A proposed memorial for victims of drug overdoses has been branded “crazy” and slammed as an insulting commemoration of illegal activity.
The memorial is proposed as part of a $440,000 refurbishment of an intersection in the inner Melbourne suburb of Richmond. The area has become a hotspot for drug activity, with 34 fatal overdoses last year.
Yarra City Council this month voted to include a plaque in the beautification project to acknowledge the victims of drug overdoses, with Mayor Amanda Stone using her casting vote to break a 4-4 vote deadlock.
Socialist Party Councillor Stephen Jolly said the idea was not only stupid, it would set back the council’s aims of establishing a controversial safe injecting room in an area plagued by drug addiction.
“It’s just a thought bubble by the Greens … it is the craziest idea,” Cr Jolly said.
“You don’t put up a plaque for the dead while the war is still going on. There are still needles on the streets and we still have an unsupervised, unsafe injecting facility, which is North Richmond and Abbotsford.”
Cr Jolly said the idea would divide an already factionalised council on the cusp of getting a trial for a safe injecting facility after an acrimonious debate.
“Just when we fought so long and hard to get the community together over what is quite a controversial policy, not an easy one to sell … to trial the safe injecting facility, in the midst of all this is this idea which has just split our ranks more.”
Victims of Crime commissioner Greg Davies told ABC radio in Melbourne that the monument was tantamount to glorifying drug addiction, and there “must be better ways” to deal with the issue.
“I thought the ratepayers of Yarra and taxpayers of Victoria might have had something better to do with their money than erect a monument to people who committed what are illegal acts and in the process lost their own lives,” Mr Davies said.
“Does it actually prevent anybody from doing it again? Does it actually save anyone in the future? Or does it perhaps become the meeting point for people of like minded activity?”
A Yarra Council spokeswoman said while the project had gone out for public feedback, the plaque itself had not yet been costed.
Cr Stone defended the memorial as a means of raising awareness of the effect of drugs on the community.
“The intention was to open the area up, make it a more pleasant place for a wider range of people and to improve the amenity and make it safer.
“The memorial is really to draw attention to the fact that it’s a real human tragedy down there for those who are dying of drug overdoses, that [would be] preventable if there was a supervised injecting facility,” she said.
“I can understand businesses down there having a negative reaction because they’re actually at ground zero, dealing with the impacts of drug use every day in their businesses and it is pretty negative for them.
“But I’ve also heard comments about some lives being worth more or less than others, which I think is pretty difficult to contemplate.”
A proposal for more injecting rooms across Australia and the decriminalisation of drug use, put forward by think tank Australia21, has been backed by several senior law enforcement officials.
But Premier Daniel Andrews remains opposed to the idea of an injecting facility trial in Richmond.