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18. The coordination of Australian illicit drug policy: a governance perspective


Since the adoption of the National Campaign Against Drug Abuse (NCADA) in 1985 coordination has been one of the key mechanisms in the development of effective drug policies in Australia. Coordination, which is defined as the process of synchronising activities towards a common goal with the ultimate aim of attaining more integrated and effective policy outcomes, is not an easy task. Responding to drug use and its attendant harms requires complex, inter-governmental, inter-departmental and inter-sectoral responses. It requires solutions that involve multiple stakeholders: Federal, state, territory and local governments; diverse sectors, particularly health, law enforcement and education; government and non-government service providers and the involvement of business, industry, the media, research institutions, local communities and individuals.

Australia’s reputation for coordination of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug policies, as exemplified through NCADA and its various iterations, have led to international praise, particularly for the partnership between the health and law enforcement sector (Single, 2001, p. 65). But it is increasingly being recognised that while well coordinated systems can facilitate the capacity for integrated policy development and implementation, poorly coordinated systems may be more deleterious than systems that provide no coordination. Poorly coordinated systems may increase fragmentation, reduce accountability, increase the time and cost of responding, create barriers to services for drug users, reduce public respect for policies and lead to internal conflict between governments, sectors and service providers (Peters, 1998). Indeed in 1997 Single and Rohl (1997) argued that the national system for managing and coordinating the National Drug Strategy was in need of major reform since both its legitimacy and the ability to operate effectively were in serious doubt.

While we note the valuable research that has been conducted into Australian drug policy processes, (see particularly Fitzgerald, 2005; Fitzgerald & Sewards, 2002) to date there has been no explicit study that has focused on the coordination of Australian drug policy. This project rectifies this need by examining the processes and structures for illicit drug policy coordination in Australia. We focus on Australian illicit drug policy coordination in the broadest sense, whether guided and influenced by the National Campaign Against Drug Abuse strategies or National Illicit Drug Strategies and/or both. For reasons of simplicity this project focuses on coordination within and between our national structures and advisory groups, represented at the peak by the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy. The national advisory processes and structures warrant particular attention given they are the only formal mechanisms at which all levels of government and sectors come together to direct and coordinate Australian drug policy.

This study provides a new approach to looking at coordination, through the lens of “good governance”. Such an approach was adopted both due to the absence of any specific theories or frameworks on coordination, and because of the strong links between coordination and governance.