NSW Premier Takes Aim At Music Festivals

Following the death of a 19-year-old man, Callum Brosnan, at a Sydney dance event over the weekend (8th Dec), the conversation for pill testing has once again been tabled. To which, surprise surprise, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian has answered with a resounding “no, no thank you.”.

Photo Credit: Boss Hunting

Like a broken record devoid of an off switch, this merry go round of denial and ancient attitudes is reductive and draws dangerously short conclusions to a problem of considerable depth. Such incompetence would almost be comical if not for the real and entirely tragic fact that people are dying. While these political dinosaurs scrap over outdated models of action, they’re ignoring, or are too out of touch to notice a quite simple reality.

Either young people will stop taking illicit substances or we introduce ways to minimise the harm of consumption—it’s one or the other. This continued back and forth has begun to distort the plainness of what’s at hand—for a vast majority, taking drugs is fun. If Berejiklian thinks she has the ability to stop young people from exploring and experimenting, particularly in today’s society, then God help us.

Having already stifled the festival industry with an over presence of police and ludicrous safety regulations, Berejiklian and her party are on track to cause further division. Despite evidence obtained this year through Australia’s first on site pill testing study, Liberal opinion is still in favour of denial and retreat—this reaction synonymous with a party struggling to connect with a youth out of reach.

The latest in a long run of worrying spats has been the relocation of the Bohemian Beatfreaks festival on the north coast of NSW. Having run incident-free for five years, October 2018 saw NSW police announce their wish to shut down the event. In achieving this, regulators sited safety as a main concern and issued a $200 000 user-pays policing fee, after the festival had been quoted $16 000. This would see 56 officers present for the 3000-cap festival rather than the original 4 (bit much?). An obviously insurmountable amount of money, event organisers made a legal appeal. Though even with a reduced fee the festival was forced to move across the border and into Queensland.

To then further this transparent attempt at good will, the NSW police have countered the organiser’s grounds to appeal. Setting a baffling precedent in that, if they succeed, the NSW police will be able to cancel events without any fear of reprisal—an unappealable right to shut down music events.

As you very well know, this blanket throwing response isn’t the first time our Liberal lovelies have jumped the gun on things (youth) that scare them.

It all started with one punch—a callous act of aggression that ended in the tragic death of an 18-year-old man, Thomas Kelly. That was Kings Cross Sydney, 2012. It fostered a political campaign, spurred on by buzz matter media. Two years later Daniel Christie, also 18 was assaulted in a similar manner. Sadly, he would also die from his injuries. The then NSW premier Barry O’Farrell was left to face a rising tide of alcohol-fuelled violence. It’s here that a decision was made, and the Lock Out Laws were enforced.

Anti lockout laws rally. Photo Credit: Craig Wilson/ Herald Sun

While the crimes committed were horrendous, the community of Sydney was left questioning the motives and outcomes of a strategy too hastily decided upon. Was it fair to punish a city for the crimes of a few? And, what would happen to the burgeoning nightlife of Sydney? Well, four years since its introduction, and in comparison to the Sydney of old, nightlife simply does not exist here.

In laughable transparency, the exemption and immunity held by the Star Casino places further distrust in a system designed purely to benefit the state and not the culture of a city lost. I dare say the red carpet will be rolled out for Packer’s latest at Barangaroo as well. With the closure of 176 venues since 2014 and the continued raiding of events city wide, there’s no knowing just how far a culture can collapse.

With the current knee jerk reactions taking place it seems the powers that be aren’t looking at the evidence of their previous blunders. Taking away an environment (festival) won’t stifle the activities that were active within it. They move on. If anything, you’re making it more dangerous for everyone involved as it gets harder to police when held in private or illegal circumstances. Which is what will and has prevailed.

Spawned in direct defiance of these brash decisions are organisations like Keep Sydney Open. A now political party, they’ve garnered traction and have promised to not weaken in the face of opposition. Only by setting up measures, like pill testing, will a solution be met. To bang that old drum again, education rather than exclusion—ambition over proven mistakes.

Let us know what you think about these laws and regulations regarding Sydney’s nightlife.