Posts Tagged ‘public policy’



JULY 2014 ~ A POEM


She takes a bottle,

smashes it against a breeze block

they used to build the barracks

that bake at noon and sweat at midnight.


Sorts out a piece of glass

sharp, fits neatly in her hand

draws it across her slender wrist

a green transluscent bow ’cross a brown cello.


She lies back, deeply tired.

More tired than she thought possible

sun incessant on her face

and, dignified, hoses her life over the wooden steps.


Within a few minutes they come running.

Rush her to the infirmary

wrapping her, scolding her,

but she is silent, crying silent, bleeding silent.


A dozen at least like this, they say,

because if they die their children

will have a golden future.

Dreaming of the lucky country.


And in the Ministerial offices

a man with glasses and a poor haircut

says we do not comment on detainee self-harm

we could not possibly comment.


We lock them up.

We send them back.

We give them over.

We un-person them by not talking.


And on the island, the woman lies

wrists bandaged, children frightened.

She is an operational matter:

she operated on herself,

but we are not allowed to know.


The blood bakes black on the wooden steps.

Birds carol raucous in the trees.

Her children weep midst the breeze blocks.

Merry Christmas Island.


broken bottle

(From AAP)

Sydney teenager Daniel Christie has died in hospital after being punched on New Year s Eve. 

Sydney teenager Daniel Christie has died less than two weeks after being punched to the ground on New Year’s Eve.

Describing Mr Christie as a “beacon of morality”, his family say he died on Saturday morning at Sydney’s St Vincent’s hospital.

“While no words can describe how crushed we are, Daniel fought courageously over the past 11 days which allowed everyone to say their farewells,” his family said in a statement issued by NSW police.

“His death has left us feeling completely destroyed and has torn a hole in the wider community in which he was involved.

“We have been overwhelmed by support and have felt the whole country experience our grief.”

The 18-year-old was taken to St Vincent’s Hospital in a critical condition after being punched in Kings Cross on New Year’s Eve.

Police say they expect further charges to be laid against his alleged attacker, Shaun McNeil, when he next appears in court in March. McNeil has already been charged with causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and three counts of common assault.

Police allege McNeil, 25, hit three young men before targeting Mr Christie and his brother, Peter, when the other young men tried to hide behind them.

McNeil, a labourer, allegedly boasted he was a mixed martial arts fighter before punching Mr Christie in the face as he shielded the other men.

Through his lawyer, McNeil has previously told a court that the first group of young men was trying to sell him drugs and he acted to protect his girlfriend who was with him at the time. He was unable to explain his actions towards the Christies, police facts previously tendered in court said.

A court has previously heard that doctors believed Mr Christie would probably have suffered a serious brain injury if he had survived the attack.

People have the right to go out without experiencing violence, the Christie family said.

“No family should be forced to deal with this situation, however we are not the first and we fear that we won’t be the last.

“We do not want Daniel’s death to be in vain and are committed to rallying for change. Daniel lived by the mantra: ‘If change can be, it’s up to me’ – and this is something we will always embrace.

Mr Christie’s organs will be donated, the family said.

Since Mr Christie was taken to hospital, there has been increased pressure on the NSW government to tackle alcohol-related violence on the late-night strip and introduce tougher sentencing for perpetrators.

In November, Thomas Kelly’s parents Ralph and Kathy started a petition calling for drunkenness to be a mandatory aggravating factor that must be taken into account in sentencing. 18-year-old Thomas Kelly died after being hit with a single punch in Kings Cross in July 2012.

The petition had about 25,000 signatures before New Year’s Eve.

But following the alleged assault on Mr Christie, that surged to more than 124,000.

Wellthisiswhatithink says:

We have urged Government before to take seriously the urgent need for community education on the issue of “king hits” and other assaults using fists.

The death rate from such events would now have to be categorised as “regular”. (See below.)

And each death is not only a life lost, but a family destroyed, and another life – that of the perpetrator – ruined forever.

Yes, one potential answer is to legislate for higher penalties. But frankly we doubt any stronger statutes need to be on the books. We need to be more imaginative than simply throwing away the key for longer. The Christie family have suggested that everyone should stop calling a “king hit” by that aggressive moniker and instead call it a “coward’s punch”. And that change in terminology may, indeed, help.

But Dr Paul Gruba, a senior lecturer in linguistics at Melbourne University, says changing a popular phrase such as “king hit” is not so simple.

“The crowd that is going to have to change are the ones pulling the king hits,” he told Crikey. “It’s going to have take government advertising and media support. And whether young males are going to change their discourse to shame one of their mates is a far-flung proposition.”

King hit victim Matt Pridham in Canberra Hospital, now trying to recover from brain injury. This photo was volunteered by his family in early December 2013 (Canberra Times)

King hit victim Matt Pridham in Canberra Hospital, now trying to recover from brain injury. This photo was volunteered by his family in early December 2013 (Canberra Times)

Gruba says the term would first have to find its way into the style guides of the mainstream press, but that would not be enough by itself to change the cultural argot. He points to the example of the term “sex worker” instead of “prostitute”, along with the way the media shapes its coverage of people with mental illness and those living with disabilities.

Gruba says the media is using “sex work” over “prostitution” in order to “make the individual more comfortable”. But he says even if the media began using “coward’s punch”, the general public would not necessarily do the same.

“I don’t know how powerful the media is any more,” he said. “It took years to change with feminism. The most successful cultural change was when George Bush decided not to call it global warming but climate change and he had the power to do it.”

Gruba says any change in the language of violence would have to come from the street. And he is right, in our estimation. But the first step is to get out on the streets, and learn how young people would phrase the campaign, and no one is doing that currently.

Whatever we do, there’s no doubt we need to address the topic of grog. Dr Jennifer Pilgrim, from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, agrees the community needs to change the way it views violence. But for her, changing society’s attitude towards alcohol and its misuse is more pressing than changing a two-word phrase.

“To curb alcohol-fuelled violence, we need to alter the drinking culture in Australia — particularly among young people,” she said. “Education campaigns, limitations on sponsorship and advertising of alcohol, and more research to support and guide prevention campaigns are key to a healthier future for Australia.” Pilgrim is the lead author of a report published in December that found alcohol was to blame in the majority of single-punch fatalities.

Whatever we need to tackle first, there is no doubt the scale of the problem. According to Pilgrim’s research, single-punch assaults have resulted in 90 deaths since 2000. That’s:

  • 3,450+ brain injuries from assaults, all people with families, all people with futures, every year. $24,760,000 in costs treating those people every year.
  • 394 faces repaired every year.
  • $1.4 Billion dollars is the cost to the Australian economy of assaults. Every year.

So where do we start? Well, the war against excessive drinking is going to be a long one, and will require a revolution in social organisation, especially in a country with a “nod and a wink” attitude to drunken-ness, and a climate which encourages both being outdoors while drinking refreshing beverages.

First step? In our opinion, quite simply, we need to make punching someone – anyone – as socially unacceptable as other anti-social behaviour has become over the years.

  • “Real men don’t hit women.”
  • “If you drink, then drive, you’re a bloody idiot.”
  • “Knives scar lives.”
  • “Real heroes walk away.” #heroeswalkaway

We will never eradicate all “king hit” tragedies, of course. But some we will. Which is why, as a communications professional, I plead with our State Governments to take the lead in implementing age-appropriate messages to the target market. I know the advertising agency in which I work would jump at the chance to suggest a campaign.

We know that public advocacy campaigns work, especially against the younger age demographics that consume so much media. So for the sake of the young men who will die if we don’t take action to turn this tide, please, ACT NOW. Back a no-holds-barred, hard-hitting campaign with serious dollars, in main media. Make the campaign at least as impactful as the crime they seek to avert. All puns intended.

Really. Enough is enough.

Enough is enough.

Enough is enough.

Related reading/viewing:

ABC Radio

Call it a sucker punch? HeraldSun

Rehab? I don’t think so.

Leading politicians, police, church leaders and social policy experts occasionally take to the airwaves to argue publicly that drugs should be de-criminalised. They believe that the so-called “war on drugs” is comprehensively lost, that it does little or nothing to protect drug users, and merely fuels a criminal underworld that feeds off the illegality of the substances.In some countries it completely skews civil society.

In Mexico the “War on Drugs” (and the internecine war between drug barons) has cost 50,000 lives. Here we see Mexican troops during a gun battle with a drug gang in Michoacán, in 2007.

It has tossed Mexico into a virtual multi-faction civil war. It bedevils attempts to drag Afghanistan into a modern, plural society.

Yet every time those in favour of trying a different tactic speak up, they are howled down by a combination of rednecks, right-wing bigots, people ignorant of hardcore research on the topic, and cowards on both sides of politics.

Well here’s some facts that appear to emphatically support the argument for decriminalization.

On July 1st, 2001, Portugal decriminalized every imaginable drug, from marijuana, to cocaine, to heroin. Some thought Lisbon would become a drug tourist haven, others predicted usage rates among youths to surge.

Eleven years later, it turns out they were both wrong.

Over a decade has passed since Portugal changed its philosophy from labeling drug users as criminals to labeling them as people affected by a disease. This time lapse has allowed statistics to develop and in time, has made Portugal an example to follow.

First, some clarification.

Portugal’s move to decriminalize does not mean people can carry around, use, and sell drugs free from police interference.

That would be legalization.

Rather, all drugs are “decriminalized,” meaning that drug possession, distribution, and use is still illegal. While distribution and trafficking are still criminal offences, possession and use is moved out of criminal courts and into a special court where each offender’s unique  situation is judged by legal experts, psychologists, and social workers.

Treatment and further action is decided in these courts, where addicts and drug use is treated as a public health service rather than referring it to the justice system, (like in the U.S.), reports Fox News.

The resulting effect? A drastic reduction in addicts, with Portuguese officials and reports highlighting that this number, at 100,000 before the new policy was enacted, has been halved in the following ten years. Portugal’s drug usage rates are now among the lowest of EU member states, according to the same report.

One more outcome: a lot less sick and dying people.

Drug-related diseases including STDs (such as Hepatitis and HIV) and overdoses have been reduced even more than usage rates, which experts believe is the result of the government offering advice and treatment with no threat of legal ramifications to addicts.

Whilst Portugal’s policy switch is by no means news, the statistics and figures, which take years to develop and subsequently depict the effects of the change, have just hit the wires, and seem to demand serious discussion.

In countries like America, Britain and Australia, which many believe take the philosophy of criminalization a bit far (more than half of America’s federal inmates, for example, are in prison on drug convictions, in Australia the figure for drug us or drug related offences is over 80%), other alternatives must surely be discussed.

Especially when, with many states in the US still using “three strikes and you’re out” mandatory 25 year or even life sentences for even minor drug convictions, suffering from drug dependency can see you locked away until you die. Locked away in an environment, of course, where drug use and the illnesses associated with it is common, fuelled by corruption and money.

America now has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Why? Simple: drugs. In 1994, it was reported that the “War on Drugs” resulted in the incarceration of one million Americans each year. Of the related drug arrests, about 225,000 are for possession of cannabis, the fourth most common cause of arrest in the United States.

In 2008, 1.5 million Americans were arrested for drug offenses and 500,000 were imprisoned.

The illegalisation of drug use is therefore also hideously expensive public policy. That’s partly why, in June 2011, the Global Commission on Drug Policy released a critical report on the War on Drugs, declaring “The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.” Predictably, the report was immediately criticized by organisations that oppose a general legalization of drugs.

“The War On Drugs Has Failed”, said a self-appointed 19-member commission on June 2, 2011, including former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, Mexico’s former President Ernesto Zedillo, Brazil’s ex-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, as well as the former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker and the then-current Prime Minister of Greece, George Papandreou.

The panel also featured prominent Latin American writers Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa, the EU’s former foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and George Schultz, a former U.S. Secretary of State. Hardly a bunch of wild-eyed radicals.

The War on Drugs has been a highly contentious issue since its inception. A poll on October 2, 2008, found that three in four Americans believed that the War On Drugs was failing.

At a meeting in Guatemala in 2012, three former presidents from Guatemala,Mexico and Colombia said that the war on drugs had failed and that they would propose a discussion on alternatives, including decriminalization, at the Summit of the Americas in April of that year. Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said that the war on drugs was exacting too high a price on the lives of Central Americans and that it was time to “end the taboo on discussing decriminalization”. At the summit, the government of Colombia pushed for the most far-reaching change to drugs policy since the war on narcotics was declared by Nixon four decades prior, citing the catastrophic effects it had created in Colombia.

A 2008 study by Harvard economist Jeffrey A. Miron has estimated that legalizing drugs would inject $76.8 billion a year into the U.S. economy — $44.1 billion from law enforcement savings alone.

Imagine if the money spent on the War on Drugs was diverted. Just a fraction of it would be needed to care for the drug-addicted. Imagine what the left over funds could be spent on … jobs, hospitals, education, roads.

For policymakers or people simply interested in this topic, cases like Portugal are a great place to start.