Game of Mates

Dr  Cameron Murray is an economist whose interests are environmental economics, rent-seeking and corruption, and property markets. At the Cracks in the Concrete conference he spoke about his research, which examined the characteristics of landowners whose lands were rezoned by the Queensland government agency, the Urban Land Development Authority, and landowners whose proposals were rejected..

The rezoning of their land by the authority very generously gifted successful  landowners, increasing the value of their holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars.  Dr Murray discovered that you were far more likely to be rezoned if you had connected relationships – common business connections, membership of lobby groups, or had directors with business connection to the regulating board.

In the successful group, 90% were clients of professional lobbyists. The lobbyists had a 100% success rate, with no landowners who employed lobbyists missing out on the rezoning. And 70% of rezoned landowners were political donors. These donors special mostly donated to both sides of politics – they were “equal opportunity” donors.

Dr Murray concluded that success depended on how well you played the Game of Mates, which was a process of joining the club of insiders who were connected to the regulators. He identified three core ingredients in the political favouritism that contributed to the Game of Mates.

The first was that there must be a honeypot; a valuable economic gain able to be given to private entities with a degree of discretion about who receives it, and in his study, this was the untaxed wealth gained through the process of rezoning.

The second ingredient necessary is that there must be loyal group of mates who are able to sustain an implicit system of trading favours, a powerful club, which other powerful players can join, and which has a revolving-door relationship with the regulating authority.

Thirdly, there must be a plausible story to let the public believe that this trading of favours is in the public interest.

The Honeypot
The honeypot arises from the many discretionary decisions in the planning system. Councils have a massive amount of discretion over the interpretation where developers seek to exceed codified limits, such as height and density restrictions. Worse, under the new planning laws recently passed in Queensland, the person making these interpretations can now be chosen by the developers themselves.

Dr Murray argues that we can remove the honeypot  by charging for additional rights given to landowners and developers through the planning system.

Such a system has been successfully implemented in the Canberra since 1971. They charge landowners 75% of the value gains from the higher value uses they undertake. They also do not allow private developers to convert land from rural to urban uses, ensuring a public agency captures these value gains as well.

The ACT raised $183 million from these systems last year. Scaling up, that could be $1.8 billion in revenue in a single year to the Queensland government and councils that is currently given away to landowners through planning decisions.

Loyal group of mates
The second ingredient the Game of Mates needs is a loyal group of mates. Handing out favours is only politically expedient when you get something in return.

By establishing a loyal group through common membership of clubs and industry groups, family and business connections, and by signalling your intention to reciprocate with political donations, politicians and other group members are able to give favours, knowing they will receive them in the future. The code is simple: mates look after mates. Instead of taking direct bribes for each decision, they simply give favours to other group members, who later reciprocate, ensuring that any wealth diverted to the group is eventually widely shared amongst all members.

The property mafia

Dr Murray describes this as a Mafia-like system, and argues that it must be tackled by making it more difficult to return favours, such as extending cooling-off periods for politicians. At present Queensland politicians are able to walk out of the government office on Friday, and start work f a develope r on Monday. The independence of the planning system needs to be policed.

 

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The struggle for the heart of West End

 

Councillor Jonathon Sri

Councillor Jonathon Sri

The battle over the future of West End reached a critical point when Jackie Trad, acting in her capacity as the Minister for Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, invited community members to make submissions about a proposed call-in notice to reassess and re-decide, West Village, the controversial Absoe development application in West End.

Its advertising describes West Village as’an iconic new global neighbourhood. Coming soon to West End, Brisbane.’ It promises ‘a sensational new retail and living precinct, with the ability to transform its location’.

Approval for this $860 million development, consisting of over 1350 apartments in seven 15-storey towers, was issued by Brisbane City Council in May 2016.

The proposal has become the focus for protest from the West End community because of concerns over the scale of the development, traffic impacts, and the wide-spread feeling that a mega-development such as this was wildly out of character for West End. The seven towers were culturally inappropriate .

Minister Trad said that as Planning Minister she was bound to consider a development application on planning merits. Her letter to the community emphasised that any proposed call-in was not an automatic refusal.

Shadow planning minister Ian Walker said Ms Trad had an “obvious conflict of interest” with the development set in the middle of her rapidly greening electorate.

Lord Mayor Quirk claimed residents would be disempowered because council’s decision was subject to planning laws under which local residents had appeal rights, but a ministerial call-in would remove those rights.

Gabba councillor, Jonathon Sri, congratulated Minister Trad for investigating calling in the West Village development, and urged her to think long-term about developing the site to include affordable housing, community infrastructure, a public park and specially-designated commercial space for small businesses and artists.

He said the 2.6 hectare Absoe site represented a rare, golden opportunity to deliver services and housing styles, currently in short supply within the inner-city.

“It’s entirely possible to deliver a diverse range of affordable higher-density housing options without cramming in seven fifteen-story towers of over-priced private apartments. We can transform this site into a vibrant cultural hub that benefits residents and local businesses.”

On Sunday, August 21, South Brisbane residents again took to the streets to show their support for calling in the West Village development.

They gathered for a community breakfast in Thomas Street Park before marching down Boundary Street to the Absoe site for a ‘creative occupation’ to launch an Alternative Vision for West Village.

Councillor Sri said he would like to see the State government include around seventy apartments as government-owned public housing and another seventy apartments as community housing, mixed in with the hundreds of privately-owned apartments.

By keeping the West Village issue central, Jonathon Sri and the Right to the City campaign deserve to be commended for  defending residents’ rights to chose their West End. Will Deputy Premier  Trad call in the development but only require the developer to make minor changes or will she  insist on a significant redesign?

For Jackie Trad, this is her defining choice.

 

 

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Reverend Hellfire goes searching for the alternative heart of West End on a Friday night

songs-not-bombs-playing-in-the-park-photo-courtesy-of-robin-taubenfieldAnd so our Expedition set off for the bright lights and overwhelming aroma of Souvlaki that is West End’s Boundary Street on a Friday night.
Our Mission; to celebrate Kurilpa Poets’ Secretary John Treason’s advancing years and, on a professional level, find the legendary, Alternative Heart of West End on a Friday Night..
“It’s there out somewhere”, the Editor of the Kurilpa Citizen assured me, “possibly lying broken in a gutter, but it’s still there! I know it!!” and he wiped away a tear as he turned back to his 1978 Whole Earth Catalogue.. (It is 1968! Ed.)
Now my Editor may be a sentimental old hippie, but he had a point. I mean, West End/Kurilpa has a Reputation doesn’t it?
Only the other week the Courier Mail’s right-wing crank in residence, Des Hougton, was calling us Kurilpa residents a bunch of progress-hating, sandal-wearing, carrot-chewing, bicycle-riding vegan anarcho-lesbians, and he made it sound like a bad thing.
But it’s a Reputation, ironically, that those most inimical to it’s interests often like to trade off. You’ve seen the glossy ads spruiking Real Estate to yuppie property investors; “Come live in vibrant, cosmopolitan West End and help drive out those who made it colourful and vibrant in the first place”.
And indeed, how much of that Reputation is still deserved these days, with the concrete towers rising up around us and the remaining pockets of tin and timber becoming the preserve of the Gentry who bought property here to fall within the State High Catchment Area. Does West End/ Kurilpa still have a Rebel’s Heart? Does it tuck that Heart into its sleeve like a pack of cigarettes and go strolling down Boundary Street on a Friday night? Does Rock n Roll George’s phantom FJ Holden still come rolling down from the hills like fog? It was my job to find out.
I assembled a lively crew of ratbags, and as we rolled down first Sussex Street and then Boundary Street, our Mass attracted smaller bodies who became trapped in our Gravitational field and joined our group. Singer/waitress, Jem Sparkles, aka, the Queen of Sussex Street, was a valuable addition to our quest at this stage and later we enlisted the talents of local Poet & “Life model”, Fiona Privitera in our search for West End’s Revolutionary Soul.
It was good to see that St Andrews Church on the corner of Sussex and Vulture is still contributing to the area’s Alternative Vibe. With a large billboard out the front boldly proclaiming support for the Rights of Refugees, in the hall out the back you’ll find the Ecstatic Dance mob whirling and twirling every Friday night between 7-9 pm. There’s a kind of sufi/hippie vibe happening here, a little bit of bush-doof culture sprouting in a suburban church hall. It’s always looked like enormous fun when I’ve peered through the windows, and one Friday night when I have itchy feet and $15 in my pocket (apparently the door charge) I shall go in and join them.
But dancing was scheduled for later in the evening so we proceeded on down towards the Big Lizard, where we were rendezvousing at the Rumpus Room. As always Buskers were strategically placed along Boundary street’s length providing a smorgasbord of sound, honing their craft, paying their dues and hopefully making a few dollars in the process. (I never made any money busking; decent folk would cross the street to avoid me while the street lunatics would cluster round, taking me for one of their own.)
The Boundary Street Buskers help stoke the pulse and beat of the Street scene on a Friday night. Make sure you have some change in your pocket and lets hope some Bureaucratic Bastard doesn’t get the bright idea of making them get a permit.
I must admit a growing fondness for the Rumpus Room (though I do think they should change the name to “The Big Lizard”).
The relaxed vibe, the friendly, casual staff, the regular “happy hours” and the usually excellent music grooving away inside, (not too loudly for conversation) all contribute to a suitable setting for sociability.
It also possesses what may be Brisbane’s best DOSA (Designated Outdoor Smoking Area) where you can smoke in the company of civilised, consenting adults. Yes, when it’s not raining, the smoking section of the Rumpus Room is the place to be, right at the tip of the little spearhead of land where Russell Street meets Boundary and the Big Lizard looms large and lordly on his throne. The mixed crowd has a kind of “Ric’s Place” ambience (Casablanca reference here) and you never know who’ll happen by and join you. This is the perfect place to sit and watch the Heart of West End pulse and throb on a Friday night. Or if you don’t want to spend money, sit on the other side of the railings with the street people hanging around the Big Lizard, who it must be said, makes a very comfortable backrest.
Anyways, it was here we made our Base of Operations.
At intervals people went off to forage for a cheap meal. The Night Markets are now located in the warren of former alleyways and car parks behind the shops lining Boundary Street and were doing a roaring trade that night.
Several of our crew went grazing there and their reports indicated the food was generally satisfactory if a bit on the pricey side. My Personal Assistant sniffed something about “Botulism Alley” and opted for a huge hamburger from GRILLD down the road, which she promptly gorged and pronounced, “Better than McDonald’s”.
The Night Market’s food-stalls looked a bit touristy to me, and besides, I was looking for West End’s Alternative Heart.
Something old school was called for.
So I went back up the street and around the corner to KingAhirams on Vulture Street, a genuine West End Institution and still home to the best (and cheapest) Falafel Roll in Brisbane. Ahirams has been there as long as I can remember (circa 82) and while I think it may have had the odd name change along the way, it’s generally always been known as “the Falafel Shop” by its many patrons.
Succeeding generations of back-packers, students, musicians, punks and drunks, hippies and vegetarians have all been nourished at its ancient, scratched counter, and pecked at by its feral pigeons.
Happily they haven’t felt the need to make any changes to fit in with West Ends’ new up-market image. No, they will never smile at their customers, but who cares? I get a damn fine Falafel with chilli, a couple of hot, crumbly cheese puffs, and a big hit of sugar in the form of one of Ahirams deadly Turkish Delights.
“Ah when Ahirams goes, that’s it for the Old West End!” I prophesized darkly to my Personal Assistant as I retook my place in the DOSA.
We fell prey to Nostalgia for a moment then for old Icons lost; Remember the Hellas Deli and the lovely ladies who worked there, we sighed? What about Georges, the best old-school fish and chip shop in Brisbane- now just another plastic eatery for the well-heeled and called the Catchment. Ah well, time for another Gin & Tonic.
Back in the Present across the road in the little People’s Park, the big-hearted “Foood not bombs” crew have cooked up a great alternative-style feast for all, and are busily distributing to the Dispossessed, and those who choose to eat with them. The food is generally the traditional share-house rice and beans type vegetarian concoctions; hot, simple and satisfying on a cold Winter’s night.
Also in the park, providing a suitably alt-rock soundtrack is a kind of avant-garde girl punk band. (Though they have a boy drummer who appears to have mounted his drum-kit on a bicycle) I’ve been told they’re called “Songs Not Bombs”, though I can’t vouch for it. Their raucous sounds really seem to capture the mood of Boundary Street on a Friday night and I made a note to look out for future gigs.
Interesting noises had also been drifting down from the Boundary Hotel for some time, so eventually we decided to investigate. Alas we missed the band that had been playing upstairs, but we were in time for to see Spook Hill start their set in the Public bar. They immediately won our esteem by virtue of having a Theremin on stage. Always been a sucker for a good Theremin. It’s all those B grade 50’s science fiction/horror films I watched as a child. Anyways Spook Hill were smart enough to use it sparingly, and thus, rather than just a novelty noise, it provided another tasty texture to their overall Mix, a classic, gritty sound in the Brisbane Pub-rock tradition.
The Boundary Hotel was starting to get a bit of a “Meat Market” thing going last year (all air-head, bleach-blonde bimbos in embarressingly short dresses and an attendant swarm of predatory and aggressive males) but after local objections, the Boundary, to its credit, has listened to Community sentiment, reversed direction and now seems more inclined to continue the tradition of supporting local bands. A lesson learned; Boundary Street, West End is not the Brunswick Street sleaze-strip in the Valley.
Neither is it a yuppie eatery enclave like Oxford Street, Bulimba.
Boundary Street is untidy and alive and in a flux of social forces jostling for space. It is the last place in Brisbane where posters and flyers adorn every wall and telegraph pole. The Blacks and the Street People still maintain a presence despite continual police harassment (Hey Jonathon SRI! How about more benches for Boundary Street so you can sit down without having to buy something?), buskers still ply their trade, students can still afford to eat out cheaply here, young people still come here to live an “Alternative Lifestyle”. But the Forces of Greed are salivating over our little enclave, and it is rare that They don’t get Their own way.
Boundary Street is in the process of becoming something Unique. Or it’s being swallowed up by Faceless Gentrification.
Time will tell which.
Come the Chimes of Midnight we are dancing in the Public Bar of the Boundary Hotel to the sleazy rhythms of Stagger Lee as rendered by Spook Hill. Slippin’ and sliding over the tiled floor, it seemed an appropriate climax to the evening.
“Well” asked Secretary Treason, as the Bouncers later moved us inexorably towards the Exit,” Did you find it?
Did you find West End’s Alternative Heart?”
“Yes, actually, I did,” I replied, “It’s here”.
“The Public Bar of the Boundary Hotel?” he frowned,
“Well, I guess.”
“No you Fool,” I cried, “Its Here!”
And I placed my hand on my Heart.
“For wherever I go, surely there is the Alternative Heart of West End!” I said, smiling like a Saint, or possibly ET.
He looked at me with what I first surmised to be Wonder.
“Amazing,” he said at last, in a deadpan tone that turned out to be sarcasm, “it’s like you’ve got absolutely no Ego at all.”
“Mocker! Doubter!” I levelled an accusing, Old Testament finger, “For I tell you, where-ever two or three are gathered in my name and sitting on a bench waiting for cheque day or up a quiet back alley sharing a joint, there I am also! For I am the Spirit of West End! Seriously, I should get a grant from the West End Traders Association just for turning up in my traditional native costume and amusing the bus loads of Asian tourists that are always carefully shepherded to the Sushi Joint near Nandos.”
“Yes, and you could pose for pictures with Scandinavian backpackers at $5 a pop,” Mr Treason proposed, “well, that or sell them drugs.”
“True,” I agreed, “we must be flexible and nimble in today’s shifting market conditions. Privileged First World Tourists cannot be overlooked as an income stream if the West End Counter Culture is to survive as a parasitic organism! There are Lifters and Leaners in Life, John, and I intend to do all the leaning I can!”
“By the Gods!” he exclaimed,” “you really are the Alternative Heart of West End!”
“I always suspected I was,” I humbly confessed.

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Drug policy and the ice flood

consumptionThe ice flood and its solution
The war on ice (part 2)

In June 2013, as part of Drug Action Week in the ACT, I delivered a paper called How many cones? How many pills? How many lines of coke? estimating the size of Australia’s illicit drug.

My paper estimated that the Australian illicit drug trade in 2010 consisted of a market of about three million Australians. It was worth about $17 billion; composed of a cannabis market, worth about $6 billion, a heroin market of $2 billion, a cocaine market of $2.5 billion, 40 million ecstasy tablets worth about $1.4 billion, and 6.8 tonnes of methamphetamine, worth about $5 billion. The cost of drug law enforcement I estimated at $1.5 billion.

When I recently updated these estimates using the most current data from 2013/2014, the other drugs markets were relatively stable, but the war on ice caused the cost of drug law enforcement to rise to $2.17 billion, the total illicit drug market rose to $20 billion, and the amphetamine market increased to nine tonnes with a street value of $7 billion. The more money we spent to suppress the Meth monster, the more it grew.

The cost of the war on drugsoffencescostdle

For the police, the prominence of the war on ice allows drug prohibition to be sold as a crusade against folk devils, the outlaw motorcycle gangs, but the reality of drug prohibition is a war on cannabis. Sixty per cent of drug arrests were for cannabis in 2013/14; it was seventy per cent of arrests in 2010/11, but the doubling of the arrests for amphetamine offences over the next three years, caused the percentage of cannabis to go down , even though the number of cannabis offences went up by eight thousand.

Queensland keeps winning the war on drugs in Australia. It has the most number of drug arrests, as well as most cannabis arrests. Queensland came first in steroid arrests, and over 60% of the nation-wide arrests for steroids were from Queensland; it also came first in hallucinogen arrests as well as other and unknown drugs arrests.
There were 66,684 cannabis offences in total in the financial year 2013/14: Queensland led the way with 20,219 cannabis offences; New South Wales was second with 15,756; Victoria third with 8,588 offences, followed by Western Australia recording 8,286 offences.

Queensland police target cannabis users, blindly following directives laid down by Premier Bjelke-Petersen forty years ago, who declared that he wanted to drive all the pot smokers out of Queensland.
Victoria led the arrests for amphetamine-type stimulants with 7555 offences, closely followed by Queensland with 6772 offences, with New South Wales not far behind.

Even though cocaine is similar to ice in its physical actions and it’s potential for abuse, cocaine arrests were only 1.3% of all drug arrests. Cocaine is almost decriminalised in Australia because it is the drug of choice for the highest socio-economic class, who are four times more likely to be cocaine users than the population in general. Methamphetamine users are as numerous as cocaine users but tend to belong to the lower socio-economic groupings and they make up 23.5% of drug arrests. Although cannabis is a far safer drug, a cannabis user is ten times more likely to be arrested than a cocaine user. (Cannabis is almost equally popular with all classes.) When the police drug-test drivers, they don’t test for cocaine and benzodiazepines, deliberately turning these function off so they will arrest neither the rich nor housewives.

For reasons of class rather than considerations of harm-minimisation, the police are waging a war against cannabis and the amphetamines, not cocaine. The police conduct their version of the war on drugs and they are concerned, not with health outcomes, but with arresting those suspected of belonging to the criminal classes and protecting the property of the wealthy. In practice, this translates into the extraordinary low prosecution rates of cocaine offences.
The total number of drug offences was 112,049, another record. More drug offences were prosecuted in Australia than ever before, a phenomenal quantity of drugs was seized, and the size of the illicit drug market has never been bigger.

Insanity, said Einstein, is repeating the same action and expecting different results. Since we are still trying to arrest our way out of the problem, our drugs policy is clearly insane.

Sensible drugs policy

The war against ice is proving to be one of the most futile and costly social experiments ever undertaken in Australia. Billions of dollars have been spent prosecuting the war, hundred-thousands of drug offences have been prosecuted, tonnes of ice have been seized, and yet the country is awash with methamphetamines.

In 2014, former Victorian police commissioner and head of the National Ice Taskforce Ken Lay admitted “we can’t arrest our way out of this problem”. But arresting people is all the police know, so they blindly continue. Their attempt to arrest their way out of the ice problem has been counter-productive, provoking the flood. The war on ice has been an enormous failure. The police are the wrong weapon to use because their approach only keeps prices high when the aim of policy should be to lower price, so the global methamphetamine cartels will lose interest in Australia.

Australia needs to adopt a policy of harm-minimisation, which may mean we have to choose the lesser of two evils: and the lesser of the two evils we face, methamphetamine and MDMA, is MDMA.

The arrest-your-way-out-of-the problem approach has led to the ice flood in other ways besides globalising supply. It was the police suppression of the MDMA market in 2009 that created the space for the ice epidemic to grow.
In the decade between 2000 and 2009, Australia experienced an MDMA flood, and this flood caused very few problems. In 2008 the UN declared Australia had the highest MDMA usage in the world; and in 2007 Australia set a world record for the biggest ever MDMA seizure, the only seizure to rival the monster of November 2014. It was huge; over four tonne! Yet most people are unaware of the MDMA flood because it caused negligible social problems, in contrast to the ice flood.

To respond to the ice flood, we need to use drug policy, rather than the police. The first action should be to decriminalise cannabis and MDMA. We can then move carefully to regulate MDMA though pharmacies, who have been preparing to dispense medical cannabis. Because it is a chemical, MDMA would be appropriately dispensed by pharmacies, but cannabis, which is a herb, not a chemical, might be better served by other distribution mechanisms. The regulation of MDMA would provide a legal and safe alternative to ice, and lessen demand, and lessen price. It would be a far more effective strategy to deal with the ice flood. Although not providing direct competition, the decriminalisation of cannabis would serve to lessen the profits of the black market.

 

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Arresting their way out of the problem

lauch5

The Great Australian Ice Flood (Part One)

Dr John Jiggens

Every year more people are arrested for drugs; every year more drugs are seized; and every year there are more drugs on the street.

 

On 29 November 2014, the Australian Federal Police announced an illicit drug seizure of 1.9 tonnes of MDMA and 849 kilos of methamphetamine. The police declared it to be the second largest illicit drug seizure ever in Australia and estimated the street value of this monster seizure at an extraordinary $1,500 million.

In a joint statement, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Immigration and Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison and Justice Minister Michael Keenan praised law enforcement agencies and hailed a ‘landmark day’ in the fight against drugs and organised crime

NSW Police Commissioner Scipione declared that the NSW Police Force and their partner agencies has taken billions of dollars-worth of illicit drugs off the streets. The Commissioner added that the effects of this great seizure would be seen far and wide across the Australian community.

Not for the first time, Commissioner Scipione was wrong. Extraordinarily, the Australian illicit drug market was so massive it could shrug off a seizure of this size. The monster of November 2014 had little effect on the great Australian methamphetamine flood.

 

The origins of the Ice Flood

The monster methamphetamine seizure of November 2014 was an Australian record. Indeed it was the fourth Australian record inside three years. Since May 2011 the Australian record for methamphetamine seizure has increased fourfold going from a then record seizure of 240 kilos that month, to a new record of 306 kilos in July 2012, to a newer record of 585 kilos in November 2012, to this current record ice seizure of 849 kilos in November 2014. All of these were hailed by our leaders and journalists as proof of how well the war on ice was going.

When the AFP conducted the first of these enormous seizure on 4 May 2011, Matt Doran, reporting for TEN news, exhausted his superlatives describing how this massive bust had delivered ‘a monster blow to those who organise the traffic in deadly and illegal drugs’. It was, Doran continued, ‘an extraordinary 240 kilograms of ice with a street value in excess of S50M, the biggest bust in Australian history’. He declared it had ‘dealt a major, major blow to organised crime in Australia’.

However, this major, major blow had no effect other than to mark the beginning of the ice flood. This massive seizure was the first of many. Two-hundred kilo seizures are far more frequent now, but at the time such a seizure was regarded as extraordinary. But the record hauls kept coming because the flood of ice kept growing. Over the last several years, we have lived through the great Australian methamphetamine flood.

 

The flood of 2012-2016

The best idea of the size of Australia’s illicit drug market can be gained from the many reports of drug seizures that so regularly feature in our news that people read, then pass by without processing. For the sake of analysis, I categorise the biggest seizures as monster (value greater than $250 million street value); massive (seizures in the $50 million to $250 million street value range); enormous ($10million to $50 million); and big ($1 million to $10 million).

In the season of the monster, in the last six months of 2014, massive amphetamine seizures occurred all over Australia. In early August 2014, Victorian police found 135 kilos of methamphetamine in a Melbourne apartment. It was the start of an astonishing week of large ice seizures, leading Richard Grant of the Australian Crime Commission to claim, ‘In the past week, Australian law enforcement in Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland have seized approximately 220 kilos of this drug.’ Only a few years before, this would have been an extraordinary week. But the flood rolled on: 90 kilos were seized in Perth, 28 kilos in the ACT; another 50 kilos in Melbourne. And then in mid-November, came the Sydney monster!

Counting the ‘monster’ and the ‘massive’ seizures alone, and ignoring the ‘enormous’ and the ‘big’, over 1.2 tonnes of methamphetamine were seized in five months between July and November 2014! This gives some idea of the size of the market. When the bible of Australian drug law enforcement, the Illicit Drug Data Report (IDDR) for 2014/15 is published, the amphetamine seizures are expected to fall in the 2-3 tonne range.

The 2013/14 Illicit Drug Data Report recorded that 1.8 tonnes of amphetamines were seized at the border that financial year, and that five large detections had a combined weight of 530.9 kilograms and accounted for 29.3 per cent of the total weight; the largest, 203 kilos, was sea cargo from China to Brisbane; two more were sea-cargo China to Sydney; another sea-cargo USA to Melbourne; the smallest (49 kilos) in air cargo from Mexico to Sydney. The flood of ice flowed in from all over the world, driven by the high price of ice in Australia.

However, despite seizing almost two tonnes of amphetamines at the border, 2013/14 was only the second biggest year for such seizures. The year with the record for the most ice seized at the border, with 2.14 tonne of amphetamines seized, was the previous year 2012/13, which included the two previous Australian record seizures of 306 kilos and 585 kilos. Before these two years, the largest annual totals seized at the border were in the 200 kilos-300 kilos range, which is why the 240 kilo seizure in May 2011 was regarded as extraordinary.

The large seizures over the past two year may be because more methamphetamine is being seized at the border because more is being imported. Previously, amphetamine-type stimulants were largely manufactured in Australia. In their 2012 annual report, the International Narcotics Control Board suggested that the recent crackdown on precursor chemicals in Australia caused the price of amphetamine-type stimulants to rise, which has in turn attracted the attention of foreign traffickers, seeking to take advantage of the potential for profits.

By increasing price, the police crackdown on home-bake and precursors shifted the balance of the methamphetamine market toward importation, and this seems to be the reason for the recent record seizures. Since the Australian price for methamphetamine remains high by world standards, any shortage caused by local law enforcement only drives prices higher.

The police arrested their way out of one problem to encounter a more difficult problem: the global amphetamine industry, the Mexican cartels, the Southeast Asian triads, and the outlaw motor cycle gangs of Canada and the US, who found the Australian ice market very attractive. The flood gates were opened. Big seizures of ice are common now. You read about them every week: the current week (June 2016) had 140 kilos of ice seized in Perth on 3 June, and 117 charges and 13 arrested in Charleville (deep in the Outback) on 5 June, and a bust of 448 kilos of ice in New Zealand, some of which would be heading over to our side of ‘the ditch’. The Australian methamphetamine market has been outsourced and globalised.

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Arresting our way out of the problem?

consumption

 

Arresting our way out of the problem?

John Jiggens

On 29 November 2014, the Australian Federal Police announced an illicit drug seizure of 1.9 tonnes of MDMA and 849 kilos of methamphetamine. The police declared it to be the second largest illicit drug seizure ever in Australia and estimated the street value of this monster seizure at an extraordinary $1,500 million.

In a joint statement, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Immigration and Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison and Justice Minister Michael Keenan praised law enforcement agencies and hailed a ‘landmark day’ in the fight against drugs and organised crime

NSW Police Commissioner Scipione declared that the NSW Police Force and their partner agencies has taken billions of dollars-worth of illicit drugs off the streets. The Commissioner added that the effects of this great seizure would be seen far and wide across the Australian community.

Not for the first time, Commissioner Scipione was wrong. Extraordinarily, the Australian illicit drug market was so massive it could shrug off a seizure of this size. The monster of November 2014 had little effect on the great Australian methamphetamine flood.

So how can such an enormous seizure not have an effect??

 

The origins of the Ice Flood

The monster methamphetamine seizure of November 2014 was an Australian  record. Indeed it was the fourth Australian record inside three years. Since May 2011 the Australian record for methamphetamine seizure has increased fourfold going from a then record seizure of 240 kilos that month, to a new record of 306 kilos in July 2012, to a newer record of 585 kilos in November 2012, to this current record ice seizure of 849 kilos in November 2014. All of these were hailed by our leaders and journalists as proof of how well the war on ice was going.

When the AFP conducted the first of these enormous seizure on 4 May 2011, Matt Doran, reporting for TEN news, exhausted his superlatives describing how this massive bust had delivered ‘a monster blow to those who organise the traffic in deadly and illegal drugs’. It was, Doran continued, ‘an extraordinary 240 kilograms of ice with a street value in excess of S50M, the biggest bust in Australian history’. He declared it had ‘dealt a major, major blow to organised crime in Australia’.

However, this major, major blow had no effect other than to mark the beginning of the Ice Flood. Two-hundred kilo seizures and bigger are far more frequent now, but at the time such a seizure was regarded as extraordinary. But the record hauls kept coming because the flood of ice kept growing. Over the last several years, Australia has experienced a rising methamphetamine flood.

The best idea of the size of Australia’s illicit drug market is gained from the many reports of drug seizures that feature so regularly in our news broadcasts. For the sake of analysis, I categorise the biggest seizures as monster (value greater than $250 million street value); massive (seizures in the $50 million to $250 million street value range); enormous ($10million to $50 million); and big ($1 million to $10 million).

In the last six months of 2014, massive amphetamine seizures occurred all over Australia. In early August 2014, Victorian police found 135 kilos of methamphetamine in a Melbourne apartment. It was the start of an astonishing week of large ice seizures, leading Richard Grant of the Australian Crime Commission to claim, ‘In the past week, Australian law enforcement in Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland have seized approximately 220 kilos of this drug.’ Only a few years before, this would have been an extraordinary week. But the flood rolled on: 90 kilos were seized in Perth, 28 kilos in the ACT; another 50 kilos in Melbourne. And then in mid-November, came the Sydney monster!

Counting the ‘monster’ and the ‘massive’ seizures alone, and ignoring the ‘enormous’ and the ‘big’, over 1.2 tonnes of methamphetamine were seized in five months between July and November 2014! This gives some idea of the size of the market. When the 2014/15 Illicit Drug Data Report is published the amphetamine seizures are expected to fall in the 2-3 tonne range.

The 2013/14 Illicit Drug Data Report records that 1.8 tonnes of amphetamines were seized at the border, and that five large detections had a combined weight of 530.9 kilograms and accounted for 29.3 per cent of the total weight; the largest, 203 kilos, was sea cargo from China to Brisbane; two more were sea-cargo China to Sydney; another sea-cargo USA to Melbourne; the smallest in air cargo from Mexico to Sydney. The flood comes in from all over the world, driven by the high price of ice in Australia. However, despite seizing almost two tonnes of amphetamines at the border, 2013/14 was only the second biggest year for such seizures.

The year with the record for the most ice seized at the border, with 2.14 tonne of amphetamines seized, was the previous year 2012/13, which included the two previous Australian record seizures. Before these two years, the largest annual totals seized at the border would be in the 200 kilos-300 kilos range, which is why the 240 kilo seizure in May 2011 was regarded as extraordinary.

Seizures at the border went up 1000% after June 2012, because the ‘kitchens’ where most of Australia’s amphetamine was home-baked were taken out in the first years of the war on ice and there were large seizures of precursors. Price was forced up in Australia till the profits that could be made became extremely attractive to the global ice market and the flood started. The drug began flowing in from China, the USA, Canada, Mexico, the United Arab Emirate and from Southeast Asia. The war on ice caused the Australian methamphetamine market to be outsourced and globalised.

Big seizures of ice are common now. You read about them every week: the current week had 140 kilos of ice seized in Perth on 3 June, and 117 charges and 13 arrested in Charleville(!) on 5 June, and a bust of 448 kilos of ice in New Zealand.

As the old saw says: each year more people are arrested for drugs; each year more drugs are seized; and each year there are more drugs on the street.

 

So what is the solution? I’ll be dealing with alternative strategies for the war on ice at the Drug Law Reform campaign launch for Griffith at 2pm on Sunday 19 June at Kurilpa Hall West End.

Dr John Jiggens

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The future of cannabis medicine in Australia

canadicannabmedCannabis legalisation is inevitable. Canada is about to legislate for recreational cannabis and so is California. Colorado has already legalised, and the sky has not fallen down. Crime rates have not gone up, people are not driving cars into trees, nor did anyone expect this, apart from a few die-hard fanatics. We have reached the tipping point.

Meanwhile, Australian governments have made no preparations for a legalised market and have developed no infrastructure for it. Instead, they are striving to give the industry to their discredited backers in Big Pharma and preparing to crack down on the illicit compassionate movement.

For the neo-Liberal ascendancy, regulation means privatisation, which means restricting the market via over-regulation and more reefer madness.

Both Queensland and Victoria have announced they will increase penalties for cannabis and Victoria plans to join Queensland in banning all information about growing cannabis and making cannabis medicines. They admit they can not arrest their way out of the problem, but they keep on trying.

The spread of cannabis medicine will be driven by the internet, which reports the developments in countries that have legalised medical cannabis, and by demographics. The Baby-Boomers were the first cannabis adaptors, and as  they age and face the diseases of mortality, they are more prepared to take up cannabis medicines.

Cannabis medicine will remain an illicit industry for a short while. There will be other Tony Bowers, but they will not be able arrest their way out of their predicament.

The Age of cannabis medicine is dawning.

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A friend, who is a law lecturer, wrote to me asking where he could obtain medical cannabis. His partner’s lung cancer was getting worse: “She starts chemo today after six weeks on a drug called Getfitinib. Not very optimistic… “

As a journalist who has followed the medical cannabis story over many years, I have reported on lives transformed using simple herbal extracts from a plant vilified by police and politicians as a dangerous drug. So although it was breaking the law, I made inquiries. Cannabis has a well-known record in treating nausea and maintaining appetite during chemotherapy. Recently the US National Cancer Institute rated cannabis as the best treatment available for nausea suppression and appetite stimulation in chemotherapy.

A few weeks later my friend sent me a photo of a jar containing a green herbal substance in a similar coloured liquid.

Recently I checked to see how his partner’s illness was progressing. He reported the cannabis was helping greatly, allowing his partner to deal with the chemo-induced nausea far better and her tumour was reducing. Their crisis was far from over and she was due to start a second cycle of chemotherapy shortly. He informed me he had started making his own tincture.

Although the Queensland government claims to have legalised medical cannabis, only one person in Queensland has legal access to cannabis! However, the black market in medical cannabis is thriving. My friend informed me that he received contacts for over a dozen illegal medical cannabis providers.

When he spoke in West End, Dana Larsen rthat the triumph of cannabis regulation in Canada was a testament to the civil liberty campaign the Canadians engaged in. He praised Marc Emery, who opened a shop called HEMP BC, which sold bongs and seeds. Although Marc Emery eventually served four-and-a-half years in a US prison, his example was emulated by others, creating a movement that combined business, civil disobedience and activism together into a very effective and powerful combination.

Much the same has happened in Australia with the medicinal cannabis movement. A decade ago, an unassuming Aboriginal man named Tony Bower started making a cannabis tincture, called Mullaways medicinal cannabis tincture for sufferers of childhood epilepsy. The New South Wales police arrested him, stole his patients’ medicine, and put him in prison.

His patients made his case a nation-wide cause. The parents of profoundly suffering children told of their gratitude to him and defended the miraculous relief afforded by his medicine. Many individuals were inspired to emulate him.

The recreational cannabis black market is Australia’s most valuable agricultural crop with tens-of-thousands of growers, with a street-value of several billion dollars. This large pre-existing underground industry provided the expertise and entrepreneurial drive that an agile, innovative and illicit industry needed.

Thanks to their efforts, knowledge of the benefit of medical cannabis is so wide-spread that even law lecturers are turning to black market cannabis and are learning to make their own cannabis medicines! Very few people would be shocked by my friend’s actions: Would any compassionate person watch their partner die and not do everything in their power to help?

Yet this is precisely what Australian politicians, police and health authorities demand. These compassion-devoid monsters have threatened mothers with having their children removed from their care for using a medicine that has had a miraculous and transformative effect on their sick children! But even lecturers in law will not follow such unjust and immoral laws.

The privatisation of medical cannabis

Lester Grinspoon predicted that cannabis would be the wonder drug of the 21st century. As our knowledge of the endocannabionoid system grows, the accuracy of his  prediction  underlies the politics of cannabis.

While the corporate media give the impression that cannabis medicine is being legalised, the truth is that cannabis medicine is being privatised.

The clinical trials announced by the New South Wales Minister for Medical Research, Prue Goward, will be run jointly with the British pharmaceutical company GW Pharmaceuticals and will test the company’s genetically-modified cannabis. They are funded by a $3.5 million dollar grant from the New South Wales government. The spin put on this large gift of money to GW  Pharmaceuticals by Minister Goward was that ‘street marijuana’ had ‘too many poisons in it.’ Politicians like Ms Goward are helping pharmaceutical companies, while sprouting reefer madness. Their rhetoric can not change the testimony of tens-of-thousands of Australians that simple home-made cannabis medications are more effective than anything the pharmaceutical companies can provide. On the medical battlefield, cannabis medicines are slaying the monsters of Big Parma like a mutant tumour.

While Governments are sending us down the corporatized Big Pharma/Big Green ‘clinical trial’ road of medical cannabis, we need to learn from Australia’s medical cannabis consumers what medicines they are taking and how successful these are. The best science in the area is being conducted by the Australian Medical Cannabis Observatory Initiative, who are  working on a survey of the medicines that Australia’s medical cannabis community are currently using.

Spokesperson Dr. David Caldicott says they are seeking open science, not private science. As part of documenting Australian cannabis medicines, they offer to chemically analyse the underground medical cannabis products, assisted by a team of chemists from the ANU.

In contrast to the clinical trials that Australian governments are considering, which will involve genetically-modified corporate cannabis and will have little benefit for the overwhelming majority of medical cannabis consumers, the citizen-science  approach of the Australian Medical Cannabis Observatory will examine the actual products Australia’s underground medical cannabis community and record their treatments and their efficacy.

 

 

 

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The rock of the Brisbane diaspora

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From Peter Clarke, Vicki Volkoff and family

We think that many of us in the Brisbane diaspora always saw Errol, who stayed “home”, as our rock and anchor. In a sense he was the guardian of our formative home, its details, its secrets, its uniqueness and universality. And a constant source of inspiration.

Perhaps even more significantly, Errol researched and documented and made art from the details of Queensland’s and Brisbane’s social and political history that many further afield, know little about. This has been a huge gift to all of us – to understand the past and to see ongoing changes within an historical and artistic context.

Errol was a fine actor.  Naturally, because of our direct involvement, we remember him especially in the roles of Chief Joseph in Arthur Kopit’s Indians at La Boite and Jesus Christ in Denis Potter’s Son of Man, staged in a geodesic dome at the University of Queensland. And the excitement and attack of the radical reviews at the Schonell Theatre.

His sensitive portrayal of Kamran, an Iranian migrant in Australia escaping persecution in Iran in ‘A Beautiful Life’ at the Malthouse in Melbourne in 2000, was not only very moving but also significantly important in drawing us into the horrifying anguish of those and these times.

The shock of losing Errol is still very sharp. Bewildering. Of course we shall remember him as an actor, writer, playwright and activist, but right now, we are realising with deep sadness that we will never again hear his distinctive voice, share his insightful conversation, his rock solid ideals and analyses of life, politics and morality or his wry sense of humour and infectious laugh.

We will remember Errol as a lifelong friend of deepest decency, integrity and the warmest hospitality, and we will miss him terribly for the rest of our days.

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Remembering Errol O’Neill

errol2From the eulogy by Mary Kelly

 

Errol was born on 8 March 1945 at Old Cleveland Rd Coorparoo. His parents -Francis Patrick O’Neill (called Frank or Bluey), and Gladys May Lutvey (whose parents were Lebanese migrants) – already had two boys – Dan then 7, and Michael then 2. Errol was to be the last – the youngest of the three O’Neill brothers. The family had moved from Gayndah to Brisbane a few years previously, first living at the Stones Corner shop with Gladdy’s three sisters Mona, Mary and Rose, and later settling in Nicklin Street.  ‘Bluey’ was a taxi driver and they lived the typical Catholic working-class family life of the 1950s with a focus on church, family and the practicalities of making ends meet. His schooling was at St James’s Primary School Coorparoo and Villanova College.

In 1968, he  studied philosophy and theology at the Gregorian University, Rome, before deciding the priesthood was not for him. Returning to Brisbane, he studied an Arts Degree at the University of Queensland (majoring in English Language and Literature) and began seriously to develop his skills in writing and acting, and just as seriously to involve himself in the issues and politics of Queensland.

By the time he finished his degree, Errol had been deeply involved in a number of revues at the University, honing his satirical writing and acting skills; had been summonsed to court for his refusal to register for national service and thus be drafted into the Vietnam war; had been in many demonstrations and protests; and had experienced his first main stage acting role at the Queensland Theatre Company.

For the next 40 or more years he pursued these themes and threads, successfully forging a career in a notoriously difficult industry, and doing so with a steadfast focus on politics and social change. (Perhaps this focus and this pursuit was assisted by the fact that he was sacked from his first ever job in the public service after 2 weeks because of his Special Branch record.)

Later it would be taxi-driving, just like his father had done, which would fill the gaps between theatre jobs, and again his sharp observational skills meant these experiences became short stories about the characters and situations he came across. Errol could take a minute exchange and weave it into something funny and tragic, and he performed his taxi stories by reading aloud many times over the years.

From 1977 to 1982, he was a performer and then writer-director with the Popular Theatre Troupe, a Brisbane-based company specialising in political satire.

After his stint in the Troupe, he was essentially free-lance for the rest of his working life during which he wrote more than a dozen plays on aspects of Australian society, politics and history which were produced by main stage companies in Brisbane and interstate; acted in nearly 20 films and a dozen television series; performed in numerous training films and corporate videos, radio plays, voice-overs and narrations; directed a number of productions; and acted in well over 50 plays. He also wrote short stories and other prose.

For someone who had so many run-ins with the law, he played a surprisingly large number of policeman roles – from the unrecognisably aggressive Sergeant Simmonds in ‘The Removalists’ to the more affable Len in ‘East of Everything’.

In the quest for work, Errol was entrepreneurial and relentless. With friends, he started a new theatre company – the Brisbane Theatre Company – and later in life the collective called ‘The Forgetting of Wisdom’ to help generate opportunities to perform.

He also involved himself in organisations dedicated to improving the performing arts industry such as the Australia Council, the Writers’ Guild, the Literature Board, and his union Actors’ Equity. A centenary medal in 2003 and the Alan Edwards Lifetime Achievement award in the same year were public acknowledgement of his contribution.

 

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The playwright of Queensland Labour history

errolBy John Jiggens

 

Errol O’Neill died on the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, his timing as always a marvel.

Like Shakespeare, Errol had a great love of history and like Shakespeare he translated his history to the stage. He wrote 12 plays, and the core of his work is a quintet of plays dealing with the history of the labour movement in Queensland: On the Whipping Side, Red Soil White Sugar, Faces in the Street, Popular Front and The Hope of the World.

While Shakespeare wrote in an age of kings, and had kings as his heroes, Errol O’Neill wrote about a time, now vanished, that was called ‘the era of the common man’ and his heroes were the men and women who built the labour movement in Queensland.

Shakespeare employed a class-based rhetoric: his nobles spoke in beautiful blank verse, while the lower classes spoke in prose. Blank verse is a relative rarity in Queensland, but Errol O’Neill’s dialogue was similar to Shakespeare in his lower register, when he was writing for the proles: often crude, disrespectful, very funny, and exhibiting a deep love of the language of the low.

I knew Errol O’Neill from my Queensland University days, when he was one of an extraordinary group of actors and directors, including Geoffrey Rush, Bille Brown and William Yang, who were associated with the Architecture Revue and DramSoc. While Geoffrey Rush and company left to conquer the world, Errol stayed behind, striving to create a local theatre in Brisbane.

I worked most closely with Errol in the 1990s, when he was the Chair of the Brisbane Theatre Company (BTC) when he championed a vision of a local theatre that was concerned about Brisbane, which produced and workshopped plays by Brisbane writers, with scripts and subjects that were important for Brisbane.

We edited the BTC’s publication Brisbane Theatre Magazine together. I handled production and design, while Errol was the commissioning editor.  As commissioning editor, he organised great pieces from the likes of Lorna Bols, Sue Rider, Sean Mee, and the other directors and writers of the Brisbane theatre community, many of whom were also members of the BTC and who also championed the project for a theatre that spoke to us about our city and our lives. Although Errol initiated the Brisbane Theatre Company, it was a shared aspiration, the culmination of a collective vision for theatre in Brisbane. Errol O’Neill was its intellectual leader, but he was an ensemble player, who blended and harmonised, listened respectfully, and never dominated. Like one of his heroes, Fred Patterson, Errol O’Neill was always the first amongst equals.

Although the Brisbane Theatre Company failed, this was when Mary and Errol started their family. In later years our sons would play together while Errol and I talked about politics and history and writing and the projects we were working on, while he prepared another marvellous meal. He and Mary were fantastic hosts, both for the Brisbane diaspora and for locals.

As an actor, I make a passable extra. The only play I performed in with Errol was in the grounds of Ithica Creek State School, which our sons attended. It was a play for the children, performed by their parents, about the Gold rush, a humorous romp, which Errol had written. Errol played starring roles in all the major theatres in Brisbane and he performed at humbler, spontaneous spaces in street-theatre, at protests, in factories, and in school yards with the same sense of bon-hommie.

In forty-five years I never had one quarrel or argument with him. My face would always light up with a smile whenever I saw him, as it did on the last day we met, the week before he died. He cocked his head slightly in reply, and smiled that wry, Errol smile. He’d been researching the conscription debate during the First World War because he’d been commissioned to write a play about it. He was happy, that happy feeling writers get when their minds are engaged and their creative juices are flowing. For a writer with his love of radical history, the subject was ideal. In its day, the conscription referenda debate split the nation. And there were two of them, because Prime Minster Hughes did not accept the decision of the first. What a plot twist that would be! Errol would have Queensland Premier T.J. Ryan as one of his heroes, and Archbishop Mannix as the other, with Billy Hughes as villain!

I received the news of his passing by email. I cried and swore obscenity after obscenity. It was the worst sentence I have ever read: Errol O’Neill is dead.

 

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