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ADCA Axing – some thoughts and a petition

ADCA’s patron Ian Webster AO is an Emeritus Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales. He has held senior appointments in the UNSW Faculty of Medicine as well as Monash, Sheffield and Sydney Universities. A member of the National Mental Health Commission, he still works as a consultant physician in the South Western Sydney and Shoalhaven areas.

Jeannie Little OAM, an Aboriginal elder from far north Queensland, is a member of the ADCA Board of Directors. She trained as a nurse and has for many years been involved in community health and wellbeing initiatives around Australia. A traditional owner of the country around Mapoon on western Cape York, she chairs ADCA’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Working Group.

People from two such disparate backgrounds may have many different points of view, but their commitment to public health and wellbeing unites them in their disbelief at the Federal Government’s treatment of the organisation to which they are so committed. Their thoughts follow:

Over nearly half a century representing the alcohol and other drugs sector as the national peak, ADCA has never resiled from its commitment to laying the facts on the line when asked by a government to contribute to policy discussions. The ADCA viewpoint may have ruffled a few feathers on occasions but it was never based on anything other than carefully researched fact.

Despite that long and proud record, ADCA has emerged as the latest casualty in the new government’s austerity drive – 46 years of work building social capital now looks like it has been dismissed on a whim without any idea of the organisation’s involvement in national health and wellbeing.

We are astonished that this is the only government in all that time that has decided it can do without ADCA’s advice. The impact of this decision will be felt across the community.

We’ve seen small organisations in the sector disenfranchised many times. The Newman government has cut alcohol and drug funding in remote communities in recent years, working on the principle that small voices don’t get heard. Mental health and health promotion initiatives have been dropped across the board in the interests of budget savings.

Governments seem unable to grasp the fact that prevention is so much cheaper than the cure, yet they still subscribe to throwing good money after bad.

ADCA represents those small front-line organisations and its demise will leave them without a national voice or support.

The 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.

In the past two days, many organisations and individuals have expressed concern over what may amount to the shutdown of ADCA’s National Drug Sector Information Service, a world standard repository of nearly 100,000 items.

Students, clinicians other libraries – even governments – have over the years made extensive use of one of the world’s most comprehensive AOD library services. Its contribution to clinical practice and professional development is inestimable.

Cutting ADCA’s funding means an end to Drug Action Week, which for 16 years has allowed communities Australia wide to raise awareness and commemorate those working to reduce AOD harm; the National Drug and Alcohol Awards which have traditionally been part of Drug Action Week are also no longer.

The National Inhalants Information Service, the first central online information source for volatile substance misuse, and RADAR, the Register of Australian Drug and Alcohol Research will go. We cannot see how the government expects to gain from axing Drugfields, a new project designed to encourage and support workforce development.

Each of these projects is highly significant to research, awareness and future workforce, where sustainability must rank as one of the most important issues of our time – regardless of the sector.

The government must 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.

The Prime Minister said before the coalition won government, that he wanted 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.

A&TSI communities suffer from alcohol and other drug problems through no fault of their own; the links with mental health issues and Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders are well known by those who work in these areas. The Government needs to understand the depth of ADCA’s involvement here and the huge void that will come out of cutting its funding.

ADCA’s role as a peak body extends to representing A&TSI drug and alcohol groups. Without it, they won’t have a national voice.

We are mystified by a statement reportedly issued by Assistant Health Minister Senator Fiona Nash, whose office says the Government had been advised that ADCA was experiencing financial difficulties and that the Government would assist in covering its debt where appropriate.

This is a deliberate attempt to muddy the waters and the minister should re-examine the facts as they were presented to her office.

 SAVE ADCA

An online petition has been established urging the Prime Minister to ask his Health Ministers to reconsider the abolition of ADCA funding after nearly 50 years of non-partisan, evidence-based advice.  Please sign the petition and share with your networks.  We want the Prime Minister to understand the importance of the independent advice that ADCA and other like organisations contribute to informed policy and decision making.  The petition can be found at  http://chn.ge/1b9KBCx
 

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