Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s recent inevitably dubbed ”bonk ban” is an upstanding contender for the decade’s dumbest policy.
This is not at all to say ministers should have impunity to have sex with staff members; there is clearly potential for carnal abuse of power and the Prime Minister is right to call it out as inappropriate. The #metoo movement and associated advocacy is helping wrench societies out of a dismal dark age. But prohibition is the quickest route to policy failure; measures need to be effective and enforceable, not simply expedient, impotent posturing.
Props to Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull for connubial longevity, but, really, their saccharine televised love-in days after the ban announcement was enough to drive one to drink – which is, of course, totally fine, because, while it is one of the biggest preventable killers, alcohol is a licit substance, as is the No.1 preventable killer, tobacco.
But had you, along with grabbing a chilled beer or a frisky little rosé or a couple of bracing fingers of vodka, rolled a joint or packed a bong and tried to chill and unimagined Malcolm and Lucy and Barnaby and Vikki and the whole goddamn sordid Canberra sex circus, you would, of course, have been breaking the law.
The bonk ban has some stiff competition. One of the dopiest and most mind-blowing policy suggestions is back: drug-testing young people on unemployment benefits. Last year the government said it was a good idea to sift sewage for illicit substances to help officials target welfare recipients for drug testing. Should anyone fall foul they would be forced onto an income management scheme, under which the government would dictate how a recipient could spend their money. Malcolm Turnbull reckons it was and is ”a policy based on love”; perhaps he came up with it with Lucy.
The Senate, rightly, voted down such a demented thrust into social engineering. But the numbers in the Senate have shifted, and the government is having another crack, inviting us once again to wonder if the powers that be might be hoovering the powders that be. The government reckons it’s a sober idea to force about 5000 unemployed young people to be tested for marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy and methamphetamine.
But not all politicians are as misguided on drugs as are those currently on Canberra’s green-leather bonk-free benches. Throughout the world, lawmakers have realised the 50-year war on drugs has been one of the biggest policy failures ever. More than 15 years ago, for example, Portugal decriminalised and regulated all drugs. Drug use and overdose deaths fell, the black market was destroyed and addicts were treated in the health system rather than dumped into the prison system.
Our government, rightly, says it does not want Centrelink payments financing drug dealers. But Australia’s $8 billion black market for drugs only exists because of the government. Were substances decriminalised and regulated, the evidence is that overdose deaths would plunge, drug use and crime would decline and people with addiction and other substance abuse problems would get medical treatment. Harm, in other words, would be minimised.
Change will come, because the evidence will become compelling to a majority of us. There are positive signs. Finally, we have a political leader who publicly promotes this evidence-based way of cutting crime and harm – Reason Party founder Fiona Patten, a member of Victoria’s upper house. Ms Patten was instrumental in convincing the government to trial a safe injecting space in Richmond. She is part of Victoria’s parliamentary law reform, road and community safety committee, and initiated the Inquiry into Drug Law Reform, Australia’s most extensive study of the issues, due to report at the end of March.
She says: “My tough on drugs strategy begins by legalising cannabis, which is the toughest measure that any government could apply to organised crime groups who make most of their money from the sale of illicit drugs. Up until now, the tough on drugs strategy has been applied to the end users of the drugs and not the crime gangs who push them. This has been a disastrous misunderstanding of how to be ‘tough on drugs’.”
Change will come – from the bottom up. Many mainstream politicians privately admit that Ms Patten is correct, and they will eventually publicly alter their position when there’s a sufficient grassroots push.
– Authored by Michael Short, Photo by: Wayne Taylor, 03/03/18