Human Rights

24 Apr 2020 by EUC in: Justice Issues

Fair Treatment Discussion on reforms on decriminalisation of drugs with NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman


The Uniting Church has a rich history of advocating for social justice. In this tradition,  The Engadine Uniting Church hosted Lee Evans, the local State member for Heathcote, and Mark Speakman NSW Attorney-General and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, at an evening meeting of our and other congregations, and other interested community members, on 14 April 2021. 

Such grass-roots events are pivotal if the church is going to achieve the change it wants in the world on critical issues such as creating a fairer more effective drug laws.

The Community Coordinator at Engadine Uniting Church, Michael Bleasdale reports on the event.

Engadine Uniting Church had been approached to host a discussion on the NSW Government’s law reform agenda, with a primary focus on drug law reform. The event also presented an opportunity for Uniting’s Deputy CEO, Doug Taylor, and the Head of Advocacy and Media, Emma Maiden, to promote the Fair Treatment campaign’s position on the decriminalisation of drugs, and to issue a challenge to the NSW Government to be bold and act on the recommendations of The Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug ‘Ice’.

Master of Ceremonies, Shane Slade, opened proceedings by citing Engadine Uniting Church’s previous engagement with the Fair Treatment campaign, when it screened the video “Half a Million Steps” back in 2019.

Following a brief introduction from Lee Evans, Attorney-General Mark Speakman talked about the fact that the NSW Cabinet is still to arrive at a definitive response to the Commission of Inquiry, but that decriminalisation was not being considered as an option at this point. Instead, the option of “depenalisation” was being seriously considered, and Mr Speakman provided details, including confiscation, issuing of fines, voluntary or mandatory health referral, escalating penation, and additional referral pathways, or combination of measures.

Following some questions, Doug Taylor from Uniting spoke with conviction about the strength of support from within the NSW and ACT Synod of the Uniting Church about drug law reform, and in particular our position of decriminalisation. He 

cited wins of the campaign helping to secure funding for a drug treatment centre in Dubbo and the long running success of the medically supervised injecting centre in Kings Cross. Uniting’s Emma Maiden shared powerful stories of people and families affected by drug use and some of the barriers of the current system to receiving assistance. Overseas, many creative solutions have been developed and implemented for us to draw on for the Australian context, we just need to drive to do so.

Mr Speakman and our guests from Fair Treatment then took part in a Q and A session, with a significant number of questions coming from the audience. Mr Speakman was familiar with best practice research from around the world but highlighted the political challenge, primarily within his own party and with certain sections of the media and the community, to combat strong opposition to drug law reform.

Fair Treatment has recently secured an important meeting with Mr Speakman, to discuss further the Government’s deliberations on the issue so far. Engadine Uniting is committed to doing what it can to support Fair Treatment into the future.

Michael Bleasdale

Raise the Rate


During COVID, the JobSeeker Allowance (previously Newstart) was boosted in recognition that the jobs market was severely impacted by the pandemic, and those in receipt of the allowance had their income effectively doubled until the end of 2020. The rate has now come down, and was slated to return to the original rate of Newstart at the beginning of April 2021, but the legislation has now increased the daily rate by $3.57 to just over $44 per fortnight.

There has been a significant outcry about not only the projected cut, and the impact it will have on people currently out of work and looking for jobs, but also the way in which the legislation was passed through Parliament without proper debate. Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, who has been campaigning for the daily rate to be raised to at least $80, was not even given the opportunity to speak to the bill, and instead had to table her speech for publication in Hansard. UnitingCare National Director, Claerwen Little, has spoken about the “avalanche” of assistance that will now be required of charities and not-for-profit organisations as people again struggle with homelessness, paying bills and making ends meet, as the new JobSeeker rate plunges people below the poverty line once more.

The requirements of those on JobSeeker to find work will also ramp up, with people required to apply for at least 20 jobs per month, or risk being breached and losing their allowance altogether. With one job for every nine applicants at the moment, and no responsibility being placed on Government to ensure there are jobs for those they place on JobSeeker to effectively “seek”, we are once more returning to nasty politics of victim-blaming, some of the pre-COVID “normal” that we hoped and prayed would not occur.

So what can you do?

  • Engadine Uniting Church has joined its colleagues at Uniting and UnitingCare, and over 100 organisations across the country, in signing up to the campaign to increase the rate of JobSeeker for good.
  • Share the stories of those who suffer hardship because of the lack of income and the necessities of life which living off JobSeeker results in. Access Senator Siewart’s speech to read the stories of those negatively impacted by poverty, and collate stories from your own communities about how it is impacting in individuals and families. Even if you are sharing your story on the Raise the Rate website, make sure you write in a separate document too, as there will be future petitions to make to Government, and we need these individual stories to back up the points we are making about individual hardship.
  • Sign up to the Raise the Rate for Good campaign, and follow the various petitions and protests that are being organised on a regular basis to persuade our politicians that it is cruel and inhuman to expect people to live at this level of state-sanctioned poverty.

Michael Bleasdale

Amnesty International Letter Writing Program


Every year the Engadine Uniting Church members set to writing letters to advocate for persons facing injustices around the world. If you are interested in knowing more about this program, please contact the EUC Director of the Amnesty International Letter Writing (AILW) program via the contacts page, scroll to AILW Director and send an email.