Drug Action Week 2011

My speech at the launch of Drug Action Week 2011.
Launch of Drug Action Week 2011
(themed ‘Looking After Your Mind’)

Thank you for braving a Canberra winter morning to be at Parliament House for the launch of Drug Action Week 2011.

We weren’t taught about it in primary school, but European settlement to Australia was inextricably linked to substance abuse.

So important was rum in the early colonies that it took the place of currency.

According to Russell Ward in The Australian Legend, ‘no people on the face of the earth ever absorbed more alcohol per head of population’ than Australians in the 1800s.

Indeed, Australia’s only successful armed takeover of government is the ‘rum rebellion’ of 1808, in which William Bligh was deposed.

It says something about the place of alcohol in this country, doesn’t it?

While the British have the Magna Carta, the Irish have their Easter Rising, and the Americans have the Boston Tea Party – we have the rum rebellion.

And yet Australia hasn’t always been behind the rest of the world when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

We were one of the first countries in the world to introduce Random Breath Testing, which has saved thousands of lives over recent decades.

We were among the first to introduce a Drug Court – recognising that you’re more likely to cut crime if you treat addiction as well as punishing wrongdoing.

That pragmatic approach – let’s see what works – is the hallmark of a successful treatment strategy. And it’s sensible, evidence-based policies that we’re pursuing today.

Drug Action Week

That brings me to Drug Action Week. This year, Drug Action Week will run from Sunday 19 June to Saturday 25 June.

The Australian Government has supported this very worthwhile annual event over a number of years and we are pleased to be involved once again.

Events such as these are valuable in helping improve awareness of the harm associated with drugs and alcohol, and their effects on our families, friends and the community.

Drug Action Week 2011 will see about 700 events taking place in the coming days.

These will include conferences, theatre events, youth group activities, remote Indigenous community concerts, outdoor movies, sporting events and other festival events.

This year’s theme is Looking After Your Mind. The aim is to draw attention to the links between drug and alcohol abuse and mental illness.

The risks to young Australians and to vulnerable communities of a binge drinking culture also feature in Drug Action Week 2011.

All of us – health workers, NGOs, governments, and the general public – must recognise the needs of people whose health is affected by both drugs and mental illness.

The facts speak for themselves: 35 per cent of people who use drugs also suffer from mental illness.

This Government has delivered on mental health, with a record $2.2 billion five-year reform package to drive fundamental reform in our system so that more lives are not needlessly lost.

A highlight of Drug Action Week 2011 will be the National Drug and Alcohol Awards in Sydney on Friday 24 June.

The awards will recognise and promote the achievements of those who work to reduce drug-related harm.

These awards, which this year are being coordinated by the Australian National Council on Drugs, are supported with funding from the Australian Government.

National Drug Strategy and related initiatives

Awareness activities like Drug Action Week support Australia’s National Drug Strategy.

The aim of the strategy is to build safe and healthy communities by minimising the health, social and economic harm related to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

It lays the foundation for a broad range of Government initiatives to reduce the demand for alcohol and other drugs, to reduce their supply, and to minimise their harm.

This is the year of action on mental health – and it will be a major factor in the Government’s second-term health agenda.

Investments in mental health in this year’s Budget build on existing arrangements by the Council of Australian Governments to improve services for people with drug and alcohol problems and mental illness.

In the sphere of drug and alcohol treatment services, the Australian Government is working towards the development of a new quality framework and funding model for services, including in the area of comorbidity where mental illness and substance use issues coincide.

In addition, the Government is investing in improved infrastructure and service delivery so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in regional and remote areas will have better access to drug and alcohol treatment services.  The plan is to both expand existing services and establish new ones.


Ladies and gentlemen, drugs and alcohol affect all parts of Australian society, and it takes a collective effort to reduce their harmful effects on our family, friends and community.

Those Rum Corps roots that I spoke about will always be part of Australia’s history.

But so is that spirit of restless innovation – that finds problems, talks about them openly, and looks for practical solutions. We see that spirit in Australia’s traditional owners, and in those migrants that have come to this land since. That same can-do attitude underpins my belief that we can do more to reduce the harm done by drugs and alcohol – and that we will do so guided by good sense. Facts and evidence – not ideology and dogma – are the Australian way.

I commend the work of ADCA and its partners in bringing together  organisations and individuals across Australia to collaborate in this effort, and have great pleasure in officially launching Drug Action Week 2011.

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