So the federal election is only a few months away and issues are being bandied about like pumpkins at a pumpkin growing competition. But one pumpkin we’re not hearing much about at the moment is the drug pumpkin, which is at odds with the general state of the country. We’ve had all sorts of interesting drug revelations recently: that there’s a 78 percent increase in women dealing in Western Australia, weird developments in the world of kronic, an increase in performance enhancing drug consumption, a study linking ecstasy use and Parkinson’s Disease, and Australia’s own Walter White. Weirdly, none of this seems to be reflected in current campaigning.
Eyal Halamish is CEO of OurSay, a Melbourne based initiative that crowd-sources political questions from the general public and makes people in the government answer them. This month, OurSay is collecting drug-related questions from all over Australia and publishing them online. In a month’s time, the most popular question will be entrusted to a yet-to-be-named senator and asked at Question Time. Eyal got in touch to see if our readers could throw any questions into the mix, which is likely, considering Australia has more recreational drug users per capita than any other country in the world.
VICE: Hey Eyal, why do you think the drug issue is important?
Eyal Halamish: I’m actually originally from the U.S. and when I was growing up there was one election in particular where drugs was one of the key policy issues. This was back in the Clinton-Dole years when you actually saw this thing as one of the primary issues during the election. I think in Australia we actually haven’t seen it take front and center stage.
Why exactly do you think it’s not on the radar, compared to say, the States?
I think maybe it’s a slightly more conservative culture than people say, or it’s something that’s a bit taboo.
What’s the end goal of that, of engaging with that question?
The drug scene is a gateway to get people talking and thinking about politics. It touches on all sorts of areas: health, law enforcement, class issues, right down to how we discuss how is just or unjust in a society.
Young people tend to not engage in the political sphere because they don’t see it as relevant to them. Or they don’t seem to be able to influence the political cycle. One of the issues that seems to be coming up on Facebook or Twitter is drug consumption. What impacts it has on friends and peers, what role it has on young people’s lives. So this is an opportunity to get people thinking “what can you actually do, and what decisions are actually made about drug issues in our society?”
It’s implied in a democracy that our representatives are considering these questions all the time. How is getting a question asked in Parliament any different?
In this particular exercise, once you are asked a question in the House of Parliament, it means that someone actually has to respond and actually act on that issue. You’re subverting the entire political process which has primarily been that we elect our leaders, who then go do their business throughout the year, while the citizens just kind of wait to hear what their politicians are telling them. Or what stories the media breaks about their politicians.
These days, so much of policy is dictated within the election cycle. Do you imagine that this will subvert that too? Do you view this as a very different process?
I think it’s quite different. They’re not used to having questions coming from citizens in a form that’s quite targeted, saying “these are what the citizens are concerned about, will you respond on the public record to them.” Normally, it’s journalists who are the ones who get to ask the questions, not the citizens themselves. I’d say we’re actually making it far more efficient.
A lot of what you guys are doing is aimed at getting young people involved in the political process. Why do you think there’s such a disconnect between youth and politics?
I think lots of our politicians are operating in an old school way, and they’re racking their brains trying to figure out how to better connect with young people. And they don’t realise they’re losing out. I think also, people tend to be more interested in issues rather than political parties these days. So they’re mobilizing behind issues rather than a set of philosophies or values necessarily, for better or worse.
So you think young people care as much as they did 50 years ago?
I think they do. I think they’re just a bit confused about how you can make impact through a political structure.
If you have a question about drugs that you want asked in Parliament, submit it here.
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