Former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Palmer will join drug law reform campaigner Matt Noffs at the National Press Club on Tuesday calling for a roll-out of pill testing across the nation to reduce harm at music festivals and parties.
He is calling on NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and other state premiers opposed to pill testing to rethink their stance, just as he had an about-face on his attitude to drug reform after working on the Howard government's 2001"Tough on Drugs" national policy.
Former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Palmer, left, and drug law reform campaigner Matt Noffs are calling for a roll-out of pill testing at music festivals and parties.
"My mind boggles at the thought that a government is not even prepared to start a trial of pill testing.
"Clearly she and other state premiers opposing the idea do not have the courage to say what we've got now is not working," Mr Palmer will say.
Mr Noffs who is chief executive of the Noffs Foundation, Australia’s largest drug and alcohol treatment service provider for those under 25, will say that, following two deaths this month at the Defqon.1 dance festival in Sydney, "It is time for a commonsense national policy on drugs."
Mr Palmer is a former career policeman who left the force to become a barrister in Queensland, where he defended many young people on the Gold Coast for minor possession charges.
He now feels that locking people up for minor drug offences makes "no sense at all".
"I started changing my mind when I saw locking up young people wasn't solving the problem; it was just locking up people for minor drug possession who would have never come to the police at all," he will say.
Joseph Pham and Diana Nguyen both died of suspected overdoses at Defqon music festival in Sydney.
"Just as Prohibition to cut out alcohol didn't work in Al Capone's day, prohibition and zero tolerance does not work – it's like a rugby league team saying we have a zero tolerance for tries scored against us; that's not going to work."
Mr Palmer served as commissioner of the Northern Territory Police and as commissioner of the Australian Federal Police from 1994 until March 2001. Since retiring from policing in 2001 he has conducted a range of government inquiries and reviews, including the inquiry into the immigration detention of Cornelia Rau.
He is a former member of the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia, and has worked on a number of think tanks examining drug law reform.
Mr Noffs, one of the driving forces behind Australia’s first pill-testing trial at Canberra’s Groovin the Moo festival earlier this year, first canvassed the pill testing idea on the opinion pages of The Sydney Morning Herald in 2014. This was following the death of 19-year-old Georgina Bartter, after she took a cap of ecstasy at the Harbourlife festival in Sydney four years ago.
"History has shown, like with sex education, abstinence doesn't work, but if you educate young people, you will have lower rates of teen pregnancies.
"So, too, with drugs; if you have a strategic and open policy that is not based on zero tolerance, you will have lower rates of drug use," he will say.
The new national campaign, called "Take Control", which is launched on Tuesday, is aimed at educating both parents and their children that we can get drug use under control by putting health and safety first, Mr Noffs will say.
As well as pill testing, the plan for safer and saner drug laws includes ending criminal charges for minor possession of illicit drugs, establishing more drug monitoring rooms (such as heroin injecting rooms), expanding the number of treatment centres for those with drug problems and enhancing engagement services for disadvantaged young people.
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