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Mixed reactions as GTM pill testing to go ahead

Minister Meeghan Fitzharris says she hopes pill testing at 29 April's Groovin the Moo Canberra will encourage festivalgoers to bin drugs when they discover their content

By Jon Chapple on 27 Apr 2018

Groovin the Moo (GTM) Canberra

image © Cattleyard Productions/Groovin the Moo

After almost two years of false starts, Australia’s first-ever pill testing trial will go ahead at Groovin the Moo in Canberra this Sunday.

Promoter Cattleyard Productions revealed earlier this month that while the trial had been cleared by local authorities, including police, it remained concerned over any potential legal issues. “Some of the complexities that we are working through involve clarification around patron protection and legal ramifications for those who participate,” said a spokesperson. “We are also working through guidelines relating to insurances and liability.”

However, those legal hurdles have now been cleared, and pill-testing consortium Safety Testing Advisory Service at Festivals and Events (STA-SAFE) will run the service at this weekend’s event at the University of Canberra, according to ABC.

A recent review of Australian drug policy, ‘Worth the test?’, concluded pill testing – which is in force at festivals in the UK, Austria, Spain and the Netherlands – could be a vital part of wider harm reduction strategy. “It is important to focus on prevention, public awareness campaigns and education to shift cultural attitudes, so that use of party drugs is identified as a public health issue rather than a criminal one,” writes report author Andrew Groves.

“When people have more information about what it is in the pill, many of them may choose not to take it”

The announcement has met with a mixed reaction in Australia, with the Liberal Party’s Jeremy Hanson, shadow attorney-general for the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), saying the move will encourage drug use. “It’s essentially saying we’re the pill-popping centre of Australia, come to Canberra because this is where you can get your drugs tested,” he says.

However, ACT health minister Meeghan Fitzharris, who backs the trial, says the service is designed to minimise harm rather than encourage drug-taking. “When people have more information available to them about what it is in the pill that they may choose to take, many of them may choose not to take it,” Fitzharris comments – a position borne out by similar testing in Britain.

Jon Drape, whose Ground Control Productions company works with Kendal Calling, one of the festivals where pill testing is offered, told IQ in 2017 drug testing is a “no-brainer”, as around a quarter of those who tested their drugs opted to bin them after discovering their content.


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