Bob McMullan’s (MP) speech at the 8th Annual Remembrance Ceremony

Monday 27th October, 2003

Ladies and gentleman, family and friends and my Parliamentary colleagues both federal and local, and many friends from around Canberra and people I have met here each year over recent years.

When Brian wrote to me about the event (although we had previously agreed that I would come and speak) in a letter he said two things about the purpose of this event. I want to use those as my reference point for these few remarks. He said, “this ceremony serves two purposes. Firstly and most importantly to be a comfort for those families and friends who have lost loved ones to drugs and secondly to raise awareness in our community for the continuing need for better drug policies”.

I have to confess I feel hopelessly inadequate compared to Brian and Marion or all of you in dealing with that first matter about comfort for family and friends who have lost loved ones to drugs even though dear friends and children of dear friends and parents of dear friends have been lost to drugs in my experience. I know it is not the same as the pain that many of you share, which is much more deep and immediate. But I do think that one of the privileges of being elected to parliament and being what is called officially a representative and it is a great honour in democracy to be a representative of 150,000 people though I think perhaps the second part of what I say won’t representative the views of all those people but in this first instance what I say unquestionably does when I say to you that in that loss you are not alone but that in this event every year which is very powerful should say to all of you collectively and individually that person you loved will never be forgotten and there is truth across the range of issues which we confront in society that grief shared is grief eased. Not gone because we do not want to forget, we want to remember what was best but I do want to say however inadequately that you should draw on the strength from this day to remember for the other 364 days that you are not alone.

But I particularly want to address my remarks to the second point in Brian’s letter about raising awareness of the continuing need for better drug policy, because as a member of parliament as a participant in the debate, I am very angry about the fact that I believe we are faced with false choices in our society and it leads to bad policies which have immediate adverse consequences for many young Australians and continue to have an adverse consequence for hundreds more each year and for our society as a whole.

We are faced with a false choice between whether we should, as a nation, we should crack down on the criminals associated with the selling of drugs or whether we should have our focus on assistance to those addicted. It is a totally false choice and some part of the choice contributes to the problem as Marion has said more eloquently than I could hope to do. For so long as the drugs people are addicted to are illegal they will be in the hands of criminals. We give them an enormous vested interest in promoting drugs. We say to the criminals in our society here is an incentive to encourage more people to use drugs and then we are very surprised when it works and they do what the incentive we provide them with encourages them to do. We live in a society with a free economy and essentially when governments want to encourage people to do more things they make it easier for them to benefit by doing it. That is usually a very good thing to do. It is very perverse to make it easier for the worst in our society to benefit by proliferating the use of dangerous drugs. And that policy adopted by many people with the best of intentions has lead to shocking and continuing consequences in our society and we have to address it.

As a society we are confronted with other similar false choices. I deal everyday with issues to do with Indigenous Australians and we are forced to address what is in my mind an entirely false choice between dealing with the immediate crisis which they and their families face, much of which is to do with drug abuse, or dealing with the underlying courses of dispossession in our society. It is a false choice and it leads to bad policy.

What I want to say in these brief remarks is that I hope that each of you whether you are family, friend or simply people who come along to give comfort and support to those in need that we should draw strength from today, confront the false choices with which we are prevented and be advocates for the need to change policy in this country as it relates to drugs at all levels of government and government can’t do it without the support of the community and want do it without pressure from the community so we need to move the focus to a focus of support for young Australians in need. If that remains the central focus of our attention and policy we can’t go wrong in ultimately getting better policy. It won’t be easy, it will never be easy but nothing could be more important .

I have always welcomed the opportunity to come to this day both for personal reasons and as a representative to offer support to each and every individual and family and friend involved and because of my great respect for the courage and leadership which Brian and Marion and many of you here show in our community in this critical and difficult debate about drugs in our society.

And today, having the privilege of saying these few words, I simply want to hope that I can encourage you, and that today and days like it can give you the strength, not only as individuals to deal with that which confronts you everyday, but as members of society to join in the brave fight with other Australians who are seeking to say we must change the laws in this country, we must have the courage to say things that might be difficult and unpopular because until someone says things that are difficult and unpopular, nothing will change. Thank you