Regular column of SP Councillor Stephen Jolly
The illicit drug industry is as part and parcel of life in Melbourne as it is anywhere else in the world. North Richmond is in fact one of the biggest drug distribution centres in Melbourne.
Globally, the UN claims the international drug trade generated an estimated $339 billion in 2003, which is about 1% of total global commerce. In Australia the total costs of the illicit drug use to individuals, government and business is estimated at $6 billion each year.
Socialists need to highlight the hypocrisy of the ruling class on the question of drugs. Tobacco and alcohol are the biggest drug killers. In Australia, one fifth of all deaths are drug-related: broken down to tobacco 72%, alcohol 25%, and illicit drugs only 3%. Yet while the tobacco and alcohol is legal, the doomed attempts by the police to smash the illicit drugs trade sucks up billions of taxpayers’ dollars. Two-thirds of the prison population are incarcerated for drug-related crime.
There is no evidence to suggest that a law and order approach will stop the illicit drug industry. US President Reagan’s ‘War on Drugs’, backed by the full power of the military and US government, failed dismally so why should it be any different in Australia?
The question is why do people take illicit drugs? Obviously for many young people taking drugs like alcohol and illegal drugs is part of their social life and is used to enhance hard earned and often too brief hours of enjoyment. Most people have full control over this usage and it is not a major health issue for them.
However in today’s capitalist dog-eat-dog world of long hours, low pay, stress, unemployment, casualisation and a general lack of a future, we see a rise in depression and a loss of hope. Heavy drug use often becomes a form of self-medication for those who have been let down by the system.
For socialists we fight first and foremost on the underlying issues of jobs, housing, decent education and health services, good wages and conditions and a better future for all. Under a more civilised and caring socialist society, there would be no need to block out the horrible realities of life, therefore the need for drug use would be drastically undermined.
In Melbourne, the public housing estates have been neglected by ALP and Coalition governments. Unemployment is chronic and the number of people on government support is sometimes as high as 90%. With very few opportunities on offer no wonder drug use is high. Once addicted to heroin or ice, users often commit crime to pay for their habit. This has negative impacts on the entire community.
The absence of safe injecting facilities mean that users often shoot up in the communal laundries on the high rise estates or in local spaces like schools, playgrounds or front yards. The police and State government are happy enough to contain the problem to North Richmond and the surrounding area rather than see the industry based in leafier suburbs.
The Socialist Party’s general approach is to deal with the underlying drivers of addictive drug use. Our special policies are for safe injecting facilities and for more needle exchanges. We call for community-run, decently paid and trained, safety officers on the public housing estates to protect residents. The drug crisis is a health and social issue not purely an issue of crime. Therefore we need a harm minimisation approach not more law and order.