Australia requires a radically new approach in waging the war on drugs. Despite the government’s best efforts, Australia is currently awash with illegal narcotics and Australians have globally the highest or close to the highest per capita illicit drug usage across several categories including cannabis, opioids, cocaine, amphetamines and ecstasy.
The Australian Crime Commission’s recent illicit drugs report stated that in 2013-14 Australia recorded the highest number of illicit drug-related arrests, the highest number of drug seizures and the largest amount of drugs seized. According to the ACC, sophisticated organised criminals are at the centre of the Australian illicit drug market.
Moreover, according to the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 42 per cent of Australians have used illicit drugs during their lives, demonstrating Australia has an entrenched illicit drug culture.
Disturbingly, the toxicity of the current supply of illicit substances across several categories has never been stronger. Long-term cognitive, psychological and physical damage, the deterioration of social capital and the lost labour productivity resulting from illicit drug use is both real and undeniable.
The current ice epidemic sweeping the nation has devastated the lives of many Australians including in rural and remote communities.
On any possible objective measure, Australia’s current approach to the war on drugs is an example of gross public policy failure.
Billions are being consumed in law enforcement, tens of thousands of traffickers and users are languishing in jails, violent crime is being waged on the streets and precious healthcare resources are being consumed.
Australia’s current policy posture projects weakness to international criminal narcotics syndicates in Asia and South America. We are seen as a soft target and therefore illegal drugs flood the country.
Despite the issue not dominating the national conversation, it is incumbent on policy makers to investigate alternative policy solutions.
The collective harm that currently arises from illicit drug use discredits the drug legalisation community’s argument that an individual’s personal use should not be the concern of the government as it does not cause harm to others.
Developments in neuroscience and psychology demonstrate that, as social animals, an individual’s consumption can significantly influence the behaviour of others.
The alternative is to consider radically different policy frameworks such as Singapore’s, which has an openly stated policy objective of a “drug-free” nation.
Singapore uses a multi-pronged strategy consisting of strong preventive education in schools, mandatory drug rehabilitation for first- and second-time caught users as well as the mandatory use of the death penalty with a reverse onus of proof for individuals caught with a prohibited substance above a legislatively prescribed weight.
Singapore’s policy approach is brutal, but it works. Singapore enjoys one of the lowest per capita rates of illicit drug use in the world. Its streets are safe, organised drug crime syndicates do not have a stronghold and, because of its projection of resolute strength, Singapore’s use of the death penalty is sparing.
The effectiveness of Singapore’s policy approach over two decades has resulted in the halving of arrest rates from approximately 6000 to 3000 annually as well as the rate of recidivism from 60 per cent to 30 per cent.
Given the seriousness of Australia’s drug crisis, examination and potential adoption of the Singapore model should be considered by policy makers, including the reintroduction of the death penalty.
Australians must be willing to acknowledge the seriousness of the current crisis and be accepting of tough unconventional measures coupled with determined and unwavering leadership. The scale of policy change required is immense.
John Adams is a former Coalition adviser.
This op-ed was first published in The Daily Telegraph.