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Health - Pill Testing

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Monday, 6 September 2021

Tags: Pill Testing, Drug Policy, State Budget

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, every year young people lose their lives in Australia after taking dangerous pills that have got no content regulation. Our current system puts such a huge focus on the morality of drug-taking there is little room for the discussion of the science. There are new, illicit substances constantly appearing on the market and people often have no idea what they are putting in their mouth. Pill-testing provides a legitimate space for people to learn about the health risks they face and get support if needed. Do you agree that the science supports pill-testing to reduce overall harm for young drug-takers?

Mr ROCKLIFF - We are moving into our mental health and wellbeing portfolio area, because this is a -

Dr WOODRUFF - I don't know, you tell me, but I would've thought this is just a straight health risk issue.

Mr ROCKLIFF - It is definitely an alcohol and drug question, but I am happy to answer it. The last time that we really turned our attention to the matters you are talking of was probably in the summer of 2019 20, which was the last real summer when we had a lot of people together with those sorts of activities. Ms Morgan Wicks and I were involved in a lot of discussions around the safety of partygoers, and I am not convinced that you are right that the science around pill testing is safe.

Dr WOODRUFF - I did not say that. My question was, do you accept that the science supports that pill testing reduces overall harm for young drug takers?

Mr ROCKLIFF - It is an issue on which opinion is divided across the community.

Dr WOODRUFF - It is not about opinion, it is about science. That is my point.

Mr ROCKLIFF - We have been clear in the past that it is not something the Government supports at this time. We have not supported pill testing in the absence of what needs to be a compelling evidence base. You could talk to many parents across Tasmania and people's opinions are divided on this, but I understand why the question is being asked. I am sure we can all agree that we want our festival-goers to be safe. That of course is what our focus will be in future festivals. Pill testing is one measure that can be used to improve the safety of patrons at festivals.

The Government, through the Department of Health - and this is what I was alluding to before - worked successfully with the organisers behind the Falls and Party in the Paddock festivals in the 2019 20 summer, with the establishment of a safe space tent and increased resources. It is something we want to consider again into the future.

No major music festivals have been held since the first case of COVID 19 was detected in Tasmania at the beginning of 2020. Key areas of the Department of Health have of course been diverted to the COVID 19 response, so no work has progressed. In line with the national plan to transition Australia's national COVID 19 response as vaccination rates increase, major music festivals may return to Tasmania and preparations to support these festivals could recommence.

This may include consideration of emerging pill-testing technologies, such as the ultra-performance liquid chromatography photodiode array analysis for pill testing, developed by Pill Testing Australia, the Australian National University and Waters Australia. I expect we will have more conversations about this particular matter in the future.

Dr WOODRUFF - The New South Wales coroner's report following the tragic death of six young people in 2020 recommended that music festivals should have a minimum standard for policing and that permanent drug testing facilities should be available.

Will you commit to revisiting the findings and recommendations from the New South Wales Coroner's report? They were based on some very extensive hearings, witness testimony and New South Wales Police? There are some very helpful recommendations about how to make those festivals safer for the future.

Mr ROCKLIFF - I am very interested in good public policy, particularly when it comes to the safety of our young people. A number of people would have various views on pill testing. I am open-minded to what might be possible to ensure the safety of our young people. I guess that could be a yes to your question. If we had good solid evidence and data to support good public policy, then we will take that up.

I am aware of the reports - the review of the New South Wales Deputy Coroner's report into festival deaths and the ANU report into the 2019 pill-testing trial. As I have said before, we have had a focus on our COVID-19 pandemic response, so I haven't had time to consider that yet but I know it will be a conversation we will need to have in future.

I was just about to respond to a question from Ms Dow that Ms Morgan Wicks can answer.

Ms MORGAN-WICKS - In 2020 21, the Department of Health has had 27 ED5 investigations commence. I should note, I responded earlier to state that I, as secretary, would approve each of the commencement of the ED5 investigations. When I am on leave, for example, I do have acting arrangements and that the acting secretary with appropriate delegation would commence. During COVID-19 I did also have a shared delegation with Ross Smith, who took care of some general secretarial matters.