Premier backs off promise to shut festival despite deaths
THE dance music festival where two young people died at the weekend has been labelled a "massive failure of safety" by Gladys Berejiklian - but the NSW Premier has backtracked on her vow to shut it down.
In the aftermath of the deadly Defqon. 1 event Ms Berejiklian on Sunday said: "We will do everything we can to shut this down. I don't want to see this event happen again."
But yesterday she backed down, saying "in its current form it can't continue", adding the organisers of the festival, where four people have died in drug-related incidents in the past five years, would have to overhaul the event before ever holding it again.
"Clearly there was a massive failure in safety, clearly there was a failure in the zero tolerance approach," Ms Berejiklian said.
"I want to make sure this operator, which now unfortunately we know in the last five years there were four deaths, that to me is too many to discount, and I want to make sure that event changes or steps up its safety, otherwise it shouldn't proceed."
The government has asked for urgent advice from experts on increasing safety at music festivals in the wake of the latest tragedy to hit Penrith's Defqon. 1. Edensor Park's Joseph Pham and Melbourne woman Diana Nguyen both died on Saturday night, adding to the deadly toll of James Munro in 2013 and Nigel Pauljevic in 2015.
"This is not about stopping people having fun it's about keeping people alive," Ms Berejiklian said.
The new panel of Police Commissioner Mike Fuller, Chief Medical Officer Dr Kerry Chant and Chair of the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority Philip Crawford will report within four weeks.
Changes to policy could include tougher penalties for drug dealers, improving how festivals are promoted and operated as well as increasing drug education.
But as the Premier wrestles with the issue, Greens politicians and left-wing commentators have continued to use the tragedy to push their own agendas of permissive drug policy.
Fairfax commentator Peter FitzSimons even ran a poll on Twitter to ask if music festivals should be shut down or "decrim drugs, & pill test".
On Monday NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge published a poster by The Greens on Twitter calling to "end the war on drugs" in the wake of the deaths. "2 deaths 180 police officers 355 people searched 69 found with drugs IT DOESNT ADD UP," the poster read. "Pill testing saves lives, not drug dogs," he said.
And fellow Greens Mehreen Faruqi and Richard Di Natale, as well as the Liberal Democrats, all posted about pill testing in the wake of the deaths.
Ms Berejiklian emphatically ruled out pill testing in NSW yesterday and said the new panel would not be asked to provide advice on the matter.
"We do not support a culture that says it's OK to take illegal drugs," she said.
And she said she was determined to address the "culture" of drug taking: "(The culture) that says it's OK to take illegal substances, that's the culture we're dealing with and unfortunately it's become more prominent at these events."