Kicking Defqon.1 out of Penrith is a shame, but necessary

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The State Government’s move to kick the Defqon.1 music festival out of Penrith may seem like a kneejerk reaction or even a little over the top, but in the end Gladys Berejiklian and Stuart Ayres have got this one right.

This festival has been problematic for years, with hundreds upon hundreds of drug arrests and charges, and a death toll sitting at four from the past six events.

After almost a decade in Penrith at the Sydney International Regatta Centre, it’s quite clear that the well-intentioned organisers can’t escape the drug culture this festival attracts.

I get all the arguments against banning the event, many of which are quite logical. Yes, it’s a small minority ruining it for the majority. Yes, it’s a personal choice to take drugs and therefore take the risks. No, we don’t ban all drivers because some speed and cause crashes.

But at some point, enough is enough. This festival has had nearly a decade to get it right and can’t. It’s time to go.

What’s being forgotten in the debate this week is that Defqon.1 takes place on State Government-controlled land at the Regatta Centre. The Government has a role here to ensure that the former Olympic site is being used responsibly and quite clearly it isn’t.

Defqon.1 underway in Penrith last weekend. Photo: Defqon.1 / QDance

It is understandable that the Premier and Sports Minister are uncomfortable with an event taking place at a community facility that results in the deaths of two young people.

Those who are angry at the festival being forced out of Penrith can only blame those individuals who choose to sell and take illicit drugs. Not the police. Not the State Government.

The lunacy of those suggesting that ‘pill testing’ could have prevented the deaths last weekend is flabbergasting. Not taking the drugs at all could have prevented the deaths too. In fact, almost certainly would have.

Pill testing simply gives the green light to taking illicit drugs, and provides a false sense of security. Why in the world would we want to make taking drugs more attractive?

Apart from the long-term impacts of addiction, it is often the cocktail of drugs and alcohol that causes the most damage. Pill testing will not solve that.

The out-of-touch Greens – who normally love banning things – are leading the charge for advocating pill testing and hence giving the green light to festival-goers taking unsafe and illegal drugs.

Greens NSW MP David Shoebridge tweeted: “Pill testing saves lives, not drug dogs. End the war on drugs.”

On his website, Shoebridge says: “Drugs sniffer dogs do not encourage safe drug taking.”

Nor are they intended to, you dropkick. They are intended to discourage drug use altogether, which is a much better message to be pushing than your dangerous pro-drugs stance.

The solution to not overdosing from drugs and potentially dying at a music festival is pretty simple, albeit an unpopular one in today’s society.

Do. Not. Take. Drugs.

The weak response of “people are going to do it anyway” is not the reaction we should be aiming for.

If only the Greens would use their very small but often powerful voice to advocate for people to not take drugs rather than have a shot at those who are trying to find a way to save lives and prevent deaths at such festivals as Defqon.1.

Usually I’m a huge advocate for personal responsibility, and I think the State Government has well and truly overstepped the mark in certain areas when it comes to ‘bans’, such as the greyhound saga from a couple of years ago and the lock-out laws, which have killed Sydney’s nightlife.

But this is no sudden reaction.

The State Government allowed its venue to be used again and again for Defqon.1 despite deaths at the 2013 and 2015 events. This was very much the festival’s third strike.

I feel for the festival’s organisers, who have actually given a fair bit back to the Penrith community over the past decade.

But the few have ruined it for the many. It’s time for Penrith to move on from Defqon.1.

Troy Dodds

Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor. He has more than 15 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.

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