Win for Fair Treatment campaign as NSW Government takes steps towards better drug policy

Win for Fair Treatment campaign as NSW Government takes steps towards better drug policy

Last week the NSW government released its long overdue response to the 2020 Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug “Ice”. The Fair Treatment campaign has called unrelentingly for this response and action from our church in support of better drug policy helped make it happen.

What has been announced?

The government announced a package of $500 million to increase treatment and introduce a diversion initiative. The extra funding for treatment, some $358 million, will focus particularly on rural and regional areas, where it is desperately needed. This is a significant investment and a huge win for Fair Treatment. There is more work to be done on drug legislation change and the announced diversion initiative is not ideal. However, it is still welcome as importantly, it will apply to all illicit drugs. You can read more detail about Uniting’s response to the announcements here.

Who has contributed to these positive steps?

This (long overdue) announcement is testament to the good work of Commissioner Dan Howard SC who presided over the Inquiry, as well as those people who shared their lived experience of illicit drug use. Many groups in the health, legal and community sectors have been calling for drug law reform for some time.

But these announcements are also the result of persistent and compassionate advocacy by people across the life of the Uniting Church – Synod leaders, Ministers and congregational members. This advocacy journey began some six years ago when the 2016 Synod meeting resolved to support calls for greater investment in drug treatment programs and removal of criminal penalties for the personal use of illicit drugs. The Fair Treatment Campaign grew out of that resolution and was launched in earnest in 2018.

The central message of the campaign has been that we need to treat personal illicit drug use as a health and social concern. While compassion is a key Christian virtue, there is also good empirical evidence that this approach provides a better, more effective way, to respond to illicit drug use. The government’s announcement last week indicates small but significant steps in the right direction.

Community attitudes have no doubt played a part in the government response to the Ice Inquiry. Surveys show 78% of Australians support non-criminal responses to personal illicit drug use and our own polling reinforced that. But the contribution of our own church community should not be underestimated. Having everyday church members speak out about this issue has been decisive in shifting debate and the opinions of decision makers. How do we know this?  Because MP’s told us so!

In the period in which the state government was considering the findings of the Ice Inquiry, the Fair Treatment campaign held 50 meetings with politicians – 37% of the NSW parliament! Uniting Church members were active participants in 27 of these meetings. Many times, MPs told us how significant it was to have members of the church as active participants in these discussions. It showed them community members were receptive to policy change.  MPs are used to being spoken to by various lobby groups. But they said having their constituents, who were also local church members, share why this issue mattered to them and why they wanted to see change, alongside people with lived experience, really had an impact.

Where to from here?

We know that much remains to be done within the Fair Treatment campaign. The government’s announcements must now be implemented. Other evidence-based recommendations of the Ice Inquiry have been rejected or sidelined at this point. But recognising progress is also very important.

We are grateful for the concern and compassion the wider Uniting Church community has demonstrated for those impacted by illicit drug use.  Thank you to all those who have supported the Fair Treatment campaign in any way. Together we have contributed to these positive announcements in drug policy and provision of drug treatment.

We look forward to continuing to work with members, congregations and the wider Uniting Church community to achieve fairer, more compassionate and more effective drug policy in NSW.

The Uniting Advocacy team on behalf of the Fair Treatment campaign

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