‘God’s sake:’ Branson’s urgent plea to pollies

Sir Richard Branson called on the state to implement urgent drug reform and set a date for the Drug Summit
Sir Richard Branson called on the state to implement urgent drug reform and set a date for the Drug Summit. Picture: Supplied/ Uniting

Celebrated philanthropist and billionaire Sir Richard Branson has called for sweeping drug reform in NSW, as activists continue to push for a pill testing trial ahead of the summer festival season.

In a video published in collaboration with Uniting, the social justice arm of the Uniting Church, the founder of Virgin Group said it was time to decriminalise drugs and “put people’s health first”.

“For God’s sake, do something about it,” he said, in a video published on Thursday.

“I think we can all agree that reforming our unfair drug laws is long overdue and incredibly important.”

Sir Richard Branson called on the state to implement urgent drug reform and set a date for the Drug Summit
Sir Richard Branson called on the NSW government to decriminalise drugs and set a date for the drug summit. Picture: Supplied/ Uniting

He also praised the ACT for decriminalising drugs, in a first for an Australian jurisdiction.

As of Monday, the territory has reduced maximum penalties for possession of small drug quantities in an effort to divert people away from the courts, and into healthcare and counselling services.

He said it was time for NSW to do the same, following its drug summit, which will likely be in 2024, although no month or date has been announced.

He congratulated the 71 partner organisations that have championed these changes.

“Your work is so important, but more needs to be done, and I can’t wait to hear when NSW has held its long promised drug summit and listen to the evidence about sensible, compassionate and effective drug laws.”

While no month or date has been announced, NSW will likely hold a drug summit in 2024. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Nikki Short

Sir Richard is the latest high-profile voice to call for urgent drug reform.

Last week, prominent crossbencher and Sydney MP Alex Greenwich joined a contingent of peak healthcare bodies and worker unions calling for a drug checking trial ahead of a packed summer festival season.

However, NSW Premier Chris Minns has consistently said the government did not have a mandate to decriminalise drugs, with further reform delayed until the finalisation of the drug summit.

Pill Testing Canberra
Sir Branson’s call to arms comes following several calls for the government to implement a drug checking, or pill testing trial at summer music festivals. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Martin Ollman

Uniting NSW and ACT’s moderator, the Reverend Mata Havea Hiliau, said there needed to be more “honest, open and ongoing” conversations about alcohol and drugs that focused on “health, safety and wellbeing”.

“Our current laws perpetuate stigma and create harm by driving people away from seeking and finding the support they need,” she said.

“The Uniting Church supports reform of our drug laws because we value every human life equally.

In October, the government announced it would implement a two-strike drug policy for people found with small, non-commercial quantities of MDMA, cocaine, ice and marijuana.

While the legislation has yet to pass through parliament, the reform would allow police to issue a maximum of two on-the-spot $400 fines, also known as a criminal infringement notices (CIN), at their discretion.

The fine is then waived if the person completes a tailored drug and alcohol intervention program.