You are here

Mark Latham on Drugs

Following a number of deaths due to tainted drugs at music festivals there have been arguments that pill testing should be available at such events. One prominent critic of the idea is former leader of the social democratic Australian Labor Party, Mark Latham.

Once upon a time he was seen as a bit of an intellectual star from the conservative wing of that organisation, publishing Civilising Global Capital: New Thinking for Australian Labor (Allen and Unwin, 1998). I remember thinking at the time that the book best served as a doorstop, as it argued that obvious things like globalisation were inevitable, made some questionable claims about "Fordism" and the administrative welfare-state, and then made some feel-good comments about devolution of governance, and then frank appalling claims about mutuality, which always just another way of saying "beat up those on welfare". Latham went on to lose what should have been an un-losable election to conservative Prime Minister John Howard, whose main claim to fame is that he should be tried for war crimes. Shortly afterwards he left parliament and the Labor Party citing life-threatening illnesses.

When he was the leader of the Labor Party, he indicated that he was prepared to engage in evidence-based drug policies with caution, whilst the conservatives tried to paint him as "soft on drugs".

'Sometimes these solutions involve zero tolerance ... on other occassions it's wise to have an open mind about new approaches that can find a solution to a very, very entrenched, tough social problem,"

''"I think it's wise not to be playing politics with this and be making political point scoring out of it,"

"You need to be careful about judging the evidence, finding out the things that work in practice and taking a good, strong approach to getting solutions'
-- I'm open-minded about war on drugs, says Latham, Sydney Morning Herald, February 4, 2004

Several years later, Latham returned to politics, initially joining the fringe libertarian-capitalist party, the Liberal Democrats. The policy of the Liberal Democrats on this matter includes:

* The full legalisation of the possession, cultivation, manufacture and sale to adults of all drugs which cause less harm than alcohol or tobacco.
* The abolition of civil and criminal penalties for possession of all drugs for personal use.

After joining the Liberal Democrats Latham indicated he wanted to return to formal politics (interesting given that he once told youth that it was ineffectual and to avoid it) and that he would like to be a candidate. After he was blocked by the executive of Liberal Democrats, he resigned from that party to stand for the far-right and xenophobic One Nation party. An increasingly desperate former politician in search of a party, he has moved from the centre-right to the far-right and in doing so has become increasingly entrapped in making political statements based on opinionated beliefs of what others should do rather than evidence and respect for individual autonomy. His recent comments on pill testing at music festivals is a case in point.

The opinions of Mr. Latham are rather like those who advocate sexual abstinence rather than sex education and the availability of contraception. It is moralising without regard for reality, and we know how well that works. His opinions stand in stark contrast to professors who specialise in drug policy, such as Alison Ritter, who provides six basic reasons why pill-testing should be trialed. It stands in contrast to Mick Palmer, the former Australian Federal Police commissioner, who argues that the pill testing approach is courageous and will save lives. It is contrary to moves 'cross The Ditch where New Zealand's police minister describes pill testing "a fantastic idea".

Beyond this, by treating drug misuse as a public health issue rather than a criminal issue, we can follow in the well-known footsteps of Portugal that found that decriminalisation reduced usage. A public policy that recognises the scientific fact that addiction takes out the freedom in free choice. One can even go back to the ground-breaking research of Professor Bruce K. Alexander whose famous "rat park" experiments suggested it is the social context that overwhelmingly orientates people towards addiction and non-addiction in the first place. Alexander, now retired, is still working on the subject after all these years.

"When I talk to addicted people, whether they are addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling, Internet use, sex, or anything else, I encounter human beings who really do not have a viable social or cultural life. They use their addictions as a way of coping with their dislocation: as an escape, a pain killer, or a kind of substitute for a full life. More and more psychologists and psychiatrists are reporting similar observations."

Even (and especially) with hard-drugs we have a very good idea of what policies work and what don't. We have, for example, to have multi-criteria studies that compare the individual and social harm of various drugs. In contrast to an evidence-based policy we have those whose chest-beating buffoonery simply argues for policies that will continue to fill prisons, result in more deaths, more corruption in the law-enforcement system, and more profits for powerful criminal syndicates. They declare a war on drugs, but what they don't say is that is really a war on people.

"When we talk about the war on drugs, you can't make a war on inanimate objects. You can only make a war on people and the people who are most affected by the war on drugs are the street level users and petty dealers... In other words, you're ostracising, criminalising and marginalising these people, and in so doing, creating the ideal conditions to maintain them in their addictive patterns. We have a very backwards approach to this problem. It doesn't work and everybody knows it doesn't work."
-- Capitalism Makes us Crazy: Dr Gabor Maté on Illness & Addiction

The war on drugs is a war on people and it leads bureaucracies into making vile, inhuman decisions that are absurd as they are horrifying.

After two stints in prison for drug-related crimes the department sought the man's deportation for failing the 'character test', deeming him a danger to the Australian community.

But, as documents obtained by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald show, even though the department accepted the man, Choe*, may be subject to the death penalty, or put into one of the secretive regime’s notorious forced labour camps on his return, these threats are not an “insurmountable” hardship sufficient to stop his deportation.
-- Execution not 'insurmountable' hardship, immigration department says

Commenting on this Blog entry will be automatically closed on March 10, 2019.


NSW police are running a campaign to "dob in a dealer"

Whereas the University of New South Wales shows evidence for pill testing.

The Victorian Parliament Report on this matter is worth serious consideration.

Alcohol causes most overall harm of any drug, says study

Alcohol causes the most overall harm to the Australian community, surpassing crystal methamphetamine (ice) and heroin, a new national study suggests.

The Australia-first study, funded by St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, examined 22 drugs and measured the risk to an individual and the damage to society as a whole.

As part of the study, 25 drug-harm experts – including frontline emergency service workers, police, addiction specialists, doctors and those working in the welfare and homeless sectors – ranked the drugs on a score of zero to 100, based on the damage they caused to users, including illness, injury and death.

They also examined the effects drugs have on users' families and the wider community, such as through violence, crime, unemployment, economic costs and relationship breakdowns.

Alcohol was ranked by far the most damaging drug to the Australian community, scoring 77 out of 100, followed by crystal meth (66), heroin (58) and fentanyls (51).