Nation’s first pill testing trial a “momentous” step for drug law reform: ACT Greens

Shane Rattenbury, MLA

The ACT Greens have welcomed the nation’s first pill testing trial in Canberra as a “significant” step forward in drug law reform efforts to minimise harm for recreational drug use.

“We know that young people will experiment. With this trial, we have acted to reduce the risk that young people will experience harm as a result,” Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury said.

Mr Rattenbury acknowledged the continued efforts of the STA-SAFE consortium, drug law reform and public health experts, the University of Canberra, Groovin The Moo promoters, artists, supporters, the ACT Government, including ACT Policing and the Ambulance Service and the Canberra community in realising yesterday’s trial.

The ACT Greens have long advocated for a pill testing trial as a cornerstone of practical and pragmatic drug law reform.

“The STA-SAFE consortium has been trying to get such a trial up and running in Australia for many years, and we are really pleased that the ACT has again lead the way, realising a harm minimisation approach to what is, fundamentally, a public health issue.”

“We want to do our best to ensure festival-goers have a good time, rather than taking avoidable risks. The success of yesterday’s trial will hopefully help assure festival organisers and governments around the country that there are better ways to reduce harm for our young people.”

The road to pill testing: Timeline of events

  • In the lead-up to the 2016 election, the ACT Greens commit to realising a pill testing trial in the ACT.
  • In November 2016, the ACT Greens, together with drug law reform advocates, lobby relevant Ministers to support a pill testing trial at the upcoming Spilt Milk festival.
  • In early 2017, the STA-SAFE consortium officially submit an application for a pill testing trial at the upcoming Groovin The Moo (GTM) Festival to the ACT Government for cabinet consideration. The promoters of GTM are clear that their support is contingent on ACT Government endorsement. In May 2017, GTM goes ahead in Canberra without a pill testing trial in place.
  • The Government shifts to consideration of the issue from a health perspective. The Chief Health Officer then establishes a working group across government and key stakeholders.
  • By September, ACT Government approval has been secured to host a trial.
  • Within weeks, Spilt Milk organisers then retract their earlier support, claiming that the National Capital Authority had refused to provide approval for the trial to go ahead. It remains unclear if and what political intervention may have occurred between the Canberra Liberals and their Federal counterparts: ACT Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury says “the Canberra Liberals have instead used their back channels to undermine the ACT Government—calling up their mates on the Hill to have them interfere in an ACT Government approved program.”
  • In November 2017, Spilt Milk goes ahead in Canberra without a pill testing trial in place.
  • In 2018, the ACT Greens continue to lobby for a pill testing trial to take place at the upcoming Groovin The Moo festival – this time lobbying the festival promoter, not the ACT Government
  • In early April, the ACT Greens joined with some of the nation’s leading drug law reform and harm minimisation experts with an open letter calling on festival promoters to commit to a pill testing trial and “potentially save lives”.
  • On 29 April 2018, the nation's first pill testing trial goes ahead.