Pill testing advocates say they are not to blame for an Australian-first trial being shelved at the Spilt Milk music festival, to be held in Canberra’s Commonwealth Park next month.
The organiser of Spilt Milk yesterday said the trial to test samples of illicit drugs at the festival would not go ahead because appropriate documentation had not been provided.
Kicks Entertainment director Ryan Phillips told triple j’s Hack the pill testing consortium Safety Testing Advisory Service at Festivals and Events (STA-SAFE) needed “more time to provide documentation, insurance, legal framework and operate on federal land”.
But David Caldicott from STA-SAFE told ABC Radio Canberra the consortium had no request for further documentation.
“I think what’s happened is that there has been pressure placed upon a promoter, who’s a small businessman, and I think that’s probably where the root of the problem lies,” Dr Caldicott said.
“We have provided every piece of documentation that has been requested.”
The pill tests at the festival would have been done with the same technology used by Customs.
Individuals would have been able to take samples of their drugs to a team of medics and chemists and check if the chemicals had caused problems in the past or were risky to use.
Spilt Milk needs a festival licence from the National Capital Authority (NCA), a body that manages planning and development of Commonwealth land in Canberra.
But the NCA denied there was any pressure placed on Mr Phillips and told the ABC dealings had “been quite good”.
On Wednesday Dr Caldicott tweeted that the pill testing consortium was happy to work with the NCA to provide them assurances, but that neither the authority nor Mr Phillips would return their phone calls.
‘Out of the blue’
Dr Caldicott said STA-SAFE placed “no blame” on Mr Phillips.
“He is trying to put together an event which other forces are happy to use to ensure pill testing in Australia doesn’t occur,” he said.
“This has really come out of the blue, which suggests to me that some pressure has been applied and he has been forced to change his mind.”
He added “it was a matter of record” that many people opposed pill testing, pointing to comments ACT Liberal health spokeswoman Vicki Dunne made in the Legislative Assembly in August:
“The Spilt Milk festival is at Commonwealth Park, which is on Commonwealth land.
Pill testing will need Commonwealth Government approval and I doubt that they will give it.[ACT Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris] can feel free to blame the Commonwealth whilst being silently thankful that she did not have to deliver on pill testing.”
The ABC has confirmed that in September ACT Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson wrote to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt and Minister for Local Government and Territories Fiona Nash to bring pill testing on Commonwealth land to their attention.
But Mr Hanson said he did not receive a response from either minister and he had not been in contact with the NCA.
Dr Caldicott said the consortium remained determined a pill testing trial would go ahead in the future in Canberra.
Organiser decided not to go ahead with pill testing: NCA
NCA chairman Terry Webber said it was his understanding Mr Phillips decided not to go ahead with pill testing at the festival.
“If he makes that call, which it sounds like he has, then we’ll work together with him for next year,” he said.
Mr Webber said he was not able to comment on, or identify, particular documents Mr Phillips said were required for the pill testing to go ahead.
He said no deadline was set on supplying documents and the authority played no part in the decision to shelve the pill testing trial.
“I’m not completely familiar with the exact documentation,” he said.
“I’m the chair of the authority. The board hasn’t even met on this matter. It’s being handled our chief executive and his staff, as would any normal process like this.”
Mr Webber said dealings with Kicks Entertainment had been “quite good” and also denied political pressure had been placed on the NCA by any level of government.
“It’s not really the NCA’s role to be supportive [of pill testing] or not,” he said.
Greens to continue push for testing
Despite the NCA’s rejection of political influence, the Canberra Liberals took responsibility for the decision, tweeting it was due to Mr Hanson’s “intervention”.
Canberra Liberals’ tweet praising Jeremy Hanson for intervening in the pill testing trial
ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury said he was disappointed in the decision, also putting responsibility on the Canberra Liberals.
“It is disappointing to see this evidence-based harm minimisation strategy being undermined by simple ideology,” he said.
“We’d like to think that with six weeks to go there is still time to put this together.”
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