News State New South Wales Ex-AFP boss calls for pill testing after festival deaths
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Ex-AFP boss calls for pill testing after festival deaths

drug deaths at Sydney festival
Two people died after suspected drug overdoses at the Defqon.1 festival in Sydney. Photo: Defqon1
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A former boss of the Australian Federal Police has called for pill testing after two people died at a Sydney music festival.

Mick Palmer on Tuesday addressed the National Press Club in Canberra to launch the Take Control campaign for the Ted Noffs Foundation with CEO Matt Noffs.

The former AFP commissioner said it was not about “going soft” on drugs or admitting defeat: “But about admitting what we have is not working.

“If this was a business, we’d have gone broke a long, long time ago.”

Joseph Pham, 23, and Diana Nguyen, 21, both died after the Defqon.1 music festival in Penrith earlier this month.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian has resisted a fresh campaign to allow pill testing, instead appointing a panel to make festivals safer. The experts are barred from looking at pill testing.

Mr Palmer said authorities can’t “arrest our way out of this” to stop drug deaths. To better reduce harm, he said posters at festivals should urge punters:

Don’t be a dill, test your pill.”

He called on Australian governments to end the war on drugs, saying the hardline ‘zero tolerance’ approach had been ineffective.

“For over half a century, our governments have relied heavily on law enforcement to curb the illicit drug trade and reduce drug use. The results, I would suggest, speak for themselves.

“Despite huge funding, ever-increasing levels of police effectiveness and the imposition of lengthy prison terms and huge seizures of drugs … the drug trade has just kept getting bigger, more dangerous and more prosperous.”

He floated decriminalising drug possession, with reforms made incrementally and success tested along the way.

Mr Noffs said young people were buying drugs with ease already, and rarely knew what they were taking.

He suggested Australia could slowly move towards the regulated sale of all illicit drugs.

That would require a focus on education, he said, with no marketing and plain packaging as with tobacco.

The Take Control campaign calls for an end to criminal charges for minor possession. The Noffs Foundation also wants more treatment and engagement services, as well as drug monitoring rooms like the ones in Sydney’s Kings Cross and Melbourne’s Richmond.

Speaking in Canberra on Tuesday, Mr Palmer also weighed in on the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s intention to reclassify amyl nitrite as a Type A drug alongside heroin.

“No other ban has been effective. Why would this one?” Mr Palmer said, adding he was not an expert on the drug.

Amyl is used as a muscle relaxant in sex, particularly by the LGBTI community, and as a recreational drug for giving a brief high.

Mr Palmer was AFP commissioner between 1994 and 2001.

What is pill testing?

The Australian-first trial, allowed by the ACT government at this year’s Groovin’ The Moo festival, caught two potentially toxic samples.

Punters brought their drugs to the STA-SAFE laboratory tent where medical staff and chemists took a sample for analysis.

Information on the purity of the drug and its contents was then provided to the users, who were reminded of the inherent risks of drug taking.

An amnesty bin was on site for drugs to be ditched and destroyed.

Of the 85 substances sampled, half were pure MDMA and half had been cut with products like sweetener and paint. Two of the samples were potentially deadly.

The New Daily contacted Ms Berejiklian for comment.

The Ted Noffs Foundation is calling on Australians to sign a petition as part of the campaign at its website.

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