Police are forbidden to arrest drug-pushers around syringe-distribution centres in New South Wales, thanks to a memorandum of understanding between the NSW Police and NSW Health Department.
According to NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Dave Madden, this is why police do not approach drug-dealers in Redfern. Madden was giving testimony before a Legislative House committee investigating February’s riots in Redfern.
Every day a syringe-exchange van distributes more than 700 syringes to Redfern’s mainly Aboriginal inhabitants – to the great anger of local Aboriginal leaders who are trying to stamp out the illicit drug industry that is doing so much harm to their community.
For four years Mick Mundine, chief executive officer of the Aboriginal Housing Company, has been trying to shut down the needle-exchange service operating in the Redfern “Block”, but without success (Sydney Morning Herald, May 20, 2004).
In his submission to the inquiry, he described the syringe van as being like “a honey-pot for drug addicts and dealers” and that its presence has “substantiated and ratified a culture of tolerance for drugs.” He had reportedly seen children as young as six sitting in the syringe van.
Residents of Vine and Hugo Streets in Redfern, in their submission, have spoken of an invasion of drug-dealers in the past three years, accompanied by muggings and bag snatches. Children as young as six have been seen smashing windows and attempting arson. These crimes go unreported and the police are powerless to intervene.
Redfern police sergeant Paul Huxtable told the Sydney Morning Herald: “If you gave police the resources, you could wipe out drugs in Redfern.”
In his own submission to the inquiry, he wrote: “The true cause of antagonism with police has little to do with race… It is about the protection of a lucrative heroin trade.”
Police hands tied
However, because of the memorandum of understanding between police and health officials, it is clear that the local Redfern police have their hands tied. The memorandum requires police to turn a blind eye to law-breakers and the human misery they create.
Furthermore, this policy delivers the drug market to drug-pushers and criminals, thus allowing drug money to flow into the hands of international criminals and terrorists that control world heroin production.
The Nine Network’s 60 Minutes program recently disclosed that heroin production in Afghanistan accounts for three-quarters of the world’s heroin trade. Since the American-led overthrow of the Taliban regime, opium production has been expanding rapidly.
While the Australian Customs and Australian Federal Police have been very successful in seizing heroin shipments, thereby bringing about the heroin drought in Australia, their efforts have been undermined by NSW police being barred from law-enforcement by the memorandum of understanding with health authorities.
Last year a Federal House of Representatives committee report, Road to Recovery, published a 2001 survey of teenagers which revealed that 28 per cent of them, and 35 per cent of young people in their 20s, had used an illicit drug in the last 12 months.
An estimated 2.6 million Australians over the age of 14 had used an illicit drug in the last 12 months. This usage rate is high by world standards.
Assisting the drug “industry” with syringe distribution, injecting-rooms and hands-off policing for drug-pushers leaves the Aboriginal community in Redfern vulnerable to the heroin that does get through.
Police that walk the streets of Redfern every day know that drug use is the biggest cause of the problems in that community.
That’s why it was strange that the submission to the NSW Legislative Council committee by Redfern police sergeants Huxtable and Frank Reitano was not published on the committee’s web site as were the other submissions. In fact, it was only after the local police submission was leaked to the media that the public first learned of their views.
If the NSW upper house committee really wants to solve the Redfern riot problems, it will have to deal with the illicit drug issue. It should make three key recommendations:
(i) Scrap the memorandum of understanding between police and health officials and let the police get on with the job of stamping out drug-pushing.
(ii) Close down injecting rooms and syringe-distribution programs that maintain drug-users and create demand for illicit drugs.
(iii) Set up more detoxification and rehabilitation programs to get existing drug-users off drugs.
These measures would go a long way towards making Redfern and other Sydney suburbs safer for the community.
- David Perrin is the national president of the Australian Family Association and executive officer of the Drug Advisory Council of Australia.