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?
- The Liberal Democrats, who support pill-testing.
- 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.
- 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.