Music festivals could be banned in and around Sydney under the latest proposal from New South Wales Premier Mike Baird attempting to prevent drug overdoses.
Mr Baird declared "enough was enough" on Saturday and called for organisers to be held accountable for incidents at their events following the hospitalisation of a 23-year-old woman who attended Sydney's Field Day on New Year's Day. The woman had allegedly taken MDMA and has since been released from hospital.
"In the light of this latest distressing and avoidable incident, I will be asking the relevant ministers to review the current system of regulating events held on public land, including the system for granting permits for public events such as music festivals," Mr Baird said. "If new rules and procedures place additional burdens and costs on organisers, so be it — and we will also examine denying permits to organisers who have not done the right thing in the past."
Mr Baird also called for increased screening at festival entry points, despite drug dogs already being a fixture at festivals and train stations across the city.
NSW Police Minister Tony Grant said festivals could be shut down if they failed to improve on the number of overdoses and people caught with drugs at their events. He also highlighted the importance of education in stopping drug overdoses occurring, a point that is usually associated with the argument for pill-testing.
"It's everybody's individual responsibility not to take drugs and put a gun in their mouth or play Russian roulette with God knows what they are going to ingest," Mr Grant said. "We're not going to say this is going to be an easy task, but it's about working together and getting that message out there. Education is the key. But, ultimately, if the events continue to cause deaths, well, the festivals will write their own scripts."
Bringing some sense to the political debate, leader of the Australian Greens Richard Di Natale said banning music festivals was not the answer.
"Banning drugs hasn't stopped people taking them, and I doubt banning music festivals will either. We need to start having a conversation about what would actually make people safer. (Hint: the evidence shows us it's probably not shutting down festivals, slapping on harsher penalties and more police.) The Australian Greens will be seeking input from experts, doctors, law enforcement and the community about how we can better approach drug use in our community," Mr Di Natale said on his Facebook page.
The Presets' Kim Moyes also hit out at the idea, labelling it "nuts" on Facebook.
"Tragically, 10 people have been killed on NSW roads between Dec 20 + Jan 2 which has been reported as a 'good result' in relation to the previous years road death tolls. I don't want to trivialize their deaths but no government is threatening to shut down transport." Moyes wrote. "NSW is starting to become a little hard to swallow."
Today, prominent harm-minimisation advocate Dr Alex Wodak said he had never heard of substances such as battery acid, rat poison and cleaning fluid being added to pills, a claim made by Mr Grant. But, if that was the case, he said there was even more reason to decriminalise pill-testing at festivals.
Three people died from drug overdoses at music events in New South Wales last year. While calls grew for
pill-testing to made available at festivals in 2015, it looks like the New South Wales government may be the last to start listening.
Scott Carbines is Mixmag's Australian Online News Editor, follow him on Twitter.