As practised most crudely by Tony Abbott, that paragon of tact and rational thought, that awful warning to school debaters on how to lose a debate — except it seems to go over quite well in the current parliament.
TONY ABBOTT’S contribution to tact is about as renowned as Attila the Hun’s legacy to table manners.
And Mr Abbott was at it again in Parliament yesterday, raising Labor’s hackles only two weeks after the Prime Minister, John Howard, urged him to tone it down. Apropos of nothing, Mr Abbott organised to be asked a Dorothy Dixer on illegal drugs.
After spruiking the giga-millions the Government had spent over the years on fighting drugs, rehabilitating addicts and educating the populace, he set about framing the Labor Leader, Kim Beazley, and the Opposition health spokeswoman, Julia Gillard, as the junkie’s best friend.
He quoted Mr Beazley as once saying Mr Howard should not stand in the way of a NSW Government proposal for safe heroin injecting rooms.
“This is someone who supports safe injecting rooms. This is someone who does not back the practical policies of this Government to cut down on illicit drug use,” Mr Abbott crowed.
And on Ms Gillard, for taking a similar stance: “She is just as soft on drugs.”
There has been much controversy, often fraught with vested interest input and ideological animus, on the subject of the Kings Cross safe injecting room, or more properly the Medically Supervised Injection Clinic, a project of the Kirketon Road Centre, St Vincents Hospital (but not directly though they were originally meant to run it: see note at the end) and, also indirectly, the Uniting Church’s Wayside Chapel, an institution that does more good than most politicians, which pioneered the idea in the late 1990’s with an illegal “Tolerance Room” (where drug addicts were able to inject in a supervised environment) as an act of civil disobedience. This eventually led to the creation of the legal medically supervised injecting centre in Kings Cross. (See Wikipedia.)
For a different viewpoint from the right-wing cliches you hear from John Howard down, go to Australian Safe Injection Room a Success, Say Evaluators.
The Kings Cross safe injection site was first proposed in 1999, but faced lengthy debate and a legal challenge from the business community before opening in May 2001. The New South Wales government gave its approval in an effort to “decrease overdose deaths, provide a gateway to treatment, [and] reduce the problem of discarded needles and users injecting in public places.”
According to the evaluation, the site has worked as promised. The evaluation found no negative impact on the community or any evidence of an increase in crime in the area. In fact, public support for the site grew from 68% to 78% during the 18 months, the evaluation revealed. The site made 1,385 referrals to drug treatment, “especially amongst frequent attenders, “the report noted.
According to the British Medical Journal, New South Wales officials will use the favorable evaluation to push for a continuation of the program, and officials in the Australian Capital Territory may do the same. That’s not the case with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, apparently a man not inclined to let the facts interfere with his opinions. “I’ve never supported heroin trials and I’ve never supported heroin injecting rooms, and this government never will,” he said.
The complete 233-page evaluation, conducted by a team led by Dr. John Kaldor, professor of epidemiology and deputy director of the national center of HIV epidemiology at the University of New South Wales, is available online at http://druginfo.nsw.gov.au/druginfo/reports/msic.pdf
There is a good front-page story on this in the latest South Sydney Herald, sadly not online. Local Chamber of Commerce types have been blaming the injecting room for the decline of Kings Cross in recent years. Not so, claims the South Sydney Herald report; rather, demographics, road closures, and sky-rocketing rents, such as $1000 per week for 20 square metres, are the real causes. Darlinghurst Road business owner Mark Robertson is quoted as saying: “Wayside and the clinic…have cleaned the area up, and the police are doing a good job with crime. Now there are less deaths and it is a much safer place.”
The report goes on to say that the safe injection room has successfully managed 1400 drug overdoses since it opened.
None of this matters to Tony Abbott, of course.
I recalled after writing this the 1999 controversy over the role of St Vincents: see the 7.30 Report archives. The nuns at St Vincents were all in favour, but the church pulled the plug on them. See also NSW Hansard for 29 March 2006.
…it was decided that the centre would be run by the Sisters of Charity health service, which is linked to St Vincent’s Hospital. Consequently, it was a great disappointment when Archbishop Pell, as he then was, persuaded various authorities in the Vatican that the Sisters of Charity should be ordered not to proceed down that path. However, as it turned out, perhaps that was a good thing. The Kirketon Road Centre, run by Dr Ingrid van Beek, was successfully dealing with not only the medical needs but also a variety of social and other needs of injecting drug users. The centre was in the area and was familiar with the issues, and it was willing to take on the onerous task of running the injecting centre.
Jan Burnswood continues:
The injecting centre has been successful not only in preventing these preventable deaths but also, in many cases, in helping get people back on track by leading a life that works for them. Whether it is other medical issues, housing issues, a need for social support or addressing homelessness, the centre has played a role that goes way beyond its narrowly defined tasks.