The Australian Festival Association have shared a passionate open letter, pleading with state and territory governments across Australia to implement new strategies in order to ensure the safety of festivalgoers across the country.

Over the last few months, there have been a spate of drug-related deaths at Australian festivals. While these deaths are undoubtedly a tragedy, they have once again stirred up discussion relating to pill-testing at festivals, and other methods of ensuring the safety of patrons.

Now, the Australian Festival Association has weighed in on the discussion, asking for state and territory governments to be the beacon of change in the country.

Formed as a way to “represent the common interests and aspirations of the Australian festival industry”, the AFA consists of members from some of the country’s biggest festivals, including Splendour In The Grass, Download, Groovin The Moo, and St Jerome’s Laneway.

“We are deeply saddened to hear of the deaths at Australian festivals during the recent holiday period and our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives,” the AFA write in their letter. “Our thoughts are also with the medical, festival, production, security and law enforcement staff who were on the ground when these tragedies occurred.”

“Drug use is a complex issue and the current policies and strategies of our state and territory governments are needlessly endangering lives. Be it abuse of prescription medications, MDMA use at festivals or the devastating impact of ice on some of our regional communities, drug use is a national health issue that impacts many Australian families.”

“We need to better understand drug use behaviour, identify significant intervention points, better coordinate between regulators, health, police, businesses and broader communities, and make sure that the health and safety of Australians is the ultimate priority.”

“As festival promoters, the last thing we want is someone to be hurt under our care,” they continue. “We need to be able to legally implement preventative strategies, not just reactive ones, and include any harm minimization tools that are available.”

“We believe, and have evidence to support, that a combination of robust harm minimization strategies will help Australians make safer choices and reduce the harmful impacts of drug use on festival-goers and the broader community.”

“This necessarily involves a collaborative, multi-layered approach of drug education, peer-to-peer support, pill-testing, health services and policing.”

The Australian Festival Association continue their open letter by pleading for state and territory governments across the country to help implement a number of preventative strategies, including:

  • Establish on-going state-based Music Festival Regulation Roundtables to ensure better relationships between regulators, medical experts, promoters, emergency service providers and law enforcement
  • Utilise the significant experience and expertise of the Australian Festivals Association (AFA) – the national festivals representative body – and appoint AFA members to Regulation Roundtables across the states and territories
  • Work with health, festival and drug experts to develop pill-testing trials
  • Adopt an evidence-based, health-focused approach to drug regulation and commission further research into recreational drug use
  • Collaborate to convene a national drug summit to allow in-depth, meaningful, expert-led discussion around drug use

“We do not believe that pill-testing is the only answer,” the AFA continues. “But it is a crucial part of a broader harm reduction strategy that prioritises people’s health and safety, over criminality or laws.”

“Encouraging drug abstinence instead of education is out-of-touch, proven to be ineffective and unnecessarily risking lives. Young people deserve better. Older people deserve better. Families deserve better.”

In the days immediately after the latest tragedy at the Lost Paradise festival, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian again addressed pill-testing, seemingly changing her mind in regards to the apparently controversial topic.

“If there was a way in which we could ensure that lives were saved through pill testing we would consider it – but there is no evidence provided to the government on that,” Berejiklian said, while reiterating that pill testing gave drug users “a false sense of security.”

NSW Opposition Leader Michael Daley also joined the discussion, stating that pill testing “should not be off the table”, while former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Palmer has urged state politicians to have a rethink.

However, the Victorian Government have maintained that they have no plans at this point to start implementing pill-testing at festivals.

“Advice from Victoria Police tells us it can give people a false and potentially fatal sense of security about illicit drugs,” a spokesman for the Victorian government explained.

The first pill testing trial took place last April at the Groovin the Moo festival in Canberra, where two potentially deadly samples were discovered and half the drugs tested were found to contain no psychoactive substances.