AS former members of the Commonwealth Parliament, a health minister in the Hawke government and a former general practitioner serving in the Howard government and the Abbott opposition, we are deeply concerned over the short-sighted decision of the current government to axe funding to the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia (ADCA).
Following our parliamentary careers, we have both had the opportunity to serve as president of the council.
It is disturbing that after 46 years of policy development, advocacy and advice to governments, the council is now a victim of the new government’s cost-cutting – all for a saving of only $1.5million in annual funding.
It is a false economy. It is also obvious that the officials who advised government had little appreciation of the council’s role in the broader health and well-being sector, or the implications of its demise as a national peak body representing tens of thousands of workers in one of the most demanding industries in the country.
This is an issue that will echo across Australia – not only in the cities but in country towns, in rural and remote areas, in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. We would welcome the opportunity to set the record straight, to speak directly to federal ministers about this socially backward step.
We use this opportunity to correct misinformation – particularly unfounded reports concerning the council’s financial “difficulties”. The only financial difficulties are the work of governments which have not provided any core funding since July.
Its demise will leave a huge gap.
The loss of knowledge when employees retire or change jobs warrants serious consideration; decades of expertise can potentially be gone in a flash.
They will be intellectually poorer – as will public health institutions, researchers and students – and their voice will be lost.
What sets the council apart is the huge resource it has amassed over the past four decades under the guise of first the National Resource Centre and second the National Drug Sector Information Service.
Clearly, those advising the government did not appreciate the significance of this resource – nearly 100,000 items and one of the world’s outstanding alcohol and other drug reference holdings.
The news that this world-class resource could cease to exist as part of an ill-considered savings measure warrants the outrage it has prompted.
We are concerned that a national peak organisation of such depth, with a reputation for informed opinion and decades of advocacy, should be summarily destroyed. The decision came out of the blue and reflects poorly on the government.
We urge people who feel strongly about this issue to sign an internet petition (see Save ADCA at change.org) to the Prime Minister seeking to reverse the decision.
Neal Blewett and Mal Washer are past presidents of the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia.