Promoters pull plug on pill testing trial


After years of planning, negotiation and confirmation, trial organisers found out they had been dropped over social media… what happened?

Festival promoters have decided to drop a pill testing trial in the ACT, less than one month after it was announced.

In late September, the ACT government had given the green light for an Australia-first free pill testing service to be provided at the Spilt Milk Festival, to be held in Canberra on 25 November.

According to figures from organisation Harm Minimisation Australia – which led the charge in organising the pill testing program – promoters pulled the plug following pressure from government sources.

“It’s a setback, it’s a delay,” Harm Minimisation Australia President Gino Vumbaca tells AJP.

“Canberra has a unique situation where some major areas of land are owned by the Federal Government by the National Capital Authority (NCA), which is not an independent authority.

“My understanding is that the promoter was put under enormous pressure, he hadn’t had the festival – which was a sellout – finally approved by the NCA.”

Mr Vumbaca says that while the trial had widespread support including from the territory government, there were figures in the Federal circle that opposed the trial.

“We have the support of the ACT government, police, we negotiated with cabinet, went through a long process to review how it was going to be done. All of that. The government is committed to it.

“There was only one opinion against it and that was from the Federal Government.”

Dr David Caldicott, an emergency room physician and member of Harm Minimisation Australia, says there’s more to the story than just that the trial organisers hadn’t provided NCA with the documentation they felt was necessary to proceed.

Dr Caldicott wrote in Vice magazine that in the second week of October, anti-pill testing op-eds started popping up in Canberra newspapers, which signalled to him that something was “a little… off”.

He also said the ACT shadow Attorney-General had written a letter to Senator Fiona Nash and Minister Greg Hunt on September 28—asking them to use the NCA to stop the trial of pill testing.

After two years of planning for the trial, and a year of “intensive negotiations” between harm minimisation organisations and the ACT, Dr Caldicott says he found out that the promoters had pulled the pin on the pill-testing—over social media.

Mr Vumbaca says a trial “will happen” but is reluctant to name any potential event promoters at the moment.

“There are forces at play that try to undermine progressive policies like this. We’re extremely annoyed because it’s a pilot program. It’s extremely anti-science.”

“This is just a setback,” says Dr Caldicott.

“The manner in which it has occurred has galvanised the testers, the ACT Government, and the AFP in a way that should make our opponents worry.”

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