While events operators and music fans ring their hands over Gladys Berejiklian’s so called “war on festivals” in NSW, it’s a different story in the ACT where officials have approved pill testing at Canberra’s Groovin the Moo.

For the second successive year, Chief Minister Andrew Barr has okayed a trial at the music festival, which is set to take place April 28 at Exhibition Park with a bill featuring Hilltop Hoods, Hermitude, TOKiMONSTA, Billie Eilish, Jack River and many others.

It’s a controversial move and one Berejiklian and her fellow Liberals won’t have a bar of, though Barr takes a holistic approach. Governments have a duty to not only curb substance abuse but to also back projects that limit the damage connected with drug use, he says.

“Pill testing does not make taking illicit drugs safe and our message to the community will always be, don’t take drugs,” Barr tweeted on Monday night. “However, pill testing provides a health intervention at the point when someone is making the decision to take a pill.”

Canberra was, of course, the first Australian jurisdiction to fulfill a pill testing trial. And Groovin the Moo, in April 2018, was the place it happened.

Groovin the Moo Canberra
Groovin the Moo Canberra

Barr’s move was welcomed by the ACT Greens, which has campaigned for pill testing. “This commitment realises what we’ve known now for years — that pill testing saves lives,” said Shane Rattenbury, ACT Greens Minister and Member for Kurrajong, in a statement.

Through the “pill testing saves lives” programme, Rattenbury pushes for pill testing at all Canberra music festivals, and further afield, as a life-saving effort. “We have to accept that despite all the efforts on enforcement and education, some young people still take illicit drugs. The right thing to do is to try to minimise the tragic harm and deaths that can result,” reads a campaign statement. “Clearly, we cannot encourage people to make safer choices unless we actually engage with them. This means realising a new approach.”

Last year, a total of 85 samples were tested during the trial by Safety and Testing and Advisory Service at Festivals and Events (STA-SAFE), with many party-goers surprised by what they discovered. Six in 10 of those who had their pills tested said they were surprised by the results, and four in 10 said would change their behaviour after finding out what was actually in their tablets. Also, a dangerous substance that had led to hospitalisations in New Zealand and deaths in the U.S., was confirmed among the drugs tested on-site.