The case for decriminalising pingers, ditching dogs and strip searches at music festivals

Home » The case for decriminalising pingers, ditching dogs and strip searches at music festivals

Live Performance Australia (LPA)  welcomed the release of the Deputy State Coroner’s findings from the Inquiry into the deaths of six young people at music festivals.

“The Deputy Coroner has, after six weeks of hearings, made a series of important evidence-based recommendations to improve safety and reduce drug-related harm at music festivals.” said LPA’s Chief Executive, Evelyn Richardson who passed on her sympathies to the families suffering huge loss.  “The music festivals industry has repeatedly put on the public record our desire to work with Government on these issues, including its music festival regulations.

In her final recommendations,, Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame recommended a pill testing trial, big changes to the use of sniffer dogs at music festivals and the decriminalisation of the personal use of drugs.

“There has been no increase in drug use among those countries and Australian jurisdictions where it has occurred, and there has been substantial reductions in criminal justice system expenditure,” said UNSW drug policy scholar,  Professor Alison Ritter who provided a statement at the inquest.   “This means that police can focus their attention on drug trafficking, rather than individuals who consume drugs.”

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Anne Marie Calilihanna / Sydney Mardi Gras After-Party – Tickets here

“There is no evidence sniffer dogs deter drug use. Instead these operations result in unintended, harmful consequences,” added UNSW Law academic, Dr. Vici Sentas. “Drug detection dog operations also lead police to engage in searches without a proper legal basis.  An indication from a dog and looking nervous or avoiding the dog are not reasonable grounds to search someone, yet this practice may be widespread.  Skilled police investigations detect drug trafficking, not sniffer dogs at festivals.”

Professor Ritter said the coroner’s recommendation that pill testing be trialed at music festivals was based on a careful and thorough analysis of the evidence.  She said it wasn’t surprising that the coroner had recommended a pill testing trial in NSW as there had been two successful trials in the ACT.

“Pill testing has been shown to be an effective way to provide accurate information to young people about the risks associated with drug use,” Professor Ritter said.  The international evidence has shown that pill-testing services can reduce risky drug consumption – as evidenced by patrons disposing of drugs after they have been tested.

“The coroner recognises that there is not one model of pill-testing and that both on-site health facilities at music festivals, along with other pill-testing models, such as fixed sites, can add to the suite of services available to reduce drug-related harm,” Professor Ritter said.


In her findings, the coroner referred to the Rethinking Strip Searches by NSW Police report released by UNSW Law academics Dr Michael Grewcock and Dr Sentas in August this year.  The report found that the majority of strip searches across the state are conducted for suspected drug possession, and would be unlawful if conducted for this reason alone.  It also found that the law was failing to provide police with clear guidance on conducting this invasive search procedure and the searches were doing very little to tackle serious drug crime.

“Parliament intended strip searches be used in serious and urgent emergency situations, not for having drugs on you for personal use,” said Coroner Grahame when called to issue an operational guideline or to amend police policy. “It is Parliament that needs to take responsibility in order to guide police. Law reform would make this clear for police and better protect young people’s rights than police policy could.

ne of the drivers of unlawful search practices is the aggressive, high visibility policing of drug possession, but the majority of searches find nothing.  A ‘zero tolerance’ approach to drug use is leading police away from understanding the proper legal basis for conducting a strip search.” 

“Next week the Government’s draft Music Festivals Bill goes to the Upper House with some proposed amendments. These amendments include a proposal to establish an industry roundtable to ensure ongoing consultation and transparency on the operation of the regulations.” continued Richardson,  “Despite repeated assurances of industry consultation, this has failed to eventuate.  Given the Government’s failure to act so far, we believe it’s important that the consultation process is set out clearly in the legislation to ensure the commitment is delivered upon,” Ms Richardson said.

Cover Image: Sam Venn / Field Day


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