The Victorian Government is reportedly looking to expand police powers, allowing police to search individuals without reasonable suspicion, to tackle illicit drug use at music festivals.
This comes after more than twenty people were hospitalised and three people died from an overdose of MDMA in Melbourne last January.
According to Victorian Minister for Police, Lisa Neville, the new powers will mean police can target music festivals. In an interview with ABC online, she said that bush doofs were the current priority due to a lack of ambulance services in the remote areas where the events are held. Those with a “track record of drug use” will be searched on arrival.
This, despite numerous reports that searching patrons for drugs, does more harm than good. Former Director of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery, told news.com.au way back in 2014 that the fear of being caught with illicit substances actually encourages people to take all their drugs at once, resulting in a “panic overdose.”
Ms. Neville told the ABC that the amendments to police powers were all about reducing harm, and helping kids have a fun time in a safe environment.
Her views mirror that of former NSW Premier Mike Baird whose entire plan of attack in fighting the good fight against pill testing was: “just don’t take the pills and you’ll be fine.” If only young festival goers thought of that! It all seems so obvious now. Whether or not he will change his tune on drug safety as quickly as he did on greyhound racing is pretty unlikely.
Watching Australian pollies try to tackle drug use is like watching a sex-education video from the 90’s, where the only form of safe sex was none at all. Apparently convincing young people to not do things because it might harm them, instead of educating them on safe practices, always works out better.
NSW Greens MP and drug safety advocate David Shoebridge has conducted a number of studies regarding police searches at music festivals and their effectiveness in achieving “harm reduction”, which seems to be a every middle-aged politician’s favourite phrase. His most recent report found that the use of sniffer dogs as a reasonable suspicion to search individuals resulted in a false positive rate of more than 64 percent.
Being subject to a search isn’t the best time. In the case of festival security, not only is the level of inspection inconsistent, but searches are often invasive and pointless when no contraband is found. Additionally, police searches can often involve a huge violation of privacy, where in many instances, innocent patrons have been forced to strip down and even squat on the ground.
So, where is the Victorian Government going to draw the line between “harm reduction” and respect for individuals’ privacy? Is the (failing) war on drugs more important than the right for individuals to feel comfortable and not be forced to squat on the side of the road? Will they stop using dogs to detect drugs and give them all to me to keep as my own beautiful puppers? Probably not. So my professional opinion as a veteran festival attendee is be safe, be responsible and get on as many strangers’ shoulders as you can.