Music festival
(Image: Unsplash/Hanny Naibaho)

“Mad Drug Made A-OK” — an acrostic and entirely sensible headline splashed across The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday — marks the buzzing high of a returning culture war.

This time, it’s pill testing… again. But why? Well, the paper got hold of the draft report of New South Wales Coroner Harriet Grahame’s inquest into the deaths of six festival goers in NSW.

“Decriminalising personal use of drugs as a mechanism to reduce the harm caused by drug use,” was one of the recommendations. That’s what gets the front page, while a two-page spread inside the paper — flanked on either side by an ad for amazing specials at Liquor Stax, incidentally — talks about Grahame’s “shock” call to “limit strip searches”.

Today took the standard approach, starting with the patented morning show formula of getting two people of, er, diverse credentials — in this case, comedian and broadcaster Lawrence Mooney and the Tele‘s state political editor Anna Caldwell — and opposing views to tell us what they reckon. Predictably, Caldwell was opposed, saying Grahame’s “vision was a hippy utopia, cops’ll be your friends, they’ll tell you pills are fine, they may even give you one …”. Host Deb Knight said, sagely, “Hmm, yes, difficult. Both sides.” 

Later, they featured a thoughtful interview with the mother of a young man who died of an overdose seven years ago, talking about her belief that pill testing would reduce harm.

Sunrise — where host David Koch has previously come out in favour of testing played it straight, interviewing NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who reiterated her intention to ignore the experts and oppose pill testing. The premier’s approach was backed in the Tele, with an editorial and a Miranda Devine column opposing the recommendations: “Let’s hope wiser heads prevail in the meantime and help Premier Gladys Berejiklian holds firm against the devious propagandists of the drug liberalisation industry,” Devine wrote. The editorial gave Grahame credit for going “beyond a coroner’s standard investigatory levels, even attending two music festivals in order to build a complete picture of the matters at hand”, while concluding her recommendations appeared to be “at odds with reason”. 

These have been joined today by warnings that “Dangerous party drug Ecstasy kills almost 30 Australians a year, new research finds” and “Home pill testing surges but safety not guaranteed“. 

Across town, the Tele’s tabloid rival The Sydney Morning Herald treated the news soberly, noting only that Berejiklian was to ignore the recommendations. The SMH also ran an editorial that concluded “Berejiklian is wary of trying something new. But the case for a highly regulated limited trial of pill-testing and changes to police tactics is building.”