Australia: In Desperate Pre-Election Move, Prime Minister Howard Says He Will Take Control of Drug Users' Welfare Payments

As his party appears headed for certain defeat in Saturday's national elections, Australian Prime Minister John Howard is once again playing the drug card. Howard announced late last week a plan to quarantine welfare payments to people convicted of drug crimes, but he isn't finding much support, even from the federal government's drug advisory body.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/johnhoward.jpg
good riddance (we hope) to the John Howard administration
Under Howard's "zero tolerance" drug policy, people convicted of drug offenses involving heroin, cocaine, and amphetamines would have 100% of their payments quarantined in a bid to prevent public funds from being spent for drugs. Some 6,000 drug offenders could be affected. Their welfare payments would be managed by nonprofit groups for a minimum of a year to ensure the money is spent on rent, food, and clothing.

"We take the view that it's not right that people should have control of taxpayer money when they have been convicted of such offenses," Howard said. "We are the zero-tolerance coalition when it comes to drugs," he added.

The Australian Medical Association, however, did not think seizing welfare payments from drug offenders was a good idea. "I haven't seen the details of this initiative but certainly punitive measures for drug addicts are not really the answer," said Dr. Rosanna Capolingua, president of the association. "People who have drug addictions actually need help, support and assistance," she told the Australia News.

The federal drug agency, the Australian National Council on Drugs, also expressed skepticism. The group's executive director, Gino Vumbaca, said the proposed policy created a risk that drug users would resort to crime to pay for their habits, and that what is really needed is more funding for treatment and rehabilitation.

"What we have to be careful of here is often there are good intentions for policy, but you have to look at potential or unintended consequences," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "What we don't want to do is make a policy change where we end up placing children or families at more risk or the community at more risk from levels of crime," he said. "Australia needs to dramatically introduce its access to treatment so that people with substance abuse can seek assistance."

Greens leader Bob Brown was harshly critical of the proposal, saying it targeted drug users, not traffickers. "This seems to be [going to] cut them off, leave them isolated, leave them more desperate," he said.

Labor leader Kevin Rudd, who appears well-placed to be the new prime minister, was more equivocal. He said he had not ruled out such a policy, but he questioned Howard's timing on the move. "I'll have a look at it. I always think these things should be treated on their merit," he said. "But I go back to the core proposition: if you're serious about a plan for the nation's future, then if you've been in office for 11 years, what is it that causes Mr. Howard to conclude that these plans could be taken seriously, when they're suddenly put out there, with only a few days to go?"

Prime Minister Howard has been a staunch drug warrior throughout his tenure. Even a mealy-mouthed Laborite like Rudd will doubtless be a great improvement.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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ding dong the witch is dead

politically speaking

Review Queensland ban on "cannabis utensils"

I am not adequately familiar with the 2004 legislation I have referenced, nor with how the relationship between state and federal compares with U.S., but note that a law so titled would certainly have a deterring effect against any attenpt, even of tobacco addicts, to practice harm reduction by using a small-size smoking utensil which burns herb (any species) at a lower temperature and promotes moderate use, compared to hot-burning-overdose 700-mg. cigarets.

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