Music festivals are appealing, particularly for young people determined to embrace the freedom and liberty that growing-up admiring artists with like-minded revellers inspires.
It is no different to previous generations with international arts and music festivals such as Woodstock, Glastonbury and Coachella defining culture, shifting boundaries, raising awareness of important issues and providing a platform for performers and their adoring fans to champion a variety of social and economic causes.
The want to attend festivals, particularly all-ages events, will continue to increase as popularity surges. The pressure on parents and guardians to either chaperone, or trust their charges to be safe whilst chaperoned by others, delivers a conundrum.
Via YouTube, it was wonderful to watch the enjoyment and exuberance of triple j’s One Night Stand at St Helens. Reports suggest Tasmania did it better than anywhere else so far, with the acts embracing the fervour stirred by legions of young fans determined to have a great time at an alcohol and drug-free event.
The Falls Festival, with police praising behaviour, was again an incredible success and for many, now considered a rite of passage. Camping, dancing, partying, drinking (when of age) and embracing life to its fullest.
If “Just Say No” is the only message we’ve got to protect young people from harm, we are doing a great disservice to our loved ones.
Party in the Paddock will soon follow, with British enigma Lily Allen making the trip to White Hills, highlighting the growth and significance of the festival.
We all hope that attendees aged 18+ party safe and have fun, but we remain far from naive about the dangers and possible consequences of risk-taking behaviour.
Excessive alcohol consumption and illicit drug taking creates a minefield for parents and guardians, emergency workers, security services and law makers. However, we must remember that although these issues may be different, they are not new.
Pill testing is an important community debate that should be underpinned by research, not politics. I am not sure if it saves lives, but it needs to be considered as a part of a holistic, preventative and harm minimisation approach.
As a family, we often view these issues through the prism of our children, and those of our friends. If my child attended a festival and chose to take an illicit substance, would we want them to take all reasonable steps?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want anyone to swallow, smoke or inject illicit substances nor drink alcohol to dangerous levels, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
Pill testing includes a consultation with a peer educator, infrared testing of a sample by a chemist, and a further counselling session with a peer educator.
Many politicians, petrified of being framed as soft on crime and apprehensive about the consequences at the ballot box, rush to condemn pill testing. Depending on the election cycle, sometimes it is Labor, sometimes it is Liberal and sometimes it is both decrying the initiative, highlighting that the arguments are often of a political nature rather than fully informed by facts.
Slogans and statements including: “Just Say No.” “This Government will not provide quality assurance for drug pushers.” “We are not having pill testing in this state, not under a government I lead anyway.” And “it’s part of a stunt” are not particularly helpful, nor is poorly drafted and hastily tabled legislation aimed at implementing a pill testing trial prior to a popular festival.
A commitment to research, asking questions, learning and making decisions based upon evidence would be a positive step forward, requiring political courage and community leadership.
The ACT recently trialed pill testing at the Groovin the Moo festival. It is common practice in many countries of Europe and the United Kingdom, and across the US, Canada and New Zealand.
Yet, with Sydney and Melbourne implementing medically supervised injecting centres, but not permitting pill testing, I am left struggling to understand the logic.
Like many adults with dependents, I require more information to make an informed decision about voluntary pill testing at festivals. Information that I believe is inadequately utilised by our lawmakers.
Because if “Just Say No” is the only message we’ve got to protect young people from harm, we are doing a great disservice to our loved ones.
- Brian Wightman is a former Tasmanian Attorney-General and school principal