Read original article in Insights.
The Uniting Church campaign calling on the Australian government to reform drug policy, was officially launched today (12 October) by Sir Richard Branson in front of a crowd of 2,000 people at Sydney Town Hall.
Fair Treatment is a grassroots campaign that seeks the decriminalisation for possession and personal use of small amounts of illicit drugs, as well as investment into harm reduction treatment.
The Uniting Church NSW and ACT Synod and Uniting, have spearheaded this campaign which is backed by more than 60 organisations, including the Law Society of NSW, the NSW Bar Association, and the NSW branch of the Health Services Union.
In an opening address Uniting Church NSW/ACT Moderator Rev. Simon Hansford, said the Fair Treatment campaign is seeking better outcomes for people affected and action from policy makes.
“Our faith compels us to nurture, support, care and offer hope and life for everybody in our society – especially those who are marginalised or disadvantaged, who are often those most affected by drug policy,” said Rev. Hansford.
The launch included a panel discussion with Sir Richard Branson, along with Director of the Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) Dr Marianne Jauncey and Executive Secretary of the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP) Dr Khalid Tinasti, PhD. The panel discussion was moderated by SBS’ Jan Fran (The Feed), who was also the MC.
Sir Richard Branson said that we needed to persuade politicians to treat drugs as health problem and not a criminal problem.
“The war on drugs has been going on now for nearly 60 years, as an entrepreneur and a businessman, if something failed so abysmally, we would have closed it down 59 years ago,” said Sir Branson.
The panel agreed that the issue of drugs is a health and social issue.
“Really there is no pathway to harm reduction or to an effective treatment without decriminalisation and without ending social stigma and discrimination,” said Dr Tinasti.
During the panel discussion three videos were shared detailing distinct and moving testimonies. The first was of Uniting Church member, Marion McConnell, who has been a drug law reform advocate since she lost her son to a drug overdose. The next video testimony was from Liz Gal. Liz is a former client of MSIC, who is now eight years in recovery and has rebuilt her life after addiction including starting her own business.
The final video shared the story of Shantell Irwin, who is part of the Uniting Brighter Futures Program. She detailed the difficulty of seeking treatment, particularly in her case where the closest treatment centre is 400km away and the repercussions this has on her recovery and family.
Their bravery to tell their stories, and the call for law reform is one that Dr Jauncey urged the audience to not keep silent.
“To not just be interested in it (drug law reform) today…but to stay interested in it because people like Liz and Shantell, don’t get to just go home like the rest of us at the end of the day. So we need you to be interested in it today, and next week and next year,” said Dr Jauncey.
It was also announced at the event that Uniting and the Church are organising the Long Walk to Treatment. Beginning on October 19, a group of advocates will walk from Dubbo to Sydney to deliver an open letter to the health minister calling on the government to fund harm reduction treatments and drug policy reform.
From Dubbo to Sydney is a 500,000 step distance that it may take a person from regional NSW to travel for drug treatment.