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MUSIC FESTIVALS BILL 2019 second reading debate

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Cate Faehrmann
NSW Greens MP
14 November 2019

Ms CATE FAEHRMANN (14:53:47): On behalf of The Greens I speak in debate on the Music Festivals Bill 2019.

In some ways the bill is the Government's response, finally, to the tragic, drug‑related deaths of six young people at music festivals over the past couple of summers, including five during last summer. My colleague the Hon. John Graham talked about the history of that, particularly since September last year when two people died at Defqon.1.

The Greens will not be opposing the bill. We will be supporting it but only if the amendments that the Hon. John Graham has discussed are passed. The Greens will also be proposing some amendments which we believe are fundamentally important to improving this legislation. If the bill is not amended it is important to remember that it essentially legislates the regulations that the House disallowed only a month or two ago. After receiving a briefing on the bill a few weeks ago by the Minister, I was rather disappointed—incredulous really—that since those regulations were rejected during the debate in this House, the Minister has not consulted with the industry about the bill despite the inquiry's strong recommendations to do just that.

The Greens welcome Labor's amendments to ensure that the bill includes a provision for a roundtable. The regulation committee recommended that there be a regulatory roundtable which would include Liquor & Gaming NSW, the police and a range of other agencies such as health, but crucially members of the industry or those nominated festivals that the bill seeks to regulate. I hope Labor's amendment does pass because we support changing the language from "high-risk" to "nominated". I understand Labor also seeks to amend the definition of "music festival" in the bill. The current definition of "music festival" is laughable because it refers to:

an event, other than a concert, that—

is music-focused or dance-focused, and

has performances by a series of persons or groups …

is held within a defined area, and

is attended by 2,000 or more people, and

is a ticketed event.

That definition implies there has been a gross lack of consultation with the industry because clearly that describes many events in New South Wales and not only the music festivals that the Government is so eager to regulate. This bill essentially requires high-risk festivals—let us call them that for now until this amendment hopefully passes—to prepare safety management plans including how the operators, health services and harm reduction initiatives will comply with NSW Health music festival guidelines.

I will talk about the Deputy State Coroner's findings into the music festival deaths. All members in this House recognise the importance of having safety management plans in place for music festivals and, indeed, many other similar events. The Deputy State Coroner's findings do not make light reading, particularly when describing the traumatic ways in which Nathan Tran, Diana Nguyen, Joseph Pham, Callum Brosnan, Joshua Tam and Alex Ross-King died. The Deputy State Coroner describes all six of those deaths but I will talk about a couple where it was clear that the medical services provided by the festival operators was grossly inadequate. It is important to recognise that since those deaths occurred over the summer which were a result of higher potency MDMA, hot weather and a range of different issues, NSW Health and the festival operators have addressed the lack of services.

While reading about those deaths I thought that most of those festivals would have had stricter guidelines and senior medical staff in place, which I have found to be the case at the music festivals I have attended. It is clear that some music festivals, particularly before this summer, did not have the necessary medical staff in place. Diana Nguyen and Joseph Pham died at Defqon.1. At that time that festival had no official guidelines in place requiring minimum medical staff levels, or mandated qualifications for contracted medical practitioners. The Deputy State Coroner requested that an emergency medical professional investigate each death and the care they were provided. Associate Professor Holdgate was extremely critical of aspects of the care provided to Diana and Joseph by medical staff contracted by Emergency Medical Services [EMS]. One criticism is that it failed to secure a timely transfer of both patients to hospital. I am extremely critical of the fact that the Government has not acted upon the many recommendations contained in the Deputy State Coroner's report and that is why The Greens will support the bill if it is amended.

The EMS medical team at Defqon.1 was not adequately resourced or skilled to provide simultaneous resuscitation of multiple critically ill patients. The team was faced with two critically ill patients both requiring significant resuscitation and an urgent hospital transfer. A decision was made to initiate many treatments on site which could have been satisfactorily performed en route to hospital by the intensive care paramedics who were present at the venue. Associate Professor Holdgate cites evidence from intensive care paramedics, one of whom told the Deputy State Coroner:

I found it extremely difficult to deliver care to this patient [Joseph] as there was no team leader established.

So there were not enough medical professionals present at Defqon.1 and there were no protocols in place to clearly delineate responsibilities as well identifying who would take leadership in a particular situation. The doctors were given the patients' medications during the arrest that paramedics were not aware of. One paramedic said:

I found the lack of leadership and crew resource management of the Event Medical Service crew to be completely abhorrent. The critical patients were managed very poorly, where there were not specific guidelines surrounding when NSWA Paramedics were to take over care or provide clinical assistance to the event medical teams.

Another stated:

… the Defqon.1 paramedics reported a number of other concerns, including that EMS appeared to be overwhelmed by the situation of multiple critically ill patients presenting simultaneously, that EMS ran out of oxygen cylinders, and that they considered there was an excessive delay in getting Diana and Joseph to hospital.

Associate Professor Holdgate gave significant evidence outlining the appalling lack of care given to those two patients who needed to be transferred to hospital immediately and who required critical care to avoid death. The Deputy State Coroner's report contains some criticism of one of the doctors related to Joseph and Diana's care. The report states:

Diana had been critically ill in the treatment tent, with incomplete resuscitation, for approximately 70 minutes before being transported to hospital.

The paralysing drug that was administered, suxamethonium, was contraindicated in this clinical situation as it may worsen hyperkalaemia and precipitate cardiac arrest.

The requirement for Dr Wing—

one of the doctors that the Deputy State Coroner is referring to—

to supply his own drugs further undermined the coordination and leadership hierarchy.

There was an ad hoc collection of medications provided by Dr Wing with a very limited number of doses of important resuscitation drugs …

As I said, reading this report and knowing that perhaps the deaths of those two young people could have been avoided if medical services deployed at Defqon.1 were of a higher standard was incredibly disturbing. In relation to Joseph, the report states:

EMS staff did not initiate a plan to transport Joseph to hospital until after he had progressed to cardiac arrest.

Joseph’s body temperature should have been re-checked.

EMS staff were unable to effectively manage his airway and required assistance from NSWA but did not actively seek this when it was first offered.

Honestly, it is a litany of disasters. I cannot imagine what the families of Joseph and Diana experienced while listening to this evidence in the coronial inquest. Their children might have been saved if a more appropriate safety management plan, which included the NSW Health guidelines, had been in place. Let us be clear: Regardless of this legislation, after these terrible stuff-ups and deaths—who knows whether it was too expensive for the festival organisers to get a better medical tent or more qualified medical staff—it is important to know that EMS and Defqon.1 made a lot of changes, as did NSW Health in putting in place the health guidelines that are the subject of the bill today.

Mr Hammond, who is the operator of Defqon.1, told the Coroner's Court that EMS made a lot of changes. The Coroner's report says:

EMS assisted with consultation for the new NSW Health Guidelines …

EMS changed procedure for early transport decisions, including clarifying their role as being to refer patients to NSWA …

EMS has engaged an independent agency to locate suitable qualified doctors for EMS events.

EMS also did a range of different things such as engaging medical thermal imaging technology for events. The report adds:

EMS has created a mobile phone application called 'EMS Assist' which is provided to all patrons. With the push of a button a user's location is communicated to EMS within 1.5 square metres to permit easier dispatch of teams.

That is amazing and incredible. Reading the report makes it clear that it is not that nothing has happened after those really unfortunate, tragic deaths and that the reason the bill has been introduced is that, thank goodness, the New South Wales Government has stepped in and wants to legislate it.

The festival operators have looked at their operations and NSW Health has produced the guidelines. Before I talk about some of the proposed Greens amendments, I will touch on the circumstances surrounding each death. As I have said before, the one essentially similar thing in the deaths of all six of those young people was MDMA toxicity. The Deputy State Coroner's report says that the reason for their deaths was that they had way too much MDMA in their bodies. That is reflected in some of the evidence, particularly relating to Alex Ross-King, who ingested all her drugs—almost three MDMA pills—before she went into the festival because she wanted to avoid detection by police. The evidence in the Deputy State Coroner's report also talks about the strength of MDMA over the previous two summers. It is important for the Government to take note of it.

We know that the New South Wales Government has refused to respond to particular aspects of the Deputy State Coroner's report or at least respond to the evidence relating to pill testing contained in the report. The report's paragraph 308 says, in part:

For example, we know from European intelligence that the average quantity of MDMA in ecstasy tablets in the 1990s and 2000s was approximately 50-80 mg, with the current average closer to 125 mg, and the recent emergence of 'super pills' containing 270‑340 mg, representing a substantial increase in tablet dose.

The report adds:

As outlined in evidence by Associate Professor Holdgate, 'although higher blood levels of MDMA are associated with worse toxicity, deaths associated with MDMA have been reported in individuals with blood levels in the 'recreational' range and toxic effects are not necessarily directly related to the level of MDMA in the blood …'

It says further:

While there is clear evidence that most MDMA deaths occur at higher doses, the effect of the environment in which the drug is taken is particularly important in relation to deaths at summer music festivals.

I am reading out these parts because I feel that in some ways they are missing from the safety plan.

The Health guidelines talk about catering for the summer environment, ensuring that there are misting tents—which Defqon.1 is doing—and ensuring that people can calm down. The Deputy State Coroner's report talks about the distress of the individuals in the last hour or two before they unfortunately passed away and states that their bodies were overheating. Everything should be in place to ensure that people are able to chill and that there are spaces to get away from high-intensity dance floors. Alex Ross-King and her friends were dancing on hot, black plastic on a dance floor in the middle of summer at two o'clock in the afternoon. Her friends say that it was like they were baking on the dance floor. This is a good reason that the NSW Health guidelines, in consultation with some festival operators, will now be required to be put in place as a result of the bill. That is a good thing.

But what a shame that the Government is not looking at more drug education and harm reduction education. It is a shame that the Government is not recognising that people coming to the events will want to take MDMA—and they do take it—and that one of the ways of keeping them as safe as possible is knowing how much they are taking because, as I said, according to the Deputy State Coroner's findings, each of the six people who died had way too much MDMA in their system. That could have been as a result of purer pills.

What a shame that the Government is not considering pill testing so that these individuals who are thinking of taking MDMA can find out its strength so that potentially they do not take as much or potentially not take it at all. We know that trials in various countries that have drug-checking facilities report that almost one in three people choose not to take the drug once they have spoken with health professionals at music festivals. They are told that the safest thing to do is to not take the drug because it will always have some kind of risk. They are also told that if they must do it, here is how to stay safe. If those drug‑checking facilities are not in place then people are going to do it, which is what has happened. They have no idea what they are taking and, importantly, their friends do not know what signs to look out for that people are getting into trouble.

Another excellent aspect of the bill, and that the NSW Health guidelines have championed, is the use of peer-based harm reduction services, such as DanceWize, ACON rovers and the Australian Red Cross program, save‑a‑mate. The Deputy State Coroner particularly had a lot of praise for those peer‑based harm reduction programs. The NSW Health guidelines say that there needs to be more of them and that what is so important about those programs is that if young people feel they are in trouble or that their friend is in trouble, they are far more likely to approach one of those people walking around in a brightly coloured ACON or DanceWize vest because they look like someone they can relate to, as opposed to a police officer or a security guard. If their friend is in trouble or they are in trouble they can seek help and the evidence is in that that is what people do.

However, The Greens will move several amendments. Importantly, we will not move amendments that would implement other recommendations from the Deputy State Coroner's findings. It was tempting to do so, however, I know that they would not be supported this afternoon in this place. In fact, some of them require bills in themselves and others hopefully will be the subject of different recommendations. I note that the roundtable recommendations from the Labor Party will ensure that the roundtable must consider relevant reports and reviews. I hope that one of those reports is the Deputy State Coroner's report because, as I have indicated for the past 10 or 15 minutes, it is incredibly powerful reading and has significant findings and recommendations, which I think have been too glossed over by the Government to date. A roundtable with all of the relevant stakeholders, as well as industry responses to those recommendations to come up with a plan to implement some of them, will be excellent. I will also move an amendment to ensure that one of those reports that the roundtable must look into is the Deputy State Coroner's report.

The Greens will also move an amendment about the information needed to be provided to the Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority [ILGA] in the safety management plan. At the moment the safety management plan must be provided to ILGA at least 90 days before the event and requires the qualifications and work experience of the persons engaged by the health service be provided. It is impossible for health services to know exactly which health providers or health professionals will be working on any given day and to provide their work experience. It is ridiculous, so my amendment will require this 14 days beforehand and will instead look at the number of people working, which is sensible.

The Greens will also move amendments to the maximum penalty of 12 months' imprisonment for the offence of failing to comply with the safety management plan. That penalty is ludicrous and hopefully the House will support that amendment. We will also move an amendment to the incredibly onerous and ridiculous incident register provisions. The bill expects a music festival organiser to be scanning a crowd of 20,000 at a music festival for potential antisocial behaviour and to keep that on an incident register, as well as potential persons suspected of possessing or using drugs. Can members imagine having to do that? Again, that is unworkable.

I certainly hope our amendments will be supported. While music festivals have put in place a lot of changes, which is what the Deputy State Coroner suggests, she also says that the NSW Health guidelines are a good piece of work, which I agree with. In fact, they are almost world class and we know some festivals in other States are looking at them. That was, in some ways, the type of consultation work that the Government should have done with the industry to begin with, instead of the heavy-handed music festival crackdown response of the Premier in the days after those tragic deaths. That was completely the wrong response and is in some ways why this matter has been such a headache for the Premier. The recommendation in future is to talk to the industry that we are trying to regulate and at least understand where they are coming from and recognise that they are trying their best. They have responded after these terrible incidents. No‑one wanted those tragic deaths to occur and they should not have occurred. Let us hope that the bill, when sensibly amended, can put some sense back into this debate.

Importantly, the amendment that the Hon. John Graham will move should be supported too, knowing that this can be reviewed as well within a few short months after the summer festival season by the very industry that the Government failed to communicate with.

The Hon. ROD ROBERTS (15:21:28): One Nation supports the bill in principle. One Nation supports a vibrant music scene. We see and support the need for a diverse cultural and social scene. We also recognise the significant economic contributions that festivals make. This is so important in our regional areas, particularly now. However, we wish to see festivals, and all events, held safely. We recognise that the vast majority of festivals run with no significant issues. However, it must be acknowledged that unfortunately last summer five young lives were lost due to the consumption of illegal drugs at music festivals. Many others were hospitalised and treated as a result of their drug use. The community looks to Parliament to provide guidance and solutions to address the causes of those deaths. We must provide the community with the comfort that all appropriate measures have been undertaken to ensure that the risks have been mitigated.

I am not going to provide a second reading debate contribution on behalf of the Government, but the key purpose and principle of the bill revolve around the safety of patrons, which all members in this House should applaud. The bill requires operators of high‑risk festivals to prepare and lodge safety management plans. Those plans must outline the operator's health services and harm‑reduction initiatives and how they comply with the NSW Health guidelines, along with plans for access for emergency services vehicles and such forth. The key focus is on ensuring that adequate medical personnel and appropriate equipment is onsite to deal with emergencies that occur, particularly relating to illegal drugs use. That makes perfect sense and revolves around best practice for harm reduction. However, we have some issues with certain parts of the bill and I am aware that certain amendments will be proposed by both the Opposition and The Greens. I will speak to those further when they are presented in the Committee of the Whole.

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Cate Faehrmann
NSW Greens MP
14 November 2019
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