With a new Prime Minister elected it is going to be interesting what the future holds in the alcohol and other drugs area. The issue was conspicuous in its absence over the past six weeks with neither party really ever raising the issue – obviously in a time where interest rates are going up and the Australian people are becoming more concerned about global warming it simply wasn’t seen as a vote winner.
John Howard launched the National Illicit Drug Strategy “Tough on Drugs” policy in November 1997 and it has continued to receive a great deal of attention since that time. Although we continue to have a harm minimisation approach to drug use in this country this policy has focused strongly on reducing the supply of illicit drugs. Since its launch, the Australian Government has committed more than $1 billion to the Strategy – a phenomenal amount of money. Much of the money of course has gone into funding measures being implemented by the law enforcement agencies enabling them to police Australia’s borders and providing them with new technology and increased staffing.
One of the major criticisms of the policy has been that it has failed to address the issue of alcohol misuse in this country. Although alcohol continues to be one of our biggest drug-related problems, causing over half of the drug-related deaths of young people in Australia, it was not even mentioned in the pamphlet that was sent out to households right across the country earlier this year. The alcohol lobby is extremely powerful and does not want to see their product go the same way that tobacco has done over the past 20 years. There has been much criticism of both of the leading political parties for accepting money from alcohol companies and a widespread belief that this has been why alcohol has not been given the profile it should have in the last few years.
Will there be any tremendous change in the direction of alcohol and other drug policy under Kevin Rudd? I would be very surprised if we see much change at all initially. Cutting funding to law enforcement and giving more emphasis to demand and harm reduction strategies is definitely not a vote winner. They would be regarded as going soft on drugs and no political party could survive that. It would be great to see some leadership around the misuse of alcohol though – it’s just a matter of wait and see.
Remember: if you do not want any negative consequences, do not use the drug and, no matter how many times you have used a substance, never be blasé.

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