Just 48 hours before Groovin the Moo was set to begin, pill testing has been pulled from the event.
Harm Reduction Australia President Gino Vumbaca said the insurance company had withdrawn its coverage and support of its pill testing services, despite “detailed risk management work put together by our team and Groovin the Moo’s team”.
“This situation occurred not long after the insurance company for the festival requested substantive additional requirements from Harm Reduction Australia before they could support pill testing services being included at the festival,” he said.
“All this occurred within a 48-hour period just days before the festival is due to commence and despite all our paperwork and plans being submitted earlier, as was the case in our 2019 planning where pill testing was successfully run as a service at Groovin the Moo.”
Mr Vumbaca said his team desperately tried to find a new insurer to cover their services.
“It’s an absolutely ridiculous decision,” he said.
“We had barely any notice to try and find a new insurance company. We called everyone. No one is prepared to take us on.
“They might as well have asked us to jump over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It’s just impossible.”
He said he can’t understand why this decision was made, given pill testing has the support of the ACT Government and organisers in Canberra.
“The real issue here is some faceless insurance company decided it didn’t want to take the risk,” he said.
“It’s a public health service, and now they have decided what health services will be available [to festivalgoers].”
Mr Vumbaca stressed Groovin the Moo promoters maintained their “strong support” for Harm Reduction Australia’s pill testing service.
More than 40 volunteers have already been trained to deliver pill testing services.
Harm Reduction Australia said it would repay out-of-pocket costs already incurred by these volunteers as many were travelling from outside of Canberra to help.
Pill testing was previously successful run at the Groovin the Moo’s 2019 event by Harm Reduction Australia.
Mr Vumbaca with this message for insurance companies:
“We are not permitted to provide this important and potentially lifesaving public health service for young people without insurance and yet despite all the risk mitigation and protocols in place for the service, not one insurance company seems prepared to insure the service,” he said.
“Your inability to see how pill testing reduces the risk of harm at festivals has substantially increased the risk of harm for young people attending the festival, and their families.
“You have turned your back on the community you serve and the many health professionals and volunteers that try to make the community we live in a safer and more humane place for everyone.”
However, he’s vowed the service will be back for future festivals.
“We’re not going anywhere,” Mr Vumbaca said.
The ACT Government created its Festivals Pill Testing Policy in September 2020, which it sees as a harm minimisation strategy.
“The ACT Government considers that pill testing as a component of harm minimisation measures is a sensible approach to limiting the dangers of illicit drug use at ACT events,” the policy states.
“Despite the development of this policy, the ACT Government does not endorse the use of illicit drugs and reiterates that no level of drug use is considered safe.
“The ACT Government reinforces that it is illegal to manufacture, possess, distribute and sell illicit drugs in the ACT.
“While there is an exception for people aged 18 and over to possess small amounts of cannabis, it remains illegal to consume cannabis in public.”
Groovin the Moo begins Saturday 23 April, with its Canberra event being held at Exhibition Park on Sunday 24 April.
Groovin the Moo has been contacted for comment.