Category Archives: Legislative issues

Victoria Legalises Medical Marijuana

In an Australian first, the Victorian Government announced yesterday it would legalise marijuana for the treatment of medical conditions including cancer, chronic pain and epilepsy. The decision is based upon a report by the Victorian Law Reform Commission which recommended licensing cultivators and manufacturers to develop a range of products, including oils and sprays, to be sold in pharmacies. However the trial hinges on support from the Federal Government who are signatory to an international convention on narcotic drugs.

Dr Liz Temple is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Federation University Australia, Victoria:

 “From a research perspective, there is much that we still don’t know about cannabis, its medicinal properties or therapeutic efficacy. This lack of knowledge will affect many aspects of the implementation, running and effectiveness of the medicinal cannabis scheme.

In particular, the available research evidence can’t yet tell us definitively which cannabis strains, cannabinoid profiles and doses, or administration methods will work best for which medical conditions or how this may differ for individual patients.

This means that the desired quick start to the scheme will inevitably include some trial and error, as prescribing doctors and their patients learn together what works best for the specific medical condition and individual circumstances.

Building the evidence base is essential, and it will take time. As such, there is an urgent need for research funding, and not just for the clinical trials that have been discussed so far, but also for basic and applied cannabis research.”


Dr Michael Farrell is Director of the National Drug and Alcoholic Research Centre:

“The report on which the Victorian Government’s decision was based was very well crafted and detailed presenting a balanced view of current research evidence and presents options for moving forward and for improving access to treatment.

However if medical use is likely to be long term, patients should be advised that the adverse effects of long term use are unclear.

Patients could also be advised of the adverse effects reported in long term recreational users, such as the development of dependence.

Many doctors will be faced with patients using cannabis for complex symptoms of multiple chronic disabling conditions for which there are limited treatment options. Doctors should discuss, in a dispassionate and non-judgmental and supportive manner, the advisability or otherwise of using cannabis to palliate such symptoms.

There is no clear evidence for effectiveness in treating pain, any benefits are likely to be modest, and there is no clear evidence that putative benefits outweigh possible harms. When symptoms of cannabis dependence are elicited it is appropriate to discuss the wisdom of continued use in the context of the illness and the prognosis, and, if appropriate, to offer the

patient support for withdrawal. Helping patients who wish to use cannabis for symptomatic relief to live as comfortably and productively as possible is an important and valuable goal of palliative and rehabilitation treatment.”

Dr Matthew Large is from the School of Psychiatry at the University of New South Wales:

“While the therapeutic halo around cannabis gets ever bigger and brighter, particularly in the minds of politicians – the actual evidence for therapeutic potential is weak. Meanwhile the real and very well established risks with regard to mental health seem to be forgotten. If cannabis is to be made more available it needs to be with health warnings and better public heath messages.”

PHAMS and MH Respite Get Funding Extension

Via the ANCD:

The Abbott Government is to extend funding for two programs that provide support for people with a mental illness and their carers.

The Government says organisations that currently receive funding to provide services under the Personal Helpers and Mentors program will have their contracts extended to 30 June 2016. Funding was due to cease on 30 June 2015 Providers who deliver services under the Mental Health Respite: Carer Support program will also have their funding extended.

The Government says the funding includes more than $136 million from 30 June 2015 to 30 June 2016, extending:

166 PHaMs services in 2015-16, committing more than $82 million; and
197 MHR:CS services in 2015-16, committing more than $54 million.

Assistant Minister for Social Services, Senator Mitch Fifield said the funding extension will ensure supports are maintained as the transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme continues across the country.

“In 2013-14 Personal Helpers and Mentors services assisted more than 18,500 people severely impacted by mental illness. In the same period the Mental Health Respite: Carer Support services assisted more than 40,400 carers of people severely impacted by mental illness and their families through respite, education and group activities.”

“The Australian Government is committed to supporting people who are severely impacted by mental illness, as well as those who care for them,” Minister Fifield said.

“The extension of these contracts will ensure people living with mental illness and those who care for them can still access these support services.”

The Personal Helpers and Mentors (PHaMs) program offers one-to-one support to people aged 16 and over who are severely impacted by mental illness.

“To deliver maximum flexibility for PHaMs providers as they prepare to operate in an open market under the NDIS, some funding arrangements may change to adapt to the NDIS model,” Minister Fifield said.

“The Mental Health Respite: Carer Support program helps carers of people with mental illness to improve their wellbeing and enable them to maintain their important caring role.” Minister Fifield said there will be no immediate changes for Mental Health Respite: Carer Support providers. Changes can be expected over time as the transition to NDIS continues, to ensure there are effective supports for families and carers in their caring roles. “This one-year funding extension will help ensure a smooth transition to the NDIS for these services,” Minister Fifield said.

NSW Election Forum

The NSW ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance (NAAPA) invites you to the 2015 NAAPA Alcohol Policy Election Forum on 5 March 2015

On Saturday 28 March 2015, New South Wales (NSW) will head to the polls for the State Election. If elected, do you know what your local MP intends to do to address alcohol harms?

NAAPA, an alliance of health, community, law enforcement, emergency services and research organisations, is holding an Election Forum to allow representatives of NSW political parties to put forward their plans to reduce alcohol harms in NSW.

Join members of NAAPA at the Election Forum to hear from your political representatives and raise important questions about alcohol policy.

This event is open to members of the public, if you are interested please register at .

More information about the event, including a full program of speakers, will be released shortly

Event details

Date: Thursday 5 March 2015
Time: 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Venue: Salvation Army’s Sydney Congress Hall Function Centre 140 Elizabeth Street, Sydney, NSW 2000
Register at Eventbrite or call Helen Cannon at FARE on (02) 6122 8600

NAAPA members will be tweeting live from the event, so use #NAAPA to join the conversation.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders call for scrapping of co-payments

Joint Press Release – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders call for scrapping of co-payments

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Leaders from across Australia met in Canberra today for crisis talks regarding the implications of the Commonwealth Budget.

“The Aboriginal community sector will not agree to turn our backs on the most disadvantaged and disempowered,” said Julie Tongs, CEO of Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service.

“A coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations calls on the Australian Government to recognise that a co-payment is against the principles of health equity outlined in the Statement of Intent to Close the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes.

“The suggested co-payments run counter to the findings of the World Health Organisation’s Commission on the Social Determinants of Health. Australia’s health policies and funding should reflect those findings.

“Introducing co-payments will not serve to close the gap in health outcomes; it will only widen the gap between our people and the rest of the community,’ said Ms Tongs.

We reject the introduction of co-payments because they will increase inequality.

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people already experience considerable health disadvantage
  • for every dollar spent on non-Indigenous Australians now, only 60 cents is spent on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • international evidence confirms the most efficient way to contain health care costs is a robust universal primary health care system
  • the sustainability of Australia’s robust not for profit health sector, which currently supports the most vulnerable in our community, is threatened by this move.

Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services and Aboriginal Medical Services:

  • are the regular source of care for persons without social capital
  • are an embodiment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination
  • represent a sound investment in not only health outcomes, but economic participation, employment and education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; the health industry is the single largest employer of Indigenous Australians.

“We are calling for an immediate scrapping of the MBS and PBS co-payments scheme.

“The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health sector will not agree to turn our backs on the needy, disadvantaged and desperate.

“We welcome the opportunity to have further constructive conversations with government. We call on our partners, colleagues and all concerned Australians to stand with us at this critical time,” concluded Ms Tongs.

The following agencies were represented at today’s meeting:

VACCHO, AMSANT, Lowitja Institute, NACCHO, Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service, NATSIHWA, AIDA, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, QAIHC and AHCSA. Also in attendance Public Health Association of Australia.

Key health bodies slam National Commission of Audit recommendations

MEDIA RELEASE: Australian Health Care Reform Alliance, Australian Health Promotion Association, Consumers Health Forum of Australia, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education and Public Health Association of Australia


Key health bodies slam National Commission of Audit recommendations


Five key health organisations have written to the Prime Minister to express deep concern in relation to the reports and recommendations of the National Commission of Audit, which advocate cuts to government spending in areas of critical importance to Australians.  In particular, the groups believe the absence of a national approach in key areas such as preventive health and communicable disease will jeopardise people’s health and put greater pressures on the health system.

Signatories to the letter include the: Australian Health Care Reform Alliance, Australian Health Promotion Association, Consumers Health Forum of Australia, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education and Public Health Association of Australia.

“Among the Commission’s recommendations are calls for the dismantling of multiple agencies – including the National Preventive Health Agency – and the surrender back to the states of key areas of responsibility in education, health and other services.  From our perspective, such changes would represent an abrogation of responsibility by the Australian Government that is entrusted to progress national priorities for the nation’s health and wellbeing,” said Michael Moore, Chief Executive Officer of the Public Health Association of Australia.

“A compulsory $15 co-payment for GP visits is one way of providing extra funding for health care, but it is one of the least effective, targeted bizarrely at those who are sick.  Strong primary health care is internationally recognised as the cornerstone of an effective and lower cost health system.  Discouraging low-income people – who we know have the worst health status on average – from attending their local GP or emergency department when there are the early signs of sickness is counter-productive, cruel if they are in pain, and ultimately foolhardy.  Untreated diseases get worse and more expensive to cure,” said Tony McBride, Chair of the Australian Health Care Reform Alliance.

“The Australian Government Department of Health manages key national strategies in relation to communicable diseases, immunisation, mental health, alcohol and other drugs and Closing the Gap in health outcomes for Indigenous Australians, just to name a few.  The health portfolio takes into account the broader interests of all Australians.  Responses to outbreaks of communicable diseases and other public health emergencies, for instance, clearly need to be coordinated at the national level,” said Gemma Crawford, President of the Australian Health Promotion Association.

“The protection and improvement of health outcomes for all Australians are vital national government functions.  They can’t effectively be divested to the states and territories or privatised.  These are fundamentally Commonwealth responsibilities that require coordination and leadership at the national level.  To suggest that we don’t need a national focus on key issues is a dangerous nonsense,” said Mr Moore.

“We also oppose the introduction of mandatory $15 co-payments for every Medicare service, and increased co-payments for PBS medications.  Our commitment is to equitable and universal access to health care for all Australians.  Measures that would create a two-tiered health system for the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ are simply un-Australian.  Australians fundamentally believe in a level playing field and a fair go for all.  Our tax dollars should be used accordingly.  We trust that the Government will review and reject the majority of the Commission’s recommendations with these considerations in mind,” said Adam Stankevicius, the Chief Executive Officer of the Consumers Health Forum.




One year on from key health report and still no action in Australia


MEDIA RELEASE: Social Determinants of Health Alliance


One year on from key health report and still no action in Australia


On 20 March 2013, the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs tabled its inquiry report into Australia’s domestic response to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Commission on Social Determinants of Health report Closing the gap within a generation.  A year on from the release of the inquiry report, no action has been taken to address the recommendations.


“The one-year anniversary of the Senate report coincides with National Close the Gap Day today.  Last month, the Prime Minister, Opposition leader and Australian Greens leader reiterated their support for closing the unacceptable health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians by 2030.  The evidence-based recommendations from the WHO’s Commission on the Social Determinants of Health Report have reaped benefits around the world, but we have yet to see Australian governments commit to their implementation.  If we are to Close the Gap, then implementing the WHO’s recommendations would be a great place to start,” explained Martin Laverty, Chair of the Social Determinants of Health Alliance (SDOHA).


The Coalition/Labor/Greens Senators made five recommendations that the Australian Government:

  1. Adopt the WHO Report and commit to addressing the social determinants of health relevant to the Australian context.
  2. Adopt administrative practices that ensure consideration of the social determinants of health in all relevant policy development activities, particularly in relation to education, employment, housing, family and social security policy.
  3. Place responsibility for addressing social determinants of health within one agency, with a mandate to address issues across portfolios.
  4. Give greater emphasis in National Health and Medical Research Council grant allocation priorities to research on public health and social determinants research.
  5. Make annual progress reports to Parliament a key requirement of the body tasked with responsibility for addressing the social determinants of health.


The recommendations of the tripartisan inquiry were endorsed by all of the participating Senators, including Senators Siewert, Moore, Boswell, Boyce, Brown, McKenzie, Smith, Thorp, Fierravanti-Wells and Di Natale.


The report clearly states that:

Good health involves improving access to education, reducing insecurity and unemployment, improving housing standards, and increasing the opportunities for social engagement available for all citizens. Addressing the discrepancies of health outcomes resulting from the prevailing social determinants means addressing the causes of those social determinants.


“It’s vital that the Commonwealth, state and territory governments work together if Australia is to address those factors that are holding us back in seeking to achieve better health outcomes for the Australian community,” said Mr Laverty. 

SDOHA is a collaboration of like-minded organisations from the areas of health, social services and public policy established to work with governments to reduce health inequities in Australia.  The Alliance currently has over 60 organisational members.  More info on SDOHA, its activities and membership is available at:



FFLDR on ADCA De-funding

Press release from Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform:

Abbott Government fails first test on drug policy

The Abbott Government, with no consultation or explanation has recklessly defunded the peak body, the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia (ADCA)

“Axing all funding for ADCA without consultation and in pursuit of a false claim of fixing the debt shows up the Federal Government as unprincipled and evidence free”, said Brian McConnell, President of Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform. “This peak body provides the best evidence based advice and guidance to all drug and alcohol service providers throughout Australia. It has also provided that advice to past governments. This Government may not like unbiased reliable advice but the service providers have found it to be invaluable for the provision of their services.”

“The loss of central coordination that follows this ill-advised cut will be a severe blow to all who are seeking help for their problematic drug use. It will mean that service providers will follow their own random paths and not apply best practice. The end result will be adverse social consequences for their clients and that will cost future governments dearly and will run contrary to the agreed harm minimisation policy of all Australian Governments.”

“Financial cuts to this peak body that provides high quality policy advice, resources and guidance will ultimately affect the standard of services provided especially to those who most need the services – the poor, the homeless, the socially marginalised, and the indigenous.”

“ADCA was established in 1966 and has been a well-respected by all governments since that time.  To defund so swiftly and without explanation is incorrigible”, said Brian McConnell. “And the annual Drug Action Week organised throughout Australia by ADCA has provided an excellent week for the AOD sector to publicise its services to the public”.

Without this organisation those in the AOD sector will be left floundering for information and support.

Mr McConnell urged the federal government to reconsider this poor short-sighted decision.



ADCA Defunded By Abbott Government

Here on the Drug Blog we don’t usually get overtly political in regard to Governments, but here’s an appalling example of the current Commonwealth Government’s approach:


Funding for the Alcohol and other Drugs Council (ADCA), the national peak body representing organisations and workers in the sector, has been axed by the assistant Minister for Health, Senator Fiona Nash.

ADCA was notified yesterday of the decision to cut core funding for its day to day operations and individual projects; this prompted an emergency meeting of the ADCA Board last night where directors unanimously agreed to put the organisation into voluntary administration.

ADCA has been funded continuously as the national peak for nearly half a century. As the latest casualty in the new coalition government’s austerity drive, the impact of this decision will be felt across the community according to the organisation’s patron, Professor Ian Webster AO. “In 46 years, this is the only government that has decided it can do without ADCA’s advice,” Professor Webster said.

Governments of all persuasions have for years approached ADCA for advice on alcohol and other drug (AOD) matters, trusting its reputation as a reliable, balanced source. While such advice may not have always been palatable to them, it has always been unbiased and evidence based.

“The government’s decision is a devastating blow to the sector and undermines years of work to minimise alcohol and other drug-related harm across the Australian community. It effectively erases decades of corporate knowledge – and leaves the sector without representation at a national level,” ADCA Chair Dr Mal Washer said.

ADCA’s National Drug Sector Information Service, a repository of nearly 100,000 AOD resources, will effectively shut down as a result.

“This is one of the world’s most comprehensive AOD library services which has been accessed for years by other libraries and individuals worldwide. Its contribution to clinical practice and professional development is inestimable,” according to ADCA Vice President Professor Alison Ritter.

Other projects and services affected by the funding cut include:

  • Drug Action Week, which for 16 years has allowed communities Australia wide to raise awareness and commemorate those working to reduce AOD harm – and the associated National Drug and Alcohol Awards
  • The National Inhalants Information Service, the first central online information source for volatile substance misuse
  • The Register of Australian Drug and Alcohol Research and,
  • Drugfields, a new project designed to encourage and support workforce development.

“Each of these is highly significant to research, awareness and the sector’s future workforce,” Ian Webster said. “Workforce sustainability must rank as one of the most important issues of our time – regardless of the sector.”

“The government needs to reconsider its shortsighted decision. Every day, media outlets are full of stories of AOD related violence, crime, the disadvantaged, homelessness and poverty. The cost to the community is crippling, yet governments seem oblivious to it.

“One major group affected by serious AOD-related harm is our first Australians. The Prime Minister wants to be a Prime Minister for Aboriginal Australia. He needs to understand how this decision will further alienate the peoples he claims he wants to represent,” Professor Webster said.



1. Here’s ADCA’s patron, Prof Ian Webster, on the decision – link.

2. Story in the Herald Sun

3. Sky News story