In unsurprising news, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian this week announced she would adopt all of the recommendations made by the panel she appointed to look into safety at music festivals following the deaths of two people at Defqon 1 in September. The Premier was very careful to only adopt these recommendations “in-principle”, thereby allowing her to sidestep their call to “strengthen…harm reduction programs for music festival attendees” which could involve pill-testing, something she had refused to consider outright.
The recommendations actually adopted by the Premier include: tightening regulations for festival operators, creating a new crime for those who sell drugs (carrying a minimum 10-year sentence), as well as new powers for the police to fine people on the spot for possessing small quantities of drugs. Berejiklian’s three-member ‘expert’ panel included both the NSW Police and the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority, yet failed to include a single representative from the drug harm minimisation movement or the music festival industry despite their direct requests to be included in that process.
With such a deliberate exclusion of key groups in this discussion of sensible policy, it is no surprise that the Premier has simply confirmed her own hardline anti-drug position rather than adopting a pragmatic, evidence-based approach to harm minimisation and saving lives based on international best practice.
Importantly and unlike proven ineffective sniffer dogs and hardline policing, pill testing can be administered by private organisations or festival organisers once permitted, rather than costing taxpayers a single cent.
Berejiklian has previously said that she would ignore any suggestion made by her expert panel to legalise pill-testing, a technology that has reduced drug-related deaths around the world.
If the Premier was happy to take a hardline stance without even listening to the experts, what was even the point of throwing public resources into a panel who were never going to canvas the range of solutions available?
Police Commissioner and panel member Mick Fuller has defended the recommendations, saying that there was nothing to suggest pill-testing could save lives. Fuller’s claim reveals an ignorance of the ongoing debate amongst health experts and academics in the drug policy space noting that pill testing both reduces harm and saves lives.
The panel’s approach comes as no surprise. The NSW Liberal government has long worked to build its reputation as a nanny state prepared to throw informed personal choice and economic freedom under the bus for the sake of prohibitionist ideology.
From Barry O’Farrell’s lockout laws to Baird’s greyhound ban debacle and Berejiklian’s ban on recreational fishing just last month, the latter quickly followed by a backflip once easily foreseeable community backlash followed. Indeed, a blanket ban on the Defqon 1 festival was Berejiklian’s very first reaction to the news of the two deaths and speaks volumes about the tendency of our government to resort to reactionary responses rather than pragmatic policy.
You don’t have to be a crazy libertarian to see the issue when a solution that doesn’t require public funds has been successfully implemented in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Spain and France, all of which have far fewer drug-related music festival deaths than the state of NSW despite their thriving live music scenes, yet is ignored outright by a supposedly Liberal NSW government.
Eliot Metherill is a Research Associate with the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance and MyChoice Australia.
Illustration: Comedy Central.
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