New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian has given pill testing the big “no thanks”, despite a leaked draft of the NSW State coroner’s report recommending the move.
“We feel very strongly that it sends the wrong message,” she told ABC News this morning.
“It actually gives people a false sense of security because how one person reacts to a drug is very different to another person reacting and unfortunately we have seen people lose their lives by taking what is a pure substance, a pure drug.”
Berejiklian’s statement comes after a months-long inquest into drug-related deaths at music festivals, led by NSW state coroner Harriet Grahame.
The draft report, quoted in The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, had been sent to the NSW Department of Health and shared with the NSW Police Department. It reportedly includes over 40 recommendations to increase attendee safety at festivals, like reducing the numbers of police on-site, scrapping sniffer dogs, and, crucially, permitting pill testing operations.
Despite those apparent findings, the Berejiklian government remains steadfast in its opposition to pill testing.
Instead, Berejiklian and her party seem content in rallying around telling the public there is no safe way to take an illicit drug. The premier said just as much on ‘Sunrise’ on Wednesday morning:
"There is no safe way to take an illicit drug"
NSW Premier @GladysB will ignore the Coroner's leaked recommendations, insisting her staunch opposition to illegal drug taking will not change.
— Sunrise (@sunriseon7) October 15, 2019
If not even a leaked coroner’s report can sway the premier and her party, it’s hard to think what can. The inquest into deaths at music festivals has involved multiple families coming forward with their experiences, as well as medical bodies and representatives. Police have remained in solidarity with the NSW government, despite voices like former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Palmer claiming the nation’s drug policies are failing.
Unfortunately for Berejiklian, Just Say No doesn’t work. It never has. The mantra of abstinence has been a constant in conservative governments over the decades, and that extends to drugs, regardless of the proven efficacy of that position.
Many may have been frustrated by the Liberal government’s initial refusal to respect the thoughts and wishes of almost every medical body in the country when they called for pill testing trials, but they should not be surprised by the premier choosing to disregard the State Coroner. If the draft report from Harriet Grahame is accurate, she is just another expert raising her hand high and tall.
Experts in the field have told both the NSW government and the general public multiple times that pill testing never tells a punter their pill is “safe.”
The implication is that very little will change until the NSW Liberal Party and Gladys Berejiklian believe backing pill testing will result in a positive, or at least neutral, reaction from voters.
It’s an issue that lies as much with Berejiklian as it does the hundreds of thousands of NSW voters who frame the decisions she makes. The problem is that Berejiklian continuing to promote abstinence from drugs as a platform to voters ignores what we know about the lives of young people, and if the leaked coroner’s report is to be believed, her standpoint could impede measures experts believe could save lives.
The current solution to this problem looks to be re-instating a festival licensing scheme which will probably just result in less music festivals, and a bill to be introduced on Wednesday aims to bring back regulations for festivals deemed “high risk”. Those festivals will be forced to pay for a licence, plus an emergency service presence, without any pill testing protocols. It’s regulation that an upper house inquiry already recommended scrapping after declaring it resulted in excessive price hikes and uncertainty.
If you can’t fix the result, fix the cause. Same as it ever was.