In an unprecedented volley of criticism against the authority that appointed him to head the NSW inquiry into the drug ‘ice’ commissioner Dan Howard SC has slammed the Berejiklian government for missing a ‘once-in-a-generation opportunity for drug reform’, for ignoring the commission’s recommendations and for a long delay (15 months) in responding to the detailed report on how drug harm could be reduced.
In comments reported exclusively in The Sydney Morning Herald (4 May 2021) Professor Howard said he was deeply disappointed with the government’s failure to respond to the 104 remaining recommendations after rejecting five almost outright, including pill testing and another supervised injecting centre.
He added that it was ‘beyond belief and unacceptable’ that the government had not responded to a recommendation for more services for Aboriginal communities, saying he felt ‘personally haunted’ by evidence of Indigenous families who remained sceptical the government would help.
‘Having heard all the evidence I’ve heard, and made the recommendations that I’ve made, to be 15 months later wondering what on earth is the government planning to do, it makes me despairing of the political process,’ Professor Howard said.
‘I wonder how many of the politicians who are deciding what to do with this report have actually bothered to read it, frankly, because if they had they would understand the urgency of the measures recommended.’
The proceedings and the four-volume report of the special commission of inquiry have been reported extensively in previous issues of GPSpeak and NorDocs. We attended the sitting of the commission in Lismore.
The NSW government set up the inquiry into the supply, use and devastating social impacts of crystal methamphetamine, a.k.a. ice, in November 2018. The commission heard extensive evidence from health and judicial experts, including police, as well as former users and family members and friends. The impacts of other substances, including alcohol, were also discussed at length.
Addressing the government’s response to the report, which was based on submissions as well as hearings throughout NSW, Professor Howard said, ‘This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get this right, and I think we’re on the brink of the whole thing being pigeonholed and blowing it.’
The government’s interim response was to rule out five key recommendations, including creating more supervised injecting centres, retiring drug detection dogs, and enabling pill testing at music events.