Pill testing won't be used to lure events to Canberra, govt says

Pill testing won't be used to lure events to Canberra, govt says

The Barr government has hobbled an attempt by one of its ministers to lure a music festival where two people died to Canberra, saying pill testing won't be used as a tool to attract events to Canberra.

ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury says the NSW government's rejection of the Defqon.1 music festival is an "economic opportunity" that could bring "life to the city".

The ACT Greens have offered up Canberra as a future venue for Defqon.1, after two deaths at the Sydney festival this year.

The ACT Greens have offered up Canberra as a future venue for Defqon.1, after two deaths at the Sydney festival this year.

He wrote a letter to festival organisers last week, offering the ACT as a potential future venue for the dance festival so pill testing could take place. 

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian had vowed to cancel the Western Sydney festival, after two people died last month due to suspected drug overdoses. She later softened her stance, instead appointing an expert panel that will report back later this month on how to improve safety at music festivals.


The invitation was extended in his role as the Greens' spokesman on drug policy, not as justice minister. Mr Rattenbury is also yet to take the idea to cabinet.

Mr Rattenbury said he was not trying to "capitalise on the misfortune" of the Defqon deaths

"We should seek to embrace an event like this for the opportunities it would bring to Canberra but also be really conscious of the risks that are involved in it and work as earnestly and as diligently as we can to minimise those risks," Mr Rattenbury said.

"This festival attracts about 30,000 people and certainly for the ACT hotel sector, the restaurants, the taxis, the whole tourism sector would benefit very strongly from having an event like this in the ACT as well as our young people having another festival to go to.

"Because pill testing is accepted here in the ACT, there’s an opportunity potentially to make this festival safer through sensible drug policy unlike the NSW government who will stick their head in the sand and say we’re not going to contemplate this, the ACT government has taken a more evidence-based approach and there is an opportunity to consider that here as part of Defqon."

The organisers of Defqon, Q-Dance, are yet to respond to Mr Rattenbury's invitation and failed to respond to requests for comment.

ACT Opposition legal affairs spokesman Jeremy Hanson urged ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and the rest of his cabinet to cancel the invite.

“Why on earth is an ACT government minister trying to promote an activity that recently cost two young people their lives and harmed 700 others? This is an event where thousands of young people are known to take dangerous drugs, and where drug dealers have been caught peddling illegal drugs," Mr Hanson said.

“The recent deaths of two young people and overdoses of others should not be taken lightly. The massive public safety risk that this event would bring is just not worth the economic benefits that Minister Rattenbury promises. The biggest winners of this would be drug dealers. The safety of young people should not be traded for an economic outcome.

“Given Minister Rattenbury didn’t run this past his cabinet colleagues, he appears to have gone rogue. I urge the Chief Minister and his cabinet colleagues to rule it out immediately.”

A spokesman for Mr Barr said the government only became aware of Mr Rattenbury's invitation on Monday morning and ruled out offering any financial incentives to move the event to Canberra.

"The government is fully supportive of pill testing as a harm minimisation public health measure, however, we won’t be using this public health policy as a tool to attract events to Canberra," he said.

"We also acknowledge the reality that finding a suitable venue in central Canberra for a music event of that size, that isn’t Commonwealth owned and doesn’t negatively affect nearby residents, would be a significant challenge."

The debate comes as the latest Australian Drug Trends Report showed young drug users were shifting towards higher purity ecstasy, with crystal and capsule ecstasy use at the highest levels since the Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System began in 2003.

Almost three in four (72 per cent) reported taking crystal ecstasy and more than two in three (63 per cent) take the capsule form of the drug, which are known to be of higher purity than the pill form. One in five reported taking capsules not knowing what substance was inside.

It also comes after the National Capital Authority ruled out allowing pill testing at next month's Spilt Milk music festival, despite an ACT-government supported pilot at Groovin The Moo in April.

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.

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