Ms JO HAYLEN (Summer Hill) (18:59:29): The Music Festivals Bill 2019 seeks to require organisers of "high-risk" festivals, identified as such by the Liquor & Gaming Authority, to comply with approved safety management plans. These safety management plans are related to the medical, emergency and harm reduction measures laid out by the NSW Health music festival guidelines. The bill seeks to legislate regulations that were disallowed in the Legislative Council following a regulation committee report that rightly found that the consultation in the lead-up to their implementation was inadequate. I note that the report recommended a regulatory roundtable for music be established, which has not yet occurred. Instead, we have a bill before us that still fails to reflect the views of the music festival industry, a bill that raises many questions and a bill that moves to lock in a framework that would have considerable unintended consequences both for the music festival sector and for the predominantly young festival goers who attend these events across New South Wales every year.
Approximately six million people attend a contemporary music event or festival each year, contributing around $325 million in revenue to the New South Wales economy. Much of this revenue is raised in regional communities, where annual festivals are a lifeline for local businesses and workers. What is being ignored here is that music festivals are an absolute boon for regional communities. The Fairgrounds Festival, for example, is held on the first weekend of December each year in Berry, and brings around 6,000 visitors to the Shoalhaven. The festival contributes $3 million to the local economy and accommodation is booked out months in advance as far away as Kangaroo Valley, Nowra and Jervis Bay. Despite being family friendly, organisers of the festival are worried that the regulatory regime will push up costs and jeopardise its ongoing viability.
Splendour in the Grass brings around 35,000 people and $25 million to Byron shire each year, numbers which continue to grow. I was pleased to attend this year's festival as the representative for the Leader of the Opposition—it is a hard job sometimes. In addition to attending the festival and enjoying an amazing line‑up of both local and international acts, patrons crammed local cafes and businesses across the region, supporting people working in hotels, hospitality, food and beverage services, retail and much, much more. At this year's Splendour, accommodation was booked out. There were no hire cars left at local airports. Locals rely on these jobs and there can be no question that these regulations put some of those jobs at risk.
Earlier this year I spoke to the owner of a scaffolding company who contacted my office because he was worried about the Government's festival regulations and noted that key festivals his company was contracted to were signalling that they might not be able to continue. He was facing dire consequences and was devastated by the prospect of having to let staff go. It is clear that the Government does not understand what is really happening at these festivals and just how important they are to local economies and communities. But the value of these festivals cannot simply be defined by numbers. People flock to these festivals because they are an opportunity to see world-class performances by local and international acts in a once-in-a-lifetime setting. They are opportunities to let loose, to connect with friends and to have fun.
We absolutely have a responsibility to ensure we protect the safety and wellbeing of young people in our community, and operators absolutely have a duty of care to their patrons to do the same, but I am deeply concerned that this bill is another example of the Government sticking its head in the sand, ignoring experts and the evidence, and stubbornly pushing ahead with its knee-jerk law-and-order approach when we know that there is a different way forward. The regulations laid out in this bill originated in response to the tragic deaths of young people last summer. They were young people out to have fun with their mates and they paid a terrible price for their choices. They made their choices despite all the warnings from public health professionals, police and educators—for reasons we might all recognise, even if we are not driven to make the same choice they did. Those people do not deserve our judgement. They were deeply loved and deeply cared for. At the end of the day, for all of those young people, we have categorically failed.
I believe the Premier when she says she is working to protect the lives of young people, I really do. I respect and share her objective, but I fundamentally disagree on the best approach to do so. Every death from illicit drug use is a tragedy, more so because they are preventable. I have long been on the record as an advocate for a harm minimisation approach to illicit drugs and making laws based on evidence. I appreciate these are difficult and deeply personal issues for legislators. They are complex, wrenching, intractable and often emotive. But they are also made clearer by close scrutiny of the evidence and facts.
I want to focus on three elements: the current situation around music festivals, our approach to illicit drugs and keeping young people safe. Firstly, pill testing saves lives. In addition to countless overseas trials and successful ongoing programs, there have been two pill testing trials in Australia at Groovin' the Moo festival in Canberra. These trials were conducted by Pill Testing Australia and supported by event promoters, including the Australian Capital Territory Government, health services and police. In this year's trial, the medical service tested a total of 170 substances for 234 participants. Seven substances were detected to contain the highly dangerous drug N-Ethylpentylone. In each instance that that substance was detected, the patrons discarded the pills in the amnesty bins provided.
The trial meant that there was an easy exchange of information between those medical professionals testing the pills and the tent providing medical support, meaning that any adverse reactions could be easily identified and acted on urgently. Each of the 234 participants was provided with drug counselling. Many people reported that they would change their behaviour as a result of their conversations with health workers. The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre's latest report into Australian drug use reports that 45 per cent of MDMA users are testing their own pills using less trustworthy kits. I note that the Uniting Church of NSW has recently announced it would like to host pill testing trials on church properties in line with its broader commitment to harm reduction and treatment.
Secondly, I refer to sniffer dogs and strip searches, which are far from infallible. In fact, they are wrong more times than they are right. In 2006 the NSW Ombudsman's review of police powers revealed that sniffer dogs were correct roughly only 26 per cent of the time. Similarly, a report recently commissioned by the Redfern Legal Centre revealed that only 30 per cent of recorded strip searches resulted in a charge despite increasing over twentyfold since 2006. Of those charged, 82 per cent were for the summary offences of drug possession and only 16.5 per cent for supply.
New South Wales likes to talk a big game in terms of targeting supply, but the numbers do not lie. The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission [LECC] is currently reviewing strip searches, including the behaviour of officers at Splendour in the Grass last year. Some 143 people were purportedly strip searched and only 8.4 per cent of people were found to be in possession of illicit drugs. The LECC has also heard of harrowing reports of a 16-year-old girl who was strip searched by police at Splendour in the Grass without a parent present. Following a false detection from a sniffer dog, she was separated from her friends, asked to squat naked and remove her panty liner for inspection. She sobbed uncontrollably and later reported she had lost all trust in police and felt she could never report anything to police officers again.
Thirdly, we are doubling down on policing without investigating rather than instituting a full suite of harm reduction measures. That will not work. We simply cannot arrest our way out of this problem. It has been said again and again. Our current approach is not working. We need a holistic and evidence-based approach to reduce harm and illicit drug use. Like so many others in the community, I was horrified to learn that the New South Wales Government was dismissing out of hand the recommendations of the Deputy Coroner following her inquest into the tragic deaths last summer. The inquest was held over four weeks and drew on evidence from medical professionals, law experts and law enforcement, as well as families and music festival attendees. [Extension of time]
The Deputy Coroner is yet to produce her final report. However, her draft report was shamefully leaked and published byThe Daily Telegraph and the Deputy Coroner's recommendations were rejected by the Premier. Those recommendations include allowing pill testing at music festivals, ending the use of sniffer dogs at music festivals, hosting a drug summit and decriminalising the possession of small amounts of drugs. Importantly, the Deputy Coroner recommended that the Government redefine "illicit drugs as a primarily health and social issue rather than primarily a law enforcement issue". That is where we need to be.
I am incredibly proud that the Leader of the Opposition has said she is open to a medically supervised pill testing trial in New South Wales. She has showed leadership and a commitment to listening to the experts and following the evidence. By way of contrast, rather than considering the Deputy Coroner's recommendations, the Premier has ignored and dismissed them before they were even finalised—before she even received the final report. In response, Julie Tam, mother of one of the young people who lost their lives last summer, said:
There's not much that comes from the loss of a child, but at the very least I'd like to think that it shines a light on the potential for there to be change. Obviously what's happening now is not working, and if we don't change we're going to continue to see young people fall by the way side … It's disappointing to think that following the amount of effort and money invested into the coronial inquest into the deaths … I just think that's such a waste, I really do. The coroner is paid to be impartial, to gather information based on what the experts say, and for the NSW government to just say 'nope, we're not changing our minds' because what she's recommended might be unpalatable to them, I just struggle to find a word to describe it.
I will find a word for it. I think it is ignorant, short sighted and dangerous. I am angry because this bill seems to follow a pattern of behaviour from the Premier. Despite the best intentions, she continues to ignore expert advice and pushes ahead with the same failed approach. The key reason behind the Legislative Council's decision to disallow the original festival regulation was the appalling lack of consultation with the sector prior to its drafting. This is not merely a point about process. To make decisions about how to best reduce harm faced by young people at music festivals, you need all the information on the table and you need all the people in the room. Frankly, it is irresponsible to foist regulations on festivals that the sector has called unworkable without seeking the input of experts and operators testing the feasibility of the proposed measures and gauging how patrons would respond.
Last week in question time the Premier berated the Legislative Council for overturning her regulations, drafted by her hand-picked panel following the deaths over the summer. These were capable, expert people, but were instructed not to examine pill testing. I say that the Premier cannot have it both ways. She cannot, on one hand, point to one panel of experts who are denied the opportunity to investigate key reforms that might save lives and then, on the other hand, ignore the Deputy Coroner, the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission, the NSW Ombudsman, research from Redfern Legal Centre and UNSW Law and the Legislative Council's Regulation Committee, as well as the countless medical, legal and community experts who say an alternative approach is worth considering. She cannot ignore the very people these music festival regulations are intended to impact.
Labor will move important amendments in the Legislative Council to establish a music festival industry roundtable in line with advice from government agencies and the Regulation Committee. What the sector has been asking for is not unreasonable; it is just asking to be at the table. Without amendment, feedback and input from the sector, this bill will result in poor outcomes. I note this morning that Splendour in the Grass and Falls Festival have threatened to leave New South Wales. It is a very real possibility that we will see these festivals go interstate.
I am worried that this is just the beginning. I am worried that these regulations will do nothing but force operators out of New South Wales and see the return of unregulated paddock parties and sand dune doofs. That is in no-one's interest. It is particularly not in the interest of the regions of New South Wales, and not just the Northern Rivers. To name a few, the Hunter, the South Coast and the Central Coast will lose jobs across the sector. I do not doubt the best intentions of the Premier and the Minister. However, they are ignoring expert advice and instead rushing to implement these laws, which cut out the people who will be charged with implementing safer festivals: the operators themselves. I understand these are complex issues but we cannot afford to put our heads in the sand and ignore the advice of experts and the evidence. Shutting down festivals will not save lives; a consultative approach that includes harm reduction, education and empathy will.