He’s not making the request on his own behalf though (planning New Year’s Eve on the harbour?) but, as Fairfax reports, rather, as a commissioner for the Global Commission on Drug Policy, issuing the challenge and stating that “drug use should be treated as a health issue, not as a crime.”
“While the vast majority of recreational drug users never experience any problems, people who struggle with drug addiction deserve access to treatment, not a prison cell,” he said in a personal submission made to the federal government’s National Ice Taskforce.
The submission came as last week the taskforce delivered its final report, pledging almost $300 million to the drug-treatment sector, moving away from its unsuccessful policy of hardline policing to a strategy of prevention and harm reduction.
According to the underfunded agencies that provide the majority of services nationally though, the $300 million figure means little when they are left in limbo by another 12-month short-term funding extension.
This once again puts Turnt-bull and Australia out of step with the rest of the world which, as Branson’s submission describes, has built “enormous momentum” towards decriminalisation, with countries such as Ireland, Canada and Mexico all flagging radical shifts in drug legislation in recent months.
Calling for the government to abandon the multi-million dollar black hole of “counterproductive drug-law enforcement” Branson urged the government to “scale up” life saving, evidence-based prevention, harm reduction and treatment measures.
Combined with harm-reduction efforts, decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use would “save lives” Branson believes, as those seeking medical help due to drug related health issues would no longer “fear arrest and punishment when accessing healthcare services”.
He also referenced Australia’s strong track record for progressive drug policy, pointing out that since Australia’s National Drug Strategy was launched in 1985, it had “always prioritised harm reduction” alongside policing targeting those supplying drugs.
“Sydney’s medically supervised injection centre (the only one in the southern hemisphere) is an outcome of that,” he said.
Coming as The Sun Herald reports the taskforce was debating a decisive move away from its black and white law and order strategy, Branson’s submission seeks to influence that decision, as “The [Ice Taskforce] strategy under discussion now will guide drug policy in Australia from 2016 to 2025,” he says.
Yet as the government weighs its options in the light of public opinion, the professionals on the front-lines treating those suffering from drug additions are offered no guarantee of funding beyond the 12 month funding extension, against the taskforce’s recommendation.
“This is the fourth one-year extension we have suffered under both Labor and Liberal governments. The consequences are crippling,” said Garth Popple, executive director of We Help Ourselves (WHOS), who run a residential treatment program across NSW and Queensland.
“We want to build foundations for quality services. Instead, we edge towards a cliff every 12 months. The insecurity and anxiety is wearing everyone down.”
The news follows a spate of recent drug related deaths at Stereosonic, as well as our very own poll on where over 80% of respondents voted in favour of Australian festivals offering pill testing services. The argument around harm reduction vs hardline policing has never been more relevant.
And while some may question why Branson, a private businessman, ought to have a say, it’s refreshing to see someone in the media arguing for social policies that might save lives rather than arguing against taxes to save themselves some dollars.