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Underworld resurgence in Melbourne -

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Underworld resurgence in Melbourne

The World Today - Friday, 11 April , 2008 12:26:00

Reporter: Jane Cowan

ASHLEY HALL: A Melbourne investigative journalist alleges the city's notorious underworld criminal
network is up and running again, just months after police claimed to have dismantled it.

Victorian police have arrested a number of people suspected of dealing drugs in the city's
nightclubs. Some are now saying the dealers and the syndicates that back them, might represent the
new players in Melbourne's underworld, moving in to fill the void left by the jailing or murder of
a whole cohort of key gangland figures.

And they say the harsh enforcement of drug laws may be driving young people into the underworld.

Jane Cowan reports.

JANE COWAN: The men, mostly in their thirties, were arrested overnight. One was handcuffed and
spreadeagled in jeans and a white singlet on Toorak Road, not far from South Yarra's nightclub
strip.

The group is suspected of dealing ecstasy, amphetamines and cocaine to party goers in clubs and
pubs.

It's understood drug syndicates are targeting habitual clubbers and offering them large quantities
of drugs in a consignment arrangement, so they don't have to pay for them until they sell them on.

ADAM SHAND: Well I think it's great that they're making arrests, that's wonderful, but the
underlying issue is there is always going to be demand for these drugs, and that young people in
nightclubs since the 50s or the 60s, either with marijuana or heroin or LSD...and now it's pills,
will form relationships with drug dealers in order to get cheap drugs, and they will then take
drugs on consignment, and sell them to their friends: "Having a big night this Saturday night?
Let's get 50 pills".

JANE COWAN: Investigative journalist Adam Shand has written extensively about Melbourne's gangland.

He says, rather than indicating the police are having success in preventing the re-establishment of
the kind of underworld that's made the city famous, the arrests show it's business as usual for
criminals.

ADAM SHAND: The fact is that, you know, Carl Williams and his cohorts, Tony Mokbel and so forth,
have been off the scene for a number of years now, and we've had an extraordinary explosion of
different drugs, not just pills but ice as well and different forms of that, so it's just again
finger in the (inaudible) stuff.

JANE COWAN: You think the underworld will actually just regroup and become as strong as it ever
was?

ADAM SHAND: Well it already has, clearly.

JANE COWAN: Adam Shand says the prohibition of drugs creates this trade, and it's bad news for
young people who take drugs.

ADAM SHAND: It turns otherwise law-abiding young people into drug dealers, and part of the
underworld.

It's time that society had a proper debate about this, so we got the nub of it. You can't blame the
police, they're having to enforce bad laws that aren't reflective of what many people in society
are experiencing.

JANE COWAN: Do you think these clubbers come dealers know who they're really dealing with?

ADAM SHAND: Well all they know is that they're getting their pills, and they know that if it's a
bad pill, they won't buy from that guy again, because their friends won't buy them either.

So at the end of the day, it's quite extraordinary, actually. The quality control is quite
remarkable. How many times do you hear of a person dying of ecstasy? It's actually very rare. You
see far, far more deaths every weekend from alcohol, yet no-one mounts operations to stop that
scourge.

But this is the moral panic in society about drugs, and it's all about criminalising our children,
and we're forcing them into the arms of drug dealers. Next week, it'll be different people, it'll
be different dealers, same drug, same demand, same problem.

ALEX WODAK: It's true, what we're up against is the laws of supply and demand.

JANE COWAN: Dr Alex Wodak is the president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation. He also
directs the Alcohol and Drug Service at St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney.

ALEX WODAK: When we enforce very vigorously the prohibition laws, what happens is that the price of
street drugs become inflated, and the market becomes very lucrative, so it attracts new players,
new traffickers, new customers.

JANE COWAN: So rather than handcuffing these young people on the side of the street, what would be
a more helpful response?

ALEX WODAK: We have to recognise that what we're doing has largely failed, and is futile, and what
we need to do is redefine the whole subject as primarily a health and social matter.

JANE COWAN: As well as directing more money into treatment and rehabilitation when people want to
stop using, I guess that's what you're suggesting, are you also talking about some level of
decriminalisation of the actual drug taking?

ALEX WODAK: Well, you can't find two people who agree on the same definition of decriminalisation,
but in principle, I think we have to move from criminal sanctions to civil sanctions and then when
the community is ready for it, I think we have to start questioning whether we need to have
sanctions at all for these private behaviours.

People need help in arresting their addictions, they don't get much help from being arrested.

ASHLEY HALL: Dr Alex Wodak, ending Jane Cowan's report.