In accordance with the State government’s “zero tolerance” policy on drug use, Victorian police seek unrestricted Stop and Search powers on festival goers. 

The move comes off the back of incidents in mid-January, when upwards of 20 people needed treatment and four people died after a bad batch of ecstasy and MDMA was in circulation.

The Victorian government has been acting on this short-lived epidemic ever since. Starting only a week after these incidents, police have been patrolling nightlife hot spots such as the Chapel Street precinct with sniffer dogs in order to tackle drug use. Now, police are aiming to obtain unrestricted stop and search powers, regardless of suspicion, aimed at festival attendees.

This new push to legally search festival patrons without reason may feel extreme, but it is an issue that has been building for years.

Liberal political parties such as The Greens and The Australian Sex Party, with the backing of researchers and medical professionals, are pushing for more practical drug measures such as pill testing. This has been met with criticism by Victoria’s Labour and Liberal parties and Police force, who claim that this runs counter to their policy of zero tolerance.

It feels as though the Victorian Police have been strategising since that fateful week of overdoses in January. Targeting Melbourne’s notorious party district of Chapel St on seemingly random weekends with the presence of sniffer dogs could perhaps be interpreted as a primer for these anticipated stop and search laws. It seems the Victorian government is looking to get tougher with festival patrons.

At present, Victorian law enforcement is limited by the Major Sporting Events Act of 2009 which allows the searching of premises with a legally acquired warrant but is vague on what substantiates the searching of an individual. Also, as the name suggests this legislation is limited to sporting events, so the Victorian Government is hoping to extend it to include music festivals, and extend search powers to searching anybody, for any reason.

From a police perspective, this measure intends to find drugs before they are consumed and prevent any possible overdoses. It is surely hoped by festival goers that these future regulations won’t be abused to intimidate attendants.

So who will be affected? 

The measures are targeted towards festivals; not all outdoor music events, but specifically bush-doofs, and events that have had high concentrations of drug use in the past. The move is justified in conjunction with the unavoidable fact that smaller outdoor dance events tend to be poorly planned and have limited resources or on-hand medical professionals. It is anticipated large-scale events such as Rainbow Serpent, Strawberry Fields, and Falls Festival amongst others would also be targeted. However, it has been stated that festivals that are “community focused” would not be targeted.

This kind of tactic is more of a common feature in Sydney, NSW, where police and dogs are often seen patrolling pubs at random, and there is a strong police presence around party hot spots. In late May, King’s Cross’ Club 77 was targeted by 15 police officers and a sniffer dog. Zero arrests were made and zero drugs were found, but the police barred the headlining DJ from the premises and one patron was allegedly tasered.

These new efforts seem to run counter to how Victoria, especially Melbourne, has been projecting itself alongside its bigger, less-fun neighbour of Sydney.

While other countries seem to be relaxing their drug policies, Australia seems hell-bent on amplifying its own.