The Guardian April 4, 2001


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.

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