She looked like the concerned citizen from central casting.
Middle-aged, furrowed brow, plain clothed and plain-spoken, Chrissie Maynard stood outside on a cool Melbourne morning as Channel 9’s Today Show crossed and beamed her into living rooms across the country.
In the background was the North Richmond Safe Injecting Room, which the day before had been made permanent following the recommendation of a panel to review its four-year trial period. Viewers didn’t need the sound on to know that Chriss Maynard disagreed.
After correcting host Sara Abo that it wasn’t a safe injecting facility but a ‘supervised injecting facility, there’s no such thing as safe drug use’, Maynard proceeded to describe a scene of inner-city chaos: used needles everywhere, crime rates exploding, junkies injecting in public and even dead bodies found in broad daylight, including one right next to the gumtree she was standing in front of. Despite living there for 27 years, Maynard focused on the present.
There was no mention of what North Richmond was like before the injecting room, nor did Abo ask any uncomfortable questions about the 63 lives the review panel found it had saved.
Instead, viewers would’ve returned to their Weetbix with the impression that the injecting room had transformed North Richmond into a hellhole. Despite it not working and locals not wanting it, the government was ploughing ahead with it anyway.
A few days later, readers of Steve Price’s column in the Herald Sun received a similar message. North Richmond was a ‘dangerous dump’ and the ‘closest thing an Australian city had to a ghetto’, roared the veteran shock-jock who claimed it was nothing like the vibrant suburb of the 80s and 90s. Surprise, surprise – the injecting room was to blame.
Curiously, like Maynard, Price made no mention of the 2000s and 2010s, more recent decades when North Richmond was sans injecting room. None of those commenting below Price’s column (all with remarkably similar viewpoints) or trolls on social media mentioned it either.
Why supposedly outraged locals keep voting for state and local governments that support the injecting room was another question that wasn’t addressed. As for the review panel’s report, it was as if it didn’t exist.
I guess this happens when your opposition to something is based on nothing more than ideology and prejudice, and pesky things like history, evidence, and public opinion keep getting in the way.
Rewriting history and brazen, outright lies are all you have left.
Lies like implying that pre-injecting room, North Richmond was a drug-free paradise rather than the heroin hotspot, rife with drugs, dealers and death, that it had been since the turn of the century. The very same period Steve Price conveniently ignored.
In reality, North Richmond’s heroin problem is the precise reason why the injecting room is there, not the other way around. For the same reason, Australia’s first such facility was established in Sydney’s Kings Cross in 2001; injecting rooms have to be where the drugs are to be effective.
This allows them to get users off the street and prevent overdoses and deaths, and why a second facility has been proposed for the Melbourne CBD, the city’s second heroin hotspot. As in North Richmond, its opponents display remarkable levels of cognitive dissonance.
Apparently, it would bring crime and drug use, as though those problems aren’t already there. Seemingly it would deter visitors, as though it were adorned with flashing neon lights rather than being behind closed doors and barely noticeable.
A second facility would also help prevent the so-called ‘honeypot’ effect Chrissie Maynard complains of in North Richmond. It is not clear whether she is aware of this or whether her suggestion that rehab services be expanded instead is already provided by injecting rooms. Easy access to these other support services is why the North Richmond facility is housed in a community health centre, where the review recommended it stay.
Like other opponents, Maynard was probably too busy clutching her pearls over the community health centre being next door to a primary school, a red-herring, which even supporters of the facility latched onto. It might look great, but when you realise the school kids and drug users are now further apart than back in the good old days of dead bodies in the schoolyard, not so much.
As another Channel 9 interviewee, journalist Laura Turner – who lost her own sister to a drug overdose – suggested, the close proximity of school might have benefits. It might actually humanise drug addicts and allow kids to see them as real people with real problems who need help.
If only the opponents had learnt this when they were kids.