Shadow Assistant Minister for Health, Stephen Jones, has slammed the Government for cutting funds dedicated to drug and alcohol rehabilitation just five weeks after launching its National Ice Strategy.
During the Budget lock up it was revealed that $500 million would be ripped from Flexible Health Funds, which includes valuable funds aimed at drug rehabilitation and treatment as well as prevention strategies.
The Substance Misuse Prevention and Service Improvement Grants Fund and the Substance Misuse Service Delivery Grants Fund are both under threat. These funds assist organisations backing the prevention of substance misuse as well as promoting and supporting treatment services across Australia.
It is the strongest evidence yet that the Government is not actually serious about combating illicit drug use, including ice addiction.
But it is certainly not the first sign that this Government is unconcerned about how illicit substances are affecting communities across Australia.
In March 2014, the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia shut its doors after advising governments on alcohol and drug policy for close to half a century. Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash decided that it would receive no further funding and left it to her chief of staff, Alistair Furnival, to break the news to the organisation.
Less than six months ago the Government also made controversial changes to the then Australian National Council on Drugs. Senator Nash appointed as head of the advisory body a former National Party MP, Kay Hull, who supports an abstinence policy on drugs over harm minimisation and treatment. It’s reporting structures were also changed so that it no longer reported directly to the Prime Minister.
These were moves heavily criticised by health experts with former Liberal MP and doctor Mal Washer labelling the appointment “retrogressive”.
The National Ice Action Strategy was launched just last month and today the National Ice Task Force begins its community consultation with a meeting in Mount Gambier. A graphic online and television ad campaign which depicts the dangers of ice commenced over the weekend.
But at the same time that the Government is supposedly acting to stem the scourge of ice it is busy ripping funds away from programs designed to prevent people from using ice and assisting those who are addicted to the drug.
Given that the number of ice users has doubled in the past year we must get the right programs are in place to support people vulnerable to addiction. The answer does not lie in axing valuable substance misuse programs and support structures.