Local candidates for the next state election must be willing to break from party lines on the issue of pill testing in the interests of saving the lives of local young people, local youth workers say.
With yet another drug-related death at a festival over the New Year period, and a record number of illicit drug detections at the Byron Bay Falls Festival, pressure is mounting on our political aspirants to take a stand.
‘I think it’s time for some of our local politicians to step outside of party policy and have a look at what’s needed in their own electorate, their own community,’ local youth worker Nicqui Yazdi said.
‘They need to ask themselves the question, “If I had a child who was going to a festival next week and possibly taking drugs, would I like them to have the opportunity to have those drugs tested, or not?”.’
Ms Yazdi, who was part of a select group of Australians to undertake a special training course in pill testing late last year, said the issue was more pressing in Byron Bay than anywhere else in the state.
‘We’re this massive tourist destination with a party town in the middle of it and with that comes huge consumption of alcohol and other drugs,’ she said.
‘We need pill testing now.’
With less than 100 days until locals go to the polls, only incumbent Ballina MP Tamara Smith (Greens) has unequivocally supported the introduction of pill testing at music festivals.
‘I’ve been talking about pill testing since my early teens and the need for it is greater now than ever,’ Ms Smith said.
‘Do we need another summit on pill testing? No, we already know from the experience of other countries that it works. We need to introduce it now.’
One of Ms Smith’s main rivals for Ballina, Ben Franklin of the Nationals, declined to comment when asked by The Echo to state his personal opinion on pill testing.
The National Party is officially opposed to the practice, with its leader in NSW, John Barilaro, recently saying that pill testing was akin to aiding drug dealers ‘by endorsing the product they’re pushing’.
Greens MP, Labor candidate supportive
Labor’s candidate for Ballina, Asren Pugh, told The Echo that he supported a pill-testing trial in NSW, but only after ‘bringing the experts together to discuss what such a trial would look like’.
This included a discussion about what role police would have in relation to the trial, and what kind of testing regime would be employed.
Another local who works with young people, Ritamba Allen, acknowledged that the process of introducing pill testing would take time, but said there was already strong evidence that it worked.
‘It’s pretty well proven as a form of harm reduction,’ said Ms Allen, who has just returned from conducting pill testing at a festival in New Zealand.
‘In a festival situation it’s a last line of defence. They have bought the drugs, they’ve smuggled them into the festival, and they’re about to put them into their mouths and then they go “oh, I’ll just take them down to the testing place.”
‘It’s not encouraging drug use; it’s for people who’ve already made the decision to take them so they can get a better idea of what they’re about to take.’