- Date published:
8:08 am, October 21st, 2019 - 24 comments
Categories: australian politics, democratic participation, drugs, nz first, Politics, Social issues, uncategorized, winston peters - Tags:
There were revolutionary scenes at the New Zealand First conference on the weekend as the party’s youth wing forced the party to back away from a really retrograde position on drug testing at music festivals.
The need and virtue of this testing to me is a no brainer. It lets concert goers check that the drugs they bought are not going to completely fry their brain or cause their premature death and at the same time receive information on safer use of drugs. And it has been a feature in Australia for a while. From the Guardian:
Revellers at Canberra’s Groovin the Moo festival will be able to have their illegal drugs tested for harmful chemicals by STA-SAFE, an independent consortium of health groups, without the threat of legal prosecution.
The multi-day festival, which began on Friday in Wayville in South Australia, will arrive in Canberra on Sunday, where the pill testing will be made available for one day. The proposal has been previously been approved by the University of Canberra, on whose grounds the festival will be held, the territory’s health minister and police.
Participants will provide a scraping or small sample of their pill or powder to volunteers, who then analyse it in a mobile laboratory. Staff provide attendees with the results of the test, as well as the risks and side effects of consuming the substance.
Festivalgoers will be able to throw their drugs into an amnesty bin, which uses bleach to “completely destroy any drugs deposited in them to the extent that they could not be recovered or used”, according to ACT Health. Geoff Munro, the policy manager at the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, said pill testing would reduce the overall rate of drug taking at the festival, and prevent overdoses.
“When people are buying pills and powders on the street they can never be sure what is in them,” he said. “Very often people are playing Russian roulette. It may be a highly dangerous chemical, or it may be a much stronger drug that they believe it is.
“It will reduce overdoses, it will reduce some dangerous drug taking and it will save lives,” he said.
And the process has some high level support. In Australia for instance the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and a former Australian Federal Police commissioner came out in support. Not to mention the parents of kids who had died through overdoses or complications of drug taking.
The service works. There are young people alive now who would otherwise be dead if the service was not offered.
And it is very popular. Three quarters of kiwis in a recent poll supported the service.
Which is why I am not surprised Police Minister Stuart Nash supported a similar proposal for over here. But he had a problem. The dinosaurs in the New Zealand First caucus opposed it. From Television NZ:
Drug testing at music festivals will not be legal in time for the summer season, with Police Minister Stuart Nash struggling to get backing from New Zealand First.
Mr Nash said in January the move would save lives and hospitalisations, but has now said his plan to get it legalised has failed.
Festival owners are currently reluctant to openly back the drug testing as it is still illegal, but some events have the testing on-site.
“It is something I’m passionate about – I just can’t get it across the line,” Mr Nash said.
“It doesn’t mean I stop. It just means that we probably are not going to get it in place legally for this coming festival season.”
What was the problem?
Well slippery slopes or something. From the Herald:
NZ First law and order spokesman Darroch Ball said his party was opposing the policy after discussions.
“We’re going down a very, very slippery slope when we’ve got illegal drugs being tested in green safe-zones,” he said.
“This is a party drug, this is for recreational fun times and young people are making that conscious decision to take those illegal, dangerous drugs. What these pill-testing stations do is totally absolves all of those young people from taking personal responsibility for their decisions.”
It is in their view a slippery slope if you stop young people from ingesting drugs that may kill them because they should take personal responsibility for killing themselves. Or something like that.
Which is why Young NZ First did everyone a service by taking the issue to their conference floor. And succeeding. From Boris Jancic at the Herald:
New Zealand First members have backed a rethink of the party’s position against testing of pills at music festivals, in a public clash between its youth wing and members of its parliamentary caucus.
Police Minister Stuart Nash this year threw his backing behind a law change to allow testing of pills at public events, after police found illegal drugs containing traces of a pesticide at the Rhythm and Vines festival in Gisborne.
NZ First’s caucus appeared to have halted the plan last month, with several of its MPs coming out in opposition.
But after push from Young New Zealand First, the party’s membership on Sunday made time to publicly debate the issue at its annual conference.
And in what was a narrow vote by show of hands, the youth wing won out despite criticism from MPs Clayton Mitchell, Darroch Ball and Mark Patterson.
Young NZ First’s Rob Gore implored the audience to back a proposal calling for the party to rethink its position to support the policy.
“Here you are judging young people for taking MDMA, but we are generation who watched our parents and our parents and our grandparents drink themselves into an early grave and yet we haven’t taken the steps we needed to take to reduce alcohol abuse in our society 30 years ago,” he said.
“Brother, do not point out the sawdust in my eye, look at the plank of wood in your own.”
Good on Robert. And good on the Youth Wing. It is pleasing to see that participatory politics and debating the merits of an issue will at least occasionally triumph against belligerent dog whistle conservatism.