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Greens start national conversation to reduce drug harm

Media Release
Richard Di Natale 19 Feb 2016

Australian Greens Leader Dr Richard Di Natale has been hosting a series of roundtables, including in Hobart, the Gold Coast, Sydney and Newcastle this week, with people working on the front lines of dealing with drug harm.

"Australia has one of the highest rates of illicit drug use in the world, despite our no tolerance policy. Treating drug use as a criminal matter, rather than a health matter, clearly isn't working," Senator Di Natale said.

"I was a drug and alcohol clinician before entering politics. The frustration of seeing first-hand what drug addiction does to families and communities, and the failings of the current approach, was one of the things that motivated me to enter the parliament.

"It takes courage to start a conversation on an issue considered too controversial for the other parties. I knew the Greens would face attacks from some elements of the media but I believe this issue is too important. We won't be distracted.

"We've been holding roundtables with experts from law enforcement, academics and health workers who all say the same thing: Australia is not going to be able to arrest it's way out of this problem.

"The Greens are methodically talking to experts around the country and will announce a new national response to drug addiction in the near future. That's how the Greens develop policy.

"So let me be clear, the Greens are not advocating for the legalisation of ice or any drug. We're hearing from the experts that removing criminal penalties for personal drug use would go a long way to helping drug users come forward for treatment.

"I visited Portugal last year, where this has already happened. Serious penalties still apply to people dealing drugs, but since 2001 Portugal has poured almost all the money they used to spend on going after drug users into providing health treatment and social support to those who seek help.

"I think any parent whose kid got into trouble with ice would hope they got access to treatment, not locked up. It's a model that has been adopted overseas and has been proven to save lives without increasing drug use.

"Australia was once a world leader when it comes harm minimisation but sadly most politicians lost the courage to take this issue on. The Greens are not afraid to stand up for the right policy. As a doctor who has worked in this space, if I don't show leadership on this issue, who will?"

A National Drug Summit, to be hosted by Senator Di Natale and his co-convenors of the cross-party parliamentary group on drug policy and law reform, will take place at Parliament House in Canberra on March 2.


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