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ID: HR23-923
Presenting author: Ben Mostyn

Presenting author biography:

Ben Mostyn is an academic fellow at the University of Sydney Law School.

Harm Reduction, Institutions, and Police Powers: How to Achieve Real Legislative Reform

Ben Mostyn
This presentation will discuss recent archival research into the origins of Australia’s harm reduction policies and discuss how policy battles from the 1980s still impact on Australia today. When Australia adopted a policy of harm reduction in 1985, it became known as the National Campaign Against Drug Abuse (NCADA). This policy increased spending on treatment, education, and data collection. However, it did not result in any progressive legislative changes and in fact, increased police powers and punishments for drug supply offences. The archival documents demonstrate how the Health Minister advocated for cannabis decriminalisation and heroin prescription but was thwarted by the bureaucracy.

To this day, legislative reform In Australia has proved very difficult. Despite some law reforms, such as safe injection centres, Victoria and New South Wales still have legislation that provides for up to two years imprisonment for drug possession, including for cannabis. The criminalisation of drug possession allows the institutions of criminalisation, primarily through police powers such as stop and search, arrest, and denial of bail to continue. Recent efforts in both jurisdictions to achieve genuine legislative reform of drug possession laws have been rejected by the State premiers. This presentation will argue that harm reduction policies, without legislative reform, allow the brutality of drug prohibition to continue. Institutions such as courts, legislatures and bureaucracies have proved incapable of achieving legislative reform. Indeed, almost all significant law reforms – such as cannabis legalisation in the USA – have come from voter referendums and not legislatures. Therefore, social movements and strength in solidarity appear to be the only way to achieve legislative reform.