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Padraic P. McGuinness, The Weekend Australian, March 18-19, 1989, p. 2.

What can we do about the problems of drugs, organised crime and corruption? Are we doing enough about them now? Is the problem basically that politicians are either corrupt or do not have the will to tackle the problem?

These are issues dealt with in the article on Focus 1 of The Weekend Australian by the former Justice Woodward, now retired.

Justice Woodward was the royal commissioner who revealed much about the problem of crime and corruption in relation to the drug trade in NSW. He is clearly unhappy that so little has been done about it.

Of course Justice Woodward’s views deserve great respect. But it seems to me that he begins from a misconception of the basic issue and proceeds from there to recommendations that would virtually establish a police State. (Police States, however, are notorious for their corruption.)

It is not enough to blame politicians for not having the will to tackle corruption, and demand that more and more resources should be devoted to stamping it out along with the drug trade, when this is to be achieved by more police, more jails, more Customs officials with draconian powers, more repression, more phone tapping, more invasion of the civil liberties of the innocent and more interference in normal life.

The basic issue is the reason for the crime and corruption that flourishes in connection with the drug trade. This arises from one simple fact, that such drugs as marijuana, heroin, cocaine, amphetamines and so on are illegal. As with gambling, prostitution or alcohol, prohibition only breeds criminality. You can never stamp them out.

But it is the hypocrisy of churches, moralists, social reformers and so on, who pretend that the elimination of prostitution or drug abuse is possible, which breeds the crime and corruption which surrounds them.

Take the case of heroin — a drug which most people who have known addicts regard, rightly, with horror.

The truth about heroin is that in a pure form, taken correctly, it does very little harm to most people. Moreover, it is quite cheap to produce. When it is taken intravenously it can be hopelessly addictive — but only in very rare cases is this addiction incapacitating. Many addicts have led full and normal lives, in good health.

The problem is not the heroin itself, but the illegality and the cost of it. There are enormous profits to be made from its illegal importation. And as the leading expert on the economics of the subject, Dr Robert Marks [no relation] of the Australian Graduate School of Management at the University of NSW, remarked recently, it is a major item in our balance of payments deficit.

Given these profits, it is inevitable that criminals will evade restrictions. It is also inevitable that they will attempt (and sometimes succeed) to corrupt politicians and law enforcement officers.

Moreover, the high prices lead to the adulteration of the drug and to an enormous problem for addicts in financing their habit. They turn to prostitution, violence, theft, mugging, cheating. In their desperation they resort to sharing needles with other addicts.

Through these practices and prostitution, both heterosexual and homosexual, AIDS is spread through the population. And it is in the interests of the criminals who profit from the drug to recruit more and more addicts, to increase the size of their market.

In these circumstances, the most sensible thing to do would be to legitimise heroin, making it available on, indeed, a restricted basis to addicts at reasonable prices. Not everyone who tries heroin becomes addicted (though nobody would be advised to take the risk); in the case of those who do, however, the cure is often far worse than the “disease”.

We already have a thriving legal morphine industry in Tasmania — why not expand this to produce all the heroin that addicts in Australia could want, at a reasonable price? This would legally remove the economic base for the present drug trade and drug-related prostitution, as well as the crime and corruption that they produce. It would also strike at what is now the major way in which AIDS spreads into the heterosexual community — needle-sharing.

There are those who sincerely argue that heroin is too dangerous, and too powerful, to ever be legalised. Unfortunately, a thorough examination of the facts by Dr Marks and others cited by him shows that this is simply false. When, for example, heroin was cheap and easy to obtain by American troops in Vietnam, they usually smoked it. It was only when there was a campaign against its use, and the price rose sharply, that in search of cost-effectiveness the troops began to shoot up.

Why is the legalisation of heroin and other drugs so strongly and vociferously opposed? In the case of churches and the welfare industry, they see the effects of criminal abuse and leap to the conclusion that the social problems can be controlled by removing the drug from the scene.

But this is simply not possible. All they achieve is to strengthen the arms of the criminals and the corrupt who profit from the trade. (It is no accident that for years in Australia there was a de facto alliance between the wowsers and the hotel industry, which had an interest in restrain of trade.) It is of course in the direct pecuniary interest of the traffickers in narcotics that they remain illegal.

However, it needs to be said that in the climate of hysteria concerning corruption in Australia in recent years, especially in Queensland, there has been much exaggeration. This has even affected a man of such a judicious cast of mind as Justice Woodward.

Our political system on the federal level has many faults, but corruption is not a major problem. Our politicians are, for example, far less corrupt than British politicians. Our Public Service, despite its faults, has extremely high standards overall. So has our judiciary. In Queensland, in fact, there is little that has emerged from the Fitzgerald inquiry which was not known in outline already. That very useful exercise had dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s, named names and established the basis for prosecutions.

That is praiseworthy — corruption and crime should never be tolerated. But that is not the same as saying that they will not always exist.

And the greater the possibility of becoming a criminal because of offences which should not in themselves be crimes, the greater the attempt to constrain the pleasures and pursuits of private individuals, the more oppressive the apparatus brought to bear against them, the more crime and corruption will thrive.

The will to win against organised crime involves the willingness to admit that it is government policy that fosters it through the illegality of drugs.

(in order of appearance on Economics.org.au)
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  2. The Economic Guerrillas: A lecture in honour of Maxwell Newton
  3. The Libertarian Alternative
  4. Libel laws block insider's revelations of Australia's industrial mess
  5. But perhaps the merchants of doom have a point
  6. The Origins of Paddy McGuinness
  7. The Itch for Influence
  8. LA safe from religious poverty
  9. Aunty should hang up her boots in face of premature senility
  10. Warning: health is a budget hazard
  11. New ABC Tory chief won't rock the boat
  12. Time to sell the ABC
  13. Youth victims of the welfare con
  14. Paddy McGuinness on class sizes (1991)
  15. More teachers won't solve the problems in our schools
  16. Paddy McGuinness on Catholics and wealth distribution
  17. Paddy McGuinness proposes inheritance tax equal to handouts received by deceased
  18. Let them swim nude
  19. Time to legalise heroin
  20. State-sponsored sports rorts
  21. The blight of the baby-boomers
  22. To reduce the problems of crime and corruption, legalise heroin
  23. We should ban Olympics
  24. Evidence shows heroin policy is not working
  25. Wowsers deny society while killing children
  26. Will Australia compete?
  27. Canberra's social revolution
  28. Paddy McGuinness in 1994 on the 2012 class size debate
  29. Why not pay for the ABC?
  30. Paddy McGuinness on David Stove
  31. Sometimes the truth hurts
  32. Paddy McGuinness on compulsory, informal and donkey voting, and breaking electoral laws
  33. Thomas Sowell, McGuinness, Aborigines and other minorities
  34. Genocide with kindness
  35. Hyde, McGuinness and Sturgess on Chaining/Changing Australia
  36. Paddy McGuinness defends comparing IQ of races
  37. Do-gooders should glorify smokers
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