‘Unmitigated failure’: Outgoing Liberal MP backs drug decriminalisation11/06/2023
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Outgoing Liberal MP Matt Bach has thrown his support behind drug decriminalisation as he also urged his party to be braver in pursuit of younger voters who have turned off the Coalition.
Bach, a Victorian upper house MP who was part of the state Liberal leadership team, made the comments ahead of his departure from parliament at the end of the year. He also warned Liberals not to listen to “selfish, rich geriatrics” and instead look to issues younger voters care about.
Matt Bach says his party needs to stop listening to “selfish, rich geriatrics” if it wants to win votes.Credit: Wayne Taylor
In comments provided to The Age, he backed drug policy reform ahead of a push from crossbench MPs to vote on decriminalising cannabis in coming weeks, labelling the current system an unmitigated failure.
“I’m not into drugs. I smoked cannabis once or twice in my younger days, but didn’t like it,” Bach said. “Nonetheless, as a liberal I find it hard to get worked up about what other adults may choose to put in their mouths.
“In truth, the momentum for evidence-based drug law reform – which gathered steam under Liberal premier Jeff Kennett in the 1990s – sadly petered out years ago.
“We now prefer the criminal route, even though everyone knows it’s an unmitigated failure. Criminalising adults for the possession and personal use of small amounts of drugs creates an unregulated black market, enriches organised crime, and ultimately means huge numbers of the most vulnerable end up behind bars What it doesn’t do is decrease drug use or keep people safe.”
His comments come a week after Bach also called on the Liberals to “be brave” and support housing policies in the spirit of former prime minister Robert Menzies to turn their fortunes around with Millennial votes. He pointed to polls that showed the Liberals were dwarfed by Labor and beaten by the Greens in primary preferences.
“I would urge my colleagues not to be intimidated by selfish, rich geriatrics who oftentimes may vote for us but who we know always have a predilection towards bigger government and greater regulation to protect their own wealth at the expense of younger people and new migrants,” he said in parliament.
“On this side of the chamber, we must always be for freedom, for private property, for property rights that currently are trampled on by both state government and local governments, and my argument – in particular to my colleagues – is that there is a way forward here for the Liberal Party that is entirely consistent with Liberal values and that ultimately will pay a great political dividend.”
A two-year inquiry during the last term of the Andrews government was poised to recommend decriminalising cannabis but was watered down by Labor MPs on the committee before the report was released. Last week, the Legalise Cannabis Party introduced a bill in the upper house that would allow recreational use if passed in a model similar to the ACT. However, the government is not expected to support it.
The Victorian Coalition has previously been critical of the state’s safe-injecting room, focusing largely on its location and management.
Bach said most people who took drugs were not dependent on them and caused no harm to others, while those who did take drugs problematically often had issues such as mental ill health or trauma which would only be worsened by being placed in the criminal justice system.
He said drugs should be kept away from children but for adults every reputable study showed incarceration did not lead to rehabilitation and made reoffending more likely.
“Drugs have a serious and negative impact on developing brains: they must remain out of the hands of children. And drug use in adults is also linked to a whole series of adverse outcomes. It’s just that our current policy settings make these outcomes more likely, not less …, and exacerbate them for good measure,” he said.
“Let’s sign an armistice deal that gives drug users a health response, not a criminal one, and finally cease hostilities.”
In response to Bach’s comments on housing, opposition housing spokesman Evan Mulholland said Coalition leader John Pesutto had set up a specific portfolio to tackle affordability and ownership and highlight issues with government policy.
“Victoria has the highest property taxes in the Australia,” he said. “This is making it harder for young Victorians and migrant families to get a foothold into the housing market.”
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