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Pill testing could go off-site after NCA says no to Spilt Milk service

Ian Bushnell 20 September 2018 13
Music festival

NCA’s decision against allowing pill testing is naive and bitterly disappointing says, Shane Rattenbury.

Proponents of pill testing will press ahead with alternatives such as off-site facilities for the upcoming Split Milk festival after the National Capital Authority put paid to any idea of a similar operation to that conducted at Groovin’ the Moo being allowed on Commonwealth land.

The NCA, which scuttled plans for a trial at last year’s Split Milk, says there is no legal framework for a pill testing operation and that the Commonwealth did not condone the taking of illicit drugs.

But pill testing advocates say the tragic events at the Defqon.1 music festival in western Sydney on the weekend where two people died with three more critically ill underlined the need for a pill testing regime at events where drugs will be taken.

ACT emergency doctor David Caldicott, who was involved in what is considered the successful pill testing trial at Groovin the Moo music festival at the University of Canberra earlier in the year, told The RiotACT it was  obviously ideal to be on-site but the concept of ‘static testing’, providing a venue to which people can bring their substances to be tested, was actually quite old.

“It’s the model they use in the Netherlands, and pop-up static testing has been used all around Europe so that is obviously an alternative option and one of many that we will be discussing with our counterparts in the ACT Government in weeks to come,” he said.

ACT Government Minister Shane Rattenbury said the Government could consider allowing pill testing outside Commonwealth Park, the Spilt Milk site, but it was a question of effectiveness.

He told the ABC that pill testing could be allowed on ACT land, for example, at the bus interchange.

“A lot of land around it is Commonwealth land. It’d be a lines-on-the-map discussion but legally we could do it in the ACT,” he said.

“It becomes a question of effectiveness. the reality is 15,000 people will file up and be on the site and that’s where they’ll be considering taking it.”

It was considered much more effective doing the testing on-site.

Dr Caldicott agreed but said it was less effective to have nothing at all.

“If you could find somewhere that was quite close to the site then you could certainly provide a service. The other thing is whether there are pass-outs from the venue,” he said.

Dr Caldicott said there was still plenty of time to come up with alternative arrangements.

“Remember we were given the go-ahead for Groovin’ the Moo three days before the event. Eight weeks is an eternity,” he said.

“The proponents of pill testing are far more resourceful, academically agile and adaptable than the opponents. I think it would be safe to say you haven’t heard the last of this one.”

An exasperated Mr Rattenbury told the ABC the NCA’s decision was ”naïve, bitterly disappointing and quaint”, while Dr Caldicott said it was a ”cross between dereliction of duty to the community it supposedly serves and an inability to follow the signs”.

Mr Rattenbury blamed the decision on unknown figures in the Federal Parliament, but last year the Canberra Liberals wrote to Ministers requesting they intervene and stop the proposed pill testing trial at Spilt Milk.

Mr Rattenbury said the Government would continue to make the case with the NCA, saying the legal issues could be resolved but he did not hold out much hope of it reversing its decision.

The pill testing trial at Groovin’ the Moo was considered a success and Mr Rattenbury says the evidence is overwhelming that pill testing contributes to keeping festival goers safe while not condoning drug taking.

Spilt Milk will take place in Commonwealth Park on 17 November, 2018.


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