Chaos over plan for drug users to escape penalties
NSW cabinet is drastically split over a proposal to let drug takers escape penalties for personal use, with a "heartbroken" Police Minister David Elliott going so far as to beg his colleagues to walk away from the plan.
Cabinet broadly agreed to a proposal brought by Attorney-General Mark Speakman on Monday night, which would effectively decriminalise small quantities of all illicit drugs - although the AG himself objects to the use of that terminology.
Under the proposal, it is understood drug users would be first given warnings and unenforceable infringement notices before facing criminal penalties on their fourth offence.
A NSW Government spokesman last night said: "the NSW Government is still considering its response to the Ice Inquiry, however it does not plan to decriminalise possession of illicit drugs".
However, Ministers and MPs opposing the plan accused the Attorney-General of relying on "semantics" to go "soft on drugs".
Mr Speakman's plan, which was co-supported by Moderate Gareth Ward, sparked horror from conservative Ministers and the Nationals, who believed the policy would give the appearance of the being soft on crime.
The Daily Telegraph has confirmed with several cabinet Ministers that Mr Speakman pitched the idea to his colleagues as a money saver, by unclogging the courts. "It should have been badged a treasury submission, not a cabinet submission," one said.
Multiple Ministers confirmed Mr Elliott spoke at length in the cabinet meeting, begging his colleagues to abandon the idea. One said he was "heartbroken".
He said words to the effect of "setting aside the fact I'm a father, it's bad policy".
Mr Elliott told colleagues it would hurt the police, and anger the government's voter base including in Western Sydney and in the bush.
Deputy Premier John Barilaro led Nationals' fury at the plan, questioning how it would translate in ice-riddled communities while giving the government the appearance of being soft on criminal activity.
Conservative Minister for Finance Damien Tudehope spoke out, as did Nationals Mental Health Minister Bronnie Taylor. A number of ministers told The Telegraph said the policy would not pass the party room.
As news of the plan broke last night on Seven News, multiple backbenchers were ringing ministers to complain, paving the way for a messy government ideological split.
One said "Mark Speakman should lose his job over this".
It has shades of another deeply divisive debate after abortion legislation plagued the government in 2019.
In selling the plan to his colleagues, Mr Speakman said "it is not legalising drugs, it's not decriminalising drugs, it's not normalising drugs", saying it was purely a method to unclog the courts.
A majority of the members of cabinet backed the plan, which will return to Cabinet on December 14 before going to party room next year.
Originally published as Chaos over plan for drug users to escape penalties