Address by Rev’d Roger Munson

                Address to Remembrance Ceremony for those who have lose their life to illicit drugs


“My name is Roger Munson and I am an Anglican Priest currently working as an advocate for vulnerable people. Thank you Bill for your kind introduction and invitation to give an address today.

I first encountered the world of illicit drugs when I lived in St Kilda, Melbourne for most of the 1980’s.

The priest and his wife at my Anglican church in St Kilda were engaged in a ministry to those who were sex workers on the local streets. These people had gravitated to St Kilda for various reasons but mainly to escape from some trauma in their lives and to survive they were doing sex work and using drugs to cope. It was a time of success where some were able to be assisted to move off the drugs and out of the area to a brighter future and a time of failure, in particular a young woman who had stopped her Heroin use to have a child but once she had her daughter died from her first shot due to a high purity or an adulterated dose. It was a very moving memorial and very sad.

In remembering we are always learning. We know that grief can bring us sadness, anger, disappointment, regret, and if onlys. We also know that the death of someone else who has died in similar circumstances to our loved ones can trigger some of these feelings again. These can be hard situations. We are left behind in the aftermath of what happened and pain may never be fully over.

In remembering today, I want to speak about compassion. It is common among faiths and reminds us to have compassion for ourselves and each other to ease the burden we carry. We all deserve to be cared for, to be looked after, to tend to ourselves and others and knowing we are worthy of this.

I want to speak of the man Jesus, who gave us many examples of compassion. The first was that he was truly person-centred. It didn’t matter what others thought, be they his disciples or people in authority. His focus was always on the needs of the person he was dealing with; to listen and to respond to their need; to bring wholeness where he could. No one was excluded from this.

As a society we need to bring compassion to the issue of illicit drugs and we start by listening to people’s stories. On the ABC News App yesterday there was a story about Tara, written in response to the government’s edict about drugs and Centrelink payments. Tara said I am a drug addict and I am on the dole. Tara wanted the Prime Minister to understand why this was. It was a cry to deal with the trauma experienced due to the untreated mental health of her mother, a cry to deal with the sexual abuse of her foster family and addicting her to drugs; to receive the counsellors, drugs, support and rehab she needs so that she can work. All of these have not been there or are insufficient to enable her to get or sustain work and lead a meaningful life.

Compassion means hearing that story and the stories of many like her so that support and healing might come and self-harm, addiction and trauma may cease.

Christmas is coming soon (sorry for the reminder), but the story of preparation, the story of Christmas is about Hope, the beginning of a change, where there is peace and a better world.

It is hope that inspires me and others to work for change; to hear the voices of those whose lives have been affected by illicit drugs and to hear the voices of those who have lost loved ones. Thank you, Adriana, for your powerful story today.

Change can seem terribly slow and incremental but I take hope when I hear the voice of someone like Tara being given the space to be heard. I take hope when there is a growing Chorus of voices to make the use of illicit drugs a health issue not a crime. I hear the voice of hope when the use of pill testing is spreading to reduce potential harm rather than condemnation and punishment. It was good to hear the minister reaffirm the ACT government’s commitment to pill testing. I hear the voice of hope when I hear Johann Hari, who travels the world arguing for an end to the war on drugs and how a positive health based approach has been demonstrated to be far more effective.

The more our drug policies change and we see injection rooms, needle exchanges/disposals and other measures, the more deaths will be avoided. The more supports are in place that are properly funded and meet the need of people who have experienced trauma and ongoing PTSD, the more deaths will be avoided and people have the chance to be whole.

Compassion and Hope help us to heal and renew our sense of self, giving us a purpose in life and the potential for change.

Every blessing to you all as we gather to remember or loved ones at this difficult time. “