No pill testing for Shepparton festival

By Ilias Bakalla

Pill testing will not be available at Shepparton's Land of Plenty festival next month.

Mental Health Minister Martin Foley said there were "no plans to allow for pill testing at events in Victoria", including Shepparton’s event, which be held on November 2.

Artist organiser Aiden McLaren said he supported preventative measures to ensure the safety of attendees.

"If the Victorian Government was on-board to run pill testing in Victoria we would first discuss with all our festival stakeholders (including police, council members and Ambulance Victoria) to get their input and if everyone was supportive of running a trial we would look to do so," Mr McLaren said.

Greater Shepparton City Council, Red Hill Entertainment and Victorian Ambulance services would not say if they were for or against pill testing at the Shepparton event.

A spokesperson from Red Hill Entertainment, the group organising the festival and the Greater Shepparton Council, said they worked closely with a "number of key agencies to be able to reduce the risk of harm throughout the festival".

"Red Hill Entertainment has a high focus on harm reduction and health and safety for the delivery of the festival," the spokesperson said.

Victoria Ambulance clinical operations executive director Mick Stephenson said the service was used to treat those affected by drug use at major events. He said being open and honest about drug use was the best way to receive treatment.

"Conversations between paramedics and patients about such matters are confidential," Mr Stephenson said.

A Victoria police spokesperson said it was illegal to cultivate, posses, or traffic illicit drugs in any form.

"Those handling illicit substances as part of a pill testing service could be liable to prosecution under the Drugs Poisons and Controlled Substance Act 1981," a spokesperson said.

"Ultimately the decision to allow pill testing is a matter for the state government."

The Victorian Government allocates about $20 million per year to initiatives, such as DanceWize, which provides harm reduction resources, education, care and support to reduce alcohol and other drug related harms at Victorian dance parties, festivals and nightclubs.

Nick Wallis from DanceWize said he had been contacted by Land of Plenty and a number of other Victorian festivals, but did not have the resources to attend.

Gino Vumbaca is the convenor of Pill Testing Australia which is a volunteer-based organisation of experts willing to provide pill testing.

He said the organisation would not operate a pill testing service without approval from the Victorian Government.

"The reality is most patrons want it, most parents want it and most organisers want it, but governments are the final authority ... so our hands are tied," Mr Vumbaca said