My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 29 January 2019

by ray goodlass

Pill testing safer than current practice

I’m spoilt for choice this week with the many options available for comment. I could begin by assessing the wisdom of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s ‘Captain’s Pick’ decision to overturn the local liberal party branch’s preselected candidate for Gilmore and replace him with newly minted liberal party member Warren Mundine, not a local. Previously an ALP President, Mr Mundine is now linked to the conservative right-wing free market unrestricted capitalism loving Sydney Institute, which may explain things.

Equally bizarre was the PM’s announcement that the federal government would fund a circumnavigation of Australia by a replica of Captain Cook’s Endeavour on the 250th anniversary of his voyage in 2020, costing us a cool $6.7 million. Perhaps the PM doesn’t know Captain Cook only sailed up the east coast. The first white fella to circumnavigate the continent was Matthew Flinders.

No doubt Mr Morrison will also peddle the arrant nonsense that Captain Cook ‘discovered’ Australia. Try telling that to our First Peoples, or the Dutch for that matter.

However, rather than focusing on examples of the PM shooting himself in the foot I’ll concentrate on having another look at the vexed topic of pill testing at music festivals.

My decision was prompted by Cate Faehrmann, a Greens NSW MP and drugs and harm minimisation spokesperson, who last Monday courageously came out as a former pill user. “I remember vividly the first time I took MDMA. I was with friends at a club in Brisbane in the early 90s. A month or so later we did it again. And again” she wrote.

Her rationale to speak out reads “As a politician I’ve made the difficult decision to “come out” in this way because the government’s zero-tolerance approach to drugs has not only been a catastrophic failure in stopping drug use, it is costing people their lives. It is so out-of-touch with millions of people’s reality that everyone has stopped listening.

“Young people are not fools. They want us, as politicians, to “get real” about illegal drugs. Their parents want us to stop the moral crusade and listen to the evidence” she said.

This means being honest about the nature and extent of drug use and accepting the evidence that a harm minimisation approach, where illegal drug use is treated as a health issue not a criminal one, works.

We also need to ‘get real’ about the role that alcohol plays in our society generally, and in the life of politicians.

Alcohol has a number of negative effects. It is a major cause of many types of cancer, and other health concerns include damage to the liver, heart and brain, high blood pressure and stroke, and of course, risks to unborn babies.

It is also associated with injury, violence, crime and motor vehicle accidents.

As to politicians and alcohol I could fill umpteen columns with stories of politicians behaving badly because of alcohol. If he hadn’t been drinking at that parliamentary Christmas party a couple of years ago Luke Foley would still be leading Labor into the forthcoming state election, for example.

Last week former ALP senator Sam Dastyari told the world that it was deemed acceptable to be intoxicated during question time in parliament. “I think people would be blown away if they knew what happens in parliament,” he said.

Each year, alcohol abuse is killing 5000 people nationally and hospitalising 150,000 more at a cost to the taxpayer of $36 billion.

With all that in mind Ms Faehrmann’s youthful pill popping pales in comparison with the drinking habits of many politicians.

The hypocrisy of any “don’t do drugs” message from an adult who may smoke, drink alcohol or abuse prescription drugs is clear to see.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale attended a recent pill testing rally to support the harm minimisation approach. “We know testing pills doesn’t guarantee safety but it’s damn safer than what we’re doing now,” Mr Di Natale told the crowd.

The nay-sayers tell us that pill testing sends the wrong message, but what they are really saying is that if somebody makes a choice to take a drug, they should pay for that choice with their lives. No decent society should do that.