Judging by the results of our most recent polling, Canberrans are sharply divided on the rights and wrongs of recent drug law reform.
Many support harm minimisation on principle, some business owners are worried about how it will impact their entertainment venues and the ACT Police Commissioner is concerned by a potential increase in dealing.
Senator Michaelia Cash (WA) is also, apparently, very worried indeed about our drug law reform, prompting her recent private senator’s bill to modify the ACT’s Drugs of Dependence (Personal Use) Amendment Act 2022 so that it “has no force or effect as a law of the Australian Capital Territory, except as regards the lawfulness or validity of anything done in accordance with that Act before the commencement of this Act”.
Ms Cash says her bill acted in the interests of Canberra’s “families, police, pharmacists and the general community” to keep the status quo of how illicit substances are currently treated in the Territory.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton also thinks Canberra will become a target for national drug tourism.
Interestingly, Senator Matt Canavan (Queensland) was also deeply concerned about the ACT Government’s takeover of Calvary Public Hospital a few months ago.
What next, the timing of Floriade? Whether light rail should go through Yarralumla or Barton?
Here’s the thing: this is our business to work out, not anybody else’s. That’s what self-government is all about, for better or for worse. As long as the people of the ACT continue to vote in a Labor-Greens government, progressive policies of this kind will result.
Canberrans are not second-class citizens and we should have the same rights to make our own laws on state matters as every other Australian. That’s the effect of the Restoring Territory Rights Bill and its consequences are both just and democratic.
But for the second time this year, federal Opposition politicians have used ACT issues to weaponise the ACT Government’s local decisions about local matters.
National matters should be debated at a national level when they affect us all. But drug decriminalisation and the sale of Calvary are being used as a stick to beat the Albanese government, not because they’re of any real concern to senators elected to represent their own states.
And it’s not as if either Canavan or Cash have a particularly close portfolio relationship with drug decriminalisation or healthcare.
Perhaps Cash’s role as shadow Attorney-General has some relevance, but you’d be struggling to link her work on Employment and Workplace Relations too closely with how much methamphetamine you can carry in an ACT nightclub or connect Matt Canavan’s career focus on regional resources with whether Catholic nuns should run a suburban hospital.
Interestingly, Queensland recently implemented a three-strikes approach where police are now required to give a warning to a person caught for the first time possessing a small amount of illicit drugs, including methamphetamine and heroin.
On their second and third strike, police must offer that person the chance to partake in a mandatory drug diversion assessment program.
All other states except NSW offer police discretion to send a person to a diversion program rather than court for at least their first strike of minor drug possession although Queensland is the first state to implement a mandatory warning system.
So these matters remain crimes, but the effect of these laws minimises interaction in the criminal justice system for people best suited to diversionary programs.
You might well think that these approaches are not strikingly different from the new laws in the Territory, which decriminalise the possession of small amounts of these drugs. Instead, the drugs will be confiscated, the possessor issued a $100 fine or be directed to attend a health-based drug diversion program.
Canberrans should vigorously debate the drug law reforms (and the Calvary acquisition). We should exercise our democratic rights and either back in the local government or vote them out.
But we don’t need an assist from federal politicians whose only enduring interest in the Canberra community is the flight schedules in and out of the airport.