MARK METHERELL April 04, 2012
Julia GIllard ... "I am not in favour of decriminalisation of any of our drug laws." Photo: Andrew Meares
THE Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has rejected calls for drug decriminalisation, isolating her Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, on the issue, although her drug policy advisers have left open the possibility of change.
Ms Gillard said yesterday that ''drugs kill people, they rip families apart, they destroy lives and we want to see less harm done through drug usage''. She said while the government would support people to get treatment, ''I am not in favour of decriminalisation of any of our drug laws''.
Senator Carr suggested Australia follow Portugal's example of decriminalising minor possession of illicit drugs after the release of a report supported by eminent Australians who have called for a fresh debate on drug reform, saying the tough-on-drugs policy has failed.
A spokeswoman for the Minister for Mental Health, Mark Butler, who has responsibility for drug policy, said: ''Any move to soften the stance on illicit drug use in Australia would need to be carefully considered. We will look carefully at this report and the contribution these prominent Australians have made.''
The Australian National Council on Drugs' executive director, Gino Vumbaca, denied the drug policies had failed but said the council was ''keeping a close eye'' on the scheme in Portugal.
The report said Australia's war on drugs has ''failed comprehensively'', with much street and household crime driven by the prohibition of drugs like heroin, which was legally prescribed in Australia until 1953.
The report, supported by two former premiers, a former chief minister, a former national police chief and other eminent Australians, was sponsored by the Australia21 think tank.
A former chief of the Australian Federal Police, Mick Palmer, said that despite more effective and better-resourced police, the police effort in the war on drugs had ''made only marginal if any difference''.
''I think the public is not as resistant to [change] as perhaps some politicians might think … the attitude has changed dramatically. I think it is time for change,'' Mr Palmer said.
He was one of several speakers who appealed for politicians to rethink the knee-jerk opposition to drug law reform.
The former Department of Defence secretary Paul Barratt said Ms Gillard's negative response showed the need to open up the debate and to ''destigmatise'' the notion of drug law reform.
Mr Barratt said all available evidence showed the tough-on-drugs policy had failed. The United States had spent $1 trillion on its war on drugs but drugs and drug crime were still commonplace.
The report does not propose a specific set of reforms but says it sees the need ''to unmask prohibition and its harms and to place the onus on our lawmakers … to develop a process that stops the criminalisation and continuing drug deaths of too many young Australians''.
The report says that despite gains made in Australia's harm minimisation program for drug users, begun 20 years ago, illicit drugs still damage society.
About 400 Australians die each year from illicit drug use and thousands of others suffer significant ill-health as a result of unsafe injecting and infections.
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