NSW Police were given new powers to issue $400 on-the-spot fines to people caught with drugs at music festivals over the Australia Day long weekend. In what appears to be a step closer towards a police state, 47 people were slapped with the $400 fines across two music festivals: Electric Garden and Hardcore Til I Die. Additionally, 71 people were issued court notices for having drugs on them, while eight festival-goers were charged with supply. Many revellers also lashed out at police on social media for wrongful strip searches and having their tickets declared void. This arbitrary use of police power was demanded by Police Minister Troy Grant last week, who said the decision on whether to fine or charge someone caught with drugs would lie with individual officers.
The War on Fun, Youth & Individual Liberties
The move towards aggressive policing has a significant negative impact on Australian music culture and individual liberties. It goes without saying police disproportionately target young people at music festivals. Very sadly, there have been 10 drug related deaths at music festivals in the past five years. However, the criminalising of revellers who are wanting to have fun is not the solution. Last year, Premier Gladys Berejiklian vowed to shut down Sydney music festival Defqon.1, an extremely popular festival for young people. The Premier’s belligerent stance on the issue of pill testing is dangerous and puts lives at risk. She has said it is an issue to be considered if the government was shown evidence it saved lives. Such an approach is ludicrous – such a level of proof cannot be gauged. These reactive measures that control and criminalise members of society is quickly impeding on individual liberties and must be stopped.
Under the law, police can only conduct a strip search if they believe there are serious and urgent grounds to do so, especially if a person is suspected of carrying concealed drugs. Although some police have honest and real grounds to conduct strip searches, several police have been found to not follow this criterion and abuse their power on revellers. In fact, an independent inquiry by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission has been triggered to investigate allegations of NSW Police abusing their strip search powers after an increase of complaints. Statistically, strip searches doubled from 560 in 2016 to 1,100 in 2017. Additionally, 735 strip searches were recorded between January and May 2018. Although strip searches are sometimes necessary, they are also a major invasion into the privacy and liberty of a person. Police must not misuse their police powers.
Rather than quick reactive responses from our government, proactive steps must be taken. And a step towards decriminalisation is a step in the right direction.