Two thirds of Australians support pill testing at festivals, new report finds

The report supports similar findings from previously conducted studies

Nearly two thirds of Australians support pill testing at music festivals, according to a new study.

The data come from the long-running Australian Election Study, maintained by the Australian National University. Attitudes on pill testing, among other topics, were collected from more than 2,000 respondents just after the conclusion of the 2019 Federal Election.

In a new article published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, authors Ian McAllister and Toni Makkai said support for pill testing comes primarily from younger and more left-leaning voters, as well as those who don’t attend church.

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“Supporters of other liberal social opinions, such as the legalisation of marijuana, are also strongly supportive of pill testing,” the authors said in the paper.

“Those who vote for one of the two main conservative parties are less likely to support pill testing.”

Greens voters were significantly more likely to support pill testing compared to Labor voters. Meanwhile, Liberal and National voters were strongly opposed to the idea. Those with lower family incomes were also more likely to support pill testing.

Similar results were recorded in the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, which found 56.6 per cent of respondents in favour of “allowing potential drug users to test their pills/drugs at designated sites”.

The paper also found support for pill testing was strongest in the Australian Capital Territory, followed by Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales.

To date, pill testing has only been trialled at the Canberra leg of Groovin the Moo in 2018 and 2019, following support from the ACT Government. However, the territory government’s composition has a notable Greens presence, which could influence policy decisions.

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Though the support for pill testing has been recorded by researchers on more than one occasion, the authors point out the hesitation from politicians to enact harm reduction policies. In the past, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, the NSW Liberal leader, and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, the Victorian Labor leader, have both ruled out support for pill testing. According to McAllister and Makkai, this is due to “the absence of organised public pressure for change”.

“What distinguishes pill testing from other policies is the highly polarised political dimension to the debate among both voters and legislators,” they said.

“Harm reduction initiatives are often framed in the conservative media as being ‘soft on crime’.

“As a result, few politicians are likely to spend political capital on an issue that has the potential to be used against them in a hard fought ‘law and order’ election campaign or where they are trying to progress other contentious issues, such as euthanasia or abortion.”

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