Music Festivals Bill 2019

22nd October 2019

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (18:04:09): I contribute to debate on the Music Festivals Bill 2019, which is very important to everyone in New South Wales. Regardless of what members have said in this debate, I would be right in guessing that no-one wants to see another death at a festival in New South Wales. I wish to make two things clear from the start. Firstly, I support the bill because I believe it will go some way towards making these festivals safer for those who visit them. That may well include consideration of amendments but I will await the Minister's response to that. Secondly, I am disappointed that the bill does little to address the tried and tested formulas that have mostly failed governments and law enforcement agencies for decades.

The bill does not address the elephant in the room. In fact, it does not address a number of elephants in the room. I am concerned the bill will long be remembered for what it does not achieve rather than what it does. It is time to stop papering over the cracks and pretending the problem will go away. It is time to stop pretending that police and government have the State's drugs issues under control. They simply do not and the five young festival-goers who died in New South Wales last summer are testament to that. Though we all hope not, it is very clear that there will be more deaths at music festivals this year or in future years. This will occur while we tinker at the edges, fervently hoping that we have found a solution to drug taking that has not been found here or perhaps by any modern state around the world.

I acknowledge that the bill will provide a health and safety orientated plan for music festivals that are identified as high risk. I acknowledge that festival organisers will have to meet stringent guidelines and will be held accountable for running safer events. I also acknowledge that the bill will fix the issue regarding festival liquor licensing and regulation. Organisers of high-risk festivals will need safety management plans approved by the Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority. I agree that these are steps in the right direction, but the bill does not address any of the major issues delivered by the Deputy State Coroner's investigation into last summer's tragic festival deaths. The bill does not address the issue of drug testing or monitoring, sniffer dogs, police stripsearching 16-year-old girls or the growing calls for a drug summit that the vast majority of experts in the field have called for.

Doctors, health and medical professionals, drug and alcohol counsellors, lawyers, coroners—in fact, every expert group working on the front line, including a growing number of senior police officers—and other progressive overseas governments have said that we have to change tack because the way we have always fought this State's drug issues has not worked and is not working. Tragically, five young people died at music festivals last summer after taking illicit drugs. Meanwhile, members of Parliament have come up with more of the same responses. The message, "Drugs are bad. Don't do drugs," is a failure. We applaud the police when they intercept a major drug syndicate or bust some stupid fool selling MDMA capsules at a music festival, and that is fine, but guess what? Our kids are still taking drugs and they are still dying.

We need to move away from the argument that there are no safe pills, though this is absolutely true. We need to move away from the slippery slope argument about decriminalising personal drug use and the tired argument about sending the wrong message to kids who might try illicit drugs. Those lazy arguments have been wheeled out for decades and have produced the same result time and again. Unfortunately, our youth in particular are too often willing to roll the dice with illicit drug taking, alcohol consumption or unsafe driving. The hard line is not the only line. That is what the experts on the front line are saying and we have to start listening to them.

Most members would remember a similar debate almost 20 years ago when a safe injecting room was proposed for Kings Cross. We heard the same arguments then. I was elected in 2007 and in my first term at Parliament one of the first significant issues I was involved in was the conscience vote on the renewal of that particular program. I was pleased that the importance of the injecting room was recognised and that the program was continued. However, the difference between then and now is that the leaders of the Government and the Opposition, Bob Carr and John Brogden, sat down at the table and said: We have a real problem and we need a different approach to fix it. In the 18 years since that supervised injecting room was opened, more than 1.1 million supervised injections have occurred without a single fatality. Thousands of heroin users have been provided with health services and support to wean them from their drug addictions and heroin use has drastically reduced.

These are plain and simple facts. Why are we not learning from that lesson and at least trialling pill testing at New South Wales music festivals or other high-risk events? The better, more appropriate health services at music festivals proposed in the bill might help some people who have ingested an illicit drug, but why not use some common sense and try to head it off at the pass? I firmly believe that a lot of people, including many of my colleagues in this House, believe that pill testing gives a potential user a green light to take MDMA, ecstasy or whatever they have bought from a backyard dealer. Those people do not run off from a pill test with a certificate that says their pill is safe. That is not how pill testing works. Most often this is the first time a drug user will talk with a health professional about the drug they are taking, its compounds and the inherent risks.

It is likely to be the first time that they will second-guess or reconsider the decision to buy or take drugs—we certainly hope so. People who say that no drug is safe are exactly right and that is the message that will come from pill testing. But this will also force potential users to think more about their choices, long after they have ignored the age-old "drugs are bad" message from tired old politicians who have been waging a war on drugs for decades. As I alluded to earlier, the issues of police sniffer dogs and strip searches at festivals should also be put under the microscope as part of this reform. Aside from the fact that sniffer dogs fail in their detections far more often than they get it right, and aside from the fact that they have negative impacts on the majority of people who do the right thing, any expert will tell you that many festival-goers have swallowed their entire stash of illicit drugs at the mere sight of a sniffer dog approaching them. Obviously this can have very severe and significant consequences.

In the past week an inquiry has heard from a 16-year-old girl who was subjected to a complete strip search and internal examination at a music festival despite not carrying, ingesting or coming into contact with any drugs. This is a disgrace. I would be furious if that were my daughter or granddaughter. Again, we must put these issues under the microscope and shift away from the traditional drug control measures that have not solved our problems. The Premier has spoken a number of times over the past week about the parents of Anna Wood, the girl who tragically died 20 years ago after taking pure MDMA at a music festival. I urge the Premier to listen to the parents of other victims, many of whom have said that pill testing should at least be trialled at music festivals. Jennie Ross-King sat through the inquest into the death of her daughter, Alex, and spoke about the experts and the commonsense evidence that she wishes the politicians would start to understand. [Extension of time]

In subsequent media reports Jennie Ross-King said she would support a trial of pill testing at high-risk music festivals. She said:

From everything we heard, it's based on the facts, the evidence, the information that was brought to the coroner.

More importantly, she said she would back a drug summit. She said it would be "… the best opportunity to get politicians in the same room as experts to hear the evidence that had been presented in the inquest" into her daughter's death. As I have indicated, I support the bill on the basis that it takes a step in the right direction, but it is only a small step. We could do so much better. No-one wants to give the green light to illicit drugs, but no-one wants to see our kids continue to die at music festivals while a room full of politicians think that doing the same thing that has been done for years will somehow bring a different result. It will not. Every drug crime statistic and health report in the book will tell members that. It is time to get over long-held ideologies and listen to what health experts are telling us overwhelmingly. We have to try something different. We have the chance to save many more young lives and we need to be brave enough to take that chance.

Website: Read full Parliamentary debate

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