The ACT government has bowed to community pressure and will allow kava to be served to Pacific islanders at the National Multicultural Festival in Canberra tonight.
But a ban on national flags in the grand parade tomorrow afternoon will remain, with the chairman of the festival saying he wanted a harmonious event.
Chief health officer Paul Kelly said chief minister Katy Gallagher agreed to a trial exemption for cultural kava use at the festival starting at midnight last night and ending at midnight on Sunday.
''I've always been of the view that kava for cultural purposes is not dangerous ... and it's on those grounds that the minister has changed her decision,'' Dr Kelly said.
He said under the trial kava may only be legally prepared and used in accordance with Pacific island culture at the site of the festival.
''This would permit the use of kava in traditional kava ceremonies or kava circles, for example. The trial exemption applies to the physical boundaries of the [festival] and for the duration of the 2012 event only.''
Dr Kelly warned that supplying kava recklessly or outside cultural norms would jeopardise future exemptions.
Canberra Tongan community leader and spokesman for the Australian Kava Movement Siosiua Lafitani Tofua'ipangai was delighted with the decision and said the community had promised not to supply kava to the general public.
''Kava will only be passed around the circle, no kava will go out to the public in general,'' Mr Tofua'ipangai said. ''That's our agreement.''
But the grand parade, which makes a return to the festival after a hiatus of several years, will be flag free and festival chairman Sam Wong is keen for events of the past not to be repeated.
Mr Wong did not want to comment on any particular instances other than to say they were minor and he wanted to move forward. However, The Canberra Times reported in 2000 of alleged pressure from Chinese authorities for the ''so-called Taiwanese flag'' not to be displayed during the parade and of a young Taiwanese man bursting into tears when his banner was seized by a festival official. In the late 1990s, a similar incident happened when members of the Greek community objected to the use of the ''Macedonian star'' symbol in an advertisement for the event.
Mr Wong said Canberra had much to celebrate in its multicultural heritage and that was what he wanted to concentrate on.
The ban on the flags and political banners was made clear to all parade participants who had to agree for all displayed materials to be given prior approval by the organising panel.
''This is a multicultural parade which is really about the promotion of multiculturalism and therefore we definitely don't want any unfortunate political overtures to champion one cause or another because we are really a harmonious and peaceful multicultural community,'' he said.
More than 120 participants in the parade would be walking in groups representing grassroots multicultural organisations rather than nations.
The festival kicks off today with the opening concert in Garema Place. The grand parade starts at 4pm tomorrow.