By Andrew Lund
Supporters of a pill testing trial in Victoria have received a significant boost, with a group of cross-bench MPs joining forces to put pressure on the Andrews government.
The MPs hold the balance of power in the state’s Legislative Council and are calling on the government to embrace the idea, as a way of addressing fatal overdoses at festivals.
There have been five deaths in as many months at events across Australia.
Leader of the Reason Party, Fiona Patten, argued the trial should be conducted as part of a harm-minimisation strategy, and would work in line with police discretionary guidelines.
“The testing is very advanced, and is very sophisticated”, she said.
“It can test on the purity of a substance, but it also can test for about 75,000 different additives, such as paint remover, nail polish remover, and many other deadly substances that have been found in pills”.
Ms Patten was joined by Greens Leader Samantha Ratnam, Independent Catherine Cumming, the Animal Justice Party’s Andy Meddick and Liberal Democrat MPs David Limbrick and Tim Quilty.
She said the “crossbench is starting to lead by consensus”.
The group believes experts have spoken, and says medical practitioners are ready to roll out a trial.
The Andrews government needs three of the 11 cross-bench votes in order to pass its legislation through the Legislative Council, but remains opposed to pill testing.
Despite the lack of government support, Port Phillip Council has put its hand up to host a potential trial.
The inner-city council, which includes the popular St Kilda entertainment district, is calling on the Labor government to allow and help fund drug testing at participating venues.
“Two years ago the Port Phillip council said that we supported the use of a trial. Since then there’s been a bitter harvest of dead bodies around the country,” Mayor Dick Gross told 9News.
“It’s unacceptable that governments turn their back on this anymore and I know that it is revolting to some people that we would aid and abet pill taking.”
Mr Gross said the prohibition model had failed but acknowledged testing was not a panacea for all drug deaths.
These moves come two days after protests in Sydney called for NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to change her hard-line stance on pill testing at music events.
A number of politicians, including David Shoebridge and Kerryn Phelps, addressed the crowd as campaigners for a harm minimisation approach.
Last week a prominent group of doctors came out in support of pill testing trials.
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians, which represents more than 17,000 physicians and paediatricians, sent an open letter to Premier Berejiklian and her counterparts urging them to follow the lead of the ACT.
“Ideally, we would all like young people and the wider public not to use drugs illicitly, however, the reality is that they do in large numbers and the moral message to abstain from taking drugs is not getting through,” Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones said yesterday.
They now join the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, who are also urging governments to adopt pill testing.
Pill testing involves users anonymously submitting samples for forensic analysis and feedback on the purity and composition of their drugs so they can make an informed decision on whether or not to take them.