NT Labor to the right of CLP on zero tolerance

Issue 

BY GARY MEYERHOFF

DARWIN — The NT Labor government's zero tolerance policies towards illicit drug users look set to be harsher than those of the former Country Liberal Party (CLP) government.

On February 21, the government announced its intention to introduce in May new laws dealing with illicit drugs. The Public Order and Anti-Social Conduct Act, which presently contains draconian provisions used against illicit drug users, will be repealed at the same time.

Speaking to ABC Radio on February 19, justice minister Peter Toyne said, “I'd like to ... put a message out to the people that manufacture and distribute drugs in our community. We're coming after you”.

Toyne singled out cannabis in the interview. He made no guarantee that the Labor government would not increase the penalties for possession of personal amounts of the drug.

The former CLP government introduced an infringement system that allowed people to escape court action for possessing small amounts of cannabis, or for growing two plants or less.

Toyne blamed “drug dealers” for “causing the high suicide rates in Indigenous people due to the use of gunja”. In an alarming move, Toyne also told ABC Radio that the government would be leaving the “minor areas of crime” to the Night Patrol to deal with.

This is already a quasi-police organisation. Security guard training is an essential criteria for gaining Night Patrol positions. Many of these programs have been taken out of Aboriginal community-controlled structures and are now managed by organisations such as Mission Australia.

Despite previously having said that “drug house laws” would only target dealers, Toyne told ABC Radio, “We'll be looking at drug house legislation ... [and] police powers to tackle drug taking and drug dealing where ever it's occurring in our community”.

“Drug house” legislation, modelled on laws in NSW, will enable police officers to apply to a court to have a house or nightclub declared a “drug house”. This gives police sweeping powers to search the premises for evidence and apprehend people there, whether or not drugs are present. NT Police powers were significantly increased by the previous CLP government, under the juvenile and illicit drug diversion programs.

Social justice activists have condemned the proposed drug offensive as a disastrous strategy. The Socialist Alliance has launched a campaign against the new legislation, calling for an end to the “war on drugs” and for a radically different approach to illicit drugs.

Socialist Alliance candidate for Darwin lord mayor, Ruth Ratcliffe, told Green Left Weekly that the NT Labor government should be introducing safer injecting rooms in the Darwin CBD, a bigger range of pharmacotherapies for people with drug problems, and a trial program of prescribed heroin for addicts.

To express concern NT Labor government proposed measure, send a letter to Peter Toyne, Minister of Justice, Parliament House, Darwin, NT 0800 or email <minister.toyne@nt.gov.au>. Send a copy to <darwin@socialist-alliance.org>.

From Green Left Weekly, March 6, 2002.
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