Music

Whoa, ‘Sunrise’ Just Went In On Gladys Berejiklian About Pill-Testing

"Aren't you being a hypocrite, though?"

Sunrise Pill Testing David Koch NSW Premier

After a 19-year-old died of a suspected drug overdose this weekend at the Sydney leg of FOMO Festival, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian appeared on Sunrise this morning to defend her government’s refusal to allow pill-testing at music festivals. And a clearly exasperated Kochie wasn’t having it.

If Alexandra Ross-King overdosed, her death would mark the fifth drug-related death in six months at NSW music festivals, beginning with two at defqon.1 music festival in September.

Her family join a chorus of medical experts (including the Australian Medical Association) in asking the NSW Premier to allow pill-testing at festivals. In an interview with Channel 10, Ross-King’s grandmother Denise Doig pleaded, saying it would be a “legacy” of her death.

After citing the success of last year’s pill-testing trial at Canberra’s Groovin’ The Moo, which found two lethal pills, Kochie began the interview with a hard-line question.

“Why are you being so dogmatic on this?” he asks. “Parents, experts, they all want pill-testing, it’s been going on in Europe for 20 years.”

As the premier echoed her previous statements (that pill-testing is not a deterrent, that it doesn’t address that MDMA and other drugs are harmful), Kochie cut her off.

“Firstly, our heart goes out to anyone who loses a loved one under these circumstances,” the premier said. “It’s absolutely tragic. But pill-testing doesn’t deal with overdoses, pill-testing doesn’t say to one person, ‘this is safe to you, but it might kill another person’, but fortunately we’re seein-”

“Pill-testing does do that,” he interrupts. “Pill-testing does test for dangerous ingredients that someone might not be aware of.”

In the interview, Berejiklian circles away from harm reduction strategies to reinforce the point that illicit substances are dangerous. “The best message we can send is that these substances, MDMA, can kill you,” she says. “Do not take these drugs.”

When Kochie points out that young people will always take drugs, Berejiklian seems to concede his point, saying that while she never tried drugs as a young adult, “I’m probably one of the few who haven’t.” Regardless, she continues to say that pill-testing isn’t the way forward.

“If pill-testing was going to prevent deaths, of course we would bring it in,” she says. “But we know from the evidence presented to us, the best thing we can do is improve access to medical attention at these festivals.”

Visibly frustrated, Kochie interrupts her again.

“But where are you getting all that evidence?,” he says. “Because all of the experts are saying, ‘yes, it does work’…. it prevents a kid from taking poison… I agree with you sometimes, but it’s sometimes the additives that they don’t know about — that’s what pill-testing prevents.”

He then asks if the NSW Government’s position on pill-testing is “hypocritical”, given that safe-injecting rooms are also a harm-reduction measure. The premier disagreed, saying the two are different issues.

“So many kids are dying, though,” Kochie says. “You’re not listening, they’re kids.”

Watch the interview below.

It follows a tonal shift in the public conversation around pill-testing. Recently, NSW Opposition leader Michael Daley said he would “listen to the experts” if elected this year, and a coalition of music festivals have come out in favour of pill-testing. If you want to show your support for pill testing, here’s how you can do it. You can also sign the latest change.org petition here.