The War on Festivals: pill testing gets support from City of Sydney councillors


Following a Monday night meeting, City of Sydney councillors have unanimously resolved to support proposals for a NSW drug summit, and work with medical professionals who had expressed interest in running a drug-testing demonstration.


After 2 NSW festivals announced they had to cancel due to new strict NSW licensing laws, support for a drug summit and a drug-testing demonstration has been announced by City of Sydney councillors.


Expressing support for the drug summit, Lord Mayor Clover Moore announced  "The effectiveness of simplistic 'don’t take drugs' messages has long been questioned – indeed such messages often have the opposite impact when they are delivered by those who lack credibility with their intended recipients, particularly with young people."


So, why are these new laws being introduced and what are they?

5 people have died from suspected drug overdoses at music festivals in Australia since September. The new licensing laws require much heavier user pay police presence and strict safety and site infrastructure constraints.


How do they impact festivals in NSW?

Psyfari was the first to announce they would have to cancel their festival as a result of unmanageable costs incurred and unattainable conditions and timelines as a result of the new laws.


In a heartbreaking post on its Facebook page last week, Psyfari explained that its 2019 festival would be its last.

There has never been harder times for camping festivals in NSW, with challenges and conditions slowly squeezing things too far,” the organisers wrote.


“While the attack on music festivals is more public than ever before, this has been a battle we've been fighting for years, at times behind closed doors. The fight is usually with those who have never attended such an event and truly don't understand what it's all about, yet they've shown no mercy in wiping these events out in order to make a political point.”


Psyfari explained that “While drug-related deaths at festivals are a very serious matter, they really do make up the tip of the iceberg. To put things into perspective, drug-related deaths at festivals on average make up less than 0.5% of all drug-related deaths in Australia, but festivals are an easy target, and an insignificant sacrifice to a blind government with its head in the sand,” said the organisers in the post they shared.


Mountain Sounds also announced the cancellation of its festival, only a week before the event was meant to take place.


“In 2018, Mountain Sounds ran smoothly, with an attendance of 16,000 people over two days, 11 user pay police and no major drug-related incidents. In 2019, despite our continued proactive harm minimisation measures (and having less attendees than the year before), we were told we would have to pay an additional upfront amount of approximately $200,000 for 45 user pay police on a 24 hour cycle. This came one week out from the festival and blindsided us as we were quoted for 11 user pay police on the 18th of January,” the organisers wrote.


Now, Peter Noble, the director of Byron Bay’s iconic Bluesfest is speaking up about proposals to move the festival interstate because of the laws. Noble explained that these new licensing and safety guidelines could incur costs well into the hundreds and thousands, putting the festival out of business.


How can we make festivals safer without these laws?

The State Government’s decision to enforce stricter police presence seems outdated given progressive proposals for pill-testing. According to studies from drug-testing in Europe, there is no question that pill testing is an effective way to keep people safe.


According to a study done in Austria, a third of people who find out what’s actually inside their pills, decide not to take them. Matt Noffs, the CEO for the Noffs Foundation — an organisation that works with young people with drug and alcohol problems — believes this is because education is more effective than prohibition. He believes there is absolutely no debate about whether or not pill testing works.


“Pill testing is an effective preventative measure, helping to curb the consumption of harmful chemicals and encouraging young people to take control of their activities and make informed decisions,” Noffs said in an update on his on the Noffs Foundation website.

“Pill testing should be implemented in Australia because it works, and because harm reduction should always be the number one priority in preventing the adverse consequences of drug use,” he added.


So what can we do about it?

Social Bewegung is hosting a pop up festival to protest the war on festivals. Support the scene by attending the Don't Squeeze the Scene event.


After the lockout laws were introduced in February 2014, the cultural and musical scene in NSW is struggling.


As Psyfari’s organisers accurately said “An entire industry has collapsed in terms of bars and clubs, and the impacts are huge. Not only has it taken away thousands of jobs, but it has removed the potential for young Sydney-siders to get their foot in the door in the entertainment industry. Promoters, venue managers, production assistants, and not to mention up & coming artists, have all been robbed of this.

Keep this in mind when voting in the next election…”


And lastly, Logo Social is getting behind the cause with these new designs. Get amongst it.