The Joke - An Introduction

"The Joke" is a work of fiction, but one that very much seeks to hold a mirror up to nature. In writing it, I have drawn inspiration from many incidents involving police, drugs and corruption over the years, mainly in Queensland and New South Wales. There has been no shortage of material to work with.

There is a wealth of evidence to indicate the extent of drug related corruption world wide. In this sense my play is not intended as fantasy or farce, but as a form of ultra realism.

The denials, of course, are total. It is, after all, inconceivable that society could be this corrupt, and any such wild allegations must be the rantings of a paranoid conspiracy theorist.

This was the reaction of Australian author Julie Clarke to the ravings of Sydney prostitute Sallie-Ann Huckstepp. In his biography "Huckstepp: A Dangerous Life", which was released earlier this year, Sydney author John Dale describes how Clarke and fellow author Richard Neville called around to see Huckstepp a few weeks after her boyfriend, drug dealer Warren Lanfranchi, was shot dead by NSW detective Roger Rogerson in 1981. Clarke gave Dale this account of that meeting: "She was in a very bad state. She looked terrible, dark shadows under her eyes. She was frightened. She kept on talking about how Warren was murdered. I wasn't taking it all in. She was just going on about the police doing armed hold-ups and trafficking in heroin. It seemed terribly unlikely. I kept thinking, if this is true, the whole system is corrupt."

This is the point of my play - the unthinkable is true. We are all dupes of a gigantic charade in which many police, media barons and politicians are centrally involved in the "trade in death" they so constantly rail against.

"The Joke" has become a major weapon of social control at both a domestic and international level - a huge grab bag of dirty tricks that have been proven to work time and time again. The crimes of patriots such as the intelligence agencies, the military or the police are not crimes at all, but the sleazy sales of the neighbourhood dealer are an affront to society itself. The Iran-Contra affair epitomises this world of double dealing in arms and drugs, the two biggest industries in the world. Those people wanting to know more about this side of the global drug trade should also find out about the Nugan Hand merchant bank in Australia in the seventies. This CIA front or proprietary company was headed by Admiral Yates and fronted by Michael Hand, a CIA agent who was heavily involved in the secret war in Laos, and Frank Nugan, a Sydney lawyer whose family had a long standing link through the Nugan Fruit Co with the NSW rural town of Griffith. Griffith became notorious in the seventies as the scene of large scale marijuana plantations and the 1977 murder of Donald Mackay, a prominent local anti-drugs campaigner. The Nugan Hand Bank financed all the major heroin dealers in Australia in the mid-seventies, at a time when heroin use exploded in this country.

It is in this guise of constant double dealing that prohibition has become one of the four pillars of the establishment - along with the existing social institutions, the corporate media, and the big stick of mass unemployment.

It is extremely convenient to have laws that make criminals of half the adult population. It means that anyone can cease to be a citizen and become a criminal pretty much at the whim of the powers that be. When "Tricky Dick" Nixon launched the war on drugs as an attack on the opponents of the war in Vietnam, even his twisted mind could never have imagined just how successful this little dirty trick would be!

It is, of course, entirely democratic to have laws that make criminals of more than half the adult population.

The anti-prohibition movement is very fond of pointing out that prohibition doesn't work, that use rates are high, that the jails are full, and more are being built every day. The point is that prohibition does work. Some people are doing very well out of it indeed! There is a huge transferral of power and money happening on a global basis. In the process, people everywhere are being criminalised, and are treated arbitrarily and summarily.

My views on this subject come from having lived most of my adult life in Brisbane. Living in Brisbane meant living in fear, not of muggers and thieves, but of the police themselves. Many young people fled Queensland in the seventies and eighties because of the drug laws and police repression. This was under the premiership of Joh Bjelke-Petersen, once famously described by the then Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam as a bible bashing bastard. Alas, Gough's rule fell, while Joh's went on and on and on.

In a vital sense the full scope of "The Joke" as manifested in Queensland is not represented in this play. The Bjelke-Petersen government actively encouraged and promoted corrupt elements in the police force. In return, the police were the government's willing tools in any circumstances - its own private army.

Eventually the pious facade of the Bjelke-Petersen government was ripped away by the Fitzgerald Inquiry in 1987-88, and the full extent of the corruption that lurked within was exposed for all to see. Unfortunately, this came after the government passed the most draconian drug legislation in the country in 1986, the Drugs Misuse Act.

At present, a debate is raging in this country over mandatory sentencing laws for property offences in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. There has been widespread outrage following the suicide in custody of a fifteen year old aboriginal boy in Darwin. In another case, a 17 year old aboriginal (and therefore an adult) was given a mandatory sentence of one year's jail for stealing a packet of biscuits and some cordial on Christmas Day 1998.

All this is now quite rightly something of a cause celebre. But in the ensuing debate on mandatory sentencing I have not once heard any mention of the Drugs Misuse Act 1986, which brought in mandatory life sentences for 2 grams of heroin or cocaine, or .004 grams of LSD. The mandatory provisions were overturned by the Goss Labor government in 1990, but no other substantial changes were made to this rotten law that still provides for up to fifteen years jail for the possession of a single joint.

Similarly, in the late eighties the USA introduced mandatory sentencing laws with respect to crack. That these laws have targeted African-Americans is well known. Since then California has led the way with its "three strikes and you're in" law. California Uber Alles!

Those people who call for harsher and harsher prison sentences for just about everything always take the moral high ground. Anti-prohibitionists must grasp the nettle. Taking a drug is not ipso facto morally wrong. If it was, medicine would be in a bad way. But then, that's why we have miracle drugs as well as demon drugs. What is immoral is the neo-fascist tactics of the war on drugs, even before we consider the blatant immorality of "The Joke" - the corruption that lies at the heart of the beast. Such draconian laws of course only ensure the profitability of the drug black market, courtesy of the Price Maintenance Squad, while netting a few of the minnows at the bottom of the food chain.

Perhaps the UN should be holding an inquiry into human rights violations in the USA, specifically to find out why the USA jails more of its population than any other country in the world. Instead the UN has been used to sponsor and enforce US style drug laws internationally, undermining, as if by accident, the national sovereignty of many countries, and destabilising them politically. This is the era of gangster capitalism, in which the two biggest industries in the world are guns and drugs.

The actions of the US in Colombia can only be seen as the same kind of imperialistic armed intervention that characterised the Vietnam War. Narco-terrorism now provides the pretext for the old anti-communist crusade. Already a tenth of Colombia's population have fled the country.

The Howard government has invoked Australia's UN treaty obligations at every turn in the debate on drug law reform, most particularly with regard to medical trials providing heroin to addicts. The same enthusiasm hasn't been shown for other UN treaties, such as the convention on the rights of children as it relates to mandatory sentencing.

The unfortunate truth is that John Howard is infected with the same ideological plague as Richard Nixon. He has never forgiven those traitors who opposed Australia's involvement in Vietnam. Some 501 Australian soldiers died in that war. For Howard the war has never ended. The deaths of the 737 young Australians who overdosed on heroin in 1998 are best understood as revenge killings against the traitors.

Since the War on Drugs was launched in Australia in 1975, some 8000 young Australians have died of a heroin overdose. Prior to 1975 the average rate was 10 deaths a year. In that quarter of a century heroin use has increased by 7000% and pot use has increased by 500%. It is one of the ironies in this whole debate that the same people who advocate the inevitability of global trade most stridently are also those who stand most firmly against any legal market in recreational drugs.

To recap on my main point, while my play is entirely a work of fiction, what is not fiction is the entrenched network of corruption. It is still vehemently denied, but this is how every state and territory of Australia operates today. The police franchise protected dealers, while using the laws to terrorise anyone who stands in their way. I suspect it is much the same in most other countries.

How corrupt is your state or city? It is pretty easy to work out. The tougher the drug laws are, the more active the police are in enforcing them, the harsher the court sentences are, then the greater the corruption is, and the deeper the involvement of the police and the political classes is in that corruption.

Those who seek political and social reform must face up to two facts: firstly many people are intimidated into silence by the drug laws and the threat of police action against them, and secondly, the culture of prohibition has a corrupting influence on the whole of society, not just the police. Is a desperate young man going to seek out a social and political solution to his plight, or an individual solution through the black market that sets him up for life?

Then there the vested interests.

In conclusion, I wish to dedicate this play to all those people throughout the world who find the courage to stand up and speak out against the evils of prohibition. You will be reviled as drug pushers and corrupters of youth by the prison builders. But you are right! In time this madness will pass. But it will not do so of its own accord. The world needs you. Stay strong, stay passionate, stay free!

Tony Kneipp Adelaide June 2000


Tony Kneipp has been an activist for cannabis law reform since 1986. In that year he ran as an independent candidate in the Queensland state election in opposition to the introduction of the Drugs Misuse Act. He was the first person to be arrested and charged under that legislation.

In 1993 he was one of the founding members of Qld HEMP, and was at the forefront of their campaign of civil disobedience. Tony currently lives in Adelaide. He is an active member of the HEMP Party.

"The Joke" is his first play. Tony's previous creative efforts were mostly musical, with Brisbane rock bands The Parameters, Trash Of All Nations and The Fugitive Microbes.

Tony can be contacted at

or PO Box 138 Goodwood SA 5034







Sean Hall corrupt police constable in his mid-twenties

Amber Morgan local madam, middle-aged

Brian Kelly corrupt police sergeant, middle-aged

Rev Grice local clergyman

Sharon Moyes young female constable, Sean’s lover

Janelle Muller young cafe owner, Kelly’s partner in crime

Gibbo Dt Sgt Gibson, an old friend of Kelly’s

Douggie West night club manager

God a high ranking detective at the centre of a corrupt network

Inspector Leslie from the Anti-Corruption Commission

Constable assistant to Leslie

Billy an ambulance officer, and colleague (walk on only)

Parts Scene By Scene

Act One

1,1 Office of the Tropicana Motel (brothel) Sean, Amber

1,2 Endeavour Beach police station (interior) Sean, Kelly

1,3 Tropicana office Sean, Amber

1,4 Bowman’s Crossing police station (ext) Sean, Amber

1,5 Church pulpit Rev Grice, (Sean)

Act Two

2,1 Behind the police station Sean, Sharon

2,2 Tropicana office Sean, Amber

2,3 The HomePage Cafe Kelly, Janelle

2,4 Police station (interior) Sean, Kelly, Sharon

2,5 Bus shelter under street light Kelly, Janelle,Gibbo

Act Three

3,1 Police station (interior) Sean, Kelly

3,2 Tropicana office Sean, Amber

3,3 Nightclub office (Gigi’s) Sean, Douggie

3,4 Janelle’s house (interior) Sean, Amber

Act Four

4,1 Kelly’s house (interior) Kelly, God

4,2 Tropicana office Sean, Amber

4,3 Tropicana Motel (exterior) Kelly, Sean, Insp Leslie,

constable, Billy and colleague

4,4 bare stage, spotlight Kelly


Public readings of the entire play in costume were held at the Adelaide Fringe Festival 2000 (Off The Fringe, Unley, 26/2/00, 2/3/00, 18/3/00), at the Nimbin Mardi Grass 2000 (7/5/00) and at the Institute of Social Ecology, West End, Brisbane (19/5/00). I would like to thank all the people who took part in those readings. Thanks also to Rob Scott for providing the venue for "Off The Fringe" and to Chief Nicholas Cadalac for his excellent illustrations. This text is a later version to the one used on those occasions. The narrator has been eliminated, the order of the scenes in the second half of the play changed, and the play divided into four acts, not two, in order to make this script more suited to a proper stage production. The narrator's part has been included at the end of this text, and can be seen as a gloss on the one hand and an alternative text on the other.

Tony Kneipp

Tony Kneipp can be contacted at

or PO Box 138 Goodwood 5034