NSW premier backs licences over pill tests

Requirements for 'high risk' festivals to provide a safety management plan may be reinstated in NSW.
Requirements for 'high risk' festivals to provide a safety management plan may be reinstated in NSW.

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian says her government won't back pill testing despite the deputy state coroner recommending drug checks be made available at music festivals across the state.

Leaked draft recommendations from deputy state coroner Harriet Grahame propose "best practice" pill testing be introduced and NSW Police cease using sniffer dogs to reduce the risk of revellers "double dosing, pre-loading and swallowing drugs" to avoid detection.

The coroner also suggests strip searches be limited for similar reasons.

But Ms Berejiklian wouldn't be moved, and is instead pushing to reinstate a controversial licensing regime for music festival organisers.

Pill testing "gives people a false sense of security", the Liberal leader insisted on Wednesday, despite most experts arguing it would help save lives.

"Our heart goes out to families who've lost a loved one under these circumstances but unfortunately it's been found that (it's) the pure drug, it's pure MDMA, that is killing young people," Ms Berejiklian told ABC radio.

"We would say to young people, do not take these drugs because you or your loved ones could suffer as a result."

The premier instead wants high-risk festivals to again be required to prepare safety management plans.

The controversial scheme was disallowed in the upper house in late September when Labor, the Greens and the Shooters joined forces to defeat the government's bill.

"Out of the 90-odd music festivals we hold across the state, for the vast majority it's business as usual, they do a great job and we encourage people to go and support those wonderful festivals," Ms Berejiklian said.

"But for 11 of them that are high risk, they need to have safety management plans in place, they need to have adequate medical staff (and) adequate security."

The new Musical Festivals Bill 2019 was introduced to the lower house on Wednesday evening by Customer Service minister Victor Dominello.

"This new scheme is not about targeting certain festivals or trying to shut them down, far from it," Mr Dominello told the parliament.

"It is about ensuring that the NSW music festival scene is known not only for its wide range of offerings, exciting acts and vibrant experiences, but for having a well coordinated approach when planning these important events.

"This bill gives festival patrons and their families the comfort that there are adequate measures in place to deal with possible risks associated with these events."

Labor leader Jodi McKay on Wednesday said the opposition supported a trial of pill testing.

"We have to take brave decisions," Ms McKay told reporters.

"I'm not saying we introduce pill testing, I'm saying we trial it if this is what the coroner recommends."

But Ms McKay ruled out two of the coroner's other recommendations: the decriminalisation of drugs for personal use and the limitation of sniffer dogs at festivals.

Greens MP Cate Faehrmann said the coalition needed to "accept the reality of drug use and commit to reducing harm from that use".

The Police Association of NSW on Wednesday said the Coroners Court was not an appropriate forum for policy-making.

"Any inference made by the coroner that our members have contributed to the deaths of festival-goers is offensive and wrong," acting president Kevin Morton said.

"There is no safe way to take drugs. Detecting (drug dealing) has to remain a priority. I call on the judicial system to back police in that process."

Australian Associated Press