Victorian Police Minister Lisa Neville intends to drive legislative changes to grant police more powers to stop and search patrons at dance and music festivals in rural Victoria.

Her plans were revealed a week ago in the Herald Sun, which coupled this with a supportive opinion piece backing this “welcome step”, using terms such as “insidious scourge”, “much-needed extra deterrent”, “tragically predictable mass overdoses”, and “dangerous drug abuse” in just the first three sentences.

“This is about protecting lives and ensuring music festivals are great places for young people to get together,” explains Police Minister Neville, “not places that set the scene for tragedies.”

The Herald Sun bats away any outcry at the breach of privacy, obvious risk of profiling, and any other objections as the reaction of “civil libertarians”, who “will no doubt cry foul” over such arbitrary searches. “Frankly, the minute a drug user puts an illicit substance in their wallet or handbag, they lose their right to privacy” they reason.

Harm Reduction Victoria is vehemently against such drug policies, and takes issue at how such news was seemingly buried.

“Recent Government comments in the media are disappointing because they seem to be conflating the issues of ‘overdose’, which is a community wide concern and significantly more prevalent within settings where people use alone, and ‘dance festival drug use’, which accounts for a tiny fraction of the ‘10,600’ ambulance call-outs Neville referred to”, states Charles Henderson, Acting Executive Officer of Harm Reduction Victoria.

“We believe this conflation is unhelpful in responding to any potential drug related harms in each context. We are concerned that comments such as the Minister’s will potentially cause greater harm due to misunderstanding and fear and creating negative stereotypes and myths which can ultimately impede measured and appropriate health based responses.”

Henderson also struck out against the Herald Sun‘s coverage of this announcement. “The Herald Sun states that dance festivals are “drug riddled” and police should stop and search without reason, thereby encroaching on civil liberties through random profiling at festival entrances”, Henderson adds. “Combined with the idea of sniffer dogs this will serve to hinder health promotional initiatives such as increasing education, knowledge and peer support.”

Henderson took issue with the way in which the policy announcement was made on the weekend, and exclusively through one publication, saying, “this is generally not the way credible, evidence-based policy is released for public scrutiny. Such a significant policy shift that will directly affect the lives and human rights of festival goers across Victoria should have been the subject of extensive consultation prior to any public release”.

This much would be true. The fact this was announced over a week ago, and yet there doesn’t seem to be any public debate surrounding it, would suggest they were successful in sneaking it past people.