UnitingCare ReGen, the lead alcohol and other drug treatment and education agency of UnitingCare Victoria & Tasmania, has responded to claims made in last Friday’s Herald Sun that a change in the Victorian government’s opposition to the establishment of a pilot Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) in Richmond, “would enrage Christian groups” (‘Services back injecting room’, 02/06/17).
The claim is based on an Australian Christian Lobby submission to the current inquiry by the Parliament’s Legal and Social Issues Committee into the proposed MSIC pilot. The ACL submission is also referenced in an accompanying opinion piece by Matt Johnston on the politics of the proposal (‘When law and order, life and death collide‘, 02/06/17).
ReGen CEO Laurence Alvis said it was wrong to assume that the ACL speaks on behalf of all faith-based organisations.
“The perception created in this article that there is broad opposition to establishing a MSIC in Richmond is unfounded,” Mr Alvis said.
“No doubt, such a move would enrage the Australian Christian Lobby (which is quoted in the article), but it is misleading to suggest that the ACL’s ideological opposition to evidence based public health policy is representative of Christian churches and organisations.
An open letter published in the Herald Sun (‘Let’s start saving lives’, 09/02/17), called on Victorian Parliament to support the MSIC proposal was signed by representatives of UnitingCare, Anglicare and the Salvation Army.
Mr Alvis said that the Uniting Church established Australia’s only MISC, which has been operating in Kings Cross since 2001. He said that while the views of all concerned people should be heard, the government should consider expert evidence before making a decision.
“It is important to understand the concerns of those who hold ideological or religious beliefs that are not consistent with the overwhelming evidence for the effectiveness of such measures,” Mr Alvis said.
“But it is also important to avoid presenting these beliefs as equivalent to the broad consensus amongst alcohol and other drug service providers, emergency workers, health, justice and policy experts that there is a clear and urgent need for a MSIC in Melbourne.
“Public discussion of illicit drug policy is often passionate, but rarely well informed. Everyone seems to have a strong opinion (to which they are entitled), but the voices of those directly affected are rarely heard and those with recognised expertise are typically ignored or dismissed.
“We need a public and political debate that is informed by credible evidence, not simplistic ideologically (or politically)-driven scare campaigns.
“Of the 45 public submissions to the MSIC inquiry by local community members, service providers, peak bodies, researchers, unions and the City of Yarra, only three (including that by the Australian Christian Lobby) oppose Fiona Patten’s Bill. The other two opponents are outliers within the alcohol and other drug sector. Their ideological positions are unrepresentative of opinion within our sector and are not supported by recognised evidence.
“There is no moral or scientific justification for opposing a measure which will save lives and increase the accessibility of treatment and support services for some of the most vulnerable members of our community.”
The UCA Vic/Tas synod is considering the establishment of MSICs from a theological as well as practical standpoint.
Rev Dr Randall Prior is the former principal of Pilgrim Theological College. In the July edition of Crosslight, Mr Prior spoke of his belief that support for MSICs represents a tangible expression of the gospel.
“At the very heart of the Christian faith is that in Jesus Christ, God takes upon God’s self the fullness of our broken humanity,’ Mr Prior said.
“All of us stand equally broken in the presence of God and in need of the graceful healing of God.”
Uniting invites church members to attend a discussion on medically supervised injecting centres at the Centre for Theology and Ministry in Parkville on Wednesday 28 June from 6-8pm. Click here for more information and to register to attend.