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More than two years after NSW ice report, cabinet infighting blocks major changes


The NSW government is running out of time to deliver one of its biggest promised reforms before the March election.

After spending millions to find a better way to combat illicit drug use in the state, cabinet infighting has stalled any meaningful change for more than two and a half years.

When former prime minister Gladys Berejiklian announced the creation of a special commission to investigate ice and other drugs in November 2018, she insisted it would be a “course of action going forward.”

She also added that: “Governments should rely on experts, not politics.”

$11 million was spent on the inquiry: 47 days of hearings and round tables were held in Sydney and the regions; 250 applications were received; and 35 people with experience of using illicit drugs shared their stories.

The report was handed to the government in January 2020 with 109 recommendations.

The political situation then was significantly different from the one at the time of the investigation.

The inquiry was announced in 2018 by then-Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian.(AAP: Joel Corrett)

At the time, Ms Berejiklian was under increasing pressure to introduce pill testing and end the use of sniffer dogs at music festivals following the deaths of six young people in NSW.

But after the conclusion of the report, the pressure dropped sharply, and the pandemic began.

Since then, politics has prevented change, much to the dismay of the report’s author.

“I’m extremely disappointed… I’m really impressed,” said Professor Dan Howard, the commissioner of the inquiry.

“One of the problems is that there are very few people in the cabinet who are still living in the 20th century — the drug war mindset that is so out of date.”

The report calls for decriminalizing drugs for low-level personal use and instead adopting a health-based approach.

The recommendation is to refer the drug user to services rather than the justice system.

It has been impossible for the cabinet to reach a consensus on the recommendation because some Conservative Liberals and some National MPs, who also want increased support in regional areas, oppose it.

a man sits at a table and talks
According to the commissioner of the inquiry, Professor Dan Howard, the mentality of the war on drugs is outdated.(AAP: Joel Corrett)

As a result, the government was unable to provide a comprehensive response to the investigation it commissioned.

“These are just one or two of the 109 recommendations in this report,” Professor Howard said.

“And it’s a travesty that everyone else is being held up for some nitpicking about these guidelines.”

On Sunday, Prime Minister Dominique Perrotet said his government was close to a decision.

“It’s important to take the time to set things up,” he said.

“I am very confident that we will land soon.”

Attorney General Mark Speakman is responsible for implementing the reforms.

He declined an interview request from the ABC but was asked about it in a budget assessment last month.

“I agree that there is a very long delay in the overall response,” he said.

“It disappointed me.”

a man speaks into a microphone at a press conference
The attorney general called the delay in drug law reform “disappointing.”(AAP: Bianca De Marchi )

Health Secretary Brad Hazzard was also involved in developing the response.

“I think that Minister Speakman and I have done everything that is humanly possible,” he said, answering a question about the budget estimate.

The opposition is waiting for a final answer from the government before expressing its position.

Labor promised an election summit on drugs in the hope of emulating Bob Carr’s success in 1999.

But the commissioner of inquiry insists that the work has already been done and the current government must act before the next election.

“To think that the government we’re electing doesn’t have a drug and alcohol policy is just extraordinary,” Professor Howard said.

“Basically my inquiry and his report have done it for them if they just want to implement it.”


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