The Coalition Government’s Election 2007 Policy, “Tough on Drugs”, was released over the weekend. The centre piece of the new policy, a triumph of gesture politics, is a commitment to “quarantine and manage 100 per cent of welfare payments to stop people convicted of criminal drug offences …from using welfare payments to buy illicit drugs”.

If this desperate policy is ever implemented, we can be confident of a growth in crime which will require increased resources for police and prisons and which in turn can only be paid for by increased taxes. Perhaps that was meant by the “Go for Growth” slogan? The amphetamine market has certainly gone for growth during the lifetime of the “Tough on Drugs” policy.

The new drug policy was released just after the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a report which represents even greater political difficulties for the Coalition. Surely the timing of the release of the new drugs policy was intended as a distraction from the new IPCC report.

It is hard to understand how a government which prides itself on understanding markets can reconcile itself with a drug policy which attempts to defy economic gravity.

Sooner or later, the major parties will have to accept the reality that while there is a demand for drugs, there will always be a supply. And if there is no legal supply, other forms of supply will inevitably emerge. Wasn’t that the lesson of alcohol prohibition in the USA? The ability of governments to modify powerful market forces is marginal, as we all now know from the collapse of communism.

The Coalition also criticises the ALP for supporting a trial of a Medically Supervised Injecting Centre, a scientific trial of heroin prescription and the decriminalisation of cannabis. The trial of a Medically Supervised Injecting Centre in NSW was supported by a number of Liberal members of the NSW Parliament including a future Liberal Leader of the Opposition (John Brogden). A scientific trial of heroin prescription was first proposed in Australia by Mr. N. Greiner in 1984 while Leader of the Opposition in NSW (before he went on to become a Liberal Premier).

One of the major advocates for a scientific trial of heroin prescription was Ms Kate Carnell while Chief Minister of the ACT. The Liberal Commonwealth Minister for Health and Minister for Justice both voted for a heroin trial at a major Ministerial meeting in July 1997. Many prominent past and present Liberal politicians support sensible reforms of drug policy. Coalition state and territory governments have liberalised cannabis policies or retained policies liberalised by previous Labor governments.

So far this is one policy that the ALP Opposition has not cried “me too” on, but don’t hold your breath.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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