Criticism of the Abbott Government’s Budget cuts to substance misuse funds is growing as the impact of crystal methamphetamine (or “ice”) continues to be keenly felt in vulnerable communities across Australia.
Research conducted by the Parliamentary Library has found that government expenditure on treatment services for ice addiction is far more cost-effective than throwing people behind bars. The research concluded that increased investment in treatment, rather than law enforcement, not only reduces overall drug consumption but also results in less crime and reoffending than longer prison sentences or more policing.
It will not be welcome reading for Tony Abbott and the Assistant Health Minister, Senator Fiona Nash, who have overseen drastic cuts to funds supporting rehabilitation and treatment as well as prevention strategies.
At Senate Estimates last week it was confirmed that last year’s Budget cut of $197 million to the Health Flexible Funds would see $7 million initially axed from the Substance Misuse Prevention and Service Improvement Grants Fund. A further $1.2 million will be initially taken from the Substance Misuse Service Delivery Grants Fund.
However, the worst is yet to come with this year’s Budget seeing an additional $596 million taken from the Health Flexible Funds over the next four years.
There is a severe shortage of available beds in treatment facilities across Australia and an ABC Background Briefing story from the weekend highlighted Senator Nash’s ignorance of the nation’s shortfalls in this area.
New Zealand has credited its halving of ice users nation-wide by making treatment a high priority. But when asked whether she was aware of the New Zealand model and the success it has achieved Senator Nash conceded that it was news to her.
In recent weeks Tony Abbott and Senator Nash have stepped up their promises about tackling the nation’s ice epidemic. $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 successive Budget cuts have put them at odds with expert research on illicit drug addiction and shows that the Government’s actions do not match its rhetoric when it comes to tackling the ice epidemic.
On top of this the Assistant Health Minister, Senator Nash, has forced the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia to shut its doors and made heavily criticised changes to the Australian National Council on Drugs. The newly formed Australian National Advisory Council on Alcohol and Drugs has been stripped of independence and remained mostly silent. The National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee was scrapped without warning late last year.
The Government must listen to expert opinion and to communities across Australia who want the services available to help them get on top of Australia’s ice epidemic.