The Presets Slam NSW Government's Threats To Ban Music Festivals

05/01/2016 2:01 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Cassandra Hannagan via Getty Images
BYRON BAY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 31: Festival goers enjoy the musical performances at Falls Festival on December 31, 2015 in Byron Bay, Australia. (Photo by Cassandra Hannagan/Getty Images)

Australian electronic music duo The Presets have spoken out on Facebook slamming the NSW government’s threats to shut down music festivals in the wake of a string of drug overdoses.

Band member Kim Moyes took to Facebook earlier this week in response to Premier Mike Baird’s crackdown on illicit drug use at music festivals.

“Threatening to shut down NSW music festivals and blaming the organizers for the choices of the attendees? Nuts,” Moyes wrote.

It's devastating that there have been 2 drug related deaths at Australian music festivals in recent months, I feel for...

Posted by The Presets on Saturday, January 2, 2016

Moyes' comments came after nearly 200 people were charged with drug offences at New Year’s Day music festivals across the country, including at Sydney's Field Day where 184 were arrested for drug possession and supply.

A 23-year-old woman was rushed to St Vincent's Hospital in a critical condition after she collapsed at Field Day after taking MDMA, but has since been released.

Moyes compared the recent deaths on NSW roads to drug related deaths at music festivals.

“Tragically, 10 people have been killed on NSW roads between Dec 20 + Jan 2 which has been reported as a 'good result' in relation to the previous years road death tolls. I don't want to trivialize their deaths but no government is threatening to shut down transport,” Moyes wrote.

On Sunday NSW Premier Mike Baird told News Corp Australia that more needed to be done by festival organisers to prevent drug abuse, declaring “enough is enough”.

Baird said the permit system for music festivals would be toughened up, adding organisers needed to take more responsibility. The premier vowed to close down festival organisers who did not comply with stricter rules, according to the report.

“In the light of this latest distressing and avoidable incident, I will be asking the relevant ministers to review the current system of regulating events held on public land, including the system for granting permits for public events such as music festivals,” Baird said.

But rather than canning music festivals for good, some drug experts, academics and advocates are pushing for Australia to legalise pill testing and drug checking facilities at music festivals, to give drug users more information about the substance they are about to consume.

"Using drugs is never without risk. Using unknown drugs is much riskier. If this continues, more young people will die. It’s as simple as that," Will Tregonning, from harm reduction group Unharm, told The Huffington Post Australia last week.

"People are going to use drugs anyway, not knowing what they're taking. We want to provide that at-risk group of people, already about to use drugs, info about the drugs they're intending to consume, and give them info around the risks of consuming that substance."

Pill testing, in place in various forms in certain parts of Europe, can be as simple as a litmus test indicating the presence of certain substances -- for instance, ecstasy, MDMA, methamphetamine, heroin or poisonous cutting agents -- up to sophisticated, laboratory-grade equipment that gives precise rundowns of the chemical ingredients in a certain substance. Pill testing regimes put forward by Australian advocates would not tell a potential drug user that a substance is "safe" or "unsafe" -- they would give the user more information on that substance, for the user to then make an informed decision.

Emergency physician and drug expert Dr David Caldicott is one of those speaking out loudest for pill testing to be introduced. He wants to run a trial at a music festival this season, with laboratory-grade equipment.

"I don't give a shit about the morality or philosophy of drug use. All I care about it is people staying alive," he told HuffPost Australia.

"Instead of just cataloguing the deaths, we should do something to stop them dying. Some people say “they shouldn't take drugs to start with," but that's like saying you shouldn't have sex before marriage. This is about acknowledging what everybody already knows, that young people will take drugs."

But NSW Police Minister, Troy Grant, has ruled out introducing pill testing following a suspected overdose at Field Day.

"We're not going to set up a regime testing for something that's illegal to see if it's safe to ingest or not. We're not going to condone illegal drug-taking, full stop," Grant said on Monday.

In the wake of Sylvia Choi’s death at the Stereosonic music festival in November last year, NSW Police rejected calls for the institution of a pill testing regime, saying their hardline stance on drugs would not waver.

"There are many that continue to this day to call for less police interaction, fewer drug dogs, in fact, no drug dogs, fewer police at these events," NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione told the ABC in November.

"That will never happen."

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