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PM On Drug Policy

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP AND GENERAL BARRY McCAFFREY (DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF NATIONAL DRUG POLICY) JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE WILLARD INTER-CONTINENTAL HOTEL, WASHINGTON

E&OE………………………………………………………………………………

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the General and I have just had a very valuable meeting. I’ve extended an invitation to him to visit Australia. Nobody has a greater overall focus on the drug issue in the United States than does he. I therefore think his views on the issue would be very interesting in Australia. We’ve talked about the various policy approaches in our two countries and there’s a great similarity of approach. He has a particular but it’s not obviously the limit of his interest, particular interest in effective campaigns against drugs in sport. The discussion I’ve had with him has reinforced in my own mind that we have the right balance in Australia in seeing the drug problem is not being in any way sold or mitigated by throwing up one’s hands and giving up the fight.

Legalisation is not the path to dealing with the problem that the balance between education, effective interception and enforcement and adequate investment in treatment. I was interested in what he told me about Drug Courts in the United States, which is very similar to the diversion policy that’s being adopted in Australia and now being implemented in cooperation with the State Governments. So I’ve particularly welcomed the discussion that we’ve had General and I certainly would welcome your visiting our country at some time that’s convenient to you because this is a world wide challenge and there’s a lot that we can learn from each other.

McCAFFREY:

Well thank you very much Mr Prime Minister. I must add that I’ve been trying to get to Australia for some 50 some odd years now.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we’ll do something about that.

McCAFFREY:

Who said something can’t come out of these conferences? Let me first of all thank you for the chance to share with the Prime Minister our own thinking on our National Drug Control Strategy and you know these ideas are not revolutionary, they’re commonsense. We have based them on some hard work by really three people in the US Government: Janet Raynor our Attorney General, Donna Shalalor our Health and Human Services Secretary and Dick Robbie the Education Secretary and that’s really the heart and soul of what we are doing. We’re trying to keep young people off drugs until they’re 18. We’ve got another 4 million American’s that are chronically addicted. It’s a huge problem - 5 per cent and a half of the population but it’s really the heart and soul of a lot of the damage in America. The criminal justice system, the welfare system, the health system. We’re trying to effectively pull together treatment and these other social systems and finally I told the Prime Minister I was very impressed by his own delegation at Lausanne, Switzerland during the International Olympic Committee. You know the central part of what we’re doing is trying to prevent chronic drug abuse but there’s this huge opportunity we have, the world community, to prevent what is increasingly going on around the world which literally hundreds of thousands of young people believe that to compete and win in national or international competition you have to get involved in chemical engineering of the human body. With disastrous results as we saw in East Germany with steroid use, well now it’s well beyond that. Artificial testosterone, blood packing, just a tremendous challenge. And these drugs are available over the internet whether you’re in Uganda, Australia, the United States so many of us went to Lausanne to the IOC to demand reform, to ask for an independent testing agency for testing 365 days a year to save samples so that future technology could unravel cheating. And we want to do this not just to make sure that the record of the top 100 swimmers on the face of the earth is ethically sound, we want to do it because they’re models for the human spirit and I think Australians are better organised on this whole issue that almost anybody I’ve listened to. There’s a tremendous amount of interest and here in the United States how can we guarantee both in Sydney and Salt Lake City international competition that’s based on raw human talent and spirit. And so I’ve accepted the Prime Minister’s invitation to go and learn more about their own approaches to this.

I might add it’s an approach that obviously can’t be based simply on interdiction, like the world is awash in heroin. I told the Prime Minister we probably have 800,000 Americans using heroin out of 270 million of us, but they do incredible damage. We think they use 11 metric tonnes of heroin and we’re reasonably sure the world produces 360 metric tonnes. So the world communities got a problem and the damage it’s done and meanwhile it’s worse than it is and I would argue in the United States and Australia where the world owes a global effort to confront this situation.

So again, Mr Prime Minister, thanks for your leadership and I look forward to a visit in November.

PRIME MINISTER:

A couple of quick questions.

JOURNALIST:

Did you canvass any new issues, any new strategies that could be employed in either country on heroin in particular?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think it’s fair to say that we agreed that one or two strategies that are in the air in Australia are not desirable such as heroin shooting galleries. Neither of us thought there was any merit in going down that path.

McCAFFREY:

I might add to that if you’d permit me. One of the things we are most proud of, we have finally gotten a decent level of investment in our National Institute of Drug Abuse, Dr Allan Leshner?, and his colleagues. About 600 some odd people. They are doing some absolutely breathtaking research to deal with the consequences of drug abuse and its prevention. But the last thing any of us believe one should do is give one of these suffering creatures a heroin addict who is somebody’s baby to leave them with the addiction. Now, it would be like pouring alcohol into an alcoholic. Drug treatment and therapeutic intervention can work. We have got good studies that show you can take a tremendous number of these people and break this behaviour. And that’s what would seem to me we owe the chronic drug abuser.

JOURNALIST:

In the same recent edition of the Washington Post that published your very articulate article strongly opposing the legalising of drugs like marijuana, it was reported in another story, the same edition, that the US Army is now allowing the use of peyote for religious purposes provided that none of the native American church soldiers who use peyote are allowed to handle nuclear weapons. Now, I have…

McCAFFREY:

That piece is very encouraging.

JOURNALIST:

Do you believe peyote using US soldiers should be allowed to use other weapons like sting missiles or stealth bombers and should they be allowed to participate in the Olympics and that’s a first part?

McCAFFREY:

Now, that’s a question I rush to avoid. I don’t know what to make of all this. I mean, to be honest I shouldn’t comment on a policy I haven’t studied. On the surface it looks goofy, it got wrapped up, I am sure, in some very detailed legal issues that are based on Constitutional principles. We absolutely do not believe that…we are so proud we are having a drug-free armed forces, we don’t want them using psychoactive substances, we don’t want them smoking cigarettes and we don’t want them abusing alcohol. And that’s really the only useful [inaudible]…

PRIME MINISTER:

Sorry, I have only got a limited amount of time. I apologise but I have got to go and make a phone call in a minute.

JOURNALIST:

I am sorry, I have a question that doesn’t have anything to do with drugs but instead with the PNG. I have learned that you have been discussing with IMF and World Bank regarding PNG and I am just wondering that the, you know, that a country that was the first….

PRIME MINISTER:

Where are you from, what’s your….

JOURNALIST:

Oh, I am sorry. My name is Mark [Inaudible], I am with the Economic Daily News Taiwan. Australia was the first country in Pacific Asia to warn the, you know, Chinese missile exercise in ’96 and now it is the country that first…the country to warn that the PNG’s decision to establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan will bring insecurity to that area. That [inaudible] a strong protest from Taiwan. I am just wondering that, can you share some of the discussions with IMF and the World Bank on PNG’s economic situation? And also your relationship to Taiwan?

PRIME MINISTER:

Most of our discussion was about the internal situation in Papua New Guinea. I don’t know that I want to get in, at this gathering, into a detailed discussion of that issue. I made some comments reaffirming what is a longstanding Australian Government policy in relation to recognition and the maintenance of a one China policy and also the reaffirmed, the value we place on our longstanding and very good commercial relationship with Taiwan.

JOURNALIST:

Are you satisfied, Mr Howard, that President Clinton and his advisers are sufficiently alert to the dangers of the situation unfolding in East Timor and what would you like to see them do?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think it’s fair to say that our discussion today we spent more time, apart probably from the issue of lamb, we spent more time talking about Indonesia and East Timor than any other issue. And I know that they are very engaged in what is happening in East Timor. I offered some views about what I believed was happening in Indonesia proper. I have expressed my views on that before and the views I have expressed publicly on that are consistent with the views that I expressed privately to the President. And I thought as a result of our discussion today he and the other senior members of the administration who were present had a very detailed idea of what I and the Australian Government thought about what was happening in Indonesia, what needed to be the response of other countries and what was happening in East Timor. Both of us were very seized of the need to remind the Indonesian Government constantly of international attitudes towards their handling of the situation in East Timor. One more question and then I really do have to go and take a phone call.

JOURNALIST:

Could I ask General McCaffrey. In Australia quite a lot of money and effort is already going into drug education and research and other aspects of trying to counter the drug problem. Do you have any ideas about what further can be done that might cause some sort of breakthrough on this front?

McCAFFREY:

Well, of course in November I’d be very keen on learning more about what the Australians are doing in their existing programmes and their own thinking. We have an array of approaches we are taking. That is the heart and soul. The central component of the National Drugs Strategy is a reduction of drug abuse to include alcohol and nicotine by American adolescents. So that’s a central piece of what we are doing and there is a series of programmes and education, health and human services designed to minimise that. And they all begin with parents, homeroom teachers, coaches, pediatricians. It’s community level action. And we are starting to see a pay-off. We are finally seeing the beginning of the turning of the curve we believe. We have got to stay at it for 10 years.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I really must go, I have got to make a phone call.

JOURNALIST:

Just on the lamb…

PRIME MINISTER:

I am lambed out. We have dealt with lamb at some length. I mean, my view is well known, it has not changed, it’s adamant but I don’t know that I can add anything.

JOURNALIST:

Are you preparing a retaliation against the United States?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, what form do you think that should take?

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] focussed here on alcohol and tobacco with children. Should that be something that Australia can….

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we do it now. In fact Australia has probably been more successful than any country in the world in reducing tobacco use. We still have a long way to go. And it is part of it. I mean, one of the things I have always found perplexing is that some of the people who are the staunchest supporters of discouraging people from using tobacco are amongst those who believe that you go in the other direction in relation to marijuana and other drugs and I find that puzzling. Anyway, I really, I must go.

[ends]

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