On Sunday, Senator Bill Heffernan called for random testing of politicians for illegal drugs. Heffernan claimed that the tests would send a message “that we are fair dinkum serious about stamping out drug use”.

He identified no objective apart from “sending a message”. Nor did Heffernan declare how often the tests should be repeated, whether the collection (i.e. urination) should be supervised, what punishment offenders would face and why alcohol testing should be excluded when an uncomfortable number of politicians succumbed to the seductions of alcohol during debates and at other times.

Heffernan, of course, ‘has form’ on the question of indifference to evidence. So it was no surprise that Heffernan offered no evidence that random illegal drug testing among politicians or other groups is effective or cost-effective.

Heffernan offered no estimate of the costs of his proposal or whether his idea should be extended to the 1,000 parliamentarians in all states and territories (though he did include judges and lawyers).

Our ‘Tough on Drugs’ Prime Minister said if he thought there was a problem he would do something about it. Now, is that really a sign of ‘toughness’? It sounds to me more like caution or even prudence.

US president Ronald Reagan insisted that all members of his Cabinet would have to submit to a compulsory urine test. Secretary of State designate (at that stage) George Shultz told Reagan that if he didn’t trust his proposed appointments sufficiently without the support of a negative urine test, then he should not appoint them. So Shultz became Secretary of State without the benefit of a urine test.

In 1989, after leaving office, Shultz told a Stanford Business School alumni gathering:

It seems to me we’re not really going to get anywhere until we can take the criminality out of the drug business and the incentives for criminality out of it. Frankly, the only way I can think of to accomplish this is to make it possible for addicts to buy drugs at some regulated place at a price that approximates their cost… We need at least to consider and examine forms of controlled legalization of drugs… No politician wants to say what I have just said, not for a minute.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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