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Australia’s Biggest Music Festivals Join Forces To Call For Pill Testing

Written by Tom Williams on January 10, 2019

A number of Australia’s biggest music festivals have called on state and territory governments to allow pill testing trials at local events, in an attempt to prevent more drug-related deaths.

The newly-launched Australian Festival Association (AFA) — backed by representatives from the likes of Splendour In The Grass, Falls Festival, Groovin The Moo and Laneway Festival — has released an open letter calling on authorities to “be open to better ideas and to work with experts on making festivals safer for everyone”.

In the letter, AFA members said they were “deeply saddened” by a number of drug-related deaths which occurred at Australian festivals over the holiday period.

ICYMI: A 22-year-old man died after attending Lost Paradise festival in New South Wales in December, before a 20-year-old died following a suspected overdose at Victoria’s Beyond The Valley festival in January.

“Drug use is a complex issue and the current policies and strategies of our state and territory governments are needlessly endangering lives,” the AFA said.

“As festival promoters, the last thing we want is someone to be hurt under our care. We need to be able to legally implement preventative strategies, not just reactive ones, and include any harm minimisation tools that are available.

“We believe, and have evidence to support, that a combination of robust harm minimisation strategies will help Australians make safer choices and reduce the harmful impacts of drug use on festival-goers and the broader community.

“This necessarily involves a collaborative, multi-layered approach of drug education, peer-to-peer support, pill testing, health services and policing.”

While the AFA said it didn’t believe pill testing “is the only answer”, it called on state and territory governments to help develop pill testing trials while also establishing ongoing Music Festival Regulation Roundtables in each state “to ensure better relationships between regulators, medical experts, promoters, emergency service providers and law enforcement”.

“Encouraging drug abstinence instead of education is out-of-touch, proven to be ineffective and unnecessarily risking lives. Young people deserve better. Older people deserve better. Families deserve better,” the group said.

Read AFA’s open letter in full, below.

The AFA announced its formation in a statement released back in December, pledging to help its members “deliver safe and well-run festivals around Australia, and establishing world leading operating standards for our industry”.

AFA membership is open to representatives from festivals which have been operating for three years or more, are ticketed and licensed to sell alcohol, have a capacity of 2,000 patrons or more and are prepared to operate their events within best practise guidelines.

The AFA also has membership plans for not-for-profit groups working within the festival landscape. For more information, head to the AFA website.

Australian Festivals Association Open Letter

We are deeply saddened to hear of the deaths at Australian festivals during the recent holiday period and our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives. Our thoughts are also with the medical, festival, production, security and law enforcement staff who were on the ground when these tragedies occurred.

Drug use is a complex issue and the current policies and strategies of our state and territory governments are needlessly endangering lives. Be it abuse of prescription medications, MDMA use at festivals or the devastating impact of ice on some of our regional communities, drug use is a national health issue that impacts many Australian families. We need to better understand drug use behaviour, identify significant intervention points, better coordinate between regulators, health, police, businesses and broader communities, and make sure that the health and safety of Australians is the ultimate priority.

As festival promoters, the last thing we want is someone to be hurt under our care. We need to be able to legally implement preventative strategies, not just reactive ones, and include any harm minimization tools that are available. We believe, and have evidence to support, that a combination of robust harm minimization strategies will help Australians make safer choices and reduce the harmful impacts of drug use on festival-goers and the broader community. This necessarily involves a collaborative, multi-layered approach of drug education, peer-to-peer support, pill-testing, health services and policing.

We ask state and territory governments across Australia to:

  • Establish on-going state-based Music Festival Regulation Roundtables to ensure better relationships between regulators, medical experts, promoters, emergency service providers and law enforcement
  • Utilise the significant experience and expertise of the Australian Festivals Association (AFA) – the national festivals representative body – and appoint AFA members to Regulation Roundtables across the states and territories
  • Work with health, festival and drug experts to develop pill-testing trials
  • Adopt an evidence-based, health-focused approach to drug regulation and commission further research into recreational drug use
  • Collaborate to convene a national drug summit to allow in-depth, meaningful, expert-led discussion around drug use

We do not believe that pill-testing is the only answer. But it is a crucial part of a broader harm reduction strategy that prioritises people’s health and safety, over criminality or laws. Encouraging drug abstinence instead of education is out-of-touch, proven to be ineffective and unnecessarily risking lives. Young people deserve better. Older people deserve better. Families deserve better.

We implore Premier Berejiklian, Premier Andrews, Premier Marshall, Premier McGowan, Premier Palaszczuk, Premier Hodgman, Chief Minister Gunner and Chief Minister Barr to be open to better ideas and to work with experts on making festivals safer for everyone.

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