Socialist candidate condemns police no-go plan
Tony Iltis, Melbourne
Margarita Windisch, the Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of Footscray in the November 25 Victorian state elections, has condemned a Footscray police proposed scheme, dubbed Project Reduction, that would give magistrates the option when sentencing drug offenders of placing an order on non-resident heroin addicts and dealers banning them from entering the nine western Melbourne suburbs that make up the City of Maribyrnong.
"We already have a problem in the area with over-policing", Windisch said in a June 29 media release. "Youth, ethnic minorities, the unemployed, and those who just look different, complain of chronic police harassment, with enforcing drug laws being the most common excuse. If these new sentencing options are introduced, how will they be enforced? We are very worried at the prospect of police being able to stop people at random to make sure that they haven't been banned from the area."
The scheme, which was first reported in the June 29 Herald-Sun, has been endorsed by local business-owners and Victorian Labor Premier Steve Bracks, and will begin on July 1 for a 12-month trial period.
Windisch noted that the proposal was being justified by pointing to the link between illegal drug use and offences such as burglary and shoplifting. She rejected this, arguing that "criminalisation of drugs, and the resulting inflated prices, is the real reason why some people with addiction problems become involved in property crime.
"Furthermore, criminalisation also dramatically increases the dangers of drug use. Overdoses are more likely to happen when users don't know the purity of what they are buying and, when they do happen, are more likely to lead to death when people are using in isolated, hidden places. That is why the Socialist Alliance supports decriminalisation of all drugs and the provision of services such as safe injecting facilities and confidential drug testing."
Windisch pointed out that the Socialist Alliance acknowledges the problems of drug abuse but looks to real solutions, rather than the failed approach of criminalisation. "Any drug, including legal ones such as alcohol and prescription medicine, can be abused", she said. "Tackling the causes of drug abuse, as opposed to use, means tackling the problems of poverty and alienation, particularly amongst youth. This means increased social services, increased recreational facilities, particularly for youth, and job creation programs creating real jobs, not exploitative 'work for the dole' type projects. This is particularly true in the western suburbs, where we suffer from high unemployment and insufficient social services."
The police plan has also been criticised by social workers and local councillors. "We're surprised the police didn't tell us about it before we read it in the Herald-Sun this morning", City of Maribyrnong Mayor Janet Rice told reporters on June 29. "Questioning people in the street and banning people from our city is just going to move the problem somewhere else."
From Green Left Weekly, July 5, 2006.
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