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March 30th, 2019 by admin

MPs castigate govt drug bodies

Members of a parliamentary committee today accused the department of allocating federal funding to organisations that were deliberately undermining the government by advocating a tolerant approach to drug-taking.

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And the department’s own publications and websites were not sending a strong enough message, MPs said.

House of Representatives Families Committee members said the mixed messages being sent into the community were hampering the war on drugs.

The committee is conducting public hearings on the impact of illicit drug use on families, and today quizzed the health department on the implementation of the government’s National Drugs Strategy.

Committee chair Bronwyn Bishop said the strategy, which had cost $1 billion over the past 10 years, guided policy at all levels of government.

But Ms Bishop seized on a book edited by Margaret Hamilton, a member of the government’s principal drug advisory body, the Australian National Council on Drugs, that promoted harm minimisation because it “avoided the moral minefield about whether drug use is good or bad”.

“This woman is the deputy chair of a government authority, which is supposed to be carrying out zero tolerance in accordance with government policy,” Ms Bishop said.

“We are sending the most terrible mixed messages.”

Liberal MP Alan Cadman said it appeared the department had a different philosophy to the government and thought its views were superior.

Colleague David Fawcett said government agencies had to be “completely unambiguous” in telling children that drugs caused incredible harm.

But the inconsistency meant some troubled and impressionable teenagers were left with the message that taking drugs was still an option for them.

“As a government, if we see people who we are funding are deliberately sending mixed messages, isn’t it reasonable that we look at stopping it?” he asked the department representatives.

Liberal MP Louise Markus said the department had to show leadership to ensure the government’s hard line policy filtered into state-run services such as policing, yet its own publications were not using strong enough terminology.

But the department’s communications branch assistant secretary Laurie Van Veen said focus groups had found department campaigns improved awareness and fear of amphetamines and ice.

She said 97 per cent of young people surveyed believed the government’s campaigns on drugs including cannabis, ecstasy and speed that ran across Australia in 2005.

And department deputy secretary David Learmonth defended the organisation’s implementation of government policy.

He said the department consulted widely and reported its findings to the minister, but acted only in accordance with the policy directions of the government.