system.

REA Group:

REA Group’s CEO Greg Ellis writes: Re. “News Limited’s ‘premiere package’ for agents under attack” (yesterday, item 13). Let me be very clear in saying that all REA Group’s customer products and services are offered in strict compliance with applicable laws.

The Ultimate Online Advertising Package benefits agents and vendors by providing price certainty to selected enhanced products, including our top-ranking Premiere Product.

There is no cash incentive paid to any customer office or agent under the Ultimate Online Advertising Package. Neither is there any cash incentive paid to any customer office or agent as part of our Cooperative Marketing Arrangements. Those arrangements are offered at franchiser level to provide training and education to franchisee offices and agents.

Crikey has reproduced only part of the confidential letter of agreement outlining a co-operative funding arrangement. The letter goes on to require the contracting party to ensure compliance with all applicable laws in performance of co-operative marketing obligations, including the Estate Agents legislation to which the Crikey article refers.

Furthermore, we’re disappointed with the negative assertions being made about the conduct of real estate agents. We work very closely with real estate agents and know them to be a hard-working group of people who are motivated by delivering the best outcome for their customers. To suggest they are not complying with the relevant legislation or not acting in the best interest of their vendors, is entirely unfair.

We welcome a full and thorough review of the media industry’s current and historical business practices.

Anthony LaPaglia:

Martin Gordon writes: Re. “Assange Underground in Toronto: next stop Melbourne” (yesterday, item 5). Anthony LaPaglia can freely publish unmolested in a democratic state. The irony of his statement about the Vietnam War and media coverage seems to have been lost on him. Democracies are affected by media coverage, which can be very much distorted, not dictatorships.

LaPaglia might want to read about the human rights situation in Vietnam, and many other such dictatorships (Amnesty International sometimes has some good but often very mild coverage). For Julian Assange it is easy to attack the US and other democratic states, but if he attacked dictatorships they would probably just kill him.

Just as South Africa and Ecuador have a lot of extra judicial executions, in the worst states excesses are rarely reported.

Lobbyists:

Roy Ramage writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s chunky bits” (yesterday, item 11). I must take issue with Richard Farmer’s chunky bit “Great news for lobbyists” on the supertrawler being stopped.

Hundreds of fishing vessels tied up in the northern hemisphere — because they have fished the cod out and depleted other fish stocks to the point of extinction — should be a clear signal that it might not be wise to do the same in our hemisphere.

A millionaire hoping to exploit our area by vacuuming the sea on a hitherto unknown scale spells disaster from any angle. Our continuing plunder of the sea and damage to the ocean floor via other fishing and trawling methods, not to mention the annual death rate of seabirds due to long line fishing should give even a dullard pause to consider options.

So it’s not such a big win for lobbyists green or otherwise. Australians are sick of being economically and ecologically r-ped.

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    Matt Hardin
    Posted Wednesday, 12 September 2012 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    What’s your point Martin? I don’t understand. Unless it is that it is OK to leave in a free society as long as you don’t exercise your freedom to dissent. We all know that there are dictatorships where there is a lack of freedom; does that mean we should not criticise what is done covertly in our name just because if we lived in North Korea we would be punished for speaking out?

    The people who run the wars, who sell the weapons, who torture and lie are doing so with our money and with our tacit consent. We have a duty as citizens to make active decisions on how we will deploy force and the only way that can happen is through knowing what is actually going on and judging the costs and benefits. Our taxes should be spent and our societies run in our interests not in the interests of unelected, unaccountable figures who cloak their motives and actions in secrecy.

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