The Greens' 'Sniff Off' campaign present at the Yours and Owls music festival this weekend

Outside the festival gates at Stuart Park on Sunday, ‘Sniff Off’ campaigners sought signatures on a petition opposing the use of sniffer dogs in drug searches. The Greens want  a "harm reduction" approach to drugs, rather than a criminalisation approach, and would also like to see pill-testing at festivals.

Read the article in The Illawarra Mercury, 27 September 2019, by Brendan Crabb

The Greens' 'Sniff Off' campaign to be present at the Yours and Owls music festival this weekend

SNIFF OFF: Wollongong Greens councillor Cath Blakey with the petition that will be circulating at this weekend's festival in Wollongong. Picture: Adam McLean
SNIFF OFF: Wollongong Greens councillor Cath Blakey with the petition that will be circulating at this weekend's festival in Wollongong. Picture: Adam McLean

Outside the festival gates at Stuart Park on Sunday, ‘Sniff Off’ campaigners will be seeking signatures on a petition opposing the use of sniffer dogs in drug searches. 

Earlier this year, Wollongong Greens councillor Cath Blakey said that there was great concern within the Wollongong community about sniffer dogs, and local music festivals such as Yours and Owls had been targeted. 

Cr Blakey said the petition, which has circulated at the festival in previous years, is calling for the end of sniffer dogs at festivals and for harm minimisation measures to be introduced instead. 

“We’d like to see pill testing brought in, like they’ve been doing in Canberra,” she said. 

In the wake of two suspected drug overdoses at the Defqon.1 festival earlier this month, Premier Gladys Berejiklian established an expert panel, but said it would not consider the merits of pill testing.

At a summit on pill testing at state parliament on Thursday, festival organisers, music industry representatives, politicians and researchers discussed local and international experiences with pill testing, ways to advance the debate and current policing strategies.

Pill testing allows people to find out the content and purity of their drugs. It was trialled for the first time in Australia in April at the Groovin' the Moo festival in Canberra.

“It’s been interesting that there’s been some retired police officers who have come out in support of pill testing and getting rid of sniffer dogs, because it’s shown that they don’t work,” Cr Blakey told the Mercury

“Last year (at Yours and Owls) there were a few prosecutions, and mostly it’s users. It’s people with small amounts just for recreational use, that are being targeted by sniffer dogs. But most of the time they’re false positives.”

‘Sniff Off’ uses a Facebook page to warn people about the presence of drug detection dogs, particularly on public transport. 

The campaign, previously launched in Sydney and Newcastle, was extended to Wollongong earlier this year.  

Yours and Owls festival co-founder Ben Tillman said ultimately they wanted to minimise harm to their punters. 

“We don’t want anyone to get hurt; we want it to be as safe for everybody as it can be,” he said.

“If there are preventative measures that can be done and that are proven to work, then we want to be able to do it.

“We 100 per cent want there to be more pre-emptive measures in place that can protect our people.”

A spokesperson for the Minister for Police said the NSW Police Force has the full backing of this government in their use of drug detection dogs as a tool to rid our streets, events and public transport system of drug crime.

“The Greens may support people taking drugs, but this government is focused on reducing drug crime and decreasing drug consumption.

‘In May this year, more than 3500 MDMA capsules were seized at the Midnight Mafia music festival with the help of drug detection dogs.

“It beggars belief the Greens would suggest police turn a blind eye to events known to be drug hot spots.

“Police simply want to ensure the safety of young people who attend these sorts of music festivals. The last thing police want to be doing is knocking on someone’s door in the middle of night to inform them that their child is in hospital from an overdose, or worse.”