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Australian Festival Association: Drug policy “endangering lives”

By focusing on drug prohibition instead of harm reduction, Australian politicians are needlessly putting young people at risk, says the newly formed AFA

By Jon Chapple on 09 Jan 2019

A "dangerous orange pill" was blamed for Josh Tam's death at Lost Paradise

A "dangerous orange pill" was blamed for Joshua Tam's death at Lost Paradise


image © Jordan Munns for Lost Paradise

The newly formed Australian Festival Association (AFA) has written to government urging urgent drug policy reform following the deaths of several Australian festivalgoers over the Christmas period.

Suspected drug-related fatalities over the festive period – mid-summer in Australia, and the height of its festival season – include a 19-year-old man, Callum Brosnan, at Knockout Games of Destiny in Sydney, a 20-year-old man at Beyond the Valley in Larnder, near Melbourne, and a 22-year-old man, Joshua Tam, at Lost Paradise in Glenworth Valley.

Despite the deaths – and a pill testing trial at last year’s Groovin the Moo that was hailed an “overwhelming success” by harm-reduction campaigners – the government of New South Wales (NSW), which contains Sydney and the Glenworth Valley, has once again rejected industry calls for permitting drug testing at live music events.

“The government position is quite clear on pill testing: We oppose the use of illegal drugs at these festivals,” NSW planning minister Anthony Roberts told reporters in Sydney. “We appeal to you, just enjoy the festival and do it without taking drugs.”

“Encouraging drug abstinence instead of education is out-of-touch, proven to be ineffective and unnecessarily risking lives”

In an open letter to Australia’s six state premiers and two chief ministers, the AFA today warned that by continuing to “encourag[e] drug abstinence instead of education”, the country’s decision-makers are endangering festivalgoers’ lives.

The AFA, which launched in December, represents Australian festival producers, promoters, organisers and operators. Its 2019 board is Jessica Ducrou (Splendour in the Grass, Falls Festival, Download), Adelle Robinson (Listen Out, Listen In, Field Day, Harbourlife, Curve Ball), Danny Rogers (Laneway), Matthew Lazarus-Hall (CMC Rocks) and Rod Little (Groovin the Moo, the Plot).

Read the AFA’s open letter in full below.

 


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 [methamphetamine] 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 [sic] 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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