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PM's drugs adviser trapped in policy time warp.

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28 February 2003

PM’s drugs adviser trapped in policy time warp

Proposals by the Prime Minister’s chief drugs adviser to arrest drug users and force them into mandatory treatment are counter-productive and would threaten the hard-won gains in Australian public health.

Major Brian Watters, chair of the Australian National Council on Drugs, made the suggestion in an interview this morning on ABC Radio.

“Major Watters’ call for drug users to be imprisoned and forced into treatment is a backward step,” said the Shadow Minister for Justice and Customs, Daryl Melham.

“It’s the sort of thinking that would wipe out all the gains of our public health and law reform efforts of the last 15 years. This simplistic approach just won’t work and it shows that Major Watters is trapped in a policy time warp.”

“The United Nations’ HIV/AIDS program, UNAIDS, has condemned countries such as Myanmar and China for locking up drug users. Not only does Major Watters’ idea make a mockery of our international obligations to respect human rights, it also does not make any sense.

“It’s not enough to be tough on drugs. We’ve also got to be smart on drugs.”

“The idea of locking up drug users and forcing them into treatment might sound attractive to some people. But arresting drug users for forced treatment will only serve to drive the problem underground and in turn make it impossible to control diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C, with serious implications for public health generally.”

“People are rightly worried about drug use. But we have learnt the hard way that punitive measures alone don’t work. What is required is a multi-faceted approach that recognises that drugs are both a law enforcement issue and a public health problem.”

“The drugs problem is not going to just disappear. That’s why we need innovative and realistic policies for dealing with drugs. Labor Governments boast a solid track record in doing exactly that, including the introduction of needle and syringe exchange programs and setting up drug courts.”

Media contact: Derek Hand 02 6277 2054 or 0416 147 608