Profile Article: NSW Crime Commissioner wants to break cocaine’s spell over Sydney – “inelastic” demand that must now be addressed.

The problem, Michael Barnes thinks, is not just drug traffickers. It’s the users. The head of NSW’s fearsome Crime Commission, Barnes has repeatedly made headlines lambasting the “beautiful people in Double Bay, Carlton and New Farm” for recreational cocaine use. As governments across the country throw resources at interrupting the supply of drugs, Barnes says it is the “inelastic” demand that must now be addressed.

Barnes explains his conviction that “undesirable behaviours” can become socially unacceptable at Medusa Greek Taverna on Market Street in the CBD, among the well-heeled crowd that flock there at lunchtime, some of whom may well be among the many Sydneysiders who think nothing of doing a line or three of white powder on a Saturday night if wastewater tests are to be believed.


“I don’t now. I take a broader view on what civil liberties are. And I think your right not to be shot in the street by drug traffickers trumps the right of the suspect to refuse to answer questions.” This last comment is made firmly.

It’s hard to argue with his next statement. “Public place shootings are a danger to us all.”

Well-established as connected to Australia’s thriving organised crime market, shootings that occasionally harm the public instead of their intended targets are entirely driven by the eye-watering profits to be made selling drugs in Sydney.

Globally, profit margins are only higher in Saudi Arabia, where anyone convicted of being involved is put to death by decapitation. And international players doing business in Australia can minimise their personal risk: globalisation means huge volumes of Chinese-made methamphetamine can be trafficked into Port Botany while the kingpins remain offshore; powerful Latin American drug cartels can import huge volumes of cocaine using local figures to do the dirty work.

The money – the latest wastewater analysis from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission suggests Australians spent $12.4 billion on drugs last year – is so alluring that traditional rivals in Sydney’s underworld sometimes work together in the pursuit of profit.

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