An attempt by the federal opposition to overturn the ACT law which would decriminalize small quantities of drugs for personal use has been defeated in the Senate.
- ACT laws will apply from October 28, with possession of small quantities of certain drugs decriminalized
- Washington Sen. Michaelia Cash has launched a challenge to the Senate, arguing that the laws constitute a “parking fine system” for illegal drugs.
- Senator Cash’s attempt to ignore the new territorial laws has failed, with Labor and the Greens arguing the ACT has the right to legislate itself.
The laws will see people found in possession of quantities of drugs for personal use fined rather than criminally charged.
The ACT Government has said it is moving towards a harm minimization approach that views drug use as a health issue.
He pledged to remain tough on dealers and traffickers.
During debate on her private member’s bill – the Australian Capital Territory Dangerous Drugs Bill 2023 – WA senator Michaelia Cash told the Senate the nation’s capital was at risk of becoming ” the drug capital.
“This (ACT legislation) will send a clear message to bikie gangs and criminal organizations all along the Hume Highway,” she said.
She warned people would travel to Canberra “hoping to experience the ACT’s party lifestyle, which would lead to addiction… and even death”.
“Basically, they created a system of parking fines that applies to possession of ice, speed, heroin, cocaine and other things.”
“(But) the bitter reality is that parking offenses in Canberra are now going to be treated more seriously than dangerous drugs.
“I implore the (federal) government not to turn its back on ACT members.”
Senator Cash must move to Canberra or stop intervening
Senator Cash’s bill was rejected by Labor and the Greens, with senators accusing the shadow attorney-general of trying to undermine the ACT’s right to self-government.
New South Wales Labor senator Tim Ayres said Senator Cash’s decision amounted to an “extraordinary intervention in the affairs of the Australian Capital Territory”.
“The truth is that states and territories will make good laws and bad laws… and it is their right to do so,” he said.
He also questioned why a senator from Washington was trying to intervene in ACT politics, suggesting that perhaps Senator Cash should join the ACT and run for the Legislative Assembly.
Greens senator David Shoebridge was also scathing of Senator Cash’s bill, calling it “another highly emotional feverish attack from the shadow attorney general”.
Senator Shoebridge echoed previous comments from Canberra Liberal leader Elizabeth Lee, who said she did not support her federal colleague wading into ACT affairs.
“The poor old Liberals in the ACT are saying ‘please stop’. But clearly nothing is going to stop the Trumpian rise of the federal Liberal Party,” Senator Shoebridge said.
ACT Senator David Pocock also voiced his opposition to the bill and warned the federal coalition’s criticism of drug decriminalization risks further stigmatizing drug users.
“Stigma kills and it has been killing drug addicts for centuries,” said Senator Pocock.
“These issues are serious. Many people have lost loved ones to drugs and alcohol.
“And I think we’re doing a huge disservice by trivializing these issues in the name of political theater and suppressing the ACT.”
As widely expected, Senator Cash’s bill was defeated and the ACT laws came into effect later this month on Saturday October 28.