Tough on Drugs a cynical stunt
by Andrew Jackson John Howard's "shock tactic" drug ads on TV are a very late acknowledgement of a deadly and growing problem in Australia. Sadly, haunting images of children in bodybags will do little to prevent addiction in today's youth, or rehabilitate those already caught up in the crisis. "Written and authorised by the Federal Government, Canberra", rings out daily on advertisements proclaiming "John Howard Cares!" about issues such as the environment, health and unemployment. Tens of millions of dollars over the last five years have been paid to transnational advertising companies (often with links to the Liberal Party) to produce slick 30-second commercials, or glossy magazines delivered to millions of households, extolling the virtues of Howard's policies. Yet while Mr Howard spends tax dollars on fancy shop-front window-dressing, the bodies are piling up in the back lanes. Unemployment, homelessness, lack of education and training opportunities, despair in rural Australia, and the continuing racism and disenfranchisement affecting Indigenous peoples are the real causes of Australia's drug crisis. They are the issues John Howard and his Federal Government have been neglecting over the last five years. At the same time they continue to sell off our future by delivering our national assets into the arms of transnational corporations, spurning the Kyoto agreement on greenhouse emissions, and throwing their whole-hearted support behind a new nuclear arms race. Mr Howard and his cronies are cheating Australian youth of their future, and his "Tough on drugs" brochure is designed to lay blame for the problem at the feet of already terrified parents. "I believe the best drug prevention program in the world is a responsible parent sitting down with their children and talking with them about drugs", says Mr Howard. Ergo, if your child becomes a drug addict, it is the result of your neglectful parenting. Youth hopelessness, not bad parenting, lies at the root of our drug problem. In his "Tough on drugs" campaign, Mr Howard promises money to beef-up the criminal justice system as a vital part of the drug war. This "zero tolerance" position has been proven to only exacerbate the drug problem. Around Australia jails are overflowing, with new jails being built every year. These new jails are not state-run institutions built in the public interest for punishment and rehabilitation, but tax-payer funded private fortresses being operated solely as profit-making ventures. As was demonstrated in the shameful example of the Deer Park Women's Prison in Victoria last year, due to deliberate understaffing by the private operators the inmates did not have access to basic education programs and social services, and drug use was rife — many women left prison more hardened addicts than when they entered. Mr Howard crows about his government's health initiatives. But during the last week many health and allied professionals have decried the lack of funding to existing treatments such as the methadone program. While the number of addicts has soared to approximately 75,000, the truth is that only a tiny fraction of that number were "lucky" enough to access methadone treatment. Another treatment, Naltrexone, was not available in Australia for years as the government dragged its feet on its approval for use. When it finally became available, it was not listed under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, so treatment was only available in private clinics at the cost of about $6,000. In fact, the bulk of Mr Howard's "tough on drugs" budget is going to fund the Customs service, including eight new Coastwatch boats, and a new Coastwatch National Surveillance Centre. The usefulness of this service to detect unwanted illegal immigrants is immediately apparent. How successful it will be in preventing the highly technologically advanced drug-traffickers from accessing our ever-expanding and more lucrative markets remains to be seen. After five years in government, John Howard's "war on drugs" campaign can only be seen as a cynical election-year stunt. However, its neat platitudes and spurious claims will be a bitter pill to the thousands of families who have already lost sons and daughters in the battle.