Published: 20 December 2019

Legislative Council Tuesday 19 November 2019 

Ms  FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I move -

(1)     That the Legislative Council notes:

           (a)   the Report of the State Coroner's Court of New South Wales of the Inquest into the death of six patrons of NSW music festivals (the Report), released on 8 November 2019 by Magistrate Harriet Grahame, the Deputy State Coroner for New South Wales;

           (b)   the thorough and evidence-based approach taken to inform the Report; and

           (c)   the Report's Recommendation 1, to the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet, recommending the introduction of a front of house medically supervised pill testing/drug checking pilot for the summer of 2019-20.

(2)     That the Legislative Council calls on the Tasmanian Government to:

          (a)    fully consider the NSW Coroner's Report;

          (b)    put in place the necessary measures to actively promote the safety of patrons attending Tasmanian 2019-20 music festivals;

          (c)    undertake evidence informed public education campaigns related to the harms of illicit drug use; and

          (d)    review the research and explore the processes necessary to introduce a medically supervised pill testing/drug checking pilot or trial in Tasmania.

Mr President, when debating a previous motion in this place related to this important matter, I raised this pending report and indicated I would revisit the matter of pill testing following the release of the report.

Before I proceed in moving this motion, I acknowledge the deaths of six young Australians and the grief and loss experienced by their families and extend my sincere condolences to them all.  I encourage members if they have not read the summary of the circumstances of the death of each of the young people whose deaths are the subject of this report to appreciate them as individuals who were part of and loved by their families and friends.  We really need to appreciate them all as young individuals whose lives ended tragically far too young.

Mr President, if you read the accounts of each of the deaths of the six young people in this report referred to, you will see they were normal kids from regular, loving families.  The parents were unaware of their children's drug‑taking activity and were shocked by their deaths.  Just as parents are shocked and traumatised by the deaths of their children in car crashes, these parents were shocked and grief-stricken by the drug-related deaths of their children.

Again, before I begin into the substance of the motion, I want to again emphasise that I do not, through this motion or by any other public comment on this topic, condone illicit drug use.  I support a harm minimisation approach that includes the provision of accurate, evidence-based information and advice within the health and wellbeing framework.  I acknowledge and repeat that the drugs we are talking about here are illicit and have a very real risk of harm associated with them and their use.

Mr President, the New South Wales State Coroner's report summarises the collection and analysis of evidence that was gathered over 16 hearing days, 24 volumes of extensive documentary evidence, including witness statements, medical records, photographs and expert reports, including those who have extensive experience in adolescent behaviour.

In addition, the Office of the New South Wales State Coroner reviewed eight volumes of additional background research and other relevant information.  Mr President, if members have not read the report to see the extent to which the coroner went to get evidence-based information and speak in any way to the contrary, that is completely disingenuous.  This is not one person's opinion; this is the opinion made after researching this topic thoroughly from both sides of the argument and included, but was not limited to, eight volumes of additional background research and other relevant information.

This inquest was an exceptionally thorough investigation and evidence-based.  I acknowledge what is not mentioned in the report, which is that the families of these young Australians lost through their tragic deaths travelled every day for each week of this inquest to be present and listen to the testimonies.  The families sat through all of it and travelled every day to do so.

This fact was captured in an ABC online article that mentioned the involvement of the families of the young people who died, and I quote from the ABC report -

Relatives of Nathan Tran, 18; Diana Nguyen, 21; Joseph Pham, 23; Callum Brosnan, 19; Josh Tam, 22 and Alex Ross-King, 19 attended the two blocks of hearings and some even travelled to music festivals to see first-hand the problems identified.

Outside the hearing, Ms Ross-King's mother, Jennie, urged the Premier to listen to the experts.

'It is not me, people, I'm just a grieving mum,' she said.  'These are experts in their field who have been doing this for a long time, in excess of 20 years in Australia and longer than that overseas.  So I think it is time that instead of politicians believing that their opinions are what we should be doing, actually listen to what the experts are saying.'.

Ms Grahame, the NSW Deputy State Coroner who is the author of this report, said that -

they had shown extraordinary grace and courage throughout the painful process.

She was referring to the parents of these young people.  It went on -

It is correct to say that my part in this process is complete.  The faces of these young people will remain with me going forward, along with the hope that improvements will be made.

The New South Wales State Coroner's report made 28 recommendations.  The recommendations were separated into seven areas.

I encourage the Government and other members to read the full report.  This is the full report.  It is long but it is very readable and informative.  You need to do that to get a full appreciation of all the main issues.  Some aspects do not relate directly to the Tasmanian situation.  It is the New South Wales State Coroner's report after all and policing in New South Wales and other matters can be slightly different.  However, the report provides important considerations for those involved in the areas of health, education, police, justice and, of course, the organisation of and attendance at music festivals.

In summary, the report discusses the deaths and serious illnesses experienced by patrons at New South Wales music festivals during a 13-month period from December 2017 to January 2019.  During this period in New South Wales the six young people I mentioned died.  These young people were well connected to their families and friends and demonstrated no obvious indicators to their families they were at risk of a drug-related death.  There was no evidence of any of them having suffered drug addiction or having ever sought help in that regard.

In paragraph 500 of the report Ms Grahame states -

Festivals goers such as Nathan, Joseph, Diana, Callum, Joshua and Alex are likely to have never had a health interaction which discussed drug use.  It appears clear to me that the benefit of reaching young people like this even for a short interaction cannot be underestimated.

They could have been one of our kids or our grandchildren, depending on how old we are.  It appears likely that each of these young people had limited knowledge of the potential dangers of MDMA or how to recognise the signs of distress, as there was no evidence that demonstrated any of these young people had ever spoken to an expert about the risks of ingesting MDMA or even the risk of mixing it with alcohol.

In addition to these deaths, a number of people who attended New South Wales festivals over that period developed serious medical illnesses requiring hospital admission and intensive care management for drug-related toxicity.

For the 25 New South Wales music festivals held over 2018-19 examined by NSW Health, there were 29 pre-hospital intubations - an intubation is having a breathing tube put down into your airways, if you are not aware of what that is - 25 drug-related intensive care admissions and at least an additional 23 drug-related hospital admissions.  What this tells us is there were many near misses in addition to the very sad fatalities

Whether we agree with it or not, our youth are using illicit drugs.  The report notes estimating the number of young people who use drugs at music festivals is hard to do, but information gathered recently by NSW Health indicated the majority of festival goers aged 18 to 24 years of age believe drug-taking is the norm.  We may not agree, but this is what the research shows.  Most believe 70 to 90 per cent of patrons would be taking some sort of illicit drug. 

As a parent of four children in this cohort of up to early 30s - this is 18 to 24, but 18 to early 30s is the majority of the patrons of these festivals - I find that frightening.  Absolutely frightening.  The parents I have spoken to find it equally frightening.  Anecdotal evidence suggests up to 95 per cent of young festival patrons use illicit substances.  When I talk to young people about this and I ask whether  that festival was drug- and alcohol-free, they say yes it was.  I ask you the question again: was that festival drug- and alcohol-free?  Well no, they were there everywhere.  That is the cold-hearted reality whether we like it or not.

One can assume similar experiences are occurring at music festivals around the country including in Tasmania.  In the chapter titled 'Why do young people take drugs?' in the coroner's report, Magistrate Grahame referred to expert opinion and evidence to inform her findings and recommendations.  Again, I say, if members have not read this section of the report, I encourage them to do so because it provides valuable insight into this issue.  This is why our response needs to become more sophisticated, particularly because, according to the report, the evidence confirmed prohibition and the 'just say no' messaging does not work.  This matter was considered by the coroner under the chapter headed, 'Drug education for young people and parents'; paragraph 547 states -

The evidence in this inquest also demonstrated that production of a single message 'Just Say No' is dangerous in itself.

I just want to read that again -

The evidence in this inquest also demonstrated that production of a single message 'Just Say No' is dangerous in itself.  While it may be a starting point for young children, it has little or no effect on those who seriously contemplate drug use or who have already had a drug event that they experienced as positive.

Despite the harm it may have been doing to their body.  The quote goes on -

This is especially the case in relation to young people, such as those whose deaths are the subject of this inquest.  What is needed is more nuanced messaging that provides accurate information about risk.  We need to talk more openly about how to provide correct and credible information about drugs to young people.

The just say no approach to other risk behaviour also does not work.  As a former sex educator, it is clear that age-appropriate information and knowledge is powerful and important.  An unplanned and unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection can mostly be prevented with accurate evidence-based knowledge.  The same in this case.

It was suggested during the inquest that the just say no message could be strengthened or have mass grim reaper-type messaging suggesting that prohibition was the only credible way to grapple with the issue and reduce demand.  That was part of the report.  The coroner heard from people who have that belief.  Well-resourced attempts at drug prohibition based on a strong law enforcement approach have not stopped our young people experimenting with drugs.

Evidence shows that despite significant police presence and drug detection dogs, it still appeared relatively easy to purchase and procure drugs at these festivals.  At the end of the report 28 recommendations were made to the New South Wales departments of Premier and Cabinet, of Health, and of Communities and Justice; New South Wales Police Force; Australian Festival Association; New South Wales Education Standards Authority and EMS Event Medical.

As per my motion, I wish to draw attention to the first recommendation to the New South Wales Department of Premier and Cabinet recommending the introduction of a front of house medically supervised pill testing, drug checking pilot for the summer of 2019-20.

In preparing for this debate and the previous debate related to the matter of pill testing, I have listened to both sides of this matter, as the New South Wales State Coroner did.  She probably had a lot more information coming in, but there were more people working on it.  I certainly listened to both sides.

I have spoken to many of my constituents and other Tasmanians.  I acknowledge there are different views in the community on this matter and I have sought to listen to them and engage with both those who support and those who oppose the conducting of a pill testing trial.

What I have found is that support for the introduction of pill testing is broad, across all demographics and significantly higher than those opposed to it.  I found when discussing the issue with those who are opposed and who have questions around cost aversion and taxpayers paying, their view often alters when they understand how this pill testing is conducted and they realise that the health messages provided always inform patrons that there is no safe way to take illicit drugs.

I have had some very lengthy engagements on social media on this.  Anyone who follows me will see that.  I get a lot of personal messages afterwards from people saying they admire my tenacity, dedication and persistence in answering the questions that are repeatedly asked, but I go back every time.  If they have a question, I will answer it.

One of the biggest initial critics actually thanked me at the end and wished me well.  It is time-consuming, but I think it is important to inform people when people are interested in engaging.

I wish to restate up‑front that pill testing is not and should not be seen as the complete solution to reducing the risks of illicit drug use.  It is only one measure of many that were recommended, but it is an important one.  We need a trial to get some Tasmanian-based data.  We cannot get it any other way.

It is recommended by the New South Wales State Coroner as one measure that should be implemented, not the panacea.  It would not be a panacea in Tasmania.  It is one measure.  My motion goes to other measures as well.

In my previous motion I provided on the record a detailed explanation of how a pill-testing service operates, and I will not restate all those comments but I will state on the record now the comments from the coroner's report regarding Ms Grahame's assessment of the process.

In providing her assessment, Ms Grahame provided significant commentary on the research available from around the world, including the research available to date from the Australian pilots.  In the comments related to the Australian pilots, paragraphs 489 to 493 provide relevant details in this area -

Dr Caldicott, Emergency Consultant at the Calvary Hospital and member of Pill Testing Australia, described the aim was 'to ensure that festival goers are not harmed or killed consuming drugs.  We can identify harmful substances and, with that information, we change the way potential consumers use their drugs or, in some cases, deter them from taking drugs altogether. By doing so, it follows that we can reduce the incidence of overdose at festivals.'  Dr Caldicott stressed the model was about reducing harm by education. He stated the analysis is a 'currency of interest' for young consumers and a way of starting a conversation with young people who are likely to have never spoken to anyone but their peers about drugs.  As part of the process, young people are given information which they can use to make informed decisions about risk and recognising the possibility of adverse outcome.

Dr Caldicott stated the trials demonstrated that drug checking can reduce the quantity of drugs consumed by individuals and the number of drugs consumed in a session, both of which are risk factors for overdose and death. In keeping with the overseas experience Dr Caldicott stated that the Australian pilots were demonstrating that there can be behavioural change when people are provided with accurate advice.

Dr Caldicott explained the way in which testing worked at the GMT festival -

That is the 'Groovin the Moo' festival in the ACT -

The pill testing area was placed adjacent to the medical area.  Patrons wanting to use the service were initially seen by a peer worker, 'somebody who is recognisably of their generation and of their tribe'.  They were asked what they were there for and told what could be provided.  They were given a waiver.  They were told 'if you don't want to be hurt by drugs today you probably shouldn't use any drugs today. That's the only 100% way of not being harmed'.

That is what they are told.  The only way to be 100 per cent sure of not being harmed is not to take any drugs or illicit drugs, in any circumstances.

The quote from the coroner's report continues -  

The limitations of the technology were explained.  Patrons surrendered part of a pill or a portion of powder, 'it depends on the individual on how much they offer'.  The drug is analysed, weighed, photographed.  Chemists are on hand and can explain that the more that is available to analyse, the better the analysis will be.  After the testing comes the medical discussion with Dr Caldicott and then another chance to speak with the peer worker.  He described the way drugs are categorised and the use of a 'red alert'.  He described the interaction as a holistic experience, that many young people use to ask all kinds of questions they have never had a chance to ask.  Sometimes it leads to a change in behavior.  He stressed that in line with every drug checking organisation he had ever been aware of, patrons were never advised, 'your drug is safe'.

I will repeat that Mr President:  patrons are never advised your drug is safe.  The quote continues -

It is important to stress that, contrary to the suggestion by some opponents to drug checking, no facility every advises patrons that their drugs are safe.

Mr Dillon, Director of Drug, Alcohol Research and Training Australia, also gave evidence in this regard -

He said he had been to pill testing in Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands and 'no user is ever told that the drug is safe'.

Ms Grahame concluded -

I have read the available reports on the first GTM pill testing pilot in 2018 and the subsequent trial in 2019 and note the GTM trial is currently under review by an independent evaluation team from the Australian National University.  The preliminary results indicate that there was evidence that harmful substances were identified and that some festival goers made behavioural change as a result of their interactions with the service.

The court heard that in 2018 there were 128 participants and 85 samples were tested, exceeding organisers' expectations.  Two samples were 'red-flagged' for their harmful profile.  N-Ethylpentylone (ephylone) was identified.  This drug was responsible for a number of deaths worldwide.  Half the drugs tested had no psychoactive ingredients but were made of other substances such as toothpaste, milk, glue or paint.  Dr Caldicott reported that 42% of patrons reported that their drug consumption would change as a result of the interaction.

To be clear, I will rephrase these facts which have been eloquently stated by the New South Wales State Coroner. 

Contrary to suggestions of some opponents of pill checking, no facility ever advises patrons that their drugs are safe.

One of the most important aspects of pill testing is the opportunity for a brief harm reduction intervention to the person who was intending to use the drugs, at that crucial point in time.  Many people who use drugs at music festivals had never spoken to a health professional about drug use and are naïve and unaware of the risks.  This provides that opportunity, and potentially last opportunity.

A positive health intervention, no matter how brief, may predispose people to change their behaviour, or those who later find themselves in trouble, to seek help.

At the second Groovin the Moo trial this year, Pill Testing Australia reports that 200 brief interventions were provided, with an average length of time spent with a drug counsellor being almost 10 minutes for people who are, on average, 19.7 years of age.

This is 200 brief interventions by qualified alcohol and drug counsellors with young Australians who may never have spoken to anyone about their drug use before.  The person they are speaking to is an expert in the field - it is not their mate down the road; it is not the dealer who sold it to them; it is not some self-proclaimed expert; it is a health professional who is trained in this area.

It was not surprising to many that the coroner supported the introduction of pill testing.  In fact, the coroner said she had no doubt whatsoever that there is sufficient evidence to support a drug checking trial in New South Wales, both onsite and fixed, and that the evidence in favour of pill testing was compelling, stating - and do not forget she has had all of this evidence and the background research on everything -

On the evidence before me it appears that drug checking should take place on-site at music festivals and also at a community-based service.  The best available technology should be sourced and if necessary, made available by government.  All client interaction should prioritise the brief intervention of a health professional.  All results should be shared widely and provided to a well-integrated 'early warning system.'

The coroner cannot make it any clearer than that.

I mentioned in debate on the last motion how warnings can be issued festival-wide if some of these really nasty drugs known to be lethal, like N-Ethylpentylone, are detected.  A festival-wide warning can go out so people can be alerted and get rid of their pills, other than by taking them, immediately.

Specifically, the coroner recommended, among other things - there were 28 recommendations - that the Department of Premier and Cabinet permit and facilitate Pill Testing Australia, The Loop Australia, or another similarly qualified organisation to run front of house, medically supervised pill testing at music festivals in New South Wales, with a pilot date starting this coming summer, 2019-20.

She also recommended that there be a coordinated approach across New South Wales DPAC, the Department of Health and New South Wales Police to fund the establishment of a permanent drug checking and pill testing facility; research and support the development of technology to allow the most sophisticated and detailed drug analysis to be made available onsite at music festivals; research and support the development of early warning systems at music festivals generally and arising from front of house and/or back of house drug checking; and the establishment of open sharing protocols between departments regarding drug trends and monitoring of drug deaths. 

This is the information we need to ensure we are aware of what drugs are out there, what is being used, and then this will help police target them once we know what sort of drugs we are dealing with, and they can be better equipped to know how to disrupt the supply chains.  That is what the police really need to focus on:  disrupting the supply and taking out the dealers and the manufacturers.  They need all the support in the world to do that.

She also recommended that DPAC facilitate a roundtable with relevant stakeholders to ensure the appropriate minimum standard for policing, medical services and harm reduction are mandated at music festivals.  Further, in the event there is pill testing and drug checking at festivals, that New South Wales Police issue guidelines providing clear guidance to operational police as to how they are requested to exercise their discretion in relation to illicit drug use and/or possession, with police not to take punitive action against people in possession of drugs for personal use and concentrate their effort on organised drug dealing, social disorder et cetera. 

We know that one of the other big issues and the reason we need police at music festivals is the abhorrent level of sexual assaults that go on at music festivals as well.  They definitely need to be there, and no-one is suggesting that they should not be, but let us focus on getting the dealers out of the picture and stopping the other forms of social disorder that can occur.

The recommendation of the New South Wales State Coroner is not something we can dismiss.  You cannot unsee a report like this.  This is why this motion calls for the Tasmanian Government to review the research that is now available and explore the processes necessary to introduce the medically supervised pill testing/drug checking trial or pilot here in Tasmania.

As it committed to in the last motion, the Government committed to looking at this research when it would be available.  I know it was not available back then, but it is now. 

I know some members remain dubious despite the overwhelming evidence.  Also, for those who still need convincing, I will dispel some of the myths that continue to circulate.

The first myth is that pill testing provides patrons with a false sense of security.  This is not true.  In fact, it is completely untrue.  A 2017 publication from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction challenged this in an article titled 'Drug checking as a harm reduction tool for recreational drug users:  opportunities and challenges - Background paper commissioned by the EMCDDA for Health and social responses to drug problems: a European guide'.  That is a very long title, but that is what it is called.  The pros and cons of pill testing were discussed following many years of pill testing in many European countries.  This also is addressed in the coroner's report.  Under the heading 'Criticism:  cons of the different types of drug checking services', the EMCDDA report noted -

For instance, it could give drug users an unjustified feeling of safety about the drugs they are taking.  The absence of unexpected or acute toxicological compounds in no way guarantees that a drug is safe. 

Every form of drug use is potentially hazardous and there is no way to completely eradicate the risk.  However, when drug checking is thoroughly embedded in a prevention unit, staff have the opportunity to communicate scientific information about the test results and educate users about the general drug risks, thereby eliminating this sense of false security. 

You cannot have a sense of security if you are told these drugs are not safe.  It is clear that when patrons have accurate, evidence-based information from skilled health practitioners, they will not have a false sense of security because they are told it is not safe to take.

The second myth is that pill testing patrons, because they are young, are unlikely to heed the medical information provided to them.  We know how hard it is to get our kids to listen to us and believe that someone as old as their parents might know something.  However, the same report I just referenced challenges this concern as follows -

Government-advocated messages, often viewed as scare tactics, are considered tendentious and untrustworthy, and conflict with the individual's idea of self-regulation.  Personal contacts with well-informed peers or professionals employed by drug-checking services are believed to be much more effective at persuading drug users to pay attention to preventive information and change their behaviour positively.  In addition, drug checking may serve as an immediate intervention tool to change an individual's drug use if drugs are shown to contain unwanted or unknown chemical compounds.

The third myth is the introduction of pill testing will increase drug use or drug-taking and thus the death of young people.  This is also untrue.  The same report provided the following comments on this matter -

Another common criticism is that drug testing encourages young people to take drugs, or to take more drugs than they would if such services were not available.  This criticism appears to be unfounded and in fact it has been shown that drug use does not increase following the introduction of a drug-testing service in a country.  In addition, the prevalence of drug use does not seem to be higher in countries that have drug-checking systems in place.

That is the EMCDDA report 2016 I referred to previously. It continues -

In addition, previous research has shown that drug users who use testing services do not use more drugs than drug users who do not do so.  In fact the same study also found that the presence of drug-checking services did not encourage those who do not use drugs to begin drug use.

They are just myths; some of the things that have been told.  If you look at the research and read it in context - we should do that if we are going to be serious about what this motion is about.

Then there is the myth the technology used is substandard and will not identify all the substances.  Proponents of pill testing have never made that assertion or made any assertions the technology available for use in the festival environment is as superior as that used in a laboratory.  But it is still effective and Australia's peak body for chemists and toxicologists, the experts in the field, support a trial of pill testing in Australia acknowledging those limitations.  The NSW State Coroner, Ms Grahame, also addresses the limitations of the pill testing technology in her report as well as dispelling some of these mistruths in paragraphs 463-65 where she states -

FTIR utilises a small portable unit that can be easily transported to a festival environment.  Using only a few milligrams of powder it can analyse the major compound in a short period of time.  It has some limitations and may fail to identify minor components of the substance under examination.  If the testing takes place from a pill scraping or a small amount of powder taken from a larger batch it will be impossible to know if the portion is indicative of what remains.  It may not identify a trace of a dangerous substance.

One of the oft-repeated criticisms of drug checking at music festivals is that purity cannot be tested for.  Clearly this is incorrect - there are methods of testing purity.  Usually this is done in the fixed laboratory setting using a form of spectrometry.  However, the court heard there has been pill testing for purity in music festival settings in parts of Europe for many years.  It requires some commitment to set it up because this expensive equipment must be transported carefully and efficiently.  Dr Caldicott told the court drug checking in Switzerland regularly uses HPLC technology, which can identify and quantitate drugs of interest.  Dr Caldicott stated testing for purities is considered an important and achievable goal for Australian drug checking organisations such as the one he is connected with - Pill Testing Australia.  He agreed in the current environment testing for purity - while not the only goal of pill testing - is an important one.  He said -

We are pushing very hard for the technology.  The technology is available.  There's no shortage of technology available in Australia.  It's the willingness to set up in such a way that will facilitate that.

After assessing all the evidence on this, in paragraph 468, Coroner Grahame states -

Having reviewed the evidence, I am satisfied that a NSW drug checking trial should not be rejected on the basis of the available technology.

Another persistent myth is the introduction of a health service such as pill testing results in an increase in drug use and harm more broadly across communities.  There are some in our community disseminating unsubstantiated claims that following introduction of pill testing services in the United Kingdom, MDMA deaths increased, or after the introduction of safe injecting rooms in Victoria, rates of heroin use increased significantly.  There are also claims MDMA death rates in other countries like Portugal have increased since the introduction of pill testing services.  These claims are easily refuted, and I will not take up the time of members today to do so, but I urge everyone in this room to be cautious and diligent when they are given information on these matters from people who are not experts in this area.

Finally, the other ongoing myth is that pill testing gives a green light to or normalises drug use.  Ms Grahame addresses this in paragraphs 501 and 503.  She stated -

Various opponents of pill testing assert that the introduction of pill testing will contribute to the 'normalisation' of drugs.  Dr Russ Scott, for example, asserts that the imprimatur of government and the cooperation of the police essentially send the wrong message to young people.

There was also concern that it would create an aura of acceptability and safety.  Others say it is 'an admission of defeat'.  Proponents of pill testing responded that the comments fail to recognise the high levels of drug use that already exist at music festivals.  In other words, drug use is already, to some degree, considered normal among patrons.

On the other hand, Dr Caldicott explained that in his view drug checking signaled the opposite to safety.  It was an intervention, the very purpose of which is to signal the existence of risk.

He said it is the only time of year he wears a lab coat, to help signal his scientific authority.  He stated, 'This is the opportunity to reiterate to young consumers the hazardous nature of the undertaking that they are about to embark upon.  The idea that is frequently put to us is that this is in some way a green light or reassuring, we're still puzzled as to how that is translated in that way'

He explained that there is nothing particularly reassuring about the need to have doctors and chemists on site to test substances.  It indicates risks, even to those who don't use the service.

One of the criticisms of drug checking, the court heard, is that there is no evidence that it works or that it will save lives.  This was the position put by the NSW Commissioner of Police in submissions and is a concern raised by witnesses such as Gary Christian and Dr Russ Scott.

Dr Scott asserted, 'There is no evidence that pill testing reduces harm and ... there is, in fact, no research from the Netherlands that either front or back of house testing has reduced harm'.

The coroner is clearly putting both sides of that argument on the record there.  After looking at all that evidence and considering both sides of the argument, Ms Grahame concludes -

I have taken these kinds of concerns seriously as any recommendation must be evidence-based.  However, in my view, they demonstrate a lack of understanding of the way qualitative evaluation in health promotion is assessed.

These criticisms fail to understand the way these kinds of health interventions can be evaluated.  I was struck by compelling evidence given by Professor Alex Wodak in this regard.  He pointed out that pill testing takes place in an environment that cannot be controlled.  He explained that because of those variables, from a scientific perspective the kind of evaluation that can take place is necessarily limited.  Nevertheless, it can produce useful information.

'What this means is that we cannot evaluate an environmental intervention, like pill testing, in the same way that we can evaluate a clinical intervention, like giving someone with an infection an antibiotic.  He said, 'That can be tested by randomised controlled trials and other techniques that have a high degree of accuracy and specificity.  That's not possible in the world of environmental interventions like needle and syringe programs and medically supervised injecting centres, and in this case, pill testing'.

That does not mean that there is 'no evidence'.

Further, in paragraphs 517-20, Ms Grahame says -

During the course of this inquest, I have listened to opposing views in relation to the possible benefits or harms of introducing drug checking in NSW.

I have reviewed hundreds of pages of reports and peer reviewed articles from Australia and overseas.  I have listened carefully to hours of oral testimony, attended a pill testing demonstration and watched numerous documentary reports.

I have taken into account the opinions of experts I consider to be at the top of their professions.  I have listened to the views of young people and drug users, police, parents and doctors.  I have sat quietly and given this matter my most serious attention.

On that point, I hope no-one tries to character-assassinate the coroner because she has put so much effort into making sure this is evidence-based and properly researched.  That is why there is a part in my motion that talks about the evidence base that is in this report.

To continue the coroner's comments -

At the end of my reflection, I am in no doubt whatsoever that there is sufficient evidence to support a drug checking trial in this state, both on-site and fixed.  In my view, the evidence is compelling.  Of course drug checking is not a magic solution to these tragic deaths.  Of course its introduction will not guarantee further deaths will not occur.  Drug checking is simply an evidence‑based harm reduction strategy that should be trialled as soon as possible in NSW.

And I say Tasmania too.  Back to the quote -

It is no surprise to me that so many organisations representing medical and pharmaceutical professional support the trialling of medically supervised drug checking.  The list includes the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), the Forensic and Clinical Association (FACTA), the Royal Australian College of Physicians, the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, the Australian Nursing Midwifery Association, the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and the Public Health Association of Australia.

Pill Testing Australia publishes an impressive list of signatories to the Trans‑Tasman Charter for Pill Testing, which includes the Centre for Law Enforcement and Public Health, Family Drug Support Australia and the College of Emergency Nursing Australasia.  I note that a trial was also supported by the AFA  [Australian Festival Association].

I will make the point that in all these health professional bodies, which represent many, many health professionals across the country, there are the people who see the harm at the really pointy end.  These are the people who see young people come into our accident and emergency departments, who work really hard to try to save lives and are shattered when they can't.

To actively try to resuscitate a young person only to have them die in front of you is terrible.  These people see it and this is why they are calling for it.  Not as a panacea, but as one way to make a difference.

The coroner goes on -

On the evidence before me it appears that drug checking should take place on-site at music festivals and also at a community‑based service.  The best available technology should be sourced and, if necessary, made available by government.

All client interaction should prioritise the brief intervention of a health professional.  All results should be shared widely and provided to a well-integrated 'early warning system'.

Madam Acting President, we must respect the work done by Ms Grahame and the views of experts she sought and the differing opinions she canvassed in preparing this report, making such clear and strong recommendations.

While we await the response of the New South Wales Liberal Government, it is noteworthy to mention that the New South Wales Opposition Leader, Jodi McKay, said it was important for the government to consider the recommendations and that Labor would trial pill testing if it were in power.  I hope the Labor Party in this state may have a similar view

Madam Acting President, support by the Government for this motion will result in full consideration of all available evidence - not just pill testing - but all available evidence with a further opportunity to undertake a pill testing trial to enable the body of evidence to grow and to be Tasmania-specific.

This would ensure a full and rigorous assessment can be undertaken to inform longer term decisions regarding implementation and medically supervised pill testing more broadly in Tasmania.

While this consideration occurs, the motion before us calls on the Government to undertake evidence-based educational programs and work with others to put measures in place to enhance the safety of all music festivals attendees ahead of the 2019-20 music festival season.  These education programs must be delivered to all young people within an age-appropriate framework, to inform them of the very real risk of harm from illicit drug use, and this must form part of an overall harm minimisation approach.

As the member for Rosevears referred to in a previous debate, it is a shame the drug education van no longer operates in our schools.  I note this is something the festivals, such as the Falls Festival and Party in the Paddock are investigating to promote the safety of all patrons at their festivals.

I understand the Party in the Paddock is investigating how to bring to Tasmania Harm Reduction Victoria (HRVic) DanceWize, a peer-based alcohol and other drugs harm reduction program that delivers education, resources and referrals about safer drug use specifically at music festivals and events.  Good on Party in the Paddock.  It is really important that we do not just take a single-minded approach to this.  The problem is too big.

Falls Festival organisers are investigating options to increase the availability of drug education and awareness materials at their festival.

These measures come at significant cost to these festivals.  These additional measures are very welcome and are to be supported and acknowledged.

Investigating these options does not mean these festivals have changed their position on wanting the option of incorporating pill testing services into their festivals. Rather it is only strengthening it, with Party in the Paddock launching its petition last week seeking to have pill testing available for its 2020 festival.

As a parent of four young adults, most likely all of whom have and continue to attend music events and festivals, I appreciate the desire to ensure our children are well educated and aware of the risks associated with illicit drug use.  However, even with this education and knowledge, some young people will unfortunately participate in high-risk behaviours, whether it is taking drugs, breaking the law while driving, or with alcohol use, or engaging in risky sexual behaviour, just to name a few.  I challenge all of you to consider what risk-taking you did in your youth and the risk‑taking your children and grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or friends' children undertake as part of their growing up today as they, as we did, establish our own identities.

My view is that none of these young people deserve to die as a result of risk-taking behaviour regardless of what that behaviour entails.  Even though I do not condone their actions or choices, they do not deserve to die.

I know this is a view shared by the member for Montgomery's colleague in the other place, Mr Tucker, the member for Lyons, as he expressed in a recent contribution on a public importance debate in the other House. 

It is fair to say that if a person can enter a festival with drugs in their possession or purchase them once inside, the prohibition approach has failed at that point.  Focusing on a harm minimisation approach would be a much more effective response to providing targeted education with a medically qualified person and an opportunity to modify a person's risk-taking behaviour, including disposal of the drug.

In closing, I urge all members to be led by evidence, not fear, not moral judgments and not ego.  We cannot stand in this Chamber and pretend we know better than those experts in the field.  We cannot unsee this report.

We can feel challenged by the situation, and we should.  We can feel uncertain about the solution.  This is where we must follow the lead of evidence and the experts, we simply must.  If it saves one life, it is worth it.  Surely you do not want to wait until we have a Tasmanian coroner's report making the same recommendation.

In my final comments, I wish to place on the public record part of an opinion piece by Dr Jody Morgan.  Dr Morgan undertook a review of the pill testing research.  Her work has been published in The Medical Journal of Australia.  You do not get stuff published in that if it is not done well.

Her opinion piece published on 9 November 2019 was titled, 'For three months I lived and breathed pill testing research'.  Dr Morgan wrote -

I am a toxicologist and like all toxicologists I'm interested in ways to minimise harm.  As the death toll rose, I began to ask the question: what could be done to prevent other young Australians suffering the same fate?

The obvious answer is to get young people to stop taking illicit drugs.  Easy. Problem solved.  Except these drugs are already illegal, we have a zero-tolerance policy in place, police checks and sniffer dogs at festivals, and young Australians are still taking illicit drugs.

The current method isn't working.  We need to find new ways to minimise harm.  Pill testing has already being suggested so I decided to look into it.  What is pill testing?  How does it work?  Most importantly, is it a viable method of harm minimisation?

I am a scientist, so my first port of call was the scientific literature.  I had an open mind.  I was not pro or anti pill testing.  I allowed the data to guide me.  I started by reading every scientific article ever written about pill testing.  Then I started going through newspaper articles.  I watched videos explaining how pill testing works.  I listened to podcasts by people involved in pill testing programs around the world.  For three months I lived and breathed pill testing research.  At the end of those three months, I was convinced pill testing could be a genuinely useful pathway to harm reduction, so long as it is delivered via a well-designed system.

With that in mind, I considered what a best-practice pill testing facility might look like.  First, any pill testing facility in Australia should involve a face-to-face interaction with a health care professional or drug and alcohol counsellor.  This is where patrons would be given information about the contents of their drug, but is also a mechanism for educating people about potential harms.  Most young people who use recreational drugs have never spoken to a health professional about their drug use and this provides a unique opportunity to discuss their drug use, explain what illicit drugs do to their body and introduce methods by which they can minimise harm.

The facility also needs a disposal service so individuals who no longer want to consume the drugs can dispose of them, no questions asked.  The evidence suggests that patrons will use these disposal services.  At a British testing facility close to 70 per cent of patrons whose drugs were shown to be different to what they expected disposed of their drugs.  Obviously, one of the major aims of any pill testing facility is to identify drugs which pose an unusually high danger to those planning on consuming them.  A best-practice system needs to identify not only drugs which have been adulterated, like the seven cases of n-ethylpentylone found in ecstasy pills at the pill testing trial at Groovin the Moo this year, but also pills with unusually high doses. 

This is particularly important in light of the findings from the NSW Coroner's report where it appears the six deaths investigated were all associated with high‑dose ecstasy.  When dangerous drugs are identified a warning system should be in place to inform the public as rapidly as possible

The No. 1 concern of people opposed to pill testing - whether they are politicians or members of the public - is that pill testing endorses drug taking.  Let me assure you, no health care professional will ever say to a pill testing patron that the drug they are thinking about taking is safe. 

In fact, they will go to great lengths to explain the drug is not safe, it is an illicit drug and while some testing has been performed, it is not in any way a guarantee the drug is safe for consumption.  Individuals who participate in pill testing already have drugs in their possession and we have to assume they intend to consume them.  Any information we can provide these individuals is with the specific of harm reduction.  Anything we can do to make their illicit drug consumption safer, not safe but safer, is the best pathway to improve public health. 

I am a scientist, a chemist and a toxicologist.  I have read the data.  I've looked at the evidence.  Part of my job is disseminating scientific evidence to the general public.  So, let me disseminate.  Pill testing is a viable option for harm reduction in Australia.  No methodology is going to be a perfect fix, but if we can educate young people about the harms associated with drug use, if we can decrease the number of presentations to emergency departments, if we can potentially save the lives of young Australians who are planning on consuming illicit substances then how can this not be considered?

I do not want the police to have to visit any families in Tasmania or contact families on the mainland who may have a child travelling to Tasmania to a music festival to give them the worst possible news.  I know pill testing will not stop that happening entirely, but we know from the evidence that it will create a health intervention that from the evidence will impact.

I encourage all members to support this motion and, even more importantly, I urge the Government to fully consider all the evidence provided and recommendations made by the New South Wales Deputy State Coroner, Harriet Grahame, and thoroughly and openly review the evidence to explore the necessary steps to facilitate the introduction of a medically supervised pill testing or drug checking trial or pilot.  I encourage the Government to take a health and wellbeing approach that is evidence-based and promoted through targeted educational programs to minimise harm that includes pill testing as just one aspect of a comprehensive harm minimisation approach to illicit drugs - just one aspect.  There are other things the Government I am sure will do and needs to do.

In addition, we must also continue to fully support our police service to focus on a rigorous law enforcement approach to illicit drug manufacturers and dealers.

I commend our police and the work they do in this area, noting a recent significant successful operation in northern Tasmania.  The Government is also encouraged to work with those at music festivals who are eager to see this introduced at their festivals to enhance the education, health, advice and safety of patrons.

The Government wants to amend the motion and we will deal with that at a later time.  I have circulated an amendment to that amendment.  We will get to that at a later time.

This motion is worded in such a way to enable the Government to take a broad approach to this important issue because none of us wants to see the untimely death of any young person as a result of drug use.

Young people and older people alike often undertake risky behaviour.  These people, despite their choices, do not deserve to die.  This motion provides a framework to help reduce that risk.

I urge all members to support the motion.


Mrs HISCUTT (Montgomery - Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council) - Madam Acting President, as we have covered a lot of this in the substantive debate at an earlier time, I will not go through all that again.  I have a copy of the Hansard and for anyone who wants to read back through it, it is there.

In relation to the debate on preventing festival deaths, the main focus has been solely on pill testing.  It is an issue on which there are competing views.  We cannot achieve a consensus here today.  However, we can all agree we want to reduce harm from drugs and prevent loss of life this festival season in Tasmania.  That is the intent behind the member for Murchison's motion.

I also note the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Council of Tasmania stated in a media statement last week -

... it is of key concern to us that while this debate continues, it may be potentially distracting the government from considering what other measures could or should be put in place to minimise the harm of illicit drug use during the upcoming festival season ...

The Government is prepared to engage with festival organisers to implement other measures aimed at keeping Tasmanians safe.  Amending the motion is the way to find a pathway forward that ensures the environment for patrons is safer at festivals this season.

Out of respect for the member for Murchison, in amending this motion we have attempted to maintain the intent and integrity of the member's original motion.  Most of the remaining text is unchanged.

I will move our intended amendment at this point and speak to the motion.  There are three amendments but it is all wrapped around the one.

MADAM ACTING PRESIDENT - The honourable Leader may read the three amendments in one but will put them individually to the Council.

Mrs HISCUTT - Most certainly, and I will speak to the whole as we go, but I am happy for it to happen like that.

I have handed out our amendments and another sheet, which is what the amendments would look like at the end.

The first amendment is to delete paragraphs (1)(b) and (1)(c).

The second amendment will be to delete paragraph (2)(b) and insert instead -

(2)(b)   in partnership with Festival organisers put in place measures to actively promote the safety of patrons attending Tasmanian 2019-20 musical festivals;

The third amendment is to delete paragraph (2)(d).

Honourable members can see on the other piece of paper handed to them what our amendment would look like in the end.

The reasons for this are that the Government has already indicated it is prepared to consider the NSW Deputy State Coroner's report into festival deaths.

Something that clearly comes through in the report is that there is no one solution when it comes to preventing festival deaths.

That explains why the report is very wide-ranging in its recommendations which cover health, education and policing.  For those of you who may not have had the opportunity to read the NSW Deputy State Coroner's report, it paints a very sad picture of the final moments of six young people who died who were not drug addicts.  They were loved dearly by someone.  They were someone's son, daughter, brother and sister so to their families the Government also extends its deepest condolences and hopes we avoid the same sort of tragedy here in Tasmania.

The report points to everything from the variable level of medical resourcing and expertise at festivals to festival goers' apparent lack of understanding of the risks and symptoms of overdose.  While we do not support pill testing, it is clear we can do more and should do more to keep festival goers safe.  The Government is prepared to - in partnership with festival organisers - look to put in place measures to actively promote the safety of patrons attending Tasmania's 2019-20 music festivals and undertake evidence-informed public education programs related to the harm of illicit drug use.

This seems like a very sensible move.  While there is a broader discussion to have with festival organisers, our medical and police professionals and those working in the drug and alcohol space as to exactly what we can do, the Government is keen to find a way forward.  I think that is what we all want to do here today - it is a pathway forward to ensure patrons at festivals are safer this season.

Of course, any new measures or extra support we can provide are on top of what the Government is already doing to minimise the use of drugs through a mix of justice and preventative initiatives.  It is important to acknowledge that Tasmania Police and the Department of Health's Tasmanian Health Service Alcohol and Drug Services do a remarkable job with very dedicated hardworking individuals across a wide variety of areas.

As I have already stated, the Government will take the time to review the NSW Deputy State Coroner's report and get all we need out of it in line with our commitment to listen and consider any evidence put forward for or against pill testing.  But, as the Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drugs Council Tasmania pointed out so well last week, it is important we are not distracted from considering other measures that we can agree upon.  There is no simple solution and in the interests of doing what we can to reduce harm from drugs and prevent any loss of life in Tasmania, the Government supports this amended motion before members.

I thank the member for Murchison for her contribution, also noting she has indicated pill testing is only one measure or aspect of many and is not necessarily the panacea.  There has to be a wraparound project.

Opinions and thoughts are divided on pill testing, so by supporting our amendments, we will be focusing on the other measures.  I urge members to support our amendments.

Madam Acting President, I move -

That the motion be amended by:

Delete paragraphs (1)(b) and (1)(c).

Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Madam Acting President, I thank the Leader for her comments and wish to move an amendment to her amendment.  I will speak broadly in terms of where my amendment goes, as the Leader has just done with hers, to give a full picture of this.

I have sought to work very collaboratively with the minister, the current Acting Premier normally Deputy Premier, and the minister responsible for this area in his Mental Health and Wellbeing portfolio, Mr Rockliff.

Mrs Hiscutt - That has been noted.

Ms FORREST - He has been very approachable and willing to engage, and I appreciate and thank him for that and his staff who have been working with him.

However, I cannot abide removing (1)(b) because this removes the comment 'the thorough and evidence‑based approach taken to inform the Report'.  I went to great lengths in my contribution to note that by doing so, we are almost character-assassinating the New South Wales State Coroner, who went to extraordinary lengths to inform herself of all the facts and to listen to all the evidence and all the experts - on both sides - and give them equal measure.  She reported the arguments of those who support pill testing and those who were vehemently against or partly against it, and gave them equal measure in her report where she balanced both those arguments.  If you have read the report, you will know this because it is all in there.  Then she made a very clear finding, followed by her recommendation.

I think to take that out is disingenuous and ignores the fact that the New South Wales State Coroner took much time and much effort.  If you look at her report, towards the back there are all the appendices and the people she spoke to, and you will see she took an evidence‑based and thorough approach to inform the report.  Therefore I cannot accept that we take that out - if I were Harriet Grahame, I would take that as a personal slight.

I am seeking to keep (1)(b) in there.  Just take out (1)(c) that refers to pill testing.  What I am suggesting for those who need to put it into context is that part (1) of the motion remains -

(1)     That the Legislative Council notes:

          (a)   The Report of the State Coroner's Court of New South Wales of the Inquest into the death of six patrons of NSW music festivals (the Report) released on 8 November 2019 by Magistrate Harriet Grahame, the Deputy State Coroner for New South Wales;

          (b)   the thorough and evidence-based approach taken to inform the Report.

Stop it there, and take out (c).

I find it inappropriate to take out (b) when clearly, if you have read the report, you will know that it is evidence-based and thoroughly researched.  I acknowledge the Deputy Premier or current Acting Premier discussing this with me.  I have sought to work collaboratively with him on this, and we have.  I know the Government has that position on pill testing, but it should come as no surprise that we are here because in the last motion we debated, the Leader, on behalf of the Government, said -

The Government is prepared to consider data and evidence put forward from a health and wellbeing perspective, also from an education perspective.

This is pill testing as a health and wellbeing perspective, and education is also included in the motion, in another part.  She also said -

There have been two trials in the ACT, but the findings have not been independently verified. 

That is true; one of them is here and another one is still to come.  That will be reflected in my second amendment to the amendment that we will get to at a later time, which names up that second report we are still waiting on by the Australian National University.

She said -

I understand the Australian National University will independently review the most recent trial.  We look forward to seeing that report when it is released.  At this stage it is too early to draw a definitive conclusion from those trials.

Of course it is -

The Government is yet to be convinced there is enough data in an Australian context to support the claim that pill and drug testing is an evidence‑based service that reduces the risk of illicit drugs.

That is why I have included that in that second part of the second amendment, but we will come to that in more detail.

The Leader also said she refuted the suggestion that the Government is not prepared to review the evidence - 'We are listening and we continue to do so,' she said.

Here we are, we have a whole body of evidence -

Mrs Hiscutt - Could you just repeat that?

Ms FORREST - You said during the last debate, and I will quote -

I refute the suggestion the Government is not prepared to review the evidence.  We are listening and we continue to do so.

What I am saying is, you cannot unsee the coroner's report.  The Leader, as spokesperson for the Government in this place, said that the Government was willing to look at that.  She further said -

Getting back to the evidence, I have spoken about how an independent review of the latest ACT pill and drug testing trial has yet to be done.  We are also waiting for the New South Wales coroner's report into festival deaths, which is expected to be released later this year.  It is another important piece of information that governments around Australia will want to consider should they have the opportunity to do so.

These are the two documents the Government said it was waiting for.  We have the one that you cannot unsee, the coroner's report, and there is still another.  That is more part of the second amendment.  I am just flagging that to give a context to the entirety of the amendments being proposed by the Leader and by me in amending her amendment.

At the moment, I am just asking members to keep (1)(b) in the motion, which notes the thorough and evidence-based approach taken to inform the report.  I have given my reasons as to why that should remain, and we will come to the second amendment later.  One is not reliant on the other.  You could vote yes on this one and no on the next.  They are not reliant on each other; they are totally separate discussions.

Ms LOVELL (Rumney) - Madam Acting President, on this amendment to the amendment, I am inclined to support the member for Murchison's amendment.  It has been noted a couple of times that there has been quite a collaborative approach taken in developing this motion.  This has been demonstrated by the way the member is dealing with these amendments on the Floor and working through what has been proposed by the Government to try to find a way forward that we can all be comfortable with. 

It does seem to me to be a little nonsensical to remove that paragraph (1)(b).  It is not stating that we agree or disagree with the recommendations of the report.  It is simply acknowledging the process and the approach that was taken and the fact that was thorough and evidence-based.

I am unclear as to why the Government would be seeking to remove that paragraph.  The Leader might be able to shed some more light on that.  It is not saying we agree or disagree with the recommendations, only that the approach taken in writing that report was evidence-based and very thorough, which I do not think anyone can dispute.

I am inclined to support the member for Murchison's amendment to the amendment.

Mr VALENTINE (Hobart) - Madam Acting President, I support the amendment to the amendment given I would imagine that it would be difficult for the Government to agree to leaving in 'thorough and evidence‑based approach' if they believed the approach was not properly evidence‑based.  I agree with the member for Murchison that in fact it is.  I have not spoken to the motion yet, but I support the amendment to the amendment in this case because I think it is accurate.

Mrs HISCUTT (Montgomery - Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council) - Madam Acting President, for clarity, when it comes to the report, we respect the report but the Government is yet to review and receive advice on it.  On that basis, we are not judging or characterising the validity or otherwise of any evidence put forward.  With the amendment we have originally put forward, the Government was very comfortable to be able to do something.  That is why it is what it is.

Mr DEAN (Windermere) - Madam Acting President, I cannot support the amendment to the amendment.  I will not support it while the word 'thorough' remains there.  'Thorough' means absolute.  If you look at the term 'thorough' in the dictionary, it is very clear what it means and how it should be interpreted. 

I have not been through the full report of the deputy coroner.  I have read parts of it and there are parts that I have concerns with as an ex-police officer.  There are parts the police in New South Wales have concerns with.  We have a report provided to us this morning, and I think other members would have that.  I am not saying that what is in this report is true.  I do not know.  I have not had time to check.  This is the report from Drug Free Australia, where it raises a number of issues saying the coroner has missed the point.  The deputy coroner has missed the point.  The deputy coroner has not investigated certain parts of the evidence she should have done.  That is what they are saying.

I do not know whether that is right or not, but that is what they are telling me so I cannot at this stage be convinced it is thorough.  I will not support it with that word there for a start because although they said there is information and evidence to identify, to me it is not thorough.  As I said, I cannot speak my mind to the other at this stage.

Amendment to Amendment agreed to.

Mrs HISCUTT (Montgomery - Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council) - Madam Acting President, I move -

Second Amendment

That the motion be amended by:

Delete paragraph (2)(b) and insert instead:

(2)(b)   in partnership with Festival organisers put in place measures to actively promote the safety of patrons attending Tasmanian 2019-20 music festivals;

I believe that fairly well speaks for itself that we are prepared to work with festival goers, and it is something the Government is prepared and willing to do.  I hope members will support that.

Ms Previous HitFORREST (MurchisonNext Hit) - Madam Acting President, I have no issue with this amendment and it is fine.  It actually makes clear that there is a partnership and a collaboration here because otherwise the Government could go in demanding change.  I accept and appreciate the minister's attention to this point and am happy to accept this amendment to part 2 of the second part of the motion.

Amendment agreed to.

Mrs HISCUTT (Montgomery - Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council) - Madam Acting President, so to speak to my third amendment.  Thank you very much to the member for Murchison on the previous one, it shows a good collaboration. 

I move -

Third amendment

That the motion be amended by:

Delete paragraphs (2)(d)

As I have mentioned to members before, I will not go over it again, thank you.

Ms Previous HitFORREST (MurchisonNext Hit) - Mr President, I do not support this amendment and wish to seek members' support for a reworded paragraph (2)(d).

Rather than delete it, I am asking to insert a different paragraph.

I feel taking out any reference to pill testing based on our previous debate and my commitments to raising this issue is to remove all reference to it.

I do not understand the Government's position, but I accept the Government has a position on pill testing. 

Mr President, I move -

Further amendment to the amendment

By leaving out after the word 'delete' -

'paragraph (2)(d)'

Insert instead the following -

'paragraph (2)(d) and insert the following -

(d)    give full and genuine consideration to the Report's Recommendation to the New South Wales Department of Premier and Cabinet, recommending the introduction of a front of house medically supervised pill testing/drug checking and reaffirm the Government's commitment made during debate on 14 August 2019, to review the NSW Coroner's Report and the forthcoming Australian National University independent evaluation of the second pill testing trial in the ACT.'

In this amendment I am saying that the Legislative Council calls on the Tasmanian Government to give full and genuine consideration to recommendation (1) relating to pill testing because that is where that recommendation is made.

Also, to review, once available, the forthcoming Australian National University independent evaluation of a second pill testing trial in the ACT for the Groovin the Moo Festival.

In speaking to this, I perhaps correct the Leader about the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Council media release put out last week.  Alison Lai, the CEO of ATDC, who is present in the Chamber today, has done an enormous amount of work in this area.  I thank her for that.  The media release the Leader referred to was put out on the basis of a matter of public importance debate downstairs in the other place that was unedifying in parts.

That was in response to some of the comments she made about that.  I will read the email from Ms Lai today that was sent to all of us and relevant to this debate.  She said -

I have had the opportunity to talk to some of you ahead of the afternoon's debate of Ruth Forrest's notice of motion, but not all.  Thank you for those who have reached out.

Ahead of the debate, I would like to take the opportunity to reaffirm the ATDC's support for a trial of medically supervised pill testing in Tasmania.

This position has not changed and while we have recently expressed frustration at the manner the debate has been unfolding (and the risk that it is distracting the government from preparing for the festival season ahead) our position remains unchanged, that trialling medically supervised pill testing needs to be part of the Tasmanian Government's approach to reduce the risk of harm of illicit drug use at our music festivals and events.

As you are assessing your positions on this matter, all we can ask is that you carefully consider the evidence and also the source of any information.  Many of you may have seen my opinion piece in the Examiner this morning where I addressed this issue.

Ms Lai provided copies of the transcript of that opinion piece.  She also goes on to say -

Also, many of you would have received an email from Drug Free Australia yesterday, expressing their outrage that the NSW Coroner did not take into consideration their concerns and/or their interpretation of research statistics when forming the recommendation that the NSW Government needs to trial medically supervised pill testing.

The ATDC cannot speak on behalf of the NSW Coroner with respect to these concerns.  However, I can confirm that following our own investigations into some of the claims in this organisation, the manner that they have been attributing causation to events and information is concerning.

There is no change in ATDC's position here.  This is directly referencing the pill testing trial being considered.  That is one of the key recommendations of the coroner's report.  The nature of my intent with this motion was to ensure that was considered by Government.

I am not calling for them to introduce it.  I am not calling for them to even undertake a trial.  The motion is very carefully worded, asking the Government to give full and genuine consideration to both the coroner's report and when available, the Australian National University's review of the ACT trial.  That is what it is asking.

I cannot see what the problem is.  My previous motion called on the Government to introduce a pill testing trial and I can understand its reticence to do that because of its position.  This is asking for two things:  to give full and genuine consideration to the coroner's report - you cannot unsee it once you have read it - and the forthcoming ANU evaluation of the ACT trial.

I urge members to support my amendment to the amendment and keep pill testing as a focus for this Government to consider, as well as waiting the outcomes of the ANU evaluation.

Mrs HISCUTT (Montgomery - Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council) - Mr President, the member talks about genuine consideration in her amendment, 'give full and genuine consideration' - without a doubt that will happen to the coroner's report anyway, as explained in part (2)(a), 'fully consider the NSW Coroner's Report'.

There were 28 recommendations in that report and the member is talking about one particular point.  Now the Government is just not ready to take that step at all, if ever.  That is a decision that needs to be made at some stage in the future after we have looked at everything, but at the minute  we just cannot.

Ms Forrest - But if you are going to look at the whole report, you are going to look at it.

Mrs HISCUTT - It will all be looked at.  You have put in here that (d) gets back to one recommendation so, as already stated, opinion is divided on pill testing.  The Government does not support it.  We would, however, support reviewing an independent report, as we have already said we would do.

As I have already stated, part (2)(a) is that it considers the NSW Coroner's report.  Members, the amendment the Government has already put forward covers all of this.  I can see where the member for Murchison is going, because this is her genuine desire to particularly get pill testing in.

Ms Forrest - A trial.

Mrs HISCUTT - A trial.  As a government, we are not -

Ms Forrest - It does not call for that.

Mrs HISCUTT - We are not ready; we just do not want to go there yet.  We do not support pill testing.

Ms Forrest - You are not even willing to look at the research?

Mrs HISCUTT - We are looking at every research that is going around.  We will study it.

Ms Forrest - That is all I have asked you to do.  I have not asked you to introduce it; I have asked you to look at the evidence

Mrs HISCUTT - The amendment the Government has put forward, which members have a copy of in full, is something the Government is prepared, willing and able to do this every day, for this very upcoming season.  I urge members to please seriously consider the Government's amendments.  It is something we will and can do without any qualms, so our amendment will happen if members are of the mind to agree to it.

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, I will see if I can work my way through this.  It is a little bit confusing, but some clarification came in with what you said, member for Murchison, and what the Leader replied with.  You are right, it is just about evaluating what it says in the report about pill testing.  It does not say 'Head down that path of pill testing', and it says also to wait for the forthcoming ANU independent evaluation of the second pill testing trial in the ACT.  It is really only putting the Government on notice.

Ms Forrest - That I will be back.

Mr FINCH - But to make note of this.  That is what it is really saying is - make note of this; you are not suggesting we go with the pill testing trial.  When I speak to the motion, it will be that I support that circumstance, but I can understand where you are going with it.  Although it is elongated in respect of what you are suggesting here to the Government, which makes it a little bit difficult in trying to, at the last minute now, get our heads around it, I also think that in the Leader's explanation there is a desperation to shy away from any mention of pill testing.  Yet, that is really what is on everybody's lips - the parents of children who are going to these music festivals, in the coroner's report, the investigation - it is all about:  should this be a way we move forward to protect our young people?  Your amendment makes it clear for me, and I can support that amendment to the third amendment.

Mr DEAN (Windermere) - Mr President, I just want to make sure I have the right recommendation we are referring to.  Are we talking about the one on page 135, to the New South Wales Department of Premier and Cabinet?

Ms Forrest - Recommendation (1).


That the Department of Premier and Cabinet permits and facilitates Pill Testing Australia, The Loop Australia or another similarly qualified organisation to run front of house medically supervised pill testing/drug checking at music festivals in NSW with a pilot date starting the summer of 2019-20. 

Is that it?

Ms Forrest - That is recommendation 1 you have read, but it is not asking the Government to implement it; it is asking it to consider the evidence that led to that recommendation.

Mr DEAN - My interpretation of it is - and there are a number of interpretations one can give to the wording here - to give full and genuine consideration to the report's recommendation 1, and I have just read out what that is - that is, to undertake that.

I see it as much stronger and much clearer than the interpretation the member for Murchison and others are giving it.  That is my interpretation of it.  I see the words 'give full and genuine consideration' - what does it mean if it does not mean that?  If you look at recommendation 1 and you use those words, 'full and genuine consideration to the Report's Recommendation 1' - I will just read out what recommendation 1 is all about.  It says there clearly -

…. to run front of house, medically supervised pill testing/drug checking at music festivals in NSW with a pilot date starting summer of 2019-20. 

That is the way I interpret it - it is much stronger than just saying that you have to look at this.

Ms Forrest - No, if you read my motion, it tells you clearly that is exactly what I say.  There is no hidden agenda here.

Mr DEAN - I am reading your motion -

(d)     give full genuine consideration to the report's Recommendation 1.

Ms Forrest - Yes, keep going.


to the New South Wales Department of Premier and Cabinet, recommending the introduction of a front of house medically supervised pill testing/drug checking and reaffirm the Government's commitment ... 

So the full and genuine consideration is to the part I just read out recommending the introduction of 'front of house medically supervised pill testing/drug checking and then reaffirm the Government's commitment made' et cetera.

I interpret it in a much different way and stronger way than the member for Murchison interprets it, and I will find difficulty in supporting the amendment.

Mrs Hiscutt - I think (1)(a) already ticks off on this and we do not need to -

Mr DEAN - It is (1)(a) of your amendment.

Mrs Hiscutt - Of my amended motion.  I do not think we need to go any further.

Mr DEAN - I ask members to closely look at it and to understand exactly what it does mean, to get clarity around it about those words 'give full and genuine consideration'.  What it is really saying is give full and genuine consideration to implementing it. 

Ms Forrest - If I wanted them to implement it, I would have said that.

Mr DEAN - That is really what it is saying:  'give full and genuine consideration to the Report's Recommendation 1'.  I told you what recommendation 1 is, for the New South Wales Department of Premier and Cabinet; I just read it out.  I cannot support that, with all the information that is going around, and the Government has made its position fairly clear.

Mr VALENTINE (Hobart) - Mr President, when I read the honourable Leader's (1)(a) -

(1)(a) That the Legislative Council notes the Report ...

That is nowhere near enough.  It is not genuine consideration.  That is noting it.

Mrs Hiscutt - What about (2)(a) as well?

Mr VALENTINE - You said (1)(a).

Mrs Hiscutt - You can put (2)(a) in there as well if you like.

Mr VALENTINE - Yes, I see what (2)(a) says, but I read what the member for Murchison's paragraph (d) says and I certainly don't see in there that it says that pill testing has to take place.  It says -

… give full and genuine consideration to the Report's Recommendation 1 to the New South Wales -

Which should be s', 's Department of Premier and Cabinet.

Ms Forrest - You are correct on that.

Mr VALENTINE - That is all right - Mr Pedantic here -

Department of Premier and Cabinet, recommending the introduction of a front of house medically … -

That is what the recommendation says:  it is saying to give it full and genuine consideration.  It is not actually saying do it - it is not saying do it - and that is what needs to be made clear here.

Mrs Hiscutt - Through you, Mr President, part (2)(a) says to fully consider NSW Coroner's report.  There were 28 recommendations and this amendment to the amendment is focusing on one.

Ms Forrest - Yes, for a specific reason.  Some of them do not relate to Tasmania and the education one is covered in another subclause.

Mrs Hiscutt - The Government will look at them all.

Mr VALENTINE - I am supporting the amendment to the third amendment.

Ms WEBB (Nelson) - Mr President, I am going to state my support for this amendment to the amendment and clarify that I don't believe that (2)(a) means we do not require (2)(d) and if the Government is fine with (2)(a), it should have absolutely no problem with (2)(d). 

This is a private member's motion.  I respect this private member's right to bring a motion that she has devised, as we would others.  If this is the way she would like to cover the motion and it covers these areas, even if you feel there is double up with (2)(a) and (2)(d), it should not fuss you to include (2)(d) as the Government in the motion.

I am going to support the inclusion of that 2(d), the amendment to the amendment, and I invite other members to consider supporting a private member's motion and their right to bring a motion that they feel best expresses the intent of the debate.

Mrs Hiscutt - Through you, Mr President, while the member is on her feet, the Government also has a right to do something that it thinks it can do, and we certainly can do the amendment as before.

The Council divided -


Mr Finch

Ms Forrest

Mr Gaffney

Ms Lovell

Ms Siejka

Mr Valentine (Teller)

Ms Webb

Mr Willie


Ms Armitage

Mr Armstrong

Mr Dean

Mrs Hiscutt

Ms Howlett (Teller)

Ms Rattray

Amendment to amendment agreed to.


Ms LOVELL (Rumney) - Mr President, I am pleased to contribute to the debate on this motion this evening.  I thank the member for Murchison for bringing it before us today, bearing in mind that some of my comments may refer to the original motion.  Now we have the amended motion.  I will do my best to keep up.

The member for Murchison is calling on the Legislative Council to note the report of the NSW State Coroner into the deaths of six patrons at New South Wales music festivals, which was released on 8 November 2019.

I offer my sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of those six individuals.  Each of their deaths was a tragedy, as indeed any drug-related death is a tragedy.

I am particularly pleased to see in this motion a focus on the overall safety of festival patrons in Tasmania.  Whether you are for or against pill testing, this is what we are all trying to achieve, to make young people, and indeed people of all ages, attending our music festivals as safe as they can be.

This is an important priority for festival organisers in Tasmania.  We have some fantastic festivals over summer, led by some passionate people.  The organisers of the Falls Festival are very focused on the safety of their patrons, as they have always been.  They are taking steps this year to do everything they can to provide the best environment for their patrons.

I did not hear all of the member for Murchison's contribution.  I am not sure if you outlined the steps the Falls Festival is taking?  I am intending to do that.

Ms Forrest - I read them broadly but not specifically.

Ms LOVELL - As an example, some of the measures they are taking include extending their St John Party Safe team, which includes their chill-out tent and volunteers who walk through the festival looking for individuals at risk; changing their internal medical team structure so that they have two trained ED doctors onsite, up from one in previous years, working under the St John's banner, alongside their existing nurses, doctors and registrars who volunteer their time to assist with patron safety.  They are making tweaks to their governance, reporting and escalation model.  They are working with Ambulance Tasmania to improve their facilities on site and the service they are able to provide, and ideally increase the amount of ambulance coverage.  They are in conversation with the Drug Education Network, which does an enormous power of work around illicit drug use and safety to develop what they are calling 'party cards' that can be distributed throughout the festivals, so they are doing an education and awareness tool.

I encourage the Government to work closely with the organisers of the Falls Festival and other festivals, who I also know are taking steps like these, on these and measures like them.

The specific question of pill testing has dominated this debate, but this is a much broader issue.  Labor's position on this issue has been consistent.  For a long time, our approach on the issue of substance use has been to support evidence-based policy with the basis in harm reduction.  Drug use must be treated as a health issue, rather than a criminal issue.

For the record, because I have no doubt whatsoever our position will once again be misrepresented, let me be very clear on this:  on the specific matter of conducting a pill testing trial, only the Government can make a pill testing trial happen in Tasmania.  Pill Testing Australia has been very clear about this in its statement, that it will not conduct a trial in a state where the government is not supportive.

The Labor position has been, and continues to be, that we will monitor the existing and emerging evidence and continue to consult with stakeholders and community on this issue, but it is the Government and only the Government that can conduct a trial, and I encourage it to take the same approach.

I also take this opportunity to highlight this is an issue many people feel passionately about on both sides of the debate, and it is a debate that has at times become emotionally driven, particularly here in the parliament.

If we are to achieve our shared aim, and I hope it is shared, of ensuring festival patrons in Tasmania are as safe as they can be, whether that includes pill testing or not, we must do our best not to be distracted by the emotion of the arguments, but to remain focused on the outcomes we are all hoping to achieve.

This motion, and now the amended motion, provides a sensible and measured way forward.  It focuses on the overall safety of festival patrons rather than one particular measure, and calls on the Government to consider the NSW Coroner's report and form an evidence-based position.

It does not compel the Government to take any particular course of action, but rather outlines a constructive way forward.  In my view, this is the work of government, and I would be surprised if the Government did not agree.

For these reasons, I will be supporting this motion.

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, I was interested to hear about those measures being taken to safeguard the welfare of the young people at the music festivals.  Did you know we modern Australians seem to become expert in creating polarising debates on the issues, without the rigour of research or even imagination?

The debate over whether there should be pill testing at music festivals is a prime example.  On one side, we have some governments refusing even to accept there could be benefits in preventing young people poisoning themselves by consuming contaminated substances.

The aim of it here seems to be that testing drug substances amounts to condoning the taking of recreational drugs at music festivals while the other side of the argument is testing pills at music festivals could save lives.

The member for Murchison's motion speaks of inquests into six deaths at New South Wales music festivals.  It is arguable whether all those deaths would have been prevented had there been pill testing programs.  It is not saying all of them, but some of them might have been.

Basically, what the member for Murchison's motion is calling for is a medically supervised pill testing and drug checking pilot or trial in Tasmania.  Just forgetting about where our motion has gone with the amendments, I cannot see how such a trial, and I stress it would be a trial that was called for, would cause the sky to fall in.  I doubt it would have any effect on the number of young people who like to take drugs at music festivals.

Pill testing is easy.  Chemists can use portable testing devices which give a relatively quick and accurate result.  What seems to be ignored by those opposing a testing trial is the ability of young people to communicate through smart phones and other devices.  What would happen if some pills were found to be dangerous?  Word would get around almost instantly that the distributor of faulty pills should be avoided.  A pill-supplying charlatan would quickly go out of circulation.  The long‑term result would be that purveyors of dangerous pills would go out of business and lives would be saved.  So why not give it a go?

There is the argument that pill testing would be seen to condone the use of recreational drugs at music festivals.  They are there and they are not going away.  There are many informed and compassionate people on the side of testing or at least giving it a trial.

One is the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Sally Capp.  She says she does not endorse anyone taking illicit drugs.  I will quote from a recent public statement -

... in the face of evidence that people are taking these drugs we simply cannot stick our heads in the sand. ... My heart goes out to anyone who has lost a child or loved one through drug use ...  If [pill testing] saves one young life it is worth doing.

It seems that the argument is between those who want to save lives and those who say pill testing is giving a stamp of approval to taking drugs.  I know what side I am on.  We must do everything we can to save young people at music festivals from accidentally poisoning themselves.  I give full support to the motion.

Mr VALENTINE (Hobart) - Mr President, I too offer my condolences to each and every one of those parents who has lost a child at those festivals.

I cannot imagine what it would be like to have someone knock on your door and say your child has died as a result of taking drugs.  It is just not something that -

Ms Forrest - Or even just having to come and tell you your child is dead.

Mr VALENTINE - That is exactly right. There are many occasions where police have to do that.  It must be one of the most dreadful jobs for a police person to knock on the door and say 'Your child is dead'. I am sure the member for Windermere has probably had to do that in his career.

Mr Dean - When you rock up at somebody's door at three o'clock in the morning, they know very well it is not good news.

Mr VALENTINE - That is exactly right.  We can all wish that our children will not ever undertake risky behaviour.  It is something we can never guarantee.  Children and adults undertake risky behaviour and often pay the consequences.

When I listened to the member for Murchison read through the summary of that report, I had no doubt that they looked at every aspect of the situation, seeking to conclude and presenting their findings to us.

The member mentioned Dr Alex Wodak.  I was involved with Dr Alex Wodak on a number of occasions during my time on the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors and the harm minimisation approach that group were taking.  That was in the early to mid-2000s.

I can think of no other individual who is so respected when it comes to knowledge of drugs and their impact, except perhaps for Professor Margaret Hamilton who is also one of those people who has dedicated her life for some 40 years to trying to achieve a harm minimisation approach.

Alex Wodak was a physician up to 2012 and is the Director of the Alcohol and Drug Service at St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney.  He is no lightweight when it comes to these things.  He established the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre and was President of the International Harm Reduction Association.  We are talking about people who have real expertise and who are putting their minds to these sorts of things.

I do not want to go back over everything I said in my last offering when I was dealing with this.  I will take a couple of points from Hansard for anyone to see. It presents an opportunity for a conversation.  That opportunity doesn't exist at the moment in any real way.  I think it is important to understand that is what this offers.  Pill testing offers that opportunity for a conversation.  They will not say, 'Yes, you can take it, it's safe'.  They are not going to say that.  But if a person has grabbed two or three pills from some dealer outside the gates and see this testing situation going on, they may well go into the tent and say, 'I just got these; I'm just a bit nervous about this', and it gives opportunity for the conversation.  It is not to say, 'Yes, it's safe to take'.  They are not going to do that.  They are going to talk to the person.  It might be the very opportunity saves that person's life.

There are others who say the coroner did not consider certain aspects.  I would have the faith in that coroner, given the information they had before them and the expertise they have available to them through people like Alex Wodak, that they would be able to talk to that person and say to them, 'This is risky behaviour'.  They are not going to say, 'It's okay to take'.  They are not going to say that.  We have been told that many times.

It is a bit hard to try to find another example as an analogy.  If you can imagine being at a car race and you know someone has a delaminated tyre and they are about to go out and do 250 kilometres an hour around that track, would you tell them?  Of course, you would tell them.  'Hey, look at the tyre.  That tyre is going to blow, that's unsafe'.

That is probably not a totally good analogy, but the fact is doctors who know these things are unsafe are not going to be giving a positive message to somebody.  If there is any opportunity for us to be able to have that conversation or for appropriate people to have that conversation with young people - and it is not always young people, I have to say.  I have quite often been to the Falls Festival.  As I said before, I am not a drug taker but I see plenty of older people walking around and they look like they might be on something. 

Ms Forrest - How do you define 'older'?

Mr VALENTINE - I have seen lots of people who are in their seventies at that place.  Is that old?

The point is, if you know something and you have the opportunity to tell somebody something that might save their life, you are going to do it.  You are not going to put your head in the sand and them go ahead and put themselves in danger.  The analogy is not great but the fact is, here is the opportunity to have a conversation, so why would we not do it? 

This particular motion is just saying to consider the report.  We have had that debate with the amendment.  I am behind this motion.  I hope the Government carefully considers the findings of that particular report and they take necessary steps to fully examine it, and then put their mind to how they might be able to see a way forward.

I support the motion.  It is a good motion.  As I say, basically repeating myself from the last time, I support it.

Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I want to make a few comments on summing up.

I thank members for their contributions.  I acknowledge the member for Rumney's contribution talking about the broad measures that Falls Festival and others are taking.  I know Party in the Paddock is undertaking some measures as well.  I believe they acknowledge, as young people I talk to who go to music festivals acknowledge, pill taking is a reality.  We need to deal with it and we need to deal with it in a harm minimisation framework that is health focused.  We need to maximise the law enforcement approach to deal with drug dealers and manufacturers, and try to disrupt the supply as much as we can.

I commend the work our police service does in that area.  It is hard work but when they manage to disrupt a supply - they did recently in the north of Tasmania - that is very encouraging. 

As much as we might like to think that our young people do not take drugs, they do.  Not all of them, some of them.  It is a reality.

I want to close with a few comments and start with just reading from the coroner's report in her introduction.  It is important that we listen to the families because I do not want another family to have to go through this if we can do something to prevent it or assist in prevention, particularly in providing an education framework with which to do it.

This is paragraph 3.  This the coroner speaking -

At the outset I acknowledge their families' pain and once again offer each family my sincere and personal condolences.  The court was deeply moved by the grief expressed by parents and their commitment to engage with the inquest process in an attempt to understand the complex factors which may have contributed to their child's death.  The court was also impressed by their clear motivation to help find ways that could prevent other families experiencing the pain they bear.  They come from different backgrounds and may see different solutions to the issues under investigation, but each family has shown extraordinary grace and courage.  They have my full respect.

Mr President, I ask how hard would it have been to sit there and listen to the testimony and the evidence about your child?  When you read the reports in the coroner's report - and I encourage you, if you have not done it, to read that chapter.  You will see that these are real people, young people, who could be one of our sons or daughters.

Paragraph 4 -

To fully understand why Nathan, Diana, Joseph, Callum, Joshua and Alex died it has been essential to learn as much as possible about their drug use at music festivals and to place that use in a broader context.  This process has been a painful one. 

The illegality of MDMA and other drugs sometimes consumed at music festivals means that open discussion of these issues is often difficult or even impossible.  It can be hard for the community to grapple with some of the underlying issues when drug use is illegal, and drug users are stigmatised.  It is difficult to properly explain the potential risks to young people if our only permissible message is 'just say no'. 

While we continue to hide the true extent of drug use, it remains inherently more dangerous.  I commend the young people's friends and peers who came forward to assist the court in these difficult circumstances. 

Their names have rightly been blocked out in the report but the courage it would have taken them to front up.

We need to understand how many young people take drugs and why they do it.  We need to understand what is common practice, and what risks are known and understood.  There is little prospect of medical intervention without this kind of important information.  As a result of the assistance given, the court was able to understand the circumstances of each death in the context of a substantial and growing body of expert evidence and research. 

Mr President, I encourage all members - and the member for Windermere who was not here for a lot of my contribution during the debate in the Chamber, so he probably did not hear some of the things I referred to, but in the appendices, from page 142 on, there are pages and pages of the expert advice, the evidence and everything that was provided to the coroner to enable her to make informed decisions around what she recommended.  It is based on all that evidence and far‑reaching research.  It was also backed up by Dr Morgan, who I quoted, who is a toxicologist who actually embedded herself in the research from all around the world for three months to do that.

I have listened to both sides of this debate, as did the New South Wales State Coroner, and have spoken to many of my constituents and other Tasmanians about this matter.  Support for the introduction of pill testing is broad across all demographics and is significantly higher than opposition. 

As I mentioned previously, I found that when discussing this issue with those who are opposed in their views, their view often changes or alters when they actually understand how pill testing is conducted and how the health messaging is the focus, and that patrons, who are considering taking drugs, are told there that there is no safe way to take a drug; the only way to keep yourself safe is not to take it.  They are always told that.  They are not told it might be safe, it is a bit safe.  They are told the only way to be safe is not to take it.

I also acknowledge and repeat that the drugs we are talking about here are illicit and do cause very real harm.  I do not, through this motion, or any other comment, condone illicit drug use.

I do support a harm minimisation approach that includes the provision of accurate, evidence-based information within a health and wellbeing framework.

Unfortunately we know that young people and older people are alike and often undertake risky behaviour.  For young people, it is a part of their growing into adulthood and establishing their own identify.  These people, despite their choices, do not deserve to die.  This motion provides a framework to reduce that risk if the Government will fully consider both the coroner's report and, when available, the ANU review of that ACT trial.

We must not overlook that this motion also calls on the Government to undertake education programs and work with others to put measures in place to enhance the safety of all music festival attendees ahead of the 2019-20 music festival season.  I am really pleased to hear the Government say they would support that aspect.  I know they are not going to support the motion overall, but in my discussions with the minister, the Government fully supports that and I look forward to seeing some work done in that area, and I will be watching.

Mrs Hiscutt - I bet you will.

Ms FORREST - These are really important.  Education is the key in these sorts of things, but even with an effective education program, young people will still take risks.  They take them when driving, with sex, with alcohol, and some of them with drugs.  We might like to pretend that does not happen, but it does. 

I, along with the New South Wales State Coroner, do not see pill testing as a solution.  It is one measure that can be part of a health‑focused harm minimisation approach.  It is not a panacea.  It is not the only thing that needs to be done but I mention it in this motion because it is something that we do need to look at and fully consider.

Some of the other recommendations made by the New South Wales State Coroner do not relate to Tasmania's circumstance, so the Tasmanian Government will rightly say that does not apply to us, that is fine, but the ones around education certainly do and I know the Government will have a look at those.  The motion is worded in such a way to enable the Government to take a broad approach on this important issue. 

As I said before, none of us want to see the untimely death of any young person, but I acknowledge that young and older people do undertake risky behaviour at times and these people, despite their choices, do not deserve to die.  I pass my condolences on to the families of those who have lost young people, not only the six in this coroner's report but all those who lose young people as a result of illicit drug use.  I hope we see those numbers fall right away.  In fact, it would be better to have none at all but 'just say no' does not work.

I thank honourable members for their support of the motion.

Motion, as amended, agreed to.


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