It’s been an odd day today... one that really goes to the question of what sort of society we want to live in.
It’s to do with drugs, and how we face up to addiction and dependency in our community.
I spent the morning at the RecLink Grand Final in St Kilda, with two teams of players who have faced, and who are facing, issues of drug dependence and addiction.
RecLink works in the community to provide people with opportunities and connections through sports, recreation and the arts.
It's an open door when other doors are closed. For some of these guys, it's the only positive thing in their life. When it comes to footy, they're welcomed to training a few days a week without judgment and spend time in a supportive environment. Then on the weekends, it's game day.
Today I met Brian, who’s been involved with RecLink for five years and, after experiencing life on the streets, is now working as a goal umpire, and was officiating today’s match.
I heard from another young bloke who’s been in jail for drug-related offences, and who told me the program was probably the only thing keeping him away from drugs and crime.
RecLink gets some money each year – around $1 million – but they deserve a whole lot more, which is why we’re supporting their call for a boost to $5 million.
They work with a range of groups, including the Salvos and Odyssey House to offer people a way forward. They provide people with an inclusive environment, and offer them connections – to friends, to their community and to employment… and they’re bloody effective.
From such a positive morning, it was a real jolt to join the Senate Inquiry into the government’s plans to subject income support recipients to mandatory drug tests. Talk about the opposite approach.
We heard about the lack of evidence, the high costs, and the risks: of people being driven towards drugs that aren't being tested, being driven towards crime or even to suicide.
This is a cruel ideology, without any proper understanding of reality.
This will be news to Malcolm Turnbull and his mates in the Liberal Party, but we need to challenge the idea that addiction and substance abuse is a choice. The life of someone with substance dependence is frankly, pretty shit.
When addiction takes hold, people are using just to try and feel normal – to get by. That’s the nature of addiction. It's a lonely life, and it's a difficult life.
By the time many people reach out for help, see a doctor or make it to a hospital or rehab program, they’ve lost everything – family, partner, kids, their job, their home.
What makes this government arrogant enough to think that mandatory drug testing will be the thing that makes any difference? All the evidence suggests it will just kick people while they’re down.
We need to decide as a society whether we want to give people hope and connect them to the community and the support they need... or whether we want to opt for cruelty and an approach that simply does not work.