ADCA defunding is about anything but austerity
I read with shock and horror yesterday the announcement of the defunding and subsequent placement of the Alcohol and Drug Council of Australia (ADCA) into voluntary administration. This irresponsible action has been undertaken in the name of austerity however when we consider the longer term implications of such a decision it can only be considered economically counter-productive. Consider for a moment that evidence based measures (i.e those that work) supporting demand reduction and harm reduction save millions of dollars in tax payer money by reducing overall costs to health, business and communities. Recent experiences overseas demonstrate that scrapping evidence based approaches and the structures that support them is perilous.
Over the years ADCA has contributed much to the development of the alcohol and other drugs and harm reduction sectors, as well as being a key voice in policy debate. ADCA’s achievements have included:
- The publishing of a number of policy papers that have been critical in collating our evidence based understanding of which policies actually work in reducing drug related harms in our communities
- The development of a Code of Ethics for people working in the alcohol and other drugs sector which has been taken up by alcohol and other drugs agencies across Australia
- The ongoing support of the workforce development needs of the alcohol and other drugs sector through the provision of both ADCA Updates and the NDSIS
Without the guidance of a body of experts that can provide evidence based assessment of drug policy and strategy, what are we left with? The silencing of an evidence based opinion at the upper levels of government leaves us with drug policy development mechanisms that will most likely be based purely on ideology, opinion and moral outrage. In other words a policy framework with little or no evidence that it will actually work. More wasted dollars with no health or social benefits accrued for people who use drugs, their families or the communities in which they reside.
If in the longer term the scrapping of ADCA poses no financial benefit, then what is the funding cut really about? One can only assume that it is about ideology. If austerity measures are really what is required for the Australian economy, why is it that it is predominately social interventions (particularly those that cater to the needs of marginalised groups within our communities) that are bearing the brunt of these cuts? The Abbot government’s recently announced $42 million dollar cut to Aboriginal Legal Aid is yet another example of this ideologically targeted cost cutting measures, with many experts agreeing that it will only cost more money in terms of imprisonment. It begs the question who is next?
Now that I have had my little rant, I want to offer a solution to Abbott and colleagues. Rather than defunding alcohol and other drug organisations that advocate for evidence based approaches, how about the government target organisations that have no evidence base to support their position? How about we start with any Commonwealth money that goes to Drug Free Australia?