Rainbow Serpent organisers have defended the behaviour of patrons attending their 20th anniversary festival in Lexton, Victoria last weekend and expressed disappointment in police media statements deeming the event as high risk.
Police slammed the festival after a death, two sexual assaults and drug-trafficking arrests at the event but festival Director, Tim Harvey, says he finds the police response frustrating and hypocritical.
“The Melbourne Cup had nine arrests, five rushed to hospital and 78 people evicted in one day and when roadside operations detected one in three drivers in some suburbs with illicit substances in their system on Grand Final day in 2015, police praised the crowd for their good behaviour.
“We run for six days and have close to 20,000 exceptionally well behaved people attend,” he said, “but just like any other community of 20,000 people, a small minority unfortunately do the wrong thing,” said Mr. Harvey.
Statistics obtained by the festival show the three-day police roadside operation outside the 2016 event revealed fewer drug drivers in Lexton during Rainbow than driving around Melbourne suburbs on any given day.
“Last year one in 20 drivers outside Rainbow tested positive compared to the annual state average of one in 15 and while we believe one positive test is too many, it’s been made abundantly clear that music festivals are just easy headlines for senior police officers with political agendas.
“The statistics used by police this year are preliminary and based on a targeted sample of 100 drivers to make the worst inference possible when the reality is over 7,000 vehicles travelled safely, legally and responsibly to and from the event,” said Mr. Harvey, “Additionally, police are well aware that statistics show a large percentage of positive, preliminary roadside tests will return negative when analysed by the laboratory.”
“They are making statements with full knowledge the small sample size of targeted, rather than random, selections is not based on statistical evidence and nor is it a fair or accurate reflection of their overall results,” said Mr. Harvey.
Organisers say they are devastated by the death of Jacob Langford at the event and can’t comment on specific details while investigations are ongoing but defend their emergency response and safety planning.
Dr. David Caldicott, an emergency medicine specialist from Calvery Hospital in Canberra, says Rainbow Serpent serves as a model for providing a safe event environment and police should commend organiser’s efforts.
“Hands down, there is not another festival in the Southern Hemisphere that provides this level of safety and medical support for patrons; they even have some of Melbourne’s best emergency department doctors on site,” said Dr. Caldicott.
Adrian Widuckel, General Manager of Colbrow Medics who provided first aid at the festival, said all medical incidents on site were responded to within four minutes of getting reported to festival staff.
“Drug use is an issue faced by the whole of society and the expectation that Rainbow Serpent Festival should somehow solve these complicated problems is unreasonable,” said Mr. Widuckel.
In addition to medical services, the event has a safe space for women and gender diverse patrons and free drinking water in multiple places, including the campgrounds, around the festival site.
Leader of the Greens, Senator Richard Di Natale and state MP Colleen Hartland have also made public comments supporting festival organisers while the Pyrenees Shire mayor, Rob Eason, has stated the event still has council’s backing.
The mother of Daniel Buccianti, who died at the festival in 2012, has also come out in support of patrons and organisers.
Adriana Buccianti said, “My heart dropped when I heard the news and my heart goes out to Jacob’s family but I have attended every Rainbow since Daniel’s passing and have only experienced happy crowds, safety conscious organisers and overwhelming love and support from everyone I meet at the time of year I need it most.”
Tim Harvey said the festival does everything it can to encourage patrons to make safe, healthy lifestyle choices but individuals must also accept some responsibility for their personal well being.
“Superintendent Allen said it himself in the media- that despite a heavy presence, his officers can’t stop people making risky choices,” said Mr. Harvey, “and I just don’t understand how they expect us to achieve what they acknowledge they can’t despite their massive resources.”
Rainbow Serpent Festival would like to acknowledge that this festival is
on the Traditional Countries of Dja Dja Wurrung and Wadawurrung
Peoples. We pay respect to their Ancestors, Elders past and present,
along with today’s descendants that carry on the living culture and
ensure its survival for future generations.