Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Australian Liberals call for drug crackdown

Australian newspaper The Age reports in an article titled ‘Liberals take hard line on ‘soft’ drugs’. (November 20, 2006) that:

Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu said a Liberal government would take a tough line on drugs and seek to change the culture surrounding "recreational drugs", which he described as the scourge of our society.

"The message to the community is: we are not going to tolerate it any more. Drugs are dangerous, dabbling in drugs is dangerous, and young people need to get the message," he said. "We are not going to cope if we continue to simply put around the message that it's OK to dabble or it's OK to use recreational drugs — there is no such thing."

Along with these comments he calls for the old fall back of many a drug-warrior trying to sound tough; minimum sentences for drugs dealers - which have failed in every respect in the US except boosting prison numbers to unprecedented levels. He also calls for the banning of ‘large cigarette papers’ and bongs, a frankly laughable suggestion about as likely to stop cannabis consumption as banning pint glasses is to stop people drinking beer. Just picture 1000s of Aussie cannabis users looking at their stash and small cigarette papers in bafflement and despair. A prize-winningly idiotic addition to the prohibitionist armoury, already overflowing with them.

But enough of that silliness, there’s a couple of more important points worth making about his quote above. Firstly, whilst tough talk of ‘putting out messages’ will have a familiar ring to UK audiences, being exactly the sort of thing we would expect to hear from the John Reid or David Davis, we would probably not expect to hear such knee-jerk drug war clichés from the Liberal Democrats, who have historically been a bit more sophisticated on such issues. So it is curious to hear this sort of old-school populist gubbins about getting ‘tough’ on ‘scourges’ from a nominally liberal party, particularly one that has as it’s first belief:

“The inalienable rights and freedoms of all peoples; and we work towards a lean government that minimises interference in our daily lives”

Secondly, it’s always interesting to contrast self-proclaimed anti-drug crusader's attitudes to ‘drugs’ and to alcohol (also of course, a drug). I have no idea about Ballieu’s position on alcohol, although he no doubt has a sup from time to time
Politicians in
Australia aren’t apparently shy of posing for the cameras with a glass or their favourite recreational drug, nor for that matter are UK politicians, even quite well known ones:

what message does this send out to the kids?

Yet in the UK with its rapidly growing problems of binge drinking liver cirrhosis amongst young people and Australia with its high profile problems of ‘grog’ amongst many deprived aboriginal communities, alcohol could much more appropriately be called a ‘scourge’. The contrast between public proclamations on legal and illegal drugs appears to be more to do with how the different political rhetoric received by the public and media rather than the fact one drug is somehow OK whilst others are thoroughly wicked and awful. This alarming lack of consistency is all about politics and nothing to do with evidence based public health policy making. See http://www.tdpf.org.uk/Policy_General_Whythisbutnotthis.htm

You have to hope that Mr Baillieu’s intention that “$4 million would be spent teaching students about the dangers of cannabis, ecstasy and amphetamines” is matched by a commitment to spending on students favourite drug – alcohol, which causes levels of harm that eclipse all illegal drugs combined. He might also want to include some info on the dangers of prohibition, and how a criminal record for consuming certain drugs could seriously damage the future career prospect of Australia’s brightest hopes.


Bob said...

Drug users have always been a whipping boy for when those in politics want to sound tough. They are easy to generalise about and because of their reputation no one in power is going to disagree with you in public. Immigrants and especially illegal immigrants are used in a very similar way.

Dirk said...

It would appear that this can all be simply boiled down to discimination.
i.e discrimination between drugs that the society at large is fammiliar and "comfortable" with and drugs which (for historical reasons) they are not.

Keep up the good work

aahpat said...

""The message to the community is: we are not going to tolerate it any more."

Liberally intolerant. Isn't that fascism?

monica said...

I live in Baillieu's electorate in Victoria. I don't believe any of those blokes drinking in the picture you've linked above are him (Google "Ted Baillieu" for an official pic).

He's just lost the state election, so thankfully there will be none of the hair-brained drug policies he proposed.

Also, Liberals in Australia are anything but 'liberal', even if their motto seems to suggest it.

Steve R said...

thanks for that monica

Ive edited the post