All Australians are equal but some are more equal than others…

All Australians are equal but some are more equal than others…

The Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL), the national organisation representing people who use or have used illicit drugs is shocked and appalled by the unexpected announcement yesterday by Prime Minister Howard that a re-elected Coalition Government would take control of the welfare payments of people convicted of offences involving illicit drugs.

"This proposal is unfair and inequitable. It is based on the politics of exclusion" said Ms Louise Grant, AIVL's President.  "All of the candidates in this federal election, including the Government have talked about the importance of creating an inclusive community but this announcement by the Federal Government is the exact opposite of this. It is targeting some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our community and seeking to make their lives much harder at the worst possible time".

Both research evidence and experience show that punitive legal measures have almost no impact when it comes to preventing continued illicit drug use among people convicted of drug related offences. "The announcement by the Prime Minister will not stop people using illicit drugs, it will simply mean that people will be forced to take even more risks than they currently do to obtain money for their drug use" Ms Grant stated.

AIVL is concerned that the quarantining of welfare payments for people convicted of illicit drug offences will result in higher levels of crime and other harms as people search for ways to obtain cash and/or ways to avoid being registered for government benefits. "People will go underground to survive and to maintain control over their lives" claimed Ms Grant. AIVL is also unclear about how such a system could possibly be administered particularly in relation to privacy legislation and predicts a massive escalation in the level of conflict between clients and Centrelink.

"This proposal ignores the fact that people who receive government benefits are Australian citizens who have the right to make their own decisions about how they spend their income, regardless of how that income is derived" stated Ms Grant.

AIVL also believes the Prime Minister's announcement will establish a system of arbitrary additional punishment for people convicted of drug related offences who are in receipt of government benefits. "People who are convicted of drug offences have already been punished by the courts. They should not face additional punishment from outside the recognised judicial system." If these types of paternalistic and undemocratic measures were imposed on other people in the community there would be outrage but when it is targeting people who use illicit drugs or Aboriginal people it is considered good policy.

As a community we should "just say no" to the politics of exclusion.