Tasmanian Government shuts down pill testing speculation

Amanda Lyons

19/03/2019 12:27:45 PM

In the face of growing support for a trial at this year’s Dark Mofo Festival, the State Government has clarified its opposition to the process.

Dark Mofo sign
The Tasmanian Government has been unequivocal in its opposition to pill testing. (Image: Rob Blakers)

Tasmanian Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Management Michael Ferguson issued a statement that makes the state government’s position on pill testing unequivocal.
‘The Tasmanian Government does not support pill testing, as we have consistently made clear, including before the last election,’ he said.
‘There is no safe use of any illicit drug and it’s reckless to suggest otherwise. The idea that a testing service can indicate that an illegal drug is free of certain contaminants sends a very mixed and risky message.’
Minister Ferguson’s statement runs counter to recent comments from the Tasmanian Greens Party, Dark Mofo creative director Leigh Carmichael, and even Liberal MP and Speaker of the Tasmanian House of Assembly Sue Hickey, all of whom have expressed support for a pill testing pilot during this year’s Dark Mofo festival in Hobart.
Mr Carmichael explained in a statement that Dark Mofo organisers feel a responsibility to reduce harm to festival-goers.
‘Whether it’s through legislation, or in a pilot trial like the ACT Government supported, pill testing is a harm-minimisation approach that must be adopted urgently,’ Mr Carmichael said.
‘We have a duty of care to our audience, and saving lives is more important than any political game around this issue.’
Ms Hickey said she believed it is time for a change in policy.
‘I really think it’s a health issue, not just a policing issue,’ Ms Hickey said.
‘Consider if your child was in this situation, would you prefer if they had one road block in their way through before they took that tablet?
‘This is a life-and-death situation.’
The Tasmanian Government received a boost from the opposition, with Labor Leader Rebecca White stating she does not support pill testing, citing a lack of evidence to show its effectiveness in Australia – despite the fact her party passed a motion at its state conference in support of the measure two years ago. 
Dr David Caldicott, emergency physician and pill testing advocate who was involved in Australia’s first pill testing trial at the Groovin’ the Moo Festival in Canberra last year, has said the testing system could be set up at Tasmanian festivals within a fortnight, and for free.
He also explained that rather than promoting drug use, pill testing is designed to do the opposite.
‘At no stage will we say if drugs are good or safe,’ Dr Caldicott said. ‘The phrase we use is: “If you want to be 100% certain, you shouldn’t use any drugs today”.
‘Since 2002 we’ve known that in venues and festivals around the world that have pill testing in place, fewer people use drugs, they use fewer drugs, and they mix their drugs less often.’
However, Minister Ferguson has also made it clear that there could be strong consequences for anyone carrying illicit drugs if the Dark Mofo festival were to offer a pill testing service without government approval.
‘The government will not introduce any amnesty or special arrangements for those caught with illegal drugs at Dark Mofo or any other event,’ he said.
‘Tasmania Police advises that their approach at festivals and events is to target drug dealers with drug dogs and officers on the ground and I expect they will be doing so at Dark Mofo.’

Dark Mofo illicit drugs pill testing Tasmania trial

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