The Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia (ADCA) has served Australia for 50 years. It has worked collaboratively – but honestly – with all governments from Menzies to Rudd. But last week the Abbott government cut off funding.
Compared with the costs of alcohol and drugs, alcohol alone costing $36 billion per year (Foundation for Alcohol Research and Evaluation commissioned study), the annual costs of $1.5 million to run ADCA is peanuts. Despite this it has a nation-wide constituency of 350 organisational, association and individual members – almost all being front-line agencies.
When questioned about his daughter’s drug problem on TV Prime Minister, Bob Hawke was very distressed. The drug problem of the 80s had truly struck home in a most dramatic way. He then called the Premiers and Chief Ministers to the Drug Summit. It was the first time a social crisis, other than war-time, had galvanised such action.
The Commonwealth Minister responsible, Dr Neal Blewett, turned to ADCA to organise a week-long national meeting to set the directions for the Summit. Thus was born Australia’s multi-sector campaign to reduce the harms of all drugs – alcohol, tobacco, prescribed and illicit drugs. It set the stage for pharmacotherapy treatment, clean needle and needle-exchange programs and other measures which shaped our response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
ADCA started in 1967 when parents, clergy, judges, health professionals, researchers, journalists, union leaders and those directly affected by substance abuse came together to create a national voice, to promote research, education and training on alcohol problems and the emerging illicit drug problem. Around the planning table were people such as – “Weary Dunlop” of POW fame, Sir William Refshauge – Director General of Health and formerly of Army Medical Services, Dr Nan Waddy a community psychiatrist, (later Justice) Michael Kirby and others. The current president of the Board is former Liberal MP Mal Washer.
When the Howard Government took the hardline stance, “Tough on Drugs”, it was ADCA which led that Government into new directions: programs to divert young people from courts and prison to education and treatment; persuaded the Government to have an alternative pathway of advice in the PM’s office through the Australian National Council on Drugs; and, pushed for grants to NGOs for diversion and treatment of illicit drug users.
When no-one took up the devastating impact of alcohol and other drug use on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, ADCA was there. It is still there. From the very beginning Aboriginal leaders have been integral to the leadership of ADCA and to the research, education, training and resource provision for Aboriginal communities.
As the peak body, ADCA has advised governments on policy and directions, run programs for government and done what governments have not been prepared to do – confront the commercial interests of tobacco, alcohol, pharmaceutical and illicit drug industries. ADCA’s stand has always been based on rigorous analysis, feedback from its member front-line agencies, the research it has sponsored, the data collated in its world-class resource centre and on input from professional bodies.
Its training programs and resources have led to a viable drug and alcohol workforce. It has stimulated research from when there was none at all to now with Australia being recognised at the top end of international league tables for drug and alcohol research. ADCA’s Drug Information Service is accessed from around the world and is integrated into the research centres of excellence in addiction and drugs and alcohol in the major Australian universities. No other country has such a network of information sharing.
More significantly ADCA is a broad church encompassing and reconciling competing views about the nature of alcohol and drug problems and how they should be dealt with.
I am proud of its achievements and contribution to our society and I am especially proud of the ADCA Board which said to me, “We are NGO people, we know how to survive, and we can change the world!” I am sure they can with the active support and engagement of all in civil society.
Emeritus Professor Ian W Webster AO
Patron of the Alcohol and other Drug Council of Australia and Emeritus Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of NSW