What has Julia Gillard unleashed? The MySchool website is provoking some lateral suggestions that extend well beyond the education portfolio. One Croakey reader, responding to Gavin Mooney’s recent piece on MyHospital, suggested that we need someone to set up MyMP, to monitor our elected representatives’ productivity.
Now Dr Alex Wodak, President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, has taken the notion of public reporting a step further. What difference might it make, he wonders, if governments had to account for their drug policies through a website, My Drug Policy?
He reports from the website’s “launch”:
“Tonight I am pleased to announce that a new web site, mydrugpolicy, has just gone live.
Mydrugpolicy will start by reporting what the government puts into our drug policy. This includes expenditure by the government on efforts to reduce the supply, demand and harm from drugs.
The measures to reduce the availability of drugs would include things like customs, police, courts and prisons. We reduce the demand for drugs using approaches such as drug education and drug treatment. And then we have measures to directly reduce the harm from drugs, such as needle syringe programmes. Of course, the overwhelming majority of our spending is presently allocated to drug law enforcement measures to reduce the supply of drugs. Measures to reduce the demand for drugs and harm reduction only get a small percentage of the funding we allocate to drugs at present.
Mydrugpolicy will also record the intermediate indicators of success. This will include the quantities of drugs seized by customs and police; the price and purity of illicit drugs – to give an indication of the huge quantities of drugs that were not detected and got through to the black market; the numbers of people charged, convicted and sentenced for drug-related offences; the number of prisoners serving sentences for drug related offences; the numbers of people receiving drug treatments, non-pharmacological and pharmacological; the percentage of people who have received different kinds of drug treatment who are still alive 12 months later and leading a normal and useful life; the percentage of young men and women in different age groups who report that they have ever consumed different kinds of illicit drugs; the percentage of young men and women in different age groups who report that they have consumed different kinds of drugs in the previous month; and the number of people hospitalised for conditions related to illegal drug multiplied by the number of days they had to stay in hospital.
Last, but not least, mydrugpolicy will also carry the actual results of our drug policy including the number of people who died from different kinds of illegal drugs; the number of new cases of HIV and hepatitis C attributed to people injecting drugs; the percentage of injecting drug users with HIV and hepatitis C; the number of drug related crimes; and the number of detected cases of police (or other official) corruption linked to drug law enforcement.
We believe that allowing you, the community, for the first time, to have all this information will help you over time to choose a more effective, safer and more cost effective drug policy.
Our government believes that the community needs to make decisions in a more business like manner. But this can only happen if there is more transparency. That is why we decided to launch mydrugpolicy.
For too long, drug policy has been the plaything of ideologues, spin doctors and ivory tower academics. Young parents were often scared witless by candidates running for political office. The candidates deliberately engaged in fear mongering about illicit drugs to help them cross the line. All of the political parties played this game – including I must confess, some candidates from my own party. It did help to get some candidates elected, including some who would never have been elected otherwise – and who, let’s be honest, never should have been elected.
We hope that mydrugpolicy will help the community and present and future governments find better approaches to this difficult problem.
My government believes that mydrugpolicy will help us to increasingly direct scarce government resources to policies which give the community the best return on investment and away from policies which have provided the community with a poor return, or even a negative return.
Of course drug use and the results of drug policy are affected by many other factors than just drug policy. Later versions of mydrugpolicy will include some of these factors – such as youth unemployment and indicators of inequality.
We don’t pretend that this web site will transform this area over night. But parents who are disappointed with the results of current and future government drug policy will at least have enough information at their disposal to engage in robust discussions with authorities and demand better results.
We plan to later group Australia with other countries that still allocate the majority of government spending on drug law enforcement and compare these with groups of other countries that increasingly base policy on evidence.
Of course we expect that mydrugpolicy will come in for a lot of criticism. Especially from the industrial organisations representing the police and corrections officers and the like. In democratic countries like ours, they have a right to express their points of view.
In the future mydrugpolicy will also compare the way we approach illegal drugs with the way we approach the legal drugs, alcohol and tobacco, and the number of Australians dying and hospitalised from legal and illegal drugs. We will also compare social costs like crime and the cost to our economy from legal and illegal drugs. We expect that the alcohol and tobacco industries will try and undermine mydrugpolicy though probably not openly.
If you find that mydrugpolicy, as we expect, attracts enormous interest and the website crashes, please come back a few days later.
I now declare mydrugpolicy open…”
Croakey continues: Somehow, I can’t imagine any governments taking up Wodak’s concept…but it seems like something that researchers could and should take up. Many a true word is said in jest…