Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. It’s a combination that has sold records and newspapers practically since humans first picked up the guitar. And as Stacey Piggott of Secret Service PR said at a panel at BIGSOUND last week, “In the last six years or so, our industry, our events, our festivals and our venues have been put under the spotlight for issues that are, without a doubt, society-wide cultural issues."

So what is the answer? Health & Safety: Music’s Long-needed Wake-up Call dove deep into a number of issues as Piggott posed the question to a panel of experts: “What can we do and what should we do to ensure the safety of our industry workers [and] music fans and achieve a rational, practical plan to move forward." The panel was dedicated to Joshua Tam, who passed away at Lost Paradise festival late last year, and featured his mum Julie Tam, who has since founded the change advocacy group Just Mossin. Here are the key takeaways. 

What level of responsibility do festivals have when it comes to patron safety?

Tara Medina - Strawberry Fields - Director

“In terms of what our obligation should be, I think, as a human being, we owe more than just the legal obligation. And that's just because people put their faith in us. And mainly young people, you know, they come to you because they trust what you're presenting creatively, but they also expect it to be safe. And they're often at a stage in their lives where they're down to make some bad decisions. And you could just draw a line in the sand as an event organiser and say, ‘I'm going to fulfil my XYZ duty.’ But if there's an opportunity to surpass that, with harm minimisation, outreach, crowd care, even if that's beyond what is prescribed to you, I think we have to do it.”

Julie Tam, founder of Just Mossin, speaking at BIGSOUND 2019. Photo by Aimee Catt.

What is peer-led harm reduction? 

Brooke Walters - The ConsciousNest - Founder

“You can be the most highly qualified person but if the young people can't relate to you in any way, they will not ask for help or they're not going to receive the information with open ears.”

Paul Abad - Earth Frequency Festival - Director

“I just think there's a real need to make kids feel safe to ask for help. Because what we're seeing is a major disconnection between everybody who's trying to achieve the same goal. And we're seeing young kids afraid of getting busted. They see examples of policing at some events that make them scared; they dose differently, they act differently, they then transfer that fear onto perhaps the medics or the event itself.” 

Left to right: Paul Abad (Earth Frequency Festival), Brooke Walters (The ConsciousNest), Erica Franklin (DanceWize NSW). Photo by Aimee Catt.

What is the police’s main function at a festival? 

Brook Dwyer - Drug & Alcohol Coordination Unit | Queensland Police Service (QPS) - Inspector

“Community safety, number one. So we go predominantly for the community safety aspect, which is not all about drugs. And I feel like the conversation becomes a lot about drugs. And I know, and I'm preaching to those that are living it and experiencing that some of the policing tactics over the years and in other states, as well as here, can be quite intimidating and can create fear…” 

“I can tell you that there's not a lot that the police do that is value for money.”

Stacey Piggott - Secret Service PR - Director of Secret Service PR and Head of PR for Secret Sounds Group

“For the Falls Festival we have the same capacities [across states]. We are required by Victoria to have four on-site paid police. In Byron Bay we required 60. So when we are sitting there, we ask the question, ‘How do you justify the requirement of 60 police and what are their roles, as opposed to the requirement for four police? And what are their roles?’ We get no answer.” 

Is there a place for strip searching at festivals?

Brook Dwyer - Drug & Alcohol Coordination Unit | QPS - Inspector

“It isn't defensible, I can say that. We are working here with all of our areas in our policing in Queensland to change that. It is a policy that's been used for years and years and years that needs to change and we're working towards that. I think that some of it comes from traditionally old views of drug enforcement. Can I say, not defending my colleagues in NSW, but can I say that the pressure comes from more than just those police that are sitting at that festival.” 

Brook Dwyer, QPS Inspector, speaking at BIGSOUND 2019. Photo by Aimee Catt.

Is drug law reform a possibility in Australia? 

Cameron Francis - The Loop Australia - Queensland Convener

“The police are enforcing the law. The politicians make the rules. And so while those laws are on the books and minor possession is an offence that results in charges, that's created a massive illicit drug market that's run by organised criminals who seek to exploit people. They sell dodgy drugs that are dangerous and kill people, etc. So I'm from a pill testing organisation, we would not exist if we had sensible drug laws in this country. It would not be a requirement. Pill testing is mopping up the mess of prohibition. And I think that this is the position that festivals are in as well; festivals are left mopping up the mess of prohibition. And I think that things like the drug dogs, that's an enforcement strategy that naturally falls out of it. Just the way organised crime and crappy drugs and everything else does.”

Brook Dwyer - Drug & Alcohol Coordination Unit | QPS - Inspector

“We're in a time where change is possible in Queensland at the moment…. We have had a very, very high level meeting of government heads, department heads here in Queensland, discussing how we make festivals safer. 'Is drug testing a strategy, the strategy, where do we fall?' So there's been a lot of conversation around that.

“My team in particular, we have been very, very heavily involved for a good number of years, but we have real traction at the moment with Queensland Health, about changing the way we deal with, we'll call it minor drug possession, minor amounts, personal use amounts, that sort of thing. And I think that there is a change coming very quickly, very soon in that space..."

Cameron Francis, The Loop, speaking at BIGSOUND 2019. Photo by Aimee Catt.

What is the way forward? 

Paul Abad - Earth Frequency Festival - Director

“It really is a multi-agency problem. So it doesn't matter if you work in police, or the health sector, or if you're a promoter, or if you're a punter, or if you're a parent. It's really about everybody coming together. I'm really one for picking the battles. So we can talk about decriminalisation, we can talk about pill testing [but] there are political wheels that need to turn. There are things that can happen now. One example would be a code of practice for safe events that's actually up to date. One would be best practice guidelines for policing and festivals… There's a lot that can be done without trying to do those big picture battles.”

For more details about the Just Mossin organisation, follow the link here.