10 September 2012 Subject: Decriminalisation of illicit drugs
ROWLAND: Making news this morning, the Government has dismissed a new call for the decriminalisation of ecstasy and cannabis for people aged over 16. A group of prominent Australians has released a report recommending a controlled program, to help curb addiction and the drug trade.
CARVALHO: We will be speaking to the Opposition Spokesperson Peter Dutton in a moment but first let’s hear from Mick Palmer, former Federal Police Commissioner, who spoke to us on the program a little earlier.
MICK PALMER (GRAB): Not for a moment am I saying that we should condone drug use. I just think there are better ways of dealing with it, as with smoking and alcohol. To continue to criminalise low level use is really to do our young people a disservice, to cause them not to be able to share their problems with their friends and their family, to hide things they should be openly discussing and dealing with, in a health and medical way, rather than an anti-criminal kind of way. So for a whole range of reasons, we haven’t dried up supply on the streets at all. I don’t know any young people who have any trouble getting cannabis, ecstasy or other drugs, heroin or cocaine for that matter.
ROWLAND: For the Opposition view on this, we are joined in the Parliament House studio now by the Opposition Health Spokesperson and a former police officer, Peter Dutton. Mr Dutton good morning.
DUTTON: Good morning Michael.
ROWLAND: Mick Palmer a former Australian Federal Police Commissioner, with 33 years in policing, says the current policy simply doesn’t work. Why is he wrong?
DUTTON: Well Mr Palmer obviously had a very different view many years ago and I respect his view but I disagree with it vehemently. I think we do need to send a very strong message, to particularly young teenagers, of the negative impacts of even cannabis use. More and more research comes out to show that this is not a recreational drug, it’s a mind altering drug and in many cases it’s a precursor for people going onto harder drugs, in particular amphetamine and in years past heroin. That’s why I believe we need to continue to redouble our efforts in terms of supply. For those people who are using there are diversionary arrangements made available in the courts right now. More than ever there are all sorts of courses, educational programs and medical interventions to help people who are users. Creating a market for ecstasy users for kids as young as 14 and 15, is not the way our country should proceed.
ROWLAND: Well based on Mick Palmer’s interpretation, there is a pretty vibrant market, it’s pretty easy for young people to get hold of both cannabis and ecstasy.
DUTTON: This is what people were saying about the use of heroin ten or fifteen years ago and we know that with a concerted effort, both in terms of education and law enforcement in attacking the supply and production of heroin, we were able to tail off the use and dramatically reduce the number of deaths as a result of overdoses. We need to embark on the same sort of message. I think that the Government should embrace a hard hitting message, that we can convey to young people to try and break the nexus between the view that cannabis is a party drug. I think it’s a very poorly placed message, it’s a condoned use at the moment by some jurisdictions. I think that the more medical research comes to the fore, the more people realise that cannabis is not a soft drug and that’s how many people start the path to harder drugs. We’ve got to have a balance been education and hard hitting law enforcement programs. That’s what worked for us in the heroin fight and that’s what can work for us in the amphetamine fight as well.
ROWLAND: When you say hard hitting, would you therefore support increasing penalties for those found using cannabis and ecstasy?
DUTTON: I think where we need to really hit hard is on those people who produce, those people who import, those people who distribute, particularly amphetamine. We have some very effective programs at the moment but I think we can increase that. Yes we can argue for harsher penalties for those who prey on younger people in particular and peddle, what is in many cases, a life influencing and life changing drug and I would fully support any effort by the Government to ramp up the penalties for those people who import or distribute drugs in our country.
ROWLAND: The Government’s talking of holding, it’s opposed to decriminalisation full stop, it’s talking this morning of holding a drug summit to discuss some of the options you and other people are putting forward, is that a good idea?
DUTTON: Public debate on any issue is good but we should make sure that it’s informed and not skewed. I think at the moment Tanya Plibersek and Julia Gillard are essentially condoning a soft push, when it comes to cannabis in particular. I think it’s incumbent on the Health Minister of this country in particular, to say it how it is, that cannabis can have a negative impact, particularly on the mental health of young people and at this point in time, one of the biggest challenges in the health space is to try and de-stigmatise mental health in this country, to provide more services, more interventions. We shouldn’t be doing that at the same time as we are trying to provide a soft arrangement, whereby people are encouraged or condoned in their use of cannabis. I think that’s the wrong message for the Federal Government.
ROWLAND: Just to avoid any misinterpretation there, are you saying that the Health Minister, by using the phrase “condoning a soft push”, is condoning the use of these drugs?
DUTTON: Yes, I think Tanya Plibersek has gone soft on this debate and I think Tanya Plibersek needs to come out and give a very strong message to young people. It was certainly a message that Tony Abbott was willing to push when he was Health Minister, he didn’t want to see people going onto to a life that was influenced by illicit drug use. I think over the last four or five years we’ve seen the Federal Government both under Nicola Roxon as Health Minister and Tanya Plibersek now as the Health Minister, basically withdraw from this debate and allow it to run. They have cut back funding. This is a Federal Government that needs to step up to the plate, as opposed to a weak message that they have conducted themselves with over the last four years.
ROWLAND: Peter Dutton in Canberra, we’ll leave it there, thankyou.
DUTTON: Thanks Michael. Thankyou.