Drugs, the Cross and the 2011 NSW State Election

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I wrote this back in 2011, in collaboration with Graham Long, in the leadup to the NSW State Election. It was originally published in condensed form on the "Social Scapegoat" website which no longer exists. I felt then ( and still do ) that Graham Long has some worthwhile insights into addiction and homelessness which are worth writing down; some are captured in this article. It does look back to that election. To be fair, the NSW Liberal State Government has kept both ethics education and maintained the MSIC. There are many other things you can criticise them on, but that's certainly worth acknowledging.

Graham Long is Pastor of The Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross. He meets the effects of addiction on a daily basis and more than most people in this society, he sits with people who've lost hope and he does a lot of funerals. Wouldn't you think that perhaps Graham would be in favour of a conservative, prohibitionist policy in question of drug law reform? The 'shock jocks' of this city who carefully craft simple answers to complex questions have been less than happy with Graham's views.

Graham and The Wayside Chapel have long supported the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre. For those who can see past emotional arguments, the facts are astonishing. The streets of Kings Cross are largely clear of needles. Graham tells of how 130 needles every day were collected around the Chapel and that since the MSIC, they think that one or two needles a day is a bad day. Ambulance call outs to overdose have been reduced by 88%. Deaths on the street have been reduced to about 10% of ten years ago.

Interestingly, Graham says that the group in the community that most longs for drug law reform is that group of parents who've lost children to addiction. They know at depths that only grieving parents can know, that their children might have lived if the they had been offered help rather than the policy of harm maximisation that many governments have offered. This group knows that if we'd spent a fraction of the resources that our 'war on drugs' has cost that many people might have lived and found their way back to life. Dead people never rehabilitate and return to the mainstream.

Graham's beliefs are informed by his Christianity; for him, his whole faith journey is about love and the need to every person as if they were his son or daughter, brother or sister. He laughs because the church once dangled people over the fires of hell in order to control behaviour and now that no one believes in hell, shock jocks dangle people with threats of the end of the world with equally effective skill and intent to manipulate.

John August is a Humanist and a non-believer. His passion is for public discourse that is free of emotional sentiments that prevent objective examination and judgment. For John, it is often religious belief that seems to have a vested interest in branding people as well as behaviours as evil; requiring punishment, criminalisation; ever increasing control and little understanding.

John feels we will not be able to rid our society of addiction through laws and prohibition; the required changes are much more far reaching. The most we can do at present is reduce the tragedy associated with addiction. Many initiatives are criticised because the outcome is less than perfect, with people losing the ability to see that improvements can still be worthwhile. It also seems that people see only the tragedies that still occur, while never looking to see the ones which have been avoided.

John and Graham find themselves standing side by side in congruent support for the MSIC. Both men deplore the human waste that addiction brings and both deplore the double standards that spend mind boggling amounts of money on the 'war' on drugs. To spend north of $100K pa to keep someone in jail is a ludicrous policy for people who need help with mental illness and problems of addiction.

Neither John nor Graham have any political alliance with Kristina Kennealy, but both admire her. Ms Kenneally has achieved more than a mini bus load of prior Premiers in the matter of humane drugs policy. Although the electorate is in no mood to hear it, this Premier has exercised extraordinary leadership, achieving results in areas that have been the cause of paralysis in the labour party for many years. In the face of floods and the hurricane in Qld, the Premier there was suddenly seen for her strength of leadership. Ms Kenneally is made of the same stuff; leading what everyone says in a lost cause against all odds with dignity, courage and integrity. Both hope that a Liberal Government will not take to these initiatives with a wrecking bar and call it 'leadership'.