Internationally there have been some positive signs of change. There is a positive movement in the UK to make changes to the drug classifications and from unexpected quarters, such as the North Wales Police Authority, which recommended a repeal of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and its replacement with a new Act based on a new hierarchy of harm that includes alcohol and nicotine. Earlier, the Deputy Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire urged the prescription of heroin to curb crime. An injection room and trial of prescribed heroin are under way in Canada in spite of opposition from a new conservative government in Ottawa. In other parts of Europe, excellent results from prescription heroin are winning it acceptance and consolidating its place in routine drug treatment in several countries. Medically supervised injecting centres. Of note also is that increasing numbers of prisons have recognised the need for syringe exchange programs.
In Australia: Little change has taken place although attitudes seem to be changing if newspaper opinion piece articles are anything to go by. The Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission issued a sound report in February 2007 on amphetamine and other synthetic drugs. However , vocal voices within the federal government are pushing the replacement of harm minimisation by zero tolerance with all its consequences, thus undermining the harm reduction pillar of Australia’s harm minimisation strategy. The most significant has been the House of Representatives report “The winnable war on drugs” which came from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Human Services inquiry into ‘The impact of illicit drug use on families’ and chaired by Ms Bronwyn Bishop which uses graphic images from the USA (reminiscent of “Reefer Madness”) and in its extreme manifestation recommends the permanent adoption of children of illegal drug using parents.
It was a positive step when the Sydney Medically Supervised Injecting Centre was given another 4 years to operate by the NSW Government.
In the ACT the government is proceeding with the construction of its first prison – the Alexander Maconochie Centre. The Community Corrections Coalition, of which our group is an active member, is monitoring closely the establishment of the prison and has produced a report card for that purpose. We have contributed to ministerial correspondence, submissions and papers of the Committee, notably on the Corrections Management Bill and performance measures. It was satisfying that the ACT Government agreed to the provision of health services being moved from the control of Corrections to Health – a step we strongly urged. Many other important prison policy papers are in preparation or planned by this committee, largely due to the efforts by Bill Bush.
We were saddened to hear of the death of Audrey Fagen, ACT Chief Police Office. A condolence motion was passed at our April meeting. The death of Peter Andren, Federal member for Calare also saddened us.