Newsbrief: Australian Federal Government Issues Threat to Stop New Safe Injection Sites 2/13/04

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The government of Australian Prime Minister John Howard has announced that it would consider using federal law to prosecute anyone using a safe injection site if any state decides to open one. Currently, only one safe injection site operates in Australia, at Kings Cross in Sydney, and the Howard government opposes that as well.

The government was reacting to a vote taken at the opposition Australian Labor Party national conference in Sydney in late January. At the conference, Labor, which controls several state governments, voted that the decision to open a safe injection site should be left to the states.

That vote led Prime Minister Howard to retort that his government would do anything constitutionally permissible to block the expansion of the safe injection site at Kings Cross despite the experimental program being deemed a success in a September review and having its mandate extended for another four years.

Federal Justice Minister reiterated the prime minister's hard line on February 4, telling reporters that prosecuting safe injection site clients under federal drug laws was one option if new sites opened.

"We would look at what the Commonwealth could do constitutionally," Ellison said. "If there were any further proposals in Australia for heroin injecting rooms, we would look at what action we could take."

"Well for the life of me I can't see why we shouldn't have a completely zero tolerance, an uncompromising approach to illicit drug taking," Prime Minister Howard added later in the week.

Labor Party national leader Mark Latham responded feebly to Howard's attack, espousing a position at odds with the one his party adopted only two weeks ago. "Kings Cross is a one-off and I would expect it would remain that way," he told the newspaper the West Australian. Apparently unaware of the September report -- which found that the Kings Cross site prevented overdose deaths and the spread of disease and led to hundreds of referrals to treatment -- Latham added that he was eager to see results from the Kings Cross trial. "If it's a failure, it should be closed down," he said.

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