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Why I didn't change my mind

By John Brogden - posted Saturday, 15 May 1999

The Drug Summit was Bob Carr’s political tactic to remove the drug debate from the election campaign after The Sun Herald published a front page photograph of a 15-year-old boy injecting an illicit drug in a back lane in inner Sydney. The tactic worked, the media let the Premier off and drugs fell off the election agenda.

Yet despite hundreds of speeches, thousands of facts and innumerable assertions at last month’s Drug Summit, only one third of drug users seeking rehabilitation in NSW are able to find a place in a program.

We knew that before the election and it can be fixed within months through the allocation of at least $50 million in the upcoming State budget into the health budget and for related non-government providers.


So we will have to wait until later this month to see if the Carr Government is willing to match its rhetoric and reform agenda with money.

So what real benefits came from the Drug Summit?

For me, it was confirmation of a personal view that the imperatives in the drug debate are education; prevention then minimisation; a massive increase in funds for treatment; and a trial of a medically supervised injecting room.

Although I went into the summit with a genuinely open mind, I was not swayed from my position in support of present laws and penalties for possession and use of illicit drugs and my opposition to a heroin trial. In contrast the pre-determined Government agenda, whilst agreeing to the need for more resources, refused to discuss the detail of funding commitments but instead promoted legal liberalisation.

I was one of only six Liberal MPs to support the motion late on Thursday night to trial a medically supervised injecting room. But my final decision to exercise my free vote in support of this proposal came the week before the summit.

At my own instigation, and outside the glare of the summit media and focus, I visited the Kirkton Road Clinic (KRC) and met its Director, Dr Ingrid van Beek. The KRC operates two clinics in Kings Cross, one above the Kings Cross Fire Station and the other in the heart of the strip clubs and night life of the Cross - known as K2. At K2, through a clean needle program, needle packs are distributed every day. I find the picture of human tragedy surrounding the sheer number of needles numbing. Clean needle programs have proved their worth in successfully reducing deaths from drug overdose.


Later that night at the infamous "Wall" I met the KRC outreach van that works every night distributing needles to addicts on the streets. The health workers introduced me to a prostitute who had come to the van for a needle pack.

She willingly and openly talked to me of her life as a street prostitute and drug addict in Sydney. She articulated a life dependent on heroin, prostitution and food vans.

Just one week earlier she had accidentally overdosed and been revived in a lane in Kings Cross.

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About the Author

John Brogden is the Leader of the Opposition for NSW and Liberal party member for Pittwater.

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