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Drug Laws - Question Without Notice

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Cate Faehrmann
NSW Greens MP
10 October 2023

My question is directed to the Minister for Music and the Night-time Economy. In 2019 Deputy State Coroner Harriet Graham had extreme concerns about drug dog operations at music festivals, saying that dogs can precipitate panic ingestion or dangerous preloading, which can in turn increase the risk of serious illness or fatality. She recommended that, given the evidence of a link between the use of drug dogs and more harmful means of consumption, the model of policing at musical festivals be changed to remove drug-detection dogs. Similarly, Commissioner Dan Howard recommended that the NSW Police Force cease the use of drug-detection dogs at music festivals and implement other detection practices to target illicit supply. Given that, why, four years later and with another two tragic deaths over the October long weekend at music festivals with a heavy drug dog presence, is this Government continuing to use drug dogs at music festivals?

The Hon. JOHN GRAHAM (Special Minister of State, Minister for Roads, Minister for the Arts, Minister for Music and the Night-time Economy, and Minister for Jobs and Tourism): I thank the member for her question. She has been a strong advocate in this area for the view she put in her question. These matters have been the subject of debate in the House for some time. I particularly commend the work of the two inquiries that the member referred to. The coronial inquest was very serious work, looking at the tragic summer when we lost six young people at festivals, with all the impact that had on their family and friends. I also commend the work of the ice commissioner. The serious work that went into those reports to the former Government was referred to earlier by another member. They are two very serious bodies of work that provide good evidence on the public record to guide the Parliament and this Government how to act, as they should have guided the former Government.

This Government has been clear about its next steps in this area. As the Hon. Penny Sharpe outlined earlier in question time, the Government will hold a drug summit. The Leader of the Government outlined the timetable for that, and my expectation is that those matters, including the reports and the evidence, will be directly addressed at that drug summit. I commend the work that has been done. We will be able to have a very serious discussion, partly standing on the shoulders of that work. Some community advocates have said, "Do you need a drug summit? Why can't you just work off that work?" Clearly there are still community divisions. Clearly there is a range of political views about the issues. That is one of the reasons why it is very important that we hold a drug summit and do as the former Labor Government did under Premier Bob Carr—bring together people with different views on the issue, the evidence and people whose lives have been impacted, put them in the one room and sort through the difficult issues.

If the issues were simple they would have been solved by now. I respectfully do not agree with the view of some community advocates that we can simply implement the recommendations without that difficult discussion. I think we will get a better result from having those discussions at the drug summit. I indicate to the House that the Government has commenced the Music Festivals Act review, which is about supporting music festivals operating in New South Wales but keeping young people safe. I place on record my sorrow and my thoughts for the two young lives that were lost a short time ago.

Ms CATE FAEHRMANN: I ask a supplementary question. I thank the Minister for his answer. He mentioned the drug summit. Is the Government considering—like trialling pill testing—reducing the presence of drug-detection dogs, in line with what both Harriett Graham and Commissioner Dan Howard said was needed to save lives? Given that it is going it be a long, hot summer, that there have already been two deaths at music festivals and that the drug summit will be after the music festivals, will the Government consider trialling a reduced drug dog presence, because that is what the evidence says is needed to save lives?

The Hon. JOHN GRAHAM: I have outlined the Government's position to the member. We will deal with the issues in those reports, including the issue that the member is asking about, at the drug summit. The Government is taking a close interest in festivals over this summer. I have been speaking to members of the Music Festival Roundtable, which engages the key government agencies and festival industry members, about some of the issues, as we look ahead to the summer. The fact that dialogue is going on between Health, police, Liquor and Gaming and festivals is very important as we approach this summer. Recall, that dialogue was opposed by the Government at the time. The Government's position at the time was there should be no dialogue between industry and those important agencies. I have attended the Music Festival Roundtable a number of times and spoken to both government and industry representatives. I assure members that young people are safer because that dialogue is going on. I commend the members of that panel representing the Government—the health agencies, the police agencies and Liquor and Gaming—and the industry members. There is more work to do; members know that. I have outlined how the Government will deal with that work.

The Hon. JEREMY BUCKINGHAM: I ask a second supplementary question. Will the Minister elucidate his answer in regard to the roundtable discussions with stakeholders and whether any of those stakeholders have raised concerns about the use of drug sniffer dogs or made a request for pill testing at the music festivals they conduct?

The Hon. JOHN GRAHAM: I thank the member for his question. I acknowledge that he has been active in this space. I do not want to speak for all the members of the round table. It has not been raised specifically while I have been there, but I have no doubt that it is the view of some of those participants. There would be a range of views, given the mix of people around the table, but it has not been raised while I have been present.

 

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Cate Faehrmann
NSW Greens MP
10 October 2023
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