News National Pill testing dilemma leaves Shorten ‘conflicted’ but open to trial

Pill testing dilemma leaves Shorten ‘conflicted’ but open to trial

The latest wave of overdoses and arrests will boost calls for pill-testing at music festivals. Photo: Getty
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Labor leader Bill Shorten has left the door open to supporting a trial of drug pill testing, conceding he is “conflicted” over the issue as a parent.

While Prime Minister Scott Morrison has described that issue as “a matter for the states”, he stopped short of offering to play a leadership role.

Mr Shorten told reporters on Tuesday he was prepared to try and find a solution with the states and stakeholders that may include pill testing if it “saved lives”.

“It’s a really complex issue. First of all, it’s devastating that people have overdosed and died. That’s terrible. My first thoughts to your question would go to the families,” he said.

“I’m a parent of teenagers, you know. They’re going to want to go to festivals soon. I want to keep them safe.

“Now, there are competing views on this question. The police say that what they’re taking is illegal, so you don’t want to make it easier for them to take that illegal substance, I understand that argument.”

Mr Shorten said it was also important not to market pill testing as making illegal drugs “safe”.

“I’ve spoken to emergency medical professionals who say that you don’t want to get a false sense of security by relying on pill testing. On the other hand, if pill testing would have helped save the lives of these young people, you can’t rush to rule it out.

“Now, it is a state issue but I’m happy to talk to our state leaders, talk to the experts, and try and work a path through it.

“On one hand, it’s illegal what they’re doing, on the other hand if it’s happening and people are dying, do we not have an obligation to make them safer? So it’s not an easy issue.

“As a parent, I have conflicting emotions. The best thing is for people not to take them. But I live in the real world and I think that if we’ve got young people taking them, I can understand and sympathise with families who don’t want other families to go through it.”

On Monday, Mr Morrison also conceded there was pressure to consider all options.

“We don’t want to create a permissive culture around drugs in this country. We have got to remember that these are illegal drugs. Our law enforcement authorities are out there, trying,” he said.

“But my heart does go out to those parents as I’m sure Gladys’s [Berejiklian] heart goes out to those parents as well.

“This is a very difficult issue. There are no simple answers and there are many different opinions, but we have got to try to encourage our kids to make good choices and this is a very difficult issue I think, for us all to deal with. But if you lose your kids, gosh, that’s just unthinkable.”

According to an Essential poll conducted in December, a clear majority of Australian voters support pill testing.

On Tuesday the NSW coroner announced it will examine the deaths of five young people who died after suspected drug overdoses at music festivals since mid-September.

The deaths include Diana Nguyen and Joseph Pham, who died on September 15 after the Defqon.1 festival in Sydney, Callum Brosnan, who attended the Knockout Games of Destiny dance party and later died on December 9, and Joshua Tam who was killed at the Lost Paradise festival near Gosford on December 29.

On Saturday, Central Coast teenager Alex Ross-King died in hospital after taking drugs at the FOMO festival in western Sydney.

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