NSW Premier Mike Baird Reckons Festivals Should Be Shut Down If Someone Overdoses

You know how if someone dies in a car accident, the company that made the car gets shut down? Or how if someone dies from lung cancer due to smoking cigarettes, the brand of cigarettes has to shut their doors? Or even, if someone dies of liver failure due to too much booze, whatever their poison of choice was is done for? How about if someone loses absolutely everything to a crippling gambling addiction? The pokies that they lost on were thrown out into the street and burned, right?

Obviously this doesn’t happen, because it makes no sense. Why should a company or a business who designed a product be held accountable when someone does the wrong thing with it? Why should someone who has nothing to do with the actions of one person be held accountable and lose everything, just because something they had no control over what happened to one of their customers? This is the logic NSW Premier Mike Baird is now using in a “tough” approach to drugs at music festivals.

Yesterday, as many made their way back home from their respective New Year’s Eve festivals, Baird came down hard on festivals saying “enough is enough” after a 23-year-old woman was taken to hospital from Sydney’s Field Day in a critical condition from a suspected MDMA overdose, and more than 180 people were charged with drug-related offences.

“Individuals need to take responsibility for their actions, but so do the organisers of these festivals,” Baird said, in light of the three previous drug-related deaths at Australian music festivals in 2015, calling these latest stats “distressing and avoidable.” He also called for a review of “the current system of regulating events held on public land, including the system for granting permits for public events such as music festivals.”

“If new rules and procedures place additional burdens and costs on organisers, so be it — and we will also examine denying permits to organisers who have not done the right thing in the past,” he said, with Police Minister Tony Grant backing him up. Grant spoke about the duty of care that festival organisers have for their patrons, and that the government will be “holding them to account for that”. He said it is up to the festivals to change their approaches, because if drug-related incidents continued to happen they would be writing “their own script.”

The response to these comments has been swift and predominantly negative from the festival and music community. Whilst no one is diminishing the tragic deaths that have happened over the past few months, things do smell a little bit fishy when it comes to this knee-jerk response. Kim Moyes from electronic duo The Presets was quick to express his thoughts on this latest development by saying that putting the blame on the festival organisers for choices made by their patrons was “nuts”. They also went onto highlight other, much more alarming statistics like the death toll on NSW roads over the holiday period which saw 10 people die in just 22 days from Dec 20-Jan 2. “I don’t want to trivialize[sic] their deaths but no government is threatening to shut down transport,” Moyes said.

The reality is, people are using drugs at music festivals. Whether it be alcohol, tobacco, weed, MDMA, speed, cocaine, ice or anything in between, given any festival around the country, chances are that these recreational drugs and more are probably making their way through people’s bloodstreams for its duration. The police and whatever “task force” they’re trying continues to fail. Hundreds and thousands of punters continue to get past the “extensive” security on site, and nearly all of them are fine. Unfortunately, however over the past year, there have been a few who haven’t been fine. There is no amount of justification that can ease the burden of those who have died so unnecessarily at these events, but we can use this loss as a way to make changes so more don’t have to die. Mike Baird was right in saying that “enough is enough”, but this is not the way to combat this problem.

The need for drug testing facilities without the threat of legal implication continues to rise, as the amount of punters taking these recreational drugs rises too. Any and all parties involved all want the same thing – for people to stop dying from drug overdoses, but the way to reach this goal is being lost in a quagmire of knee-jerk reactions, scare tactics and policies that don’t actually tackle the real issue.

One of the most common anti-drug arguments is that you never know what is exactly in the pill you’re taking, so why we aren’t taking steps to actually test these pills and see if they are safe for punters is beyond me. Onsite drug testing, as seen at festivals around the world, is an effective and safe way to know what you’re about to put into your body. Shutting down festivals because someone chose to have a few pingers that day helps no one. Any festival I have been to has already been set up with the safety of patrons as its top priority. Easily accessibly first aid, paramedics on site, free water, kind strangers check on you when you’re having a sit down by yourself (even when you’re sober and just having a break); the average festival is already more than equipped to deal with your standard “I’ve had too much” reaction. The festival does not have control over what is in the drugs that are almost guaranteed to be sold before and during its event, and should therefore not have to have this threat over them.

Forcing festivals to shut down if drug related incidents continue makes absolutely no sense, and will merely increase the amount of dissatisfaction prevalent in the music and arts communities towards the government. The detrimental effect that lockout laws have also posed on Sydney’s nightlife scene is one that has already seen a multitude of venues close, which creates lasting negative effects on the once-thriving music communities in the inner city. Maybe if festivals allowed for a pokies room, the NSW government would consider leaving them alone, because at least they could make a few bucks from it. Baird has already shown his hand time and time again, as have past NSW premiers when it comes to the state’s gambling problem. In July, 2015 they even raised the limit one could have on their gambling smart cards (a card literally designed to help problem gamblers) from $200 to $5000, not to mention the obvious immunity Sydney’s Star Casino has when it comes to the city’s lockout laws.

Harm minimisation, an increase in education and a change in focus from a legal issue to a health issue are the ways to combat this issue once and for all. The war on drugs is over, and “the man” lost. Accept defeat and change, before someone else has to die. Whether Mike Baird, the police, your parents or anyone else like it or not, drugs are going to be at festivals. Thousands of people take them safely, but it is the few who are either uneducated, scared of authorities, or just plain unlucky that have to die because they want to let their hair down a little, and it’s this number that needs to stop rising. The sooner we see progressive change, the safer patrons will be, but until then, our safety at festivals comes second to police increasing their revenue and those in power just giving lip service instead of taking protective measures. You cannot put a price on culture, and measures like this prove disastrous for communities such as the music one.

Read more:

The Reality of Drugs At Festivals
We Really, Really Need Pill Testing At Music Festivals. Here’s Why.
Death At A Music Festival: A Discussion Around Drug Use and Abuse At Festivals
I Was Strip Searched On The Way To A Music Festival