The National Capital Authority's decision to quash plans for pill testing at this year's Spilt Milk music festival has left the territory government without enough time to organise alternative testing on nearby territory-owned land.
Despite efforts to set up a pill testing tent on territory land near the NCA-controlled festival venue, ACT Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris has confirmed the government has not had enough time to work through the logistics of off-site pill testing.
The authority in late September confirmed its decision not to allow pill testing at the festival, despite the success of Australia's first pill-testing trial at the Groovin' the Moo festival earlier this year.
While the consortium behind that trial, STA-SAFE, got a formal proposal for an off-site testing option for the festival to the territory government in October, it has not left enough time for a trial to be held.
STA-SAFE spokesman Dr David Caldicott said while it was a disappointing outcome, he understood the ACT government was still interested in future trials, and hoped it could also consider other off-site testing options, not necessarily linked to specific festivals.
He did not lay the blame at the feet of the territory government, but rather conservative politicians that might have had a hand in convincing the federal government, and through it, the authority, to put a stop to the mooted trial.
"These sort of tactics are really based in a sort of 1980s approach to drug-related harm and have nothing to do with the science or actually trying to reduce harm, and it's been a really good thing that the territory government have had the moxie to actually trial this," Dr Caldicott said.
"We're obviously disappointed, but not particularly surprised it's taken a little longer to consider as what we offered had to be a different situation, we were forced to apply off-site because of the intransigence of the federal government."
Dr Caldicott hoped the territory would consider more regular options for pill testing, as numerous drug law reform advocates have called for, as people did not only take drugs at music festivals.
He said the federal government's decision was unsurprising, but had been based on politics and not the science or evidence-based health policy.
Ms Fitzharris said the government had created a working group led by ACT Health to consider STA-SAFE's proposal for Spilt Milk 2018, but the off-site proposal had very different operational challenges compared to the previous trial.
"Unfortunately, there is not enough time for the government to examine all of these challenges and work through the logistics of establishing an off-site service in time for Spilt Milk later this month," she said.
She was disappointed the authority didn't support the opportunity to provide pill testing at Spilt Milk.
Ms Fitzharris said the government remained committed to harm minimisation and would continue assessing future proposals for pill testing at music festivals in the ACT on a case-by-case basis.
She planned to table a paper on the merits of pill testing with other Australian health ministers at the COAG Health Council, so other jurisdictions could learn from the ACT trial.