The National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre's conference is on right now in Melbourne. (Follow the action on #cannabisconference15) You might be wondering to yourself, how did NCPIC get started, and what is it actually for?
Well, it was 2006 and John Howard’s Commonwealth government was on the slide. Christopher Pyne was practicing for his more recent performance, bungling in the dying days of an underperforming government.
That time round he was Minister for Health and Ageing. Illegal drugs were in his crosshairs. ‘The message that the Commonwealth thinks should be sent to the community’ wasn’t being sent and he wasn't happy about it. Take cannabis, for example.
‘I don't think any state right now has a perfect set of cannabis laws,’ he said. ‘We have to treat it as an illicit drug as dangerous as heroin, amphetamines or cocaine.’
At another point he called cannabis 'a poison’ that was ‘destroying our young people.’
Accordingly, in the 2006-7 Budget, $14 million was allocated to establishing a ‘National Cannabis Control and Prevention Centre’. Budget papers explained that
‘The centre will implement Government objectives under the National Cannabis Strategy. This strategy establishes national priorities for improving community understanding of the dangers of cannabis use and for preventing and responding to the use of cannabis and associated problems.’ (you can read the press release here)
Kevin was the man in 07, and in April 2008 Health Minister Nicola Roxon cut the ribbon on what was by then renamed ‘the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre’. It was established at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales.
Two years on, the Department of Health and Ageing asked an organization called Urbis to evaluate the performance of NCPIC.
‘The Centre is considered to be highly efficient’ they said after three months research, but ‘it is not clear why the activities conducted will make a difference.’
‘It would have been beneficial' they observed, 'for NCPIC to have undertaken further and stronger strategic planning at [the] initial stage, and then on a continuing basis.’
The consultants pointed the finger at the way the Centre had come about, explaining that
issues in relation to insufficient strategic planning are perhaps not surprising given the context in which NCPIC has come into existence and operated. The tender to run NCPIC was developed in a very short time frame… When NCPIC became fully operational… there was reportedly no strategic planning process… to reconsider whether what had been proposed in the tender was the right kind and mix of activities
Early in 2015 (when this report was not yet public) I became curious about NCPIC and via Facebook I asked them whether the Centre had been evaluated. They said it had been evaluated so I asked what objectives it was evaluated against. ‘As it was an external review,’ I was told, ‘We don't actually know.’
'Sorry, can't help you on that front,' they said when I asked for a copy of the evaluation report. It was 'being used in ongoing decision-making processes’ and so 'had not been made available yet (even to us)’.
That didn’t sound like a great situation, especially five years after the report was written. So using the Right to Know website, I made a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Health and Ageing. For your pleasure, you may now download the report yourself right here (It's called Report 1)
Let’s hope that strategic planning process gets underway soon.