The NSW Government Will Give Festivals Just 24 Hours' Notice On New Regulations

"This whole process is a farce."

Festival organisers will have just one day to get their heads around the rushed new licensing regulations in NSW before they come into effect.

NSW Greens MLA Cate Faehrmann is working closely with a group of concerned festival organisers. The group had a “crisis meeting” at NSW state parliament this morning to try and get clarity from the Department of Liquor & Gaming on what the new rules will be.

Now read this in your best Arrested Development Narrator voice: They didn’t.

“We’ve heard from the department today that we will have 24 hours to see what this regulation is,” Ms Faehrmann told Fairfax Media.

“This whole process is a farce.”

“It will kill music festivals across NSW if you don’t delay it.”

Several music festivals, including Mountain Sounds and Psyfari, have cancelled their 2019 events, citing harsher and more costly requirements from the government around policing and other safety measures.

The organisers’ group released a joint statement after the meeting, begging the Berejiklian government to delay the regulation beyond March 1 – and beyond the election that could see them lose power.

“As a direct result of the NSW Government’s rushed new music festival licensing regime, scheduled to come into effect on 1 March 2019, numerous music festivals in NSW are being forced to close or look at options outside NSW,” the statement says in part.

“There has been no public consultation and no genuine engagement with industry on the proposed changes. There is widespread confusion about the details and impact of the new regime.”

Festivals including the iconic Bluesfest have suggested that they may have to move their events out of the state if the scheme goes ahead.

NSW Labor launched their live music policy in Sydney last week, committing $35 million to fund contemporary music in the state and $4 million specifically for festivals.

Leader Michael Daley’s also indicated that the party would be open to discussing pill testing as part of their drug policy – a huge step given that the Berejiklian government’s response has been a flat refusal to consider pill testing.

Labor has said that it would continue to support the controversial lockout laws.

The licensing scheme is part of a broad push by the NSW government to increase regulation of music festivals and events across the state, as a response to an unusually high number of deaths linked to festivals over the summer.

It’s inspired a petition asking the government “Don’t kill live music“, which has racked up over 100,000 signatures, and a rally in Sydney this Thursday night.

An interim event licensing agreement was brought in in October, and a spokesperson for the department confirmed that events being held between March 1 and 31 were currently covered under that scheme.

GOAT has requested further comment from the Department but had not received a response at the time of publication.

Another Person Has Died At A Music Festival While Politicians Argue The Merits Of Pill Testing

The music festival death toll this season now stands at five, but the "music festival death toll" should not be a thing at all.

A teenager has died after taking an unknown substance at FOMO Festival in Sydney, bringing the number of deaths at music events since September to six.

The ABC reports that the 19-year-old woman presented at the medical tent at the festival, which was headlined by Nicki Minaj, and was taken by ambulance to Westmead Hospital, where she later died.

The death follows that of two young people at Defqon.1 in Sydney in September, one death and two critical hospitalisations of Lost Paradise revellers in December, and a death following Sydney rave Knockout Games Of Destiny.

(The death of a young man attending Beyond The Valley was initially reported as drug-related, but is now thought to be from a snake bite.)

That’s five young people dead now, all at events in a state where the government refuses absolutely point blank to consider an evidence-based harm minimisation measure supported by health experts, including the Australian Medical Association, and a majority of Australians.

We shouldn’t be counting the summer festival death toll like car crashes or natural disasters.

Pill testing can’t guarantee that nobody will ever die or OD again – knowing what you’re taking isn’t the same as knowing how your body will react to it, and there’s still plenty that can go wrong.

Thanks to years of testing data in the UK and the single legal testing trial done in the ACT in 2018, we know that it works. 

When their drugs are proven to be not what they thought they were buying – not “safe” or “unsafe”, just “not MDMA” – it can not only discourage people from taking the dodgy stuff they’ve got, but think twice about how much they’ll take in future, or whether they’ll take it again at all.

Testing puts young people in front of medical professionals they know they can trust, before they take drugs, before something goes wrong. 94% of punters say they’d use the service if it were available; but for all five of the young people who have died in the past five months, it was not.

With NSW Labor saying they’re putting pill testing back on the table this election, and a rally taking place in Sydney next week in support of the life-saving measure, we can only hope this is the last festival season where young people are paying for one dumb decision with their lives.

NSW Labor Signals Pill Testing As A Major Election Issue, Promising To Listen To Drug Experts

We might... actually get some progress on this?

The final weekend of 2018 saw the death of a 22-year-old at Lost Paradise festival in NSW Glenworth Valley and a potentially related, very scary warning from Falls Festival organisers and medical staff regarding a dangerous orange-coloured pill in circulation.

NSW Labor leader Michael Daley, who took over from Luke Foley in November, fronted media on Monday morning and said that a Labor state government would convene a drug summit if elected in 2019, and strongly disagreed with Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s flat refusal to consider sanctioning pill testing, and the current official policy that if you die from an untested pill it’s your own silly fault.

“I don’t just want to hear from police,” Daley told media this morning. “I want to hear from parents and children, from the clinicians, the ambos, the people who keep these children safe and we will look at all options.”

“If you’re going to hold a drug summit, and you’re going to say that you’ll listen to the experts, you can’t shut one door to them. So pill testing should not be off the table.”

“The Premier wants it off the table. That’s not the way to go.”

That’s right: that’s a politician from a major (non-Greens) party saying something sensible and evidence-based about recreational drug policy. WILD.

Experts estimate that an average of three people a year, most under 30, die from drug-related causes or overdoses at Australian music festivals each year, according to a Fairfax report from September after two people died at the Defqon.1 festival.

But there’s no authoritative database that breaks out those deaths from the other drug-related deaths in Australia each year. This means that they’re lumped in with the deaths of, for example, chronic heroin or ice users, which require very different preventative approaches to a 19-year-old who takes one untested pill at a festival.

The last time a NSW government convened a drug summit was in 1999, and the experts consulted there recommended pill testing as a preventative measure. If that had been implemented and normalised, that’s a rough estimate of nearly 60 lives that could potentially have been saved in the past two decades.

The report from the 1999 summit includes this paragraph:

“To each of the 172 resolutions the government is applying this important test: Are we confident that this will improve the current situation? The reason for applying that test is that we certainly will not risk making matters worse.”

The only way legalising or sanctioning pill testing at music events could make matters worse is if you believe it will increase drug use – if you think two people taking a tested pill and neither one of them dying is “worse” than one person taking one and being seriously harmed.

And the evidence is clear: testing saves lives, and it doesn’t make more people think taking drugs is safe.

And with NSW Labor actually in with a chance to govern after the March election, 2019 really could be the year the government starts listening.

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