Berejiklian sticks to drug abstinence stance when asked about over-policing at festivals

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian

 NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian has stopped short of promising her government will put in place the coroner’s future recommendations over drug deaths at music festivals. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

The New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has dodged questions on whether “over-policing” at music festivals might be responsible for young people swallowing multiple pills, saying the strongest message to ensure lives aren’t lost is “don’t take illegal substances”.

A coronial inquest is currently scrutinising the drug-related deaths of six people at music festivals between December 2017 and January 2019.

On Sunday, the premier said she was looking forward to receiving the recommendations that come from that inquiry and the ongoing special NSW inquiry into the drug ice.

However, Berejiklian stopped short of promising the government would put in place the coroner’s future recommendations before the upcoming summer music festival.

“It depends on what the recommendations have been and I don’t think anyone can accuse the state government of not taking a strict approach to music festivals,” she told reporters on Sunday.

“We want to get the balance right, we want people to enjoy themselves, we want those festivals to continue and increase in number but we also need to ensure lives are not lost when that could be prevented.

“And the strongest message to anybody is don’t take illegal substances, they’re illegal for a reason.”

When asked whether there was a link between “over-policing” and young people swallowing multiple pills at festivals, Berejiklian said the government was taking a “holistic approach” to the issue that included not only a police response but the health and education sectors as well.

“Again, we just extend our sympathies to families who lost loved ones recently at these music festivals and we’ve seen in recent times how the inquest is bringing up those tragedies for them and our hearts go out to them,” she said.

“I don’t want to see that happen again, I don’t want to see families go through that enormous pain and ongoing pain.”

Last Monday the inquest heard that Alex Ross-King, 19, who died from a drug overdose at the Fomo music festival in Parramatta in January, took an unusually high amount of MDMA before arriving at the venue because she was afraid of being caught with the drugs by police.

The NSW coroner’s court heard Ross-King, from the NSW central coast, had consumed about three-quarters of an MDMA pill and was “pre-loading” on alcohol on a mini bus to the festival.

When she arrived, counsel assisting the inquest Peggy Dwyer told the coroner she consumed another two pills “apparently to avoid the risk of detection by police of carrying them into the festival”.

“She told her friends that [it was] because she was nervous about being caught by the police that she took the drugs like that, apparently to avoid the risk of being caught,” Dwyer told the inquest.

Another witness at the inquest, who cannot be named because of a non-publication order, described a police officer telling her she would make a strip search at a music festival “nice and slow” if she did not tell her where she was hiding drugs.

Simon Coffey, the director of the Defqon.1 music festival, suggested the heavy police presence at events was an “intimidating experience” for young people that may be contributing to fatalities.

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