Friday 3 July 2015

Support Don’t Punish Day of Action

There was resounding agreement that the 'War on Drugs' has failed at the AIVL/NUAA day of action celebrating the global movement Support Don’t Punish

L to R: Leah McLeod - NUAA, Peter Baume AC, Nicholas Stewart - Dowson Turco, Jude Byrne - AIVL, Will Tregoning - Unharm
Held at NSW Parliament on 26 June, the impressive range of speakers included ex federal Senator Peter Baume – renowned for the key role he played in fostering a constructive political response to HIV in the late 1980s, Jude Byrne from the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL), Nicholas Stewart, a private legal practitioner and volunteer lawyer at Sydney’s Inner-City Legal Centre, and Will Tregoning from Unharm – a drug law reform advocacy organisation.

Jude Byrne, AIVL
Jude Byrne stated that AIVL had initial doubts about the simplistic sounding catch phrase ‘Support Don’t Punish’, given the complexity in achieving drug law reform. However, it has now joined the movement, as it has spread rapidly around the world. 

As well as the importance of drug law reform, she reminded the gathering that many countries do not allow injecting drug users to access treatment, and that along with stigma and discrimination, barriers abound to supporting people who use illicit drugs.

Will Tregoning, Unharm
Will Tregoning from Unharm gave the address on behalf of Ted Noffs, of the Ted Noffs foundation. Ted argued that as the war on drugs has the legal imprimatur of the parliament, it is in parliament that the war on drugs will end.

Will highlighted that while the policing of individual use is not part of the National Drug Strategy, 80,000 people were still arrested for individual use in 2014.

Nicholas Stewart, Dowson Turco
Nicholas Stewart, a volunteer solicitor at the Inner-City Legal Centre (Sydney), reminded the gathering of the serious consequences for someone convicted of drug related crime, including possession.

Specifically, barriers to employment, housing, and other key areas, exacerbate the challenges of day-to-day living for anyone with a conviction.

The Hon Emeritus Professor Peter Baume AC provided an illuminating address on how things have evolved in the drug and HIV space over the past 30 years. 'Poofters, junkies and whores' were key to the early success of the response to HIV, he posited, as they lead the way.

The Hon. Emeritus Professor Peter Baume, AC.
He argued that the war on drugs has so comprehensively failed, that ‘we couldn’t do worse’ if we pursued another approach. Of course, he argued specifically for a comprehensive drug law reform agenda.

He said that compulsory diversion to drug treatment programs is not the answer, as they will not work if the individual is not ready to engage. He strongly advocated in favour of more compassion, treatment and harm minimisation.

The gathering served to highlight the ongoing challenges in achieving drug law reform, but also how progress has been made over time, such as with the advent of needle and syringe exchange programs in response to the AIDS crisis during the 1980s. Onward and upward!

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