Drug problems in Australia - an intoxicated society?
Tabled in 1977, this was the first comprehensive government report on drugs in Australia.
In the 1960s illicit drug use in Australia was raplidly increasing, leading to stricter legal penalties. By the 1970s it became clear that the legal penalties were having a limited impact. At this time the health impacts of alcohol and tobbaco also gained more public attention, particularly because of deaths caused by drink-driving.
In June 1976 the Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare, chaired by Peter Erne Baume, a medical doctor, was tasked with inquiring into "the extent and nature of the inappropriate use of alcohol, tobacco, analgesics and cannabis". It produced this report, putting forward a seven point strategy supported by eighty-four specific recommendations.
The report opened with "A Declared Strategy":
Australia has no declared aims in the area of drug abuse beyond well meant, but ultimately empty, calls for its eradication. The community needs a firm, agreed objective to ensure a concert of purpose. It is imperative that all governments declare a set of clearly stated goals and evaluate the success of programs aimed at achieving those goals.
The Committee urges the Commonwealth Government to declare the following seven-point strategy, developed fully in Chapter 1, as its approach to drug abuse. The Commonwealth having provided the lead, State Governments should then be encouraged to make similar declarations.
1 . Total elimination of drug abuse is unlikely, but government action can contain the problems and limit their adverse effects. Control of drug abuse requires a long-term commitment within a publicly declared program with clearly identified goals, and with time frame, monitoring procedures, financing arrangements and standards all specifically stated.
2. All drugs are not equally dangerous and all drug use is not equally destructive. Control efforts should therefore concentrate on drugs having the most adverse public health effects, particularly where use puts others at risk. Programs should give priority to individuals abusing high-risk drugs and to compulsive users of any drugs.
3. Efforts to reduce the supply of and the demand for drugs are complementary and interdependent, and Commonwealth programs should be based on a balance between them.
4. Existing programs aimed at reduction of supply and demand must be broadened. In the reduction of supply, a higher priority should be given to increasing international co-operation in preventing the illicit production of drugs. In the reduction of demand, increased attention should be given to prevention, constructive early intervention and better access to rehabilitation services.
5. Drug abuse is primarily a social/medical, not a legal, problem, though such abuse may have important legal consequences and aspects.
6. Management must be improved to ensure the maximum effect from resources committed to drug programs. Better interagency coordination is required. More attention must be paid to the setting of priorities, with Commonwealth law enforcement efforts focused on high-level traffickers and Commonwealth resources focused on habitual users of high-risk drugs.
7. The Federal Government has particular responsibility for giving national leadership in coping with drug abuse. The States have an equally important role, especially in the direct provision of services. No national control program will be effective unless all governments co-ordinate their activities. The Commonwealth Minister for Health should have primary responsibility for Commonwealth action relating to all forms of drug use and abuse.
The government rejected many of the report's recommendations. However, it had a lasting influence.
Peter Baume spoke of the report's legacy in 1984, saying that "one thing that our report did was to alter, for the present anyhow, and I hope for all time, the public debate about drug use in Australia. The public agenda now includes use of legal drugs..." He added that "the press is now willing to promote health and to promote moderation and to consider the use of legal drugs as part of our problem. All this represents some degree of progress across the spectrum."
The report has also been described as the "ancestral document to today’s National Drug Strategy". It "contains the text of the Media Council of Australia’s ‘Voluntary code for advertising of alcoholic drinks’ as well as the ‘Voluntary code for advertising of cigarettes in print media’."
A 2002 review of Australian drug policy stated that the "practicality articulated by Peter Baume is often cited as a cornerstone of the Australian approach and one that differentiates it from other approaches."
Part of the Policy History Collection. Digitisation of this report has been supported by the National Library of Australia.
Reproduced with permission of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.