Premier Says Free Water And 'Chill-Out Zones', Not Pill Testing, Will Keep Festivals Safe
Pill testing is not the answer, and instead festivals should give out more free water to help drug-affected people, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian claimed.
The premier's claims came just hours before federal Labor leader Bill Shorten admitted he "can't rule out" that he had never consumed illegal drugs, saying "might have taken, done something" in his younger years.
Speaking in a frank and open radio interview on Monday, Berejiklian claimed allowing pill testing would be a "green light" to drug users and lead to further drug deaths,
Berejiklian is pushing for music festivals to include more 'chill-out zones' and freely available water rather than pill testing, in order to keep young people safe, after a spate of drug deaths at festivals in recent months.
Many festivals already offer such quiet facilities on-site, and free water is a standard feature of licensed venues, clubs and festivals.
Chatting to radio duo Fitzy and Wippa on Monday morning, the premier didn't dispute young people were going to continue to take drugs at music festivals but repeated her claims that pill testing would give a false impression that drugs are safe.
"I can't say to a young person 'telling you a pill is safe means you're not going to die'," she said.
"What we want to do, we're having new chill-out zones, where people can get water [and] help their friends get help, no questions asked, we're making sure the organisers have enough medical people onboard, and enough information for young people."
As the hosts peppered her with questions, claiming there was "nothing to lose" by introducing a pill testing trial, the Premier refused to relent.
It comes despite a growing list of medical and drug experts -- including the Australian Medical Association, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the National Drug And Alcohol Research Centre and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, and even the families of drug death victims -- backing calls for pill testing.
"If we go into pill testing, I worry more people will die. They'll think the pill is safe, they'll take it, and give it to their friends. It might be safe for them, but they give it to one of their mates and their mate dies," Berejiklian claimed.
"A few kids might be saying 'that scares me, all these people are dying, I'm going to stay off it'. If we say 'try it' and all these people take drugs who ordinarily wouldn't, that can have an awful effect."
Dr David Caldicott, an emergency medicine specialist and one of those behind a pill testing trial run at a Canberra festival last year, responded to the premier's comments by saying pill testing was meant to intervene before a person took a drug, not after.
Berejiklian's comments come as political calls for pill testing grow. Melbourne's Port Phillip council has come out in support of such an idea, urging the Victorian state government to permit a trial of the scheme in the area.
"It's unacceptable that governments turn their back on this any more and I know that it is revolting to some people that we would aid and abet pill taking," the city's mayor Dick Gross said on Monday.
Labor leader Shorten was asked at a press conference whether he could rule out ever consuming illegal drugs.
"I can't rule out in my university years, might have taken, done something," he said.
"Since then, especially when I've become a parent, it opens your eyes and I'm nowhere near as relaxed about these matters as more evidence comes. I would make it very clear, don't support taking illegal drugs."
Shorten was asked the question after Greens NSW MP Cate Faehrmann, a vocal advocate for drug reform, on Monday outed herself as a past user of MDMA.
"As a politician, I’ve made the difficult decision to 'come out' in this way because the government’s zero-tolerance approach to drugs has not only been a catastrophic failure in stopping drug use, it is costing people their lives," she wrote in an op-ed for the Sydney Morning Herald.
"It is so out-of-touch with millions of people’s reality that everyone has stopped listening."