“REJECTING ROOM”, screamed the front page of the Herald Sun on July 6, in a very clever pun on North Richmond’s safe injecting room that had opened a few days earlier.
“Addicts snub injecting facility” and “Nothing changed in heroin hotspot” sat above the main cover slogan to emphasise the point about ungrateful “druggies”.
“Syringes continue to litter the streets of Melbourne almost a week after Victoria opened its controversial new safe injecting room,” the article says. “The controversial North Richmond Community Health Centre opened on Saturday but many addicts have told Newscorp they have ‘no interest in visiting’.”
In case you missed the repeated use of the word, this is a “controversial” facility. Sure it may be backed by all major health groups, the state coroner and even the goddamn Victoria Police, who have never in all human history been mistaken for a hotbed of bleeding heart tree-hugging hippies.
But, presumably, it is “controversial” because some bloke called “Davo” left an online comment under an article, declaring, “These druggo bastards choose to use drugs so why are they spending my tax dollars helping ‘em get wasted, I say lock these scum up!”, which is a badly needed perspective to balance the uneducated views you find in the trained medical profession.
The Murdoch tabloid waited all of six days before making these declarations on Melbourne’s first-ever facility of this kind. And fair enough, being open for a full six days is long enough to judge the second-ever such facility in Australia, after Sydney’s Medically Supervised Injecting Centre in Kings Cross.
The King’s Cross facility, after all, was only opened in 2001 and while it is widely considered a raging success that has saved thousands of lives, I guess it is just too early to tell.
After all, I can’t see any reason that might discourage anyone from using the facility in its first few days. If anything, the presence of the Murdoch press outside taking photos of those who attend should be an incentive! Who doesn’t want fame, and what easier way to get it than appearing on the front page of the Herald Sun in a senationalised beat up on drugs?
Interestingly, however, a slightly different take on the first days of this facility, set up after a spate of heroin overdoses in the area, can be found in an article the very same day in The Age that, and this is a controversial approach to journalism, actually talked to the staff.
With its director explaining that more than 400 people had already visited the facility, the article, and you might notice a slight difference of emphasis from the Herald Sun piece, begins: “Melbourne’s new safe injecting room has saved 12 drug users' lives”.
That is an interesting angle, reporting how many lives were saved, almost as if those lives matter.
The piece explains: “Dr Nico Clarke said the Richmond North centre, which is having a two-year trial, had prevented between one and three potentially fatal overdoses every day. ‘Some of those overdoses have been quite serious and had we not been there, they would most likely have been fatal,’ Dr Clarke said on Friday.”
But what about local residents, in whose name the Herald Sun quite frequently speaks?
The article says: “Long-time Abbotsford resident Lorraine, who called into radio station ABC Melbourne on Friday morning, said the centre had already made a ‘tangible, immediate and obvious difference ... it’s extraordinary’.
“She said the front bin area of her apartment block had for years been frequented by drug users who would leave ‘needles, swabs, urine and sometimes faeces to clean up on a daily basis. Since the centre opened on Saturday, there has not been one person, one needle in that area.’”
Still, it’s not all buckets of sunshine and roses. Dr Clarke told The Age that there had been no behavioral problems, "apart from chatty ice users keeping staff tied up”.
That does sound a little irritating. I’m sure we’ve all been annoyed occasionally by someone who stops us working by talking too much. Still, it would seem a minor inconvenience when weighed up against a facility that, in its first week, dealt with an average of three potentially fatal overdoses a day.
That would seem clear progress in a suburb that had dozens of deaths from overdoses last year, but possibly that’s why the Herald Sun hates it. There seems little the Murdoch press hates more than actual human progress.