The Simplest Thing You Can Do To Help Make Pill Testing Legal Is So Simple, You'll Be Mad You Didn't Think Of It Sooner

It takes like, five minutes, tops.

Following the hospitalisation of 13 people at Sydney’s Ultra Music Festival over the weekend, the issue of pill testing at music festivals feels more pressing than ever.

Five of the 13 people taken to hospital during yesterday’s festival were placed in critical care. In addition, 10 people were charged with supplying drugs and 29 people were issued with infringement notices for possession of illicit substances.

More than a month ago, Ultra launched a push for a pill-testing trial at its festival that was ultimately ignored by the NSW Government. Ultra Australia’s chief Dave Rubin said at the time:

“The zero-tolerance stance does not work. This approach is not currently successful despite working tirelessly with the police to keep drugs out of our events and we need to acknowledge this goes beyond policing and is a health issue.”

So beyond festival organisers and experts agitating for pill-testing and people gathering in their thousands to do the same, what can be done to get the government on-side?

It’s honestly pretty simple: express your opinion at the polls.

While enrolment rates for 18-24 year olds are pretty high at the moment (84.5%), exceeding the AEC’s target of 80%, they could be better. Young people are the ones who will have to live with the long-term impact of the government’s policies, and in the case of pill-testing, young people are overwhelmingly the ones being affected by their inaction.

You can enrol to vote before you turn 18 (but after you turn 16) so that you’re ready to vote as soon as you turn 18, like I did. If you’re not as keen as teenage-me, that’s okay! You can enrol to vote until one week after writs are issued, which basically means one week after the federal election date is announced. So there’s still time to enrol before this year’s election, since we still don’t know when it will take place.

As for the NSW state election, which will take place on Saturday 23rd March, you can vote even if you aren’t enrolled! You’ll just need to bring ID with you. But you really should enrol to vote anyway.

If issues facing NSW’s live music scene are your biggest concern, this report card from Music NSW might give you an idea of which parties will best represent your interests.

Only three parties have really addressed the issue of pill-testing, according to Music NSW, and that doesn’t include the NSW Liberals and Nationals, I suppose because we already know how they feel about the issue?

They are:

  1. The Liberal Democrats, who support pill-testing.
  2. The Greens, who want to establish an independent drug regulatory authority to develop evidence-based and continuously evaluated policies and programs for safer drug use.
  3. Keep Sydney Open, who want to introduce a harm minimisation program for festivals covering pill testing, amnesty bins, drug education, health services and water stations.

Meanwhile, NSW Labor Leader Michael Daley declared that “pill testing should not be off the table” late last year, and a group of MPs from various parties has been urging the Premier to commit to a drug summit following the election next month.

It’s worth noting that a majority of voters support risk-reduction measures like pill testing, and that the support transcends party divisions. While support is strongest amongst Greens (74%) and Labor (73%) voters, 57% of Liberal/National voters also support pill testing initiatives that include having trained counsellors on-site to provide risk-reduction advice.

The NSW state election is less than a month away, and will take place just three weeks after the introduction of NSW’s new licensing scheme for music festivals on March 1st.

These Are The Music Festivals The NSW Government Deems ‘High Risk’, As The Debate On Pill Testing Rolls On

'High risk' festivals are ones that have had drug related illnesses or deaths.

The NSW state government has released a list of fourteen music festivals that it deems ‘high risk’ based on incidents in the past three years that have occurred at those festivals – specifically, drug related illnesses or deaths.

All of the festivals on the list take place in Sydney or Newcastle.

‘High risk’ festivals include Defqon, Days Like This, Electric Gardens, Lost Paradise, and Laneway Festival.

The announcement of this classification follows consultations with festival operators and other stakeholders, and means that only those festivals deemed ‘high risk’ would be impacted by the state government’s new licensing scheme for festivals.

Minister for Racing Paul Toole said:

“The NSW government wants music festivals to thrive but serious drug related illnesses and deaths have demonstrated that we need to help make a small number of them safer.”

Despite these assurances that the Berejiklian government “wants music festivals to thrive”, many involved in the operation of festivals in NSW feel this is not the case.

The announcement regarding ‘high risk’ festivals comes just one day after a ‘Don’t Kill Live Music’ rally was held in Sydney’s Hyde Park on Thursday night. Thousands of musicians, festival attendees and supporters gathered to listen to performances from artists such as Dan Sultan and Polish Club.

The new licensing scheme introduced by the Berejiklian government, which will start on March 1st, includes a $650 licensing fee for ‘high risk’ festivals.

Bizarrely, a page on the NSW Liquor and Gaming’s website titled ‘Keeping People Safe At Music Festivals‘ has been taken down, despite being linked to from the main page with information about the new licensing scheme.

Minister Toole said that festivals would be reviewed regularly, and if they improved safety arrangements, they may see their ‘high risk’ designation downgraded. And if other festivals experience drug-related illnesses or deaths, they could be reclassified as ‘high risk’.

The Keep Sydney Open Party responded to today’s announcement via Facebook, writing:

“WE KNEW IT! The NSW Government created all this baloney about festivals because it is trying to shut down specific events. Their cooked system was going to threaten every festival in the state but your letters, your noise and the incredible showing at Thursday’s rally has forced the government to admit their agenda.”

Ultra Australia, one of the festivals deemed ‘high risk’, takes place tomorrow in Parramatta, and more than 10,000 people are expected to attend.

Mountain Sounds Festival Cancels A Week Out, Citing The NSW Government's 'War On Festivals'


Mountain Sounds Festival, set to take place in Kariong, NSW next week, has been cancelled, with organisers citing the NSW government’s “war on festivals” as a contributing factor.

Organisers announced the cancellation on Facebook this morning, writing:

“We are devastated to announce the cancellation of Mountain Sounds 2019. The event will not be going ahead at Mount Penang Parklands next week.

We, like many of you, have seen the festival climate continue to diminish in Australia. NSW in particular is in dire straits. This is yet another example of the government’s war on festivals.”

They explained that they had already downsized the festival site, cancelling over 20 acts, in order to be able to meet “newly imposed safety, licensing and security costs” and maintain the wellbeing of attendees.

Then, seven days before the festival was due to start on Friday February 15th, “further conditions and financial obligations were imposed on the festival, which were impossible to meet.”

These financial obligations came in the form of a $200,000 bill for an increased police presence – from the 11 quoted for them in January up to 45 police officers.

The organisers went on to say:

“Our friends in the music industry will understand on a personal level how soul-destroying this is. For music lovers around the country, we know this will deeply resonate with you too. This impacts each and every one of you. NSW residents, please keep this at the forefront of your mind as the next election nears in 6 weeks’ time.

The Liberal party’s war on festivals in NSW is real and it’s robbing you of your freedom and culture. Who would’ve known that lock-out laws were just the beginning of the death of live entertainment in NSW. This has now spread to larger-scale and multi-day regional events and it’s only getting worse.”

Mountain Sounds was due to take place on NSW’s Central Coast next weekend, with artists like Angus & Julia Stone, What So Not and Courtney Barnett scheduled to perform.

The first Mountain Sounds was held in 2014, and last year’s festival included artists like Gang of Youths, Amy Shark and Ali Barter. According to organisers, last year’s festival had 16,000 attendees, 11 police officers, and no major drug-related incidents.

The announcement follows an announcement from Psyfari on Wednesday that their 2019 festival would not go ahead. Like Mountain Sounds, Psyfari also cited the NSW government’s ‘war on festivals’.

As of March, a new licensing scheme for music festivals held in NSW will be introduced. Meanwhile, the NSW government under Premier Gladys Berejiklian continues to argue the merits of pill testing while the ‘music festival death toll’ continues to climb.

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