Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — My question is to the Minister for Training and Skills representing the Minister for Police. Just weeks ago police hit the streets with sniffer dogs as part of so-called Operation Safenight. Then over the weekend there was the announcement that new no-reason stop-and-search powers will apply to music festivals. These measures are billed as harm minimisation. Experts and music venue operators are desperately warning that, far from harm minimisation, these policing policies are directly increasing risk, and that is what is happening. People are now using substances that are far more potent and not detectable by sniffer dogs, such as GHB. On the long weekend there were numerous ambulance and police call-outs as a result of these substances. Why is the minister not waiting for the findings of the inquiry into drug law reform before making decisions that are clearly increasing risks?
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — Thank you, Minister. This change will most likely result in lower level offenders being remanded for far longer periods than they would be sentenced to, and this will further result in first-time remandees and even the innocent accused, who are unlikely to be jailed, being subjected to extended periods of custody on remand. We know the deleterious effects that will have on their mental health, housing and employment — all of which help to prevent people from further offending. Given that our prison system is already bursting at the seams, with remandees already being housed in police stations across the state, how does this government propose to accommodate the increase in remandees that will flow from these changes.
RESPONSE TO SUBSTANTIVE QUESTION:
Any decision to use narcotics detection dogs is an operational matter for Victoria Police. The Victorian Government supports the judgment of Victoria Police when it comes to how best to use their resources and powers.
We are advised that the use of narcotics dogs in Victoria is just one tool police officers use to form reasonable grounds for suspecting a person may be possessing harmful substances, either for their own use or to sell to others. This tool, as well as many others, enables police to lawfully search a person for drugs without a search warrant.
Regarding drugs at music festivals, there are a number of components to the discussions that the Victorian Government is having with Victoria Police.
The first of these is a safety planning component, focussing on how event organisers can work proactively with police around safety planning and risk management. This will be about making sure festival-goers can enjoy themselves in an environment that is safe.
The second component is around powers for police to explicitly designate areas, like they already do under the Control of Weapons Act 2009, to search for illicit drugs. These designations would be determined by police intelligence and the relevant history of risk and harm associated with some music festivals. The proposed changes will not apply to all music festivals.
The Government strongly supports music festivals. They are an important part of our state’s cultural life, and we are working to ensure they are a safe place for everyone. Any additional powers for Victoria Police will be considered along with our broader work on safety planning for festivals.
The objective of these measures is to reduce harm, protect lives and ensure music festivals are great places for young people to get together-not places for tragedies
The Victorian Government is committed to reducing the harm to individuals and the broader community that results from drug use.
RESPONSE TO SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTION:
The Victorian Government is extremely concerned about drug use and fatal overdoses at some music festivals. These concerns have been prompted by:
– observations from Victoria Police and emergency services that they are seeing an escalation in the use of illicit drugs such as amphetamines, GHB, ecstasy and other psychoactive substances at music festivals;
– the location of “bush doof” raves in regional and rural areas, where patrons are often at a considerable distance from proper medical care;
– a lack of proper planning and safety arrangements by some event organisers;
– the risk of drugged drivers departing events while still affected by illicit drugs and without sleep.
These concerns have been amplified by the recent mass overdose events that occurred in January 2017 in Chapel Street, which resulted in the deaths of three people and over 20 hospitalisations, and in February 2017 at the Electric Parade dance party at the Sydney Myer Music Bowl, which resulted in over 20 hospitalisations.
There has been very serious harm caused by drugs at music festivals, and the Victorian Government is determined to reduce this harm.