The announcement that the ACT will be the first Australian jurisdiction to allow pill testing is just another progressive badge to sew on the Territory’s sash.
The national sport of confusing Canberra with the federal government often leads my interstate friends to think that the ACT is as conservative as its FIFO workers, when it is anything but.
In pretty much every sphere, the Territory is either on par, or light years ahead of every other Australian jurisdiction in its appetite for social reform.
While Australia has been tearing its hair out to get a Renewable Energy Target of 23.5% by 2020, the ACT is on track for 100% in the same period. We also have the nation’s most ambitious emissions reduction target.
The pathetic non-binding postal survey on same sex marriage has turned an already-sour public discourse into a total shower drain. The ACT obviously legislated for marriage equality back in 2013.
Our Parliament is comprised of a female majority with a gay leader, yet we hear refreshingly little talk upon either of these trivialities.
We are the only jurisdiction to have a public holiday celebrating Reconciliation; the only one to commission a Sky Whale; the only one to move away from inequitable stamp duties towards land tax; and, shamefully, the only one to have publicly funded a Fun Machine album.
Of course, the ACT is best-placed to hold the progressive reins for a number of reasons. It’s a small jurisdiction. The median income, employment rate and education levels are all high. The exposure of so many of us to the public sector seems to foster an appreciation of public education, infrastructure and services. And, critically, there is less of a wealth concentration among industries and individuals whose interests may conflict with certain policy interventions (property development and gambling being the notable exceptions here).
But for all this, there are still what many might consider blindingly obvious reforms that could improve both the material and social wealth of our citizens. Furthermore, for all of our domestic leadership, in almost all spheres we are being led by societies overseas. Pill testing was introduced in the Netherlands in the 90s. That same country legalised same sex marriage back in 2001. Bhutan famously uses a Gross National Happiness metric to inform its public institutions.
So where are the opportunities?
Here are just a few ideas that could be worth exploring.
Total Drug Decriminalisation: Portugal decriminalised all drugs in 2001, cutting fatal overdoses to a fifth of the EU rate, with drug-related HIV infections dropping 95%. We now know enough about substance addiction to appreciate that users are best treated with the health system, rather than punished by the criminal justice system. It’s cheaper, more compassionate and ultimately a more effective path that we are mad not to pursue.
Proportionate Sanctions: As someone with an income below the poverty line, I can attest to the sinking heart that meets a $110 parking fine. It wouldn’t be difficult to ensure that our sanctions are proportionately impactful to all citizens by adjusting them to the perpetrator’s capacity to pay. This is indeed the norm in Scandinavia.
Phasing Out Petrol Vehicles: It sounds radical from 2017 Australia, but the Netherlands are moving to ban the sale of new petrol vehicles from 2025. France and the UK are looking at 2040. With China reviewing a timeline for their own transition, this development is a near-certainty and our preparedness for it is entirely in our own hands.
Voluntary Euthanasia: The debate will surround the detail, but some form of voluntary euthanasia is a reform that is both long overdue and consistently in line with public opinion.
Full abolition of pokies: No society has the saturation of pokies that we do in Australia. While there is no doubt a great benefit for those who profit from the machines, but in Canberra, almost half of the millions lost annually come from problem gamblers. With up to 80% of Territorians wanting major gaming reform, it’s only the corrupting money flowing to political figures that’s slowing us from clearing this leech from our throat.
Circumventing political pressures to invest in preventions: In virtually every government-dominated sphere (health, education, criminal justice), there are huge gains to be made by moving money from the treatment end to the prevention end. It’s cheaper to buy a decade’s gym membership than it is to treat a decade of heart problems. Announcing extra police is an easier political sell than buying housing for all homeless. Perhaps there are innovative ways of better embedding the long-term policy expertise that we already have into the legislature.
I’ll write on more of these in the coming weeks. In the meantime, what would you like to see the ACT take the lead on?