The disappointing thing about the debate over heroin injecting rooms in Melbourne is that there is no debate about whether the government should provide them.
Both Liberal and Labor support state-sanctioned places for vulnerable people to shoot up dangerous, illegally obtained substances.
The Greens and the Liberal Democratic Party are extreme libertarian on drugs and would sell them in supermarkets - well, chemists, at least.
The only argument is where in the city to allow the next so called Medically Supervised Injecting Room.
This is a shame because the evidence is far from clear that drug injecting centres save lives.
It is abundantly clear they don’t reduce drug use, trafficking and its related harms to individuals and local communities.
That’s why no one wants one next door to their school, as is the case in Richmond, or businesses, as is the case for the proposed second centre in Bourke Street in the CBD.
Politicians have lost the will and courage to push back on the prevailing “harm minimisation” approach to drugs and say ‘no’ to their legal use.
This is because being “tough of drugs” is, well, tough.
There was a time when the conservative side of politics would hold the line on legalising illicit drug use.
Conservatives once understood that the iron law of public policy is what governments condone, society gets more of.
This is absolutely the case with drugs, as the foolish US states experimenting with the legalisation of marijuana are discovering the hard way.
My son is visiting San Francisco, a Democrat-run city which has become a dystopia.
“At night it’s like Gotham,” he observed.
But Victorian Liberal Leader John Pesutto is no longer holding the line in his quest to be Labor-lite on social policy, quarrelling only about where to put the next injecting centre.
Victoria’s Daniel Andrews Labor Government has produced a report on the operation of its Richmond injecting centre which claims it has saved lives.
However, Drug Free Australia, a respected drugs policy think tank headed by former Howard government drugs policy adviser, Major Brian Watters of the Salvation Army, disputes the methodology used.
While every life saved is of course valuable, Drug Free Australia concludes that only one life was statistically saved, not the 21-27 claimed by the government.
No reductions in deaths were recorded in the immediate vicinity of the injecting centre.
Rates of discarded needles remained the same as did trafficking and ambulance call-outs.
Importantly, there was no difference in the rate of injecting room users being referred to rehabilitation than non-injecting room users.
Drug Free Australia asserts that the $2-$3 million cost in running injecting rooms would be better spent on rehabilitation services rather than maintaining people in their addiction.
Analysis of Sydney’s drug injecting room in Kings Cross has found similar results and this probably explains why there has been no political will to open new drug injecting rooms in New South Wales.
When political parties give up on policing illicit drugs, the only people who benefit are the criminals and gangs who traffic in this lucrative trade.
A tough on drugs approach does not mean locking up every kid caught with a joint. Diversion programs can be used instead of jail.
But it does mean not running up the white flag when it comes to getting people off drugs.
Injecting rooms are simply honey pots for users, traffickers and the associated social problems no one wants in their neighbourhood.
Now that Pesutto and the Liberals have capitulated to the idea of legal injecting rooms, they too with Labor will now own the problem of where to put them.
But “harm minimisation” pressure won’t stop with injecting rooms.
If the Liberals are prepared to allow the legal use of heroin, will they have the will and courage to oppose the legalisation of cannabis which is being pushed by the radical left and libertarian right?
Like so many social policy issues, the conservatives have abandoned the field.
Vulnerable young people pay the price for these social experiments in legalising drugs.
The community pays the price in the “Gothamisation” of their cities.
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