Senator Jacquie Lambie says Christian drug rehab centres are missing out on funding because of faith

Independent Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie thinks Christian faith-based organisations tackling drug addiction need a fairer go when it comes to government funding.

Senator Lambie said in a statement this week that Christian organisations were suffering from “official discrimination,” and claims Christian organisation and drug rehabilitation not-for-profit, Teen Challenge, have been told that if they became “less Christian” they would get more funding.

“It has disturbed me to hear that groups like Teen Challenge, one of Australia’s most successful organisations delivering ice rehab treatment, with a success rate of over 80 per cent, present in 100 countries and with 1200 centres world-wide – feel as though they are being denied government support and funding because they base their rehab programme on the Christian faith,” Senator Lambie said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced $300 million of funding towards tackling ice (the street name for crystal methamphetamine) addiction earlier this month, saying most of the money will be directed towards grassroots organisations running treatment and prevention programmes.

Senator Lambie believes programmes like those run through Teen Challenge have “proven track records” and should not be left out of the funding equation.

Malcolm Smith, executive director of Teen Challenge in Western Australia, says it’s not hard to get someone off drugs. “They detox and the drugs come out of their system. The big challenge is teaching a young person how to live a meaningful, enjoyable, purposeful life without using drugs. Otherwise, it’s a revolving door. You get them off drugs and they go out into the world and it’s the same old thing: they think no one loves them, I’m still doing the same old thing, with the same old people. And they end back in drugs.”

Mr Smith says Teen Challenge rehab centres teach 50 different Christian characteristics, to “build [drug addicts] up in a new understanding about life, and caring and loving people, responsibility … a Christian value system in other words. That’s what gives us a great success rate.” Mr Smith cites similar statistics to Senator Lambie, suggesting that 70-86 per cent of drug addicts who come through Teen Challenge rehab facilities are “successfully rehabilitated” and 1-2 years after finishing the programme, have not regressed to drugs.

Mr Smith says that there have been comments in the past, from the Drug and Alcohol office in Western Australia and other policy developers, that if Teen Challenge was “more just a residential rehab with a bit of religion tapped on” rather than a “Christian-first programme” then “we’d be able to help you financially a lot more.” Mr Smith estimates that about 10 per cent of Teen Challenge funding comes from government sources, though he says other non-religious rehab centres receive significantly more.

“Look, we trust in the Lord for our funding and we’ve been here in WA for 31 years. We’re the largest drug rehab programme in Western Australia. And we have lots of political visitors – Kevin Rudd came to visit us. Our own Premier, Colin Barnett has visited. We’re well known here. We have a six-month waiting list of parents wanting to get their kids into Teen Challenge,” says Mr Smith.

“It’s easy to get someone off drugs. But it’s hard to put someone’s life back together. And the Christian gospel is the greatest way to do it. We’d rather close our doors than take away some of our Christian basis for doing this.”

Senator Lambie has spoken publicly in Parliament about her own son Dylan’s ice addiction. Dylan Milverton, 21, was given a suspended prison sentence in October this year on drug charges, and sent to a Teen Challenge rehabilitation centre in Queensland, by a Tasmanian magistrate. Teen Challenge has residential rehabilitation centres in all Australian states except Tasmania. Last week, Senator Lambie toured the Western Australian Teen Challenge rehab centre in Esperance, looking at how a similar centre could be set up in Tasmania.

In a statement earlier this month, Senator Lambie said that when it comes to ice addiction, “We don’t have to waste money by reinventing the wheel. There are already many people and groups in the drug rehab sector doing brilliant faith based work. Please don’t let government bureaucrats or politicians who seem ashamed or scared of Australia’s Christian heritage, stuff up this opportunity to equip our young people with the skills they need to return to society as responsible citizens.”

To Parliament in October, she pleaded: “I have to say that in Tasmania, we have a massive ice problem down there, I have a 21-year-old son who has a problem with ice. And yet even with my title, I have no control over my son. I’m not talking to my son anymore, I’m now talking to a drug. And I can tell you, I’m not the only parent out there. There are thousands of us.”