Officials from the Health Department have today confirmed that short-sighted Budget cuts to Health Flexible Funds will see millions of dollars ripped away from drug rehabilitation and treatment programs at the same time as the Abbott Government is launching a national campaign to tackle these same problems.
The timing could not be worse for the Abbott Government, which in recent weeks has made bold promises about tackling the nation’s crystal methamphetamine, or “ice”, epidemic with the launch of a National Ice Taskforce. $20 million has been dedicated in this year’s Budget to a “National Drugs Campaign’, which includes a graphic TV ad campaign warning of the dangers of ice.
But when pressed during Senate Estimates this morning, officials revealed that $7 million would initially be cut from the Substance Misuse Prevention and Service Improvement Grants Fund. A further $1.2 million will be taken from the Substance Misuse Service Delivery Grants Fund.
In the Budget Joe Hockey announced that $500 million would be ripped from Flexible Health Funds. This includes the substance misuse funds, which assist organisations working tirelessly in substance misuse prevention as well as treatment and rehabilitation services across Australia.
What is even more troubling is that the organisations responsible for preventing illicit drug use and treating those addicted to ice and other illicit drugs now exist in a state of uncertainty.
This includes rehabilitation services like the Blue Mountains Drug and Alcohol Recovery Service, a coalition of community organisations and workers committed to drug and alcohol treatment and recovery. Although they have been given a one year funding extension, they are completely in the dark about what will happen when this expires in June next year.
This is further evidence that the Government is not actually serious about stemming the scourge of ice.
It comes as Mission Australia today called on the Government to provide more detox facilities in a bid to combat the ice epidemic. Its formal submission to the National Ice Taskforce states that the absence of facilities is a major barrier to effective intervention and treatment.
The Government has said all the right things but is cutting away at illicit drug funds at a time when ice is tearing apart communities across Australia.
This follows the Assistant Health Minister, Senator Fiona Nash, forcing the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia to shut its doors. Senator Nash also made controversial changes to the then Australian National Council on Drugs.
If the Abbott Government was seriously concerned about ice addiction it would continue funding the organisations on the frontline assisting those with substance misuse problems.