Four years ago, the Australian Government rolled out its National Ice Action Strategy (NIAS): a program aiming to address issues of crystal methamphetamine use in Australia, reduce the amount of people using the drug, and curb the associated harms seen in communities around the country. They pledged $451.5 million AUD ($305.76 million USD) towards fighting the war on ice over six years from 2016–17 to 2021–22. And yesterday, an audit report revealed that they have no way of knowing whether it’s working.
The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) took a closer look at the government’s Ice Action Strategy to see whether it was “being implemented effectively and that progress on the delivery of the actions… is transparent.” Those actions mainly consisted of providing support for families and communities; implementing targeted prevention; investing in treatment and workforce; focussing the efforts of law enforcement; and conducting better research and data.
But while the report acknowledged that “Government funding to the alcohol and other drug sector has been increased,” it also flagged that “there is no monitoring to assess whether progress is being made towards the Strategy’s goal of reducing the prevalence of ice use and resulting harms across the Australian community.”
The Department of Health does not have an evaluation approach in place, it further noted, and is not being transparent enough about what progress—if any—is being made. In other words: the Government appears to have no idea whether Australians are actually using less meth, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars thrown towards achieving that very outcome.
In its response to the report, the Department of Health insisted that it “is fully committed to adopting better practices in governance arrangements, management, and program evaluation, and has already taken steps to address issues identified in this audit.” It also noted, however, that despite those identified issues, “Australian Government initiatives and funding supporting the National Ice Action Strategy has led to increased availability of alcohol and drug treatment services across Australia which help to overcome dependence and reduce harm.”
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 50,000 people self-reported using crystal methamphetamine at least once a week in 2016.