The ACT government's plan to trial free pill testing at Canberra's Spilt Milk festival has been blocked, as pill testing advocates, ACT politicians, and festival organisers debate over who is to blame.
The potential benefits of allowing testing — which identifies the substances in a pill — at festivals has long been debated around Australia, but has never been given a green light.
Following the announcement of the trial, ACT Liberal and shadow attorney-general Jeremy Hanson wrote to federal MPs Greg Hunt and Fiona Nash on September 28.
Hanson said in his letter the proposed pill testing trial was questionable on legal grounds and raised issues of liability. "I would appreciate your early advice on the government's interpretations of this matter," he wrote.
Two weeks later, the trial was stopped after planning documents were allegedly not sent to the National Capital Authority (NCA), which has oversight as Spilt Milk is being held on federal grounds at Commonwealth Park.
ACT police seized drugs at last year's Spilt Milk festival, but said they were satisfied with the behaviour of the public. This year would have offered a window into how pill testing and policing might interact in a festival environment.
On Thursday, the organiser of Spilt Milk, Ryan Phillips, said the trial had been axed due to appropriate documentation not being provided to by STA-SAFE, the group of medical professionals organising the pill tests.
In a post to the Spilt Milk Facebook page, organisers wrote that they had been waiting on STA-SAFE's operational plan, associated risk assessment, insurance, and legal framework.
However David Caldicott, a member of STA-SAFE, told BuzzFeed News that STA-SAFE believed it had supplied all relevant documentation, and that there had been no request for further documentation in the lead-up to the test's eventual obstruction.
After the trial was canned Caldicott spoke to the NCA and said: "Whatever it is you want, give us a time frame and we will get it for you."
Caldicott said Spilt Milk could have become "Australia's safest festival" and was concerned about patrons using untested pills.
"This is a medical trial," he said. "I feel that this could backfire. Politics is interfering with medical professionals."
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Hanson said pill testing sent the message that illegal drug use was sanctioned by the government, and that there were "serious health and legal issues" that needed to be addressed.
Hanson claimed a forensic toxicologist was on record saying "he and other professionals were concerned about the lack of scientific debate and the lack of reliability of these test".
Hanson did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for identification of the toxicologist.
In Canberra, the ACT Greens is arguing the Liberals used its ties with federal politicians to "undermine the ACT government".
"The Canberra Liberal's campaign to undermine and sabotage pill testing in the ACT is based purely on ideology and not on evidence," said Shane Rattenbury, Greens member for Kurrajong and the ACT's acting health minister.
"No one from the NCA, the promoter or anywhere else has yet been able to explain what additional documents are required."
An ACT government spokesperson echoed Rattenbury's disappointment, saying in a statement to BuzzFeed News that the territory had missed out on an opportunity to hold the safest festival in Australia.
"We sent everything they needed," said David Caldicott. "Insurance, waivers ... the operation plan is written by the same people who did the Sydney Olympics!
"We can't do what is best for Australians because politicians are trying to stop us."
Brad Esposito is a news reporter for BuzzFeed and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Brad Esposito at email@example.com.
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