Music

Surprise Surprise, Gladys Berejiklian’s Harsh Festival Regulations Didn’t Make A Difference

Turns out Gladys Berejiklian's war on festivals made "no change" to drug related hospitalisations or deaths.

Laneway Gladys Berejiklian

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Last year, Gladys Berejiklian launched a war on festivals, unleashing a string of regulations that made it harder and harder for music festivals to operate in NSW.

The reason, according to Berejiklian, was in the interest of public safety. She claimed that the string of deaths at festivals due to drugs forced her hand, and that she had no choice but to crack down on large-scale events in the State. But now, nine months after the NSW Music Festivals Safety Act was officially legislated, a report — as per the ABC — has discovered that the regulations made no difference to the health of NSW festival attendees.

So how did Berejiklian ever get away with her War, and why was it so ineffective? Let’s dive in.

Why Did Berejiklian Launch The War On Festivals?

Berejiklian’s war on festivals was a response to a number of high-profile festival hospitalisations and deaths throughout 2018. At the Knockout Games of Destiny, for instance, an Inner Sydney dance festival, one young man died and 16 were hospitalised due to illicit drugs consumption.

In response, in February 2019, Berejiklian launched a matrix which festival organisers were to use to assess their own risk. The matrix was for all kinds of events, from gigs to sport, but was heavily biased against music festivals.

The assessment was point based: if an event came in at under 39 points, it was deemed low risk, and if it hit over 110 points, it was deemed ‘extreme’. Right off the bat, while a popular sports event got 16 points, a ‘music festival/rave event’ got 32, meaning that a festival had to accrue only seven more points to be blow past the low risk barrier. Which was impossible — the lowest point that could be accrued in each section was one, and there were 18 sections altogether.

Worse still, when festivals reacted angrily against the matrix, Berejiklian assured a select few — namely Bluesfest — that they would be fine. Which was incorrect according to her very own matrix.

Bu things only got worse for festivals from there. Berejiklian’s rules meant that festivals were forced to pay for their own increased police presence. That price hike was enough that a string of events — including Splendour In The Grass and Falls Festival — threatened to leave the state.

And even the festivals that did go ahead were subject to brutal and invasive police practices, with officers at Secret Garden subjecting punters to strip searches. Basically, the whole thing was a mess. And, as this new report suggests, it wasn’t even effective.

Why Was It So Ineffective?

The new report was conducted from November 21 2019 to April 30, 2020.  Of course, that means that the findings are drawn from the era of coronavirus, in which most festivals were cancelled or rescheduled.

As a result, and as the report frequently stresses, the data collected does not come from a large enough pool to draw any concrete conclusions. Moreover, coronavirus has posed all kinds of threats to a range of industries associated with festivals, so there’s a good chance the data has been “corrupted” by the pandemic, and is not as reliable as it otherwise would be.

However, working off this data alone, the report finds that festival-related deaths and hospitalisations were “consistent.” That means that so far, there has been no measurable changes to the number of hospitalisations or deaths.

No changes, that is, except for the detrimental ones making the future of festivals in the state grim. To that end, the report notes the financial burden that the war on festivals has created. “Music festival operators did report that operating costs had increased since its introduction, primarily due to user-pays medical and policing expenses,” goes the report.

As to why the drug-related hospitalisations remained “consistent” over the compromised data pool, there’s no great mystery. Experts have long said that inducing panic in punters, rather than giving them the opportunity to safely test their own drugs or dispose of them, will not work.

But for some reason, Gladys Berejiklian refuses to hear that.