Top GP wants drugs legalised

by Chris Griffith
Published 26 May 1996 in The Sunday Mail


my face


Australia's new top doctor yesterday called for the legalisation of all drugs in Australia.

Brisbane practitioner Dr Wendell Rosevear made the call on the eve of receiving the Australian Medical Association's top national award for 1996. He was presented with the prestigous award last night (subs: Sat night) at the AMA's National Conference dinner at Parliament House, Canberra.

It is his second major award this year. Brisbane Mayor Jim Soorley declared him Brisbane Citizen of the Year on Australia Day.

He told The Sunday Mail the money society spent on detecting drug offenders would be better spent helping people recover from child abuse, improving people's self-esteem, and on solving unemployment.

"People who are desperate and who need relief will always find drugs. I think it would be better to accept it; I think it would be better to stop making drugs illegal."

He said he steered a "non-judgmental path", as he was "anti-drug but pro-choice". "Because we make drugs illegal we give people a vehicle to beat the system and gain success in a negative way. Under our current system, the user uses, the dealer profits, and society pays."

Dr Rosevear is also upfront about his sexuality. He is open about being gay, having accepted it himself in the mid 1980s. "The journey to accept other people came after I accepted myself. I was suicidal before I accepted myself, and before I was honest about my sexuality."

For more than 20 years Dr Rosevear has played a pivotal role in the Queensland prison system as doctor, chaplain, and counsellor.

Sydney-born Dr Rosevear lived his early life in small NSW and Queensland country towns.

In 1975 he began working at Boggo Road as an organist and a Seventh Day Adventist lay chaplain in both the men's and women's prison until 1982. He left the Seventh Day Adventist church after he declared his homosexuality.

In the late 1980s, the Cantonese-speaking doctor worked in Hong Kong's new territories in casualty, obstetrics, and anaesthetics and in Nepal as a trek doctor in the Himalayas.

One of his moving experiences, he said, occurred on holiday when he visited China's Tiananmen Square during the June 1989 student uprising. "I saw people turn back the army ... I saw people lay down their lives."

He also visited the Phillipines in 1986 during the revolution which brought Corazon Aquino to power. "I was there on American Independence Day when pro and anti-Marcos riots engulfed my hotel which caught on fire twice. I had to escape."

And he was held up and kidnapped in the Golden Triangle area of Thailand in 1989 and held prisoner in a Thai border village.

"They allowed us to sleep under armed guard when they realised we weren't the robbers they were hunting for. They let us depart the next morning. That's where I accepted my mortality. I didn't feel life was about being killed by a total stranger who didn't know me or hate me or have a reason to kill me."

Each year AMA state and territory branches nominate individuals they believe deserve recognition for their outstanding contribution to health care.

Dr Rosevear won the award for the best individual care for his "selfless and inspiring work" with HIV/AIDS sufferers, prisoners, rape and sexual assault victims, and those with drug and alcohol problems.

He currently works with 256 HIV positive patients at Brisbane's Gladstone Road Medical Centre, and over the last 3-4 years he has counselled 270 male victims of sexual assault -- some privately and some at Brisbane's Sir David Longlands Correctional Centre where he works as a voluntary rape counsellor.

"I'm quite excited about the award. Often you do this sort of work and noone understands. I didn't get this award because I'm better than other people. I got this award because I'm free to accept other people. I see my role being the friend for people who don't have a friend."

Outside of work Dr Rosevear enjoys gardening, dancing, and the company of good friends. In his bygone days he was a keen wind-surfer.

"My greatest achievement is that people who have never trusted anyone before have been able to trust me."