Internationally there have been some positive signs of change.
Canada, on the doorstep of the USA, has opened a medically supervised injecting centre. Great Britain, in one small area adopted a needle and syringe program in a remand centre. Also in Britain recently it was reported that a group of six drug-addicted inmates and former prisoners have been awarded out-of-court payments from the government for what they say was “cold turkey” treatment in jail – a breach of their human rights.
In our region it has been less favourable: in Singapore a young Australian man was executed and in Indonesia six young men now have been sentenced to death. A number of others are serving long prison sentences. It has to be noted that representations made by the Australian government against the imposition of the death penalty has been ineffective.
In Australia: There has been a government advertising campaign of the zero tolerance nature focused on cannabis even though use of cannabis has been declining for a number of years. The federal government has been praising itself by wrongly claiming to have caused the heroin shortage in 2000 but has ignored the signs and the warnings that they had received as far back as 1996 that methamphetamine use was on the increase. Until recently the government appears not to have noticed that the use of methamphetamine, and stronger variations such as base and ice have become more fashionable.
The SA health minister has expressed a view that to talk about and debate drugs and drug policy is to encourage drug use. If it cannot be discussed and debated there can be no change for the better.
The Kings Cross Medically Supervised Injecting Place trial, which was extended for a further 4 years in 2003, is still functioning well. It has received the support of many in the community, the police, church, medical and health authorities. Unfortunately the current opposition leader has vowed to close the centre if his party should be elected.
In the ACT the government is proceeding with the construction of its first prison – the Alexander Maconochie Centre. Many claims have been made that the new prison will be a model to look up to. However, indications of that happening at this stage are not promising.