Culture

NSW Labor MP Jo Haylen Blasts Ineffective And Dangerous Drug Laws In Barnstorming Speech

"Let's get drug users out of cop cars and back into our health system." Preeeeach.

Debate around Australia’s approach to drug policy has been heating up for some time. Following a number of deaths at music festivals around the country over the summer, various state governments announced measures that doubled down on the ‘just say no’ approach that has typified government and law enforcement’s response to recreational drug usage for more than ten years. Festival-goers can expect to see heavier police and sniffer dog presences outside festivals and at transport hubs, with NSW Premier Mike Baird floating idea of banning festivals that don’t stump up to pay for the measures.

The only problem with this heavy-handed approach is that it doesn’t work. As a wealth of experience both in Australia and overseas shows, targeting recreational drug users with a War On Drugs-style response does little to stop drug usage, makes drugs like ecstasy more dangerous, and can actually increase the likelihood of deaths and overdoses.

Both major parties in NSW have thus far resisted calls from parties like the Greens, music promoters and rights groups to introduce harm reduction strategies like pill testing at music festivals. But one state Labor MP, Member for Summer Hill Jo Haylen, is bucking the party line and calling for change. In a speech to NSW Labor’s state conference earlier this week, Haylen heavily criticised numerous aspects of NSW’s current drug laws and urged the state Opposition to rethink its approach to drug policy as a health issue, not a criminal one.

“The intensification of police presence at music festivals and events doesn’t stop young people taking drugs. It encourages them to take all their drugs at once to avoid arrest,” Haylen said.

“Roadside drug testing hurls people into the legal system for having the most minute traces of drugs in their system, but operates without a shred of evidence to prove it reduces the number of accidents. NSW is the only jurisdiction in the world that doesn’t have minimum levels for drug-driving tests.

“…Kids smoking pot and taking pills at music festivals won’t go away. Rather than ruining their lives with criminal records and, worse still, leaving people to take risks on their own lives, let’s be brave.

“Let’s look at the evidence and make good policy that puts people first. Let’s introduce amnesty bins and pill testing at festivals so we’re not putting young people at risk. Let’s retire sniffer dogs so we’re not unnecessarily targeting vulnerable people on our streets. And let’s decriminalise the possession and use of drugs and get the debate back on track. Let’s get drug users out of cop cars and back into our health system.”

Notably, Haylen’s stance on the issue is at odds with official NSW Labor party policy. Shadow Health Minister Walt Secord confirmed to the ABC earlier this week that Haylen’s comments don’t represent Labor’s stance on the issue. The party most in line with Haylen’s proposal is the Greens; state Greens pollies like David Shoebridge and Mehreen Faruqi have been consistently pushing for similar ideas for some time, with Shoebridge calling the current suite of policies “wishful thinking, simplistic and rash”.

For their part, the government don’t seem keen on the idea either; Police Minister Troy Grant and Mental Health Minister Pru Goward told reporters during a drug summit at NSW Parliament this week that pill testing would equal “quality assurance testing for drug dealers,” and that “families want their kids off drugs”.