The federal government rejected a proposed ACON drug project in April despite the application getting a priority 1 recommendation by the Department of Health.

Last week ACON CEO Stevie Clayton told the Star the organisation could not get funding to campaign on drugs including crystal meth, but did not provide further details.

Documents obtained by the Star this week showed ACON applied in 2003 for funding for a drug team, intended to tackle multiple drug use, including crystal meth in the gay and lesbian community.

ACON’s proposal was given priority 1 status by an expert panel in the Department of Health and Ageing. ACON’s was the only NSW priority 1 application out of 17 to be refused.

The Department of Health and Ageing panel rated ACON’s proposal four out of five in terms of evidence of community need, community consultation, ACON’s demonstrated capacity and experience, expertise, the proposal’s relation to state government plans and sound financial planning. The proposal also received an overall rating of four out of five.

Last week the Star reported sex club Signal had started using overseas crystal meth posters in lieu of an official ACON campaign.

ACON president Adrian Lovney acknowledged the funding decision was disappointing.

It’s not clear to us the basis on which we were the ones that were excluded, Lovney said.

If you look at those organisations that were funded, there does seem to be an emphasis placed on programs that are church-based. And equally, ones that appear to be abstinence-based.

Lovney said Health department experts had identified a real need for the ACON program, but were ignored.

Whether that’s because we’re not a religious-based organisation or whether it’s because we are a gay and lesbian organisation or whether it’s because we don’t see abstinence as being the only option by which people can reduce their drug use -“ I don’t know. You’d need to ask the prime minister’s office that.

A Department of Health and Ageing spokesperson told the Star a number of priority 1 applications from other states had also been rejected, but was unable to provide an explanation for the decision to reject ACON’s.

Yes, this one was highly recommended, but at the end of the day, it unfortunately missed out, like many others, she said.

The spokesperson said 165 applications worth $99 million were presented to Health minister Tony Abbott. The government funded 65 projects, which shared $17 million.

The National Illicit Drug Strategy Tough On Drugs was launched in 1997, with the aim of providing a sharper focus on reducing the supply of drugs and on reducing demand.

Under the principles of the strategy Prime Minister John Howard has openly criticised harm minimisation programs such as the heroin injecting room, referring to it as defeatist and negative.

The successful submissions among this year’s Drug Strategy applications include a grant to a women’s rehabilitation centre for drug and alcohol abuse given only priority 5 in the department’s recommendations.

Teen Challenge NSW Inc. was also granted funds despite being unlisted on the original recommendations. The drug assistance program is an initiative of the Hillsong Church Foundation.

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