Published: 14 August 2019

A motion calling on the Tasmanian government to explore how a pill testing trial could occur during the upcoming summer festival season has failed to gain the support of the upper house. 

Murchison Independent MLC Ruth Forrest introduced the motion which, in an effort to minimise harm related to drug use at Tasmanian festivals and events, asked the government commit to looking into the steps that would need to be taken to conduct a trial in 2019-20 festival season. 

The motion was only supported by four members, with both Liberal and Labor voting against the motion.

"I will be returning to this place with future motions on this as information comes to hand," Ms Forrest said.

"This is not going away. This is a matter that we have a moral obligation to address."

The motion Ms Forrest said the motion was pragmatic and was not calling for the implementation of pill testing.

"It calls for the government to investigate what steps would be needed to undertake a trial," Ms Forrest said.

Ms Forrest said the motion in no way condones, supports or approves of the use of party drugs.

"At the outset, I will say that taking illicit drugs is not safe and carries a real risk of serious, adverse health outcomes. There is no safe level of drug use," Ms Forrest said.

"This motion seeks support of the house to minimise the harm of drug use at music festivals and events.

"A zero tolerance approach denies the reality. Prohibition simply doesn't work."

Ms Forrest said one of the biggest myths out there was pill testing condones drug use.

'Regardless of the results of the analysis of the pill - all patrons are advised there is no safe level of drug use and all are encouraged to dispose of their pills in the amnesty bin provided," Ms Forrest said. 

"The 10-15 minutes where people are waiting for the result of the analysis provides a real opportunity for [intervention by health professionals].

"Staff in the pill testing station never tell patrons a drug is safe.

"Allowing young people to make informed choices is in no way condoning drug use."

The motion noted, despite strong support for the introduction of pill testing services by national bodies and Tasmanian organisations including the Youth Network of Tasmania, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre and Community Legal Centres Tasmania, the government continues to be resistant to reviewing the evidence and exploring how a trial would provide health benefits to Tasmanians, particularly youth. 

The results of two trials in the ACT which demonstrated the effectiveness of pill testing services to change a person's illicit drug behaviour should be acknowledged, the motion said.

Montgomery Liberal MLC Leonie Hiscutt said the government could not support the motion as evidence from the two trials in the ACT had not been independently verified. 

"At this stage it is too early to draw a definitive conclusion from these trials. The government is yet to be convinced there is enough data in an Australian context," Ms Hiscutt said.

"We are also waiting for the NSW coroner's report into festival deaths."

Ms Hiscutt said the government would continue to consider any evidence put forward.

"I refute the suggestion the government isn't prepared to listen to the evidence," she said. 

"Regardless of the [Ms Forrest's] point of view - we all actually want the same thing which is to see less young people [harmed]."

Labor health spokeswoman Sarah Lovell said the party would not be supporting the motion because it will not make pill testing trials any more or any less likely to occur in Tasmania.

"Motions in the Parliament will not compel the government to act [on pill testing]," Ms Lovell said.

"The situation right now is that the only people who can make this happen are not sitting here in the Legislative Council.

"Any frustration about lack of action should be directed towards the government." 

Huon Independent MLC Robert Armstrong said he would not support the motion because, like the government, he was not yet convinced pill testing saved lives and there were a number of legal and policy issues that need to be examined.

"If pill testing is allowed, does that mean it is legal to possess illicit drugs? What happens after you leave the testing area?" Mr Armstrong said. 

Launceston Independent MLC Rosemary Armitage said while the motion does not require drug testing to be instigated it starts the process.

"I'm concerned this sends a message to young people while they are illegal they are condoned," Ms Armitage said.

Mersey Independent MLC Mike Gaffney questioned why Tasmania was waiting on other states such as the ACT to trial and collect evidence about pill testing. 

"Why don't we go on the front foot and trial this at one of our festivals to get as much information as we can. We need to contribute to this discussion," Mr Gaffney said.

Nelson Independent Meg Webb MLC said concerns pill testing would normalise drug use did not consider the fact drug taking, particularly at events like music festivals, had already become socialised. 

"The worst case scenario is that someone goes through the pill testing process and ends up doing exactly what they were going to do otherwise," Ms Webb said. 

Hobart Independent MLC Rob Valentine said supporting this motion would save lives. 

Rosevears Independent MLC Kerry Finch said the community would expect legislators to be carefully considering pill testing. 

"It's really good for us to be talking about this," Mr Finch said. 

"The question we need to ask is - are we doing all that we can do to protect our children?"

Windermere Independent MLC Ivan Dean said he would have preferred to debate the matter once the findings from the NSW inquiry into festival deaths had been released.

"I'm of the view it is too early to go down this path," Mr Dean said.

Ms Forrest cited a number of studies which showed attitudinal changes as the result of pill testing and drug education, however acknowledged there were gaps in the research due to a lack of controlled pill testing trials. 

Pill testing is only one part of a comprehensive drug policy with education and further research other key components, Ms Forrest said. 

"Pill testing is not a silver bullet. It has to be part of a comprehensive program," she said.

"Pill testing provides targeted opportunities to educate and counsel a group of people that it can be difficult to engage in education related to drug use at a moment in time when a young person has an opportunity to act. 

"It may be the only opportunity a person in that situation has to reconsider their decisions."

Ms Forrest said she firmly believed that no one in the house wanted to see young lives lost, even if they are engaging in risk-taking behaviour. 

"Regardless of these risk behaviours young people do not deserve to die," she said.

"Young people do not take risks intending for themselves and their friends to be harmed. They think they are ten-feet tall and invincible.

"These young people don't have death wish, they just want to have a good time."


The Advocate Wednesday 14 August, 2019

Go Back