Friday 13 August 2021
Uniting ready for a new conversation about drugs as it launches its paper on decriminalisation at NSW parliament
Advocates with lived experience drove home the need for drug law reform during the NSW Parliamentary launch of Uniting’s Decriminalisation Paper on Wednesday.
Uniting’s discussion paper – Possession and Use of Drugs, Options for changing the law (click here to download) – offers up pathways towards decriminalisation and was written in consultation with a number of Fair Treatment partners.
The Moderator of the Uniting Church NSW.ACT, Rev Simon Hansford, thanked those wishing to engage with the campaign.
Various MPs, including State Treasurer and Deputy NSW Liberals Leader Dominic Perrottet, Independents, members of Labor and the Greens attended the event which was at maximum capacity.
“We bring the paper and the Fair Treatment campaign into the halls of Parliament to begin an important conversation and to work with our elected representatives to achieve sensible reform in line with evidence best practice and the wishes of the community,” the Moderator said.
Rev Simon Hansford, Moderator of the Uniting Church in NSW/ACT
“This was initiated in 2016 after leaders of the Uniting Church were approached by families of people who had died from overdoses.”
Kevin Street spoke of his experience using heroin and the moment he reached out for help at Uniting’s Medically Supervised Injecting Room (MCIS) in Kings Cross.
“I put my hands up and said I’ve had enough and I want treatment and they [MSIC] moved at the speed of light to get me into treatment,” Mr Street said.
“I do know that my life would have been a lot different to what it is today if we had decriminalised the possession and use of drugs earlier on and it would have helped remove the stigma. It would have helped me ask for help earlier on in the piece.”
“[Decriminalisation is] not about condoning drug taking it’s about taking away the punitive punishments that are going to affect people for the rest of their lives just because they chose to take a drug.”
Prof. Allison Ritter, Director of the UNSW Drug Policy Modelling Program unpacked the detail of the discussion paper and said removing criminal penalties for the personal use of drugs is smart policy, grounded in evidence.
“The community overwhelmingly supports it. We know that problems arise from current laws,” Prof. Ritter said.
“When Uniting and myself and colleagues set about to develop the set of options for removing criminal penalties we worked with a set of principles. Those principles included equity, fairness, proportionality, transparency, cost-effectiveness good use of public money and respecting the dignity and worth of each person”.
“When we apply these principles to the removal of criminal penalties for personal drug use we end up with I think a set of options to consider and important features of what this might look like in New South Wales.”
Somebody’s Child founder Liz Gal and fellow Fair Treatment supporter Kevin Street shared their stories during Uniting’s drug law discussion paper launch at NSW Parliament House
MSIC Director Dr Marianne Jauncey moderated a panel discussion with the NSW Bar Association’s Michael McHugh SC, Somebody’s Child founder Liz Gal and Addiction Medicine Specialist Dr Robert Graham before the afternoon was closed by Tracey Burton, Executive Director of Uniting NSW.ACT.
In 2016, the Uniting Church Synod of NSW/ACT formally resolved to support the decriminalisation of personal possession of small amounts of prohibited drugs and greater investment in drug and alcohol treatment, prompting the creation of the Fair Treatment campaign.
Last year, as a direct result of the Fair Treatment campaign, the NSW Government committed $7.5 million to build a treatment facility in Dubbo.
Cross Party MPs; Jo Haylen, Alex Greenwich and Cate Faehrmann showing their support for the Fair Treatment campaign and discussion paper.
If you haven’t already, sign the Fair Treatment pledge to show your support and get involved in the Fair Treatment campaign for more fair, compassionate and sensible laws in NSW.
Story written by Ashley Donnelly
Twenty-seven legal, medical, health, community and church groups, have welcomed news that the NSW Government is considering changing the law regarding small quantities of drugs and instead introduce a diversionary system.
This group, many of whom are members of the Fair Treatment campaign, has long-campaigned for such a move, arguing drug laws should be reformed so that drug use can be treated primarily as a health and social issue.
We welcome a greater emphasis on diversion but this will only be effective if health and social measures have increased funding and support.
We support these sensible measures that reflect the government is listening to the medical and legal experts and making laws based on the evidence.
This small step brings NSW in line with other jurisdictions around Australia that have similar diversion systems.
Too many people who use drugs are made to live in the shadows, looked down upon with shame and stigma and therefore don’t seek help because of our current drug laws.
We believe this move by the NSW Government could allow police to be tough on crime, diverting resources to policing large drug traffickers and violent offences, where we as a society need their attention to be. We need the helping hand of treatment and support extended to those with drug dependency.
We all want a society in which all people are valued and their dignity as human beings recognised. Parents want to know that their kids will come home from a night out and if they have drug dependency society will help keep them safe until they can get treatment. This move by the NSW government is to be applauded.
We look forward to an ongoing dialogue about the freeing up of police resources and funding for treatment for people who seek it.
|Rev. Simon Hansford
Uniting Church NSW & ACT
|Nicholas Cowdery AO QC
NSW Council of Civil Liberties
|Pastor Jon Owen
|Dr Erin Lalor
Alcohol and Other Drug Foundation
Network of Alcohol and Other Drugs Agencies
Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Association ACT
Drug Policy Australia
|Professor Alison Ritter
Drug Policy Modelling Program UNSW
|Dr Alex Wodak AM
Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation
|Dr Marianne Jauncey
Medically Supervised Injecting Centre
Mental Health Coordinating Council
|Dr Tony Sara
ASMOF NSW (the Doctors Union)
Families and Friends of Drug Law Reform
The National LGBTI Health Alliance
Public Health Association of Australia
|Professor Carla Treloar
Centre for Social Research, Social Policy Research Centre
|Professor Simon Lenton
National Drug Research Institute
Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy
|Professor Anne M Roche
National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction
Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine
|Dr Jake Rance
Older Women's Network NSW Inc
Uniting has released a pivotal Decriminalisation Discussion Paper that delves deeper into options for changing the law around the possession and use of drugs.
The paper (click here to download) was prepared in collaboration with Fair Treatment partners Prof. Alison Ritter, Will Tregoning, Dr Marianne Jauncey, who formed a working group with Emma Maiden and Dr Tom McClean to explore preferred decriminalisation models.
The group spoke at a special launch for the paper in Sydney on Wednesday, against the colourful backdrop of the Art from the Heart of the Cross exhibit. Now in its tenth year, the Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) initiative gives clients the empowering opportunity to express themselves and offer their works as part of a silent auction.
The new discussion paper says people who use drugs are some of the most stigmatised members of our society, and there is a desperate need for the laws to change.
It acknowledges an alignment with a comprehensive decriminalisation model, that applies to all drugs, does not apply civil sanctions, and abolishes threshold quantities.
It says civil sanctions, such as fines and community service notices, can exacerbate the underlying disadvantage of which drug dependency is often a symptom.
It recommends consideration be given to a staged approach to removing a fundamental feature of Australian drug law – threshold quantities – which uses the weight of the drug to distinguish drug use/possession and supply, a somewhat arbitrary measure. The paper refers to countries like Spain, Denmark and Uruguay which do not use threshold quantities and recommends relying upon other evidence, such as processing paraphernalia, or evidence of large transactions, to establish the offence of supply.
In the paper’s forward, Uniting NSW.ACT Executive Director Tracey Burton and Uniting Church NSW.ACT Moderator Rev. Simon Hansford explain that the paper was deliberately written to increase our understanding of a complex topic and encourage conversation.
“Many issues we face today involve complex ethical dilemmas without simple answers,” they write.
“We are guided by our Christian faith and the way Jesus astonished people with his grace, acceptance, and forgiveness, before he ever offered a word of judgment.”
“We observe that sometimes we must have the courage to take risks and break conventions, as Jesus did.”
In 2016, the Synod passed two resolutions supporting the decriminalisation of personal possession of small amounts of prohibited drugs and an increase in investment in drug and alcohol treatment.
The Fair Treatment campaign was created in 2018.
Last month the NSW Government committed $7.5 billion to build a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Dubbo, as direct result of the Fair Treatment campaign.
Originally written by Ashley Donnelly and published on www.insights.uca.org.au
Every five years, the human rights record of each UN Member State is considered through a peer-review process led by the UN Human Rights Council, as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). As part of each UPR cycle, Member States submit a national report, and appear at the UN in Geneva for an interactive dialogue with other Member States.
Australia’s third-cycle UPR will take place in January-February 2021 (dates tentative due to COVID-19 restrictions), with the submission of its third UPR national report due in October 2020. The draft National Report has been released, with an opportunity for civil society members to provide feedback.
A collective of civil society representatives that have attended recent drug-related UN sessions such as annual Commission on Narcotic Drugs sessions and the 2019 CND High Level Ministerial Segment came together and submitted a response to the draft National Report, focusing on Australia’s human rights obligations with respect to drug policies, laws and their implementation. The submission brings forward the lack of specific reference to Australia’s Commonwealth, state and territory drug policies in the report, lack of reference to the importance of human rights within Australia’s National Drug Strategy 2017-2026 document, and considers the breaches of international human rights law through Australia’s Commonwealth, state and territory drug policies.
The submission calls on the Commonwealth Government Attorney-General’s Department to undertake a systematic audit of drug policies in Australia to more fully document the extent to which these policies do, or do not, accord with our nation’s human rights obligations, and to include a commitment to doing so in its National Report to the UPR. Download the submission here.
Fair Treatment launched in Sydney Town Hall on October 12 with a conversation on drug law reform between Sir Richard Branson (Commissioner of the GCDP), Dr Khalid Tinasti (Executive Secretary of the GCDP) and Dr Marianne Jauncey (Medical Director of Uniting’s MSIC).
Over 2000 attendees packed into Town Hall for the launch, including politicians, lawyers, doctors and the media. It trended #1 on Twitter in Australia and had over 4,000 Facebook live streams. You can watch the full event below, and show your support.
Sir Richard Branson – Entrepreneur, founder of the Virgin Group, cofounder of The Elders UK, and Commissioner for the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP).
Dr Marianne Jauncey – Medical Director of the Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC), Conjoint Senior Lecturer at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre UNSW, and a Clinical Senior Lecturer at Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney.
Dr Khalid Tinasti, PhD – Executive Secretary of the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP), Honorary Research Associate at Swansea University, and has previously worked as an independent consultant for UNAIDS, WHO, the Graduate Institute and others.
Australia’s ‘successes and failures’ to inform worldwide drug debate
23 July 2019
The Fair Treatment Coalition has heralded as an ‘important breakthrough’ the appointment of the first Australian to the eminent Global Commission on Drug Policy.
Emeritus Professor Geoff Gallop, former WA Premier and an advocate with Harm Reduction Australia, has been appointed to the commission. He joins an eminent panel of commissioners, including former international leaders Helen Clark, Jose Ramos-Horta, and entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson. The late Kofi Annan also served on the commission.
Dr Gallop said he was humbled to be appointed to the commission and he hoped now that Australia’s experiences could contribute to the global debate of “what works and what doesn’t work” when it comes to drug policy.
“It’s important too, that we in Australia learn from the experiences of other countries, such as in Portugal where drugs were decriminalised and funding was boosted for harm minimisation and treatment services,” he said.
“Portugal had a terrible heroin problem prior to these reforms. Today the number of deaths due to drug overdose in Portugal is 0.35 per 100,000. That is over 20 times less than the overdose death rate in Australia (7.5 per 100,000).” 
Dr Gallop said there were those who argue we should “just say no” to drugs and others that argue criminalisation reduces drug use.
He said around the world there were jurisdictions that had moved to decriminalise personal drug use and they had not experienced the subsequent expansion in drug use that was predicted by opponents. He said there were lessons here that Australia should heed.
“In the drug debate in Australia we have seen how policy can produce good results when informed by a human-centred, pragmatic approach,” Dr Gallop said.
“Our country has in the past taken new approaches to tackling drugs such as the establishment of a pioneering needle exchange program and the creation almost 20 years ago of the Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre at King Cross.”
Fair Treatment spokesman, Doug Taylor, said Dr Gallop’s appointment was extremely significant and could help efforts for drug law reform in Australia.
Fair Treatment is a coalition of more than 60 health, legal, community, union and church groups that is advocating for better and more funding for treatment services and for the decriminalisation of drugs in small quantities.
The coalition was created by Uniting (the service and advocacy arm of the Uniting Church in NSW and ACT) following an historic resolution by the church in 2016 – in which it became the only church in the world to adopt a position to decriminalise personal drug use.
The purpose of the Global Commission on Drug Policy is to bring to the international level an informed, science-based discussion about humane and effective ways to reduce the harm caused by drugs and drug control policies to people and societies.
Dr Gallop is available for interview
Media contact: Martin Thomas 0477 340 704
 Kristen Smyth and Susanne Porter, Why we need to change our approach to people who need treatment, October 2018, p 9. http://fairtreatment.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2019/04/FT_DOCV2.pdf