Vol. 18, ed. 10

June 2022

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In the weeks following a federal election, every conversation turns to what the results mean for the future of the country.

Promises to better support people facing diverse barriers featured heavily in Labor’s campaign. Anthony Albanese’s trajectory from – in his own words – “a son of a single mum who was a disability pensioner, who grew up in public housing” to national leader appeals as making good on the Australian promise of ‘a fair go for all’ and ‘backing the underdog.’

Many are hopeful that the new Prime Minister’s background will provide the personal connection to issues of inequality and privilege that is so often lacking.

These are positive signs, but for those of us on the frontline of drug-related issues, there remains a great deal of uncertainty. While all major parties offered strategies to improve our mental health system during the election cycle, there was no meaningful discussion of how we might reimagine our approach to alcohol and other drugs, even when a drug-related gangland shooting spree during the campaign exposed our failing ‘drug war’ approach.

We can be grateful that the stigma surrounding mental health is at last showing signs of cracking and that these issues are beginning to receive the appropriate level of attention and funding. Sadly, the same does not hold true for people who use alcohol and other drugs, especially where that use has become problematic.

Most Australians now accept that mental health challenges are not a moral failing or a sign of weakness, but as a country we are as yet unable or unwilling to extend that same understanding to people who use drugs.

As for our leaders, even when their personal stance on the matter is more nuanced – and Albanese’s past comments suggest that this is true for him – they mostly refuse to challenge the current status quo for fear of losing votes.

Here’s hoping that this new government really will bring about meaningful, systemic change for all Australians.


John Ryan
CEO, Penington Institute