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The Government's New Ice Disruption Strategy Isn't That New

More of what we're already doing, with fewer resources.

21/09/2017 8:36 AM AEST | Updated 21/09/2017 9:34 AM AEST
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Justice Minister Michael Keenan at a press conference during a presentation of seized crystal methamphetamine concealed in packaging at the Australian Federal Police headquarters in Sydney on February 15, 2016.

This week the Minister for Justice Michael Keenan formally released the Commonwealth Law Enforcement International Engagement Methamphetamine ('ice') Disruption Strategy. It's the latest phase in the government's response to Australia's ice epidemic.

The strategy provides "the framework for the Australian Government's international engagement to disrupt the supply of crystal methamphetamine ('ice') and its precursors to Australia".

Minister Keenan's latest announcement is focused on supporting the National Ice Action Strategy by achieving more offshore ice seizures. He wants to do this through greater cooperation with foreign law enforcement agencies.

Unsurprisingly, the strategy is short on new ideas, especially any which are focused on the much bigger and more difficult problem of disrupting global ice supply chains. The saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, you treat everything as if it were a nail.

Australia really needs an international disruption strategy that is inclusive of many more stakeholders and the diverse responses they'd bring with them.

How serious is the government about this new strategy? Given that it calls for leveraging 'existing resources and programs' through improved coordination, rather than the development of any new ideas -- not very.

Predictably, the strategy's four key pillars -- better intelligence, improved border security and law enforcement cooperation, targeted international law enforcement capacity and capability development, and maximizing advocacy and political engagement -- are straight out of the police best practice playbook.

This isn't a big problem, but it does mean the pillars do little more than call for Commonwealth law enforcement agencies, like the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Border Force (ABF), to do more of what they're already doing, with no new resources.

Every year, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission's (ACIC) Illicit Drug Data Report pulls together information from a range of sources to provide our only comprehensive analysis of drug seizures and user trends. Over the past year, Australia's law enforcement agencies have achieved a 13.7 percent increase in the number of illicit drug seizures, a 13.9 percent decrease in the overall weight of illicit drug seizures and, a breathtaking 19.5 percent increase in drug arrests.

So why wouldn't our policy makers call for more of the same efforts, only more coordinated?

There's one small problem, Australia's national drug strategy calls for law enforcement to reduce the supply of harmful drugs in our communities; not arrest more people or seize more drugs. And the news on that front is all bad for Australia. Despite all the great law enforcement work there's been no real changes in illicit drug purity, price or availability.

There should be little doubt that those drug policy reformers focused on decriminalisation and legalisation of illicit drugs will be disappointed by this latest strategy.

You only have to look to South America to see that the 'war on drugs' has done little in terms of cocaine supply or human security.

However, we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the illicit drug supply reduction impacts of more innovative non-enforcement strategies that are integrated with demand reduction and harm minimisation. Thanks to the efforts of the Thai Royal Family, and their crop replacement programs, very little opium poppy is now grown in Thailand.

Australia's current national drug strategy has three key pillars -- demand reduction, supply reduction and harm minimisation. Its success is predicated on careful collaboration, on mutually supporting activities across the state territory and commonwealth, and across each of these pillars. So it's surprising that we've had such an important strategy deployed separately from the Commonwealth's other efforts, such as the next national drug strategy and the newly formed Home Affairs Portfolio.

While a law enforcement international engagement strategy for disruption could be handy, I'd argue Australia really needs an international disruption strategy that is inclusive of many more stakeholders and the diverse responses they'd bring with them. This kind of strategy could seek to disrupt the global supply chains rather than simply seize more drugs.

If coordination is truly the key to our national illicit drug strategy, perhaps more work needs to be done in bringing together our various plans and strategies -- starting with the finalisation of the foundation for our national responses: a new national illicit drug strategy.

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