Protestors at the rally. Photo: Laura Neill

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By Laura Neill

The pill-testing debate ignited at Town Hall last Saturday as hundreds of pro-testing campaigners rallied to force the issue on the government’s election agenda, just one week after the recent drug-related fatality of 19-year-old Alex King.

Hundreds of protesters brandishing signs and banners gathered outside Sydney Town Hall to protest the NSW State and Federal governments’ reluctance to take ownership of drug use as a health issue. Organized jointly by Reclaim the Streets, Unharm, Sniff Off, Keep Sydney Open and Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the rally came just one day after the Royal Australasian College of Physicians released an open letter to all state and territory governments reinforcing the evidence of pill-testing and urging all states to establish trials.

“Drug users shouldn’t be treated as criminals, it’s not a criminal issue,” said protester Jesse Powker. “It’s a health or psychological issue. Pill testing is a step in the right direction, it’s fair treatment of drug users.”

Berejiklian “gutless” on pill-testing

On the steps of Town Hall, federal Greens party leader Richard Di Natale’s branding of the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian as “gutless” was met with cheers. He blamed the six recent drug deaths on politicians who “lack the courage to put down their ideological beliefs and to put in place measures that work”.

“We’ve got the Premier of this state saying ‘I’m happy to test drugs at an autopsy, but not while those people are alive’,” said Di Natale, who is also a GP.

“The message you’re sending right now is that if somebody makes a choice to take a drug, they should pay for their choice with their lives. No decent society does that.”

Wentworth MP Kerryn Phelps also made a plea on behalf of medical professionals and parents, stating that the issue needs to be addressed on a national scale.

“The way we have been doing things until now isn’t working,” Phelps said. “Every delay runs the risk of another young person losing their life or ending up with permanent damage or in hospital. It’s not good enough for Scott Morrison to say this is a state issue. We need a national approach, and we need to see it as a medical emergency.”

Also in the crowd was Tom Raue, Greens Candidate for Summer Hill and founder of the Sniff Off campaign against the police’s drug dog program.

“We’ve been running the war on drugs for fifty odd years and it’s just making it more dangerous,” Raue said. “Just like you can look at the ingredients of any piece of food that you buy, any alcohol, and tell what you’re putting into your body, we should afford that same choice to young people.”

The crowd of hundreds, brandishing signs and chanting, ‘”we want pill testing now” and “Gladys has got to go” made their way down George Street to Hyde Park, closely monitored by a heavy police presence.

The rally finished in Hyde Park where DJ George Orb kept the party going beside the Archibald Fountain for Keep Sydney Open.