Bite-sized bulletins by ALEC SMART
Scents and sensibilities
On Monday the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) opened an investigation into whether NSW Police engaged in “serious misconduct” during the allegedly unlawful strip-search of a 16-year-old girl at a music festival. The public inquiry heard that the girl was stopped after a drug-sniffing dog sat down next to her as she stood in the entrance queue to the 2018 Splendour in the Grass music festival near Byron Bay, on the NSW North Coast. This action indicates to officers that the person has scented positive for carrying illegal substances.
However, on this occasion the dog made a false detection – something surprisingly common. Yet despite her protestations, the girl – who cannot be named for legal reasons – was marched away by a female police officer who then confiscated the girl’s phone and subjected her to a ‘humiliating’ naked personal examination in the corner of a tent without a parent or guardian present – a legal requirement.
“I could not believe this was happening to me; I could not stop crying; I was completely humiliated,” the girl wrote in a statement read out to the inquiry. “I was wearing a panty liner… she asked me to remove it to look at it. She asked me to squat on the ground… I squatted down in front of her and she squatted down and looked underneath me.”
The inquiry learned that 512 personal searches occurred at the July 2018 event, in which Illegal items were found in 125 instances. 143 of those inspections were strip-searches; seven of them performed on children.
A senior constable, identity withheld for legal reasons, who performed 19 strip searches across two days, admitted to the inquiry that strip searches conducted at the festival were unlawful. Only one suspect was found to have drugs — a valium tablet.
In Dec 2014 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that invasive strip searches by police have increased by 32 per cent in NSW since 2009, with thousands of people stripped naked on the basis of sniffer dogs incorrectly indicating they are carrying drugs.
Patrons attending music festivals and other public events report being coerced by police into taking all their clothes off and squatting down so they could be examined to confirm whether or not they were concealing drugs anywhere on their person, or within body cavities, despite drug-detection dog identifications being wrong the majority of the time.
And yet the NSW Police Force Code of Practice states that strip-searches should occur only if “the seriousness and urgency of the situation require” them.
A study published in May 2019 by RMIT University criminology researcher Peta Malins found police drug detection officers fail to deter drug-taking because festival-goers intent on getting high are “preloading” before entering the music arena. The stimulants are already in their systems as they walk past the sniffer dogs.
Gladys off the pills
Meanwhile, recommendations by Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame to scrap sniffer dogs, overhaul strip searches and introduce pill testing for toxicity at music festivals were dismissed by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian who has proposed stricter safety regulations.
Draft recommendations from a coronial inquest in September into the drug-related deaths of six young people at festivals called for drug-detecting dogs to be scrapped from the events and pill testing to be implemented.
If the NSW Government ignores these recommendations and introduces their proposed new legislations, a collection of music festivals, including Splendour in the Grass, Falls, Laneway, Listen Out, Field Day and Groovin’ the Moo music have threatened to relocate to another state.
The Australian Festival Association released a joint statement on behalf of the festivals, saying “uncertainty and a lack of meaningful consultation” on the proposed safety measures had had a “punitive effect” on the industry.
Live Performance Australia’s chief executive Evelyn Richardson said: “We believe a music industry roundtable where both government and industry work together can support our shared objectives. Failing that we call on the Parliament to reject the legislation.”
Ms Richardson, who revealed the music festival sector was worth $100 million nationally, with over 50% of revenue generated in NSW, added: “Last year in NSW, more than 400,000 people attended a music festival; that’s 43% of the national figure, and 20,000 more than the year before. It would be a major blow for fans, artists and all those people in communities across NSW who benefit culturally and economically from music festivals if we were to see music festivals forced to leave.”
Spurs of the moment
In the wake of last Thursday’s shocking 7.30 Report ABC TV investigation into the cruel treatment and mass-slaughter of race horses for the foreign meat trade, a Melbourne cinema announced a ban on screening Rachel Griffiths’ new film, Ride Like a Girl.
Thornbury Picture House, a cinema in north Melbourne, announced: “This was a really difficult decision to make as we always want to support Australian filmmakers, in particular Australian women directors who make films about strong female protagonists.
“But the image of the brutality received by these incredible creatures after the service they have provided their owners sickened us. We don’t want to support this sport in any way until the industry as a whole looks after their animals in a more humane manner.”
ABC broadcast secret footage taken by animal rights’ activists inside the Meramist abattoir in Caboolture, Queensland, showing staff kicking, beating, electro-shocking, and verbally abusing ex-racehorses and harness racers before inexpertly killing them.
The backlash has provoked a concerted campaign for stricter regulations governing retired horses in the racing industry, and increased calls for a boycott or ban of Australia’s biggest horse racing event: next week’s Melbourne Cup.
A report released by Tasmania’s Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) details alleged sightings of the Tasmanian tiger – thylacine – between September 2016-2019, raising hopes that the elusive creature may still exist, hiding in pockets of dense Tasmanian forest.
The document reveals accounts from bushwalkers, cyclists and farmers, ranging from residents to tourists, all claiming to have caught sight of the creature, officially recorded as extinct.
Over the 3-year period DPIPWE received eight reports of thylacines, some with cubs, usually viewed at dusk or dawn in northern and western regions of the state.
The thylacine, one of the largest known carnivorous marsupials, a dog-like predator with a pouch and solid, non-wagging tail like a kangaroo, was driven to extinction after the arrival of Europeans, who paid bounties for its killing to clear pasture for stock farming. The last known thylacine in captivity died in Hobart Zoo in 1933.
Although endemic to Tasmania, the animal became extinct on the Australian mainland centuries before, probably due to the introduction of the dingo with the arrival of Aboriginal peoples.
However, despite the alleged encounters, DPIPWE have no intention of repealing the extinct status of the animal.
“There have been no confirmed sightings of the thylacine in Tasmania for more than 50 years… there is no evidence to confirm the thylacine still exists,” they said in a statement. “The department will continue to record information on reported sightings.”