IN MARCH this year, former state Premiers Jeff Kennett and Bob Carr launched a report entitled:"Can Australia Respond to Drugs More Effectively and Safely?"
The report also had the backing of former AFP Commissioner, a former Supreme Court Judge and a former Director of Public Prosecutions among a host of other public health advocates and ex-law enforcement figures.
It advocated a new approach to drug policy in Australia, including decriminalisation, and acknowledged that prohibitionist policies have proven an abject failure when it comes to both enforcement and public health outcomes.
Had either Kennett or Carr dared advocate such a position while still in parliament, the howls of moral righteousness that accompany any discussion of illicit drugs would have seen them hounded from office.
It’s the same crowd that are trying to shout down what should be an honest and realistic conversation around recreational drug use in the NRL.
In the hysteria that has followed rugby league’s so-dubbed ‘white weekend’ calls – particularly from those generations older than the current crop of NRL players – have inevitably come for harsher penalties to act as a “deterrent.”
They are largely coming from a justifiable place of embarrassment on behalf of the game, but they’re simply not awake to reality, or prevalence, of recreational drug use in society.
It’s simply foolish to think that, where tougher penalties for drug offences have failed miserably in the wider community, they will be a cure-all within the confines of the NRL.
Certainly NRL players, highly paid and forever in the public eye, have more to lose than average 20-something. But the fact someone as respected, well-educated and well-guided as Jesse Bromwich can become caught up in recreational drug use just shows NRL players aren’t – and can’t be – sequestered in some drug free bubble.
If the NRL were to institute the first offence ‘name-and-shame’ policies some, including the likes of Peter Sterling and Paul Gallen, are advocating, would the end result be less players taking recreational drugs or would we simply go through more weekends like the one the game has just endured?
There have always been deterrents. They have never stopped recreational drug use. The eighth immortal Andrew Johns admittedly took drugs throughout his career.
The Gold Coast went through their own cocaine scandal prior to the 2016 season. Ben Barba had already recorded a first strike for cocaine use and still succumbed to temptation after last year’s grand final.
Gallen’s argument that witnessing the embarrassment and breakdown of Barba’s career after his second strike has convinced him that more players should be subjected to it after just one offence is a flawed one at best.
If the central tenet of the argument is minimising reputational damage, surely the game has bigger issues with alcohol, gambling – both of which fill the game’s coffers through sponsorship – prescription drug abuse and domestic violence.
Kick-off is not advocating a free-for-all when it comes to drugs in the NRL but an honest and realistic discussion and response to the issue is what’s needed.
The game does not have an endemic problem with recreational drug use – it's simply not immune to it’s effects on wider society. The game can take a realistic approach to it… or bow to public pressure and rinse wash repeat the failed policies of the past.