South Australia Premier Mike Rann announced Monday that the state will crack down on some drug offenses, with tougher penalties to go into effect later this year. Rann, whose Australian Labor Party governs the state, said the move is part of an ongoing overhaul of the state's criminal justice policies, but opposition Liberals accused the premier of grandstanding, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
"Our next wave of law reform is on the drugs front with heavier penalties and, of course, people have been criticizing me for being too tough on law and order," Rann said, then played his law-and-order trump card. "But the fact is that the latest figures on crime and offences show that there's 16,000 fewer offenses committed in South Australia in 2004 compared to 2002."
One of those "law reforms" will see drug sellers who use minors -- uniformly referred to as children -- in their business sentenced to life in prison. Another will mandate life sentences for drug dealers or manufacturers who traffic in "large quantities" of drugs. Currently, both offenses have a maximum 30-year sentence.
"The exploitation of children by drug lords and dealers is despicable and anyone who does it deserves to have the book thrown at them," Rann said. "Our proposal is aimed at protecting the most innocent in our community from immoral drug dealers who will stop at nothing to make a profit peddling misery."
But wait, there's more: "The Government is also proposing much tougher penalties for a raft of serious drug offences involving the trafficking, cultivation and manufacture of drugs," Rann added, "as well as proposals to treat offenses involving so-called precursor drugs and drug labs as serious offenses."
For people convicted of precursor offenses -- typically involving efforts to home-manufacture methamphetamine -- the jump in penalties is especially severe. Under current law, they face only a $5,000 fine, but under Rann's new law they could face up to 25 years in prison.
The opposition Liberals criticized Rann's new drug package, but less for its harsh content than for what they saw as its political gamesmanship. Shadow attorney general Robert Lawson told ABC that penalties for large-scale drug trafficking are normally the purview of federal legislation, leading him to question the new laws' real purpose. He also criticized Rann's Labor government for waiting three years after a 2002 provincial drug summit to move on drug policy. "If this really was important why didn't it come out immediately after the drug summit or immediately after the government announced it?" Lawson asked. "They've been waiting sitting on their hands on this one, simply waiting for a media opportunity to run it out again."