Joe Hildebrand: The left should be hailing Dominic Perrottet like Caesar for radical drug reforms only a true conservative could propose English Headline

Sometimes it takes a true conservative to do something truly radical.

For example it was no sandal-wearing peacenik who purged Australia of semi-automatic weapons or liberated east Timor – it was John Howard.

Likewise the historic 1967 referendum to finally include Aboriginal Australians in the census, as well as granting the federal government the power to make laws for them, was initiated by the government of Harold Holt.

And the same-sex marriage plebiscite was first flagged by Tony Abbott, despite him having about as much enthusiasm for it as Howard did for a republic.

Meanwhile, left-wing leaders often feel obliged to prove their conservative credentials so they don’t scare off the electorate.

That’s why same-sex marriage was never legalised under the Rudd or Gillard governments because both prime ministers insisted they were staunchly against it at the time.

Ironically it was only once a conservative government was tossing up how and when to put it to a vote that it became politically safe for both Rudd and Gillard to declare they were now suddenly all for it.

This is one of Australia’s great political paradoxes: Conservatives tend to resist change until the case becomes overwhelming and then they usher it in.

Progressives, on the other hand, either go too far too soon and have their reforms just as swiftly reversed — like the carbon tax — or are so fearful of being seen as radical that they do precisely nothing at all.

This is what makes so fascinating Dominic Perrottet’s move to radically alter the police and justice system’s approach to the possession of small amounts of ice and other drugs for personal use.

From what I and others can gather from the new approach – whose details are still frustratingly vague – police would apparently have discretion to issue a criminal infringement notice – in other words a fine – to people caught with small amounts of illicit substances providing it was for their use only and they were not suspected of dealing.

They would then be referred to a health service for rehab or other treatment.

Provided they fulfilled that duty their fine would be waived and no conviction recorded

This process could occur twice before a user was hauled before the courts.

The NSW Premier insists that this does not amount to decriminalisation, and the weirdest part is that its only his enemies on the left who believe him.

In fact, they’re railing against the poor bloke for not going further.

Frankly if you can commit an offence and avoid a criminal conviction it sounds a lot like decriminalisation to me but that is just semantics.

Point being, you would think progressives and harm minimisation advocates would be hailing Perrottet like Caesar.

But at least they are providing him political cover for such a bold move – Stalin would call them useful idiots.

More interestingly, the NSW Police — not a sector of society traditionally regarded as being soft on crime — are wholly supportive of the change.

Indeed, I first heard the proposal raised in earnest when I was organising the Daily Telegraph’s “People’s Parliament” more than a decade ago.

Outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery called for exactly the same approach, noting the processing of low-level drug users through the court system was a ridiculous waste of time and resources and the ultimate penalties would often end up being the same if not less than those outlined this week.

So police and prosecutors alike are on board. That’s good enough for me.

To be clear, this does not mean making it legal to possess or take illicit drugs, any more than it is legal to speed or drink-drive.

Both are still offences, but they are dealt with outside the courts if they are at the lower end of the range.

If everyone who occasionally crept over 60 or drove home after half a glass too many was instantly a criminal Australia would have a higher proportion of convicts than we did in 1788.

It is simply an attempt to refocus all efforts on getting the user off the drug, and ice is a drug whose danger is like no other.

And frankly whatever we’re doing now is not working.

The most radical thing about these reforms is they come from the most conservative political leader in the country.

A premier who is otherwise pilloried for his deep Catholic faith and strong family values.

And if such a man is convinced that this is an approach worth trying then maybe it isn’t so radical after all.

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