Garema Place rally to urge Commonwealth to reconsider pill testing

Hundreds of angry Canberrans are expected to turn out at a weekend rally to demand the federal government reconsider its opposition to pill testing, as organisers label off-site drug-checking a "half-measure".

Reason ACT and the Smashed Avocado Movement are coordinating the Garema Place rally, which will urge governments across Australia to roll out pill testing as a harm reduction measure.

Organisers say the deaths of two people after suspected drug overdoses at the Defqon.1 festival in Sydney last month, and the National Capital Authority's subsequent refusal to allow pill testing at the upcoming Spilt Milk festival in Canberra spurred them into action.

Dean Barnes of Reason ACT and Max Black of the Smashed Avocado Movement are holding a rally in Garema Place on Saturday to call for pill testing at Spilt Milk.  Photo: Elesa Kurtz

Dean Barnes of Reason ACT and Max Black of the Smashed Avocado Movement are holding a rally in Garema Place on Saturday to call for pill testing at Spilt Milk. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

Reason ACT's Dean Barnes said he was shocked and angry to see NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian outrightly refuse to consider pill testing as part of her government's response to the Defqon deaths.

"People are sick and tired, regardless of whether they’re politically connected or not, they want to protect their children, they want to protect their friends, they want to protect people who are going to these festival so they go, have a good time and come back alive," Mr Barnes said.

The opposition to pill testing from the NSW government and the NCA comes despite an ACT government-supported drug-checking trial at Groovin the Moo earlier in the year, which picked up two potentially lethal substances and led two in five participants to modify their planned consumption.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has also indicated he will not review his opposition to pill testing, despite an invitation from ACT Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris to meet with Chief Health Officer Paul Kelly to go over the results.

Mr Black - who is the co-founder of the Smashed Avocado Movement, a political party for millennials turned umbrella organisation for progressive minor parties - said the results from Groovin the Moo were proof pill testing saved lives.

"Those were two pills someone didn’t take so right there you can straight away say lives were likely saved," Mr Black said.

“I’m not here to quantify how many lives have to be saved before it’s important, a life was saved, that’s enough."

"If that helps save lives, I’m in favour of it. If that’s all we can do then yes but I think we can do a lot better than that," Mr Black said.

"I don’t think the ACT government should be needing to have that discussion about where can we be doing this ... they should just be able to do it," Mr Barnes added.

"This is a model that’s sitting here, it's been done, they can do it tomorrow if they wanted to."

Harm Reduction Australia co-founder and member of the STA-SAFE Consortium Gino Vumbaca said community support was critical to rolling out pill testing more widely.

"This is always the trajectory things follow, there's stiff resistance and you have to keep producing evidence, arguing your case and growing your base of evidence," he said.

"Community support was vital in getting the injecting room in Melbourne over the line, and it was the same with Kings Cross. In the end politicians need to represent our views so there's a responsibility on all of us to make our views clear to them."

The rally comes after Greens leader Shane Rattenbury signed a Trans-Trasman Charter for pill testing on behalf of the ACT Greens, alongside the STA-SAFE consortium and the New Zealand Drug Foundation.

Mr Vumbaca said the charter would lay down principles of how pill testing will be done in both countries, which was especially important in New Zealand as drug checking was still being done underground there.

It states pill testing should be done front-of-house and for free, as it is a public health intervention.

It also commits pill testers in both countries to share the results of their work to build a base of evidence and learn from each other's mistakes.

The rally takes place at midday on Saturday, October 6 in Garema Place.