I can’t say I have agreed with Jeff Kennett on all (or even most) of his public statements but I have to say I have always had respect for his political courage and leadership (doubly so after the experience of Malcolm Turnbull supposedly in charge). I was listening to news radio the other day- must have been ABC because they didn’t mention reality TV non-personalities once- and they were running a story about the Australia21 group’s call to decriminalise a number of illicit drugs.
Perhaps like many others, I seem to have a natural bias on this issue against decriminalisation. I know it is an unfair simplification, but for someone that grew up protected from most major risk factors correlated with drug dependency, it is difficult to overcome my bias that demands people take responsibility for their own actions. And certainly this paradigmatic stigma about illicit drugs seems to be pretty widely entrenched within the psyche of many Australians.
But whatever my gut says and however well it may play politically, even cursory research into the subject gives a pretty clear picture that hardline punitive drug policies have not worked anywhere in the world, while tobacco, alcohol (and arguably sugar) are at least comparable in the level of social harm they cause.
This is both a complex and emotive topic and one which I will have to write a more detailed article on in the future. But I wanted to draw attention to a comment from Jeff Kennett in his role as spokesperson for Australia21. In a startlingly honest mea culpa, Kennett said that decriminalisation had been recommended to him twenty years ago when he was premier of Victoria, but that he had not acted on it. He went further and said that if he had acted on the recommendation it would have saved lives.
Admitting you have been wrong in the past is not easy. I found that earlier this year myself and I am not a public figure responsible for decisions that affect the lives of thousands of people. I was pretty impressed that Kennett would so candidly take responsibility for effectively delivering a policy that cost lives. You wouldn’t see anyone from our current government with the courage or integrity to do the same.