The region’s top cop has called for the length of the controversial Rainbow Serpent Music festival to be slashed amid fears it is risking the lives of revelers and the community.
But festival organiser Tim Harvey said there was no evidence cutting the length of the festival would improve patron or public safety. Instead, Mr Harvey said increasing the length of the six-day festival would give revelers a chance to “rest and revive” before hitting roads.
Superintendent Andrew Allen said he would be “categorically agitating for a reduction in the length of the festival with the organisers” in the wake of disturbing statistics. Police are investigating two rapes, one death and six drug trafficking charges.
The festival currently runs for up to six days – with patrons arriving on the Thursday and forced to leave by the Tuesday. The Meredith Music Festival runs from Friday to Sunday afternoon. Rainbow Serpent is believed to be one of the country’s longest music festivals.
Police believe the length is contributing to the high drug use. Superintendent Allen said there was a significant increase in substance abuse presentations over the duration of the event. Police remain seriously concerned by the behaviour of festival drivers. One in eight motorists tested returned a positive drug results while four separate car crashes where people were injured involved patrons.
“(This) clearly demonstrates the high usage of illicit drugs at the festival and extreme risks posed to other road users of this length of time,” Superintendent Allen said.
“More responsibility must come from the festival organisers in relation to the impact this has on the community.”
He said ongoing discussions with other emergency services would be held regarding their ongoing service and commitment to the festival.
“Police have appealed for a number of changes in consultation with the organisers. Some have been taken on board, however, further changes will be pursued at the appropriate time,” he said. He has urged organisers and Pyrenees Shire officials to reflect on the event and “the benefits to be gained in having this event held for over five days”.
“The harm to the wider community is at such an alarming and tragic cost,” Superintendent Allen said.
“Something has to change.”
Organisers of the Rainbow Serpent Music and Arts Festival in Lexton have rejected a call from the region’s top cop to shorten the length the event, arguing lengthening the festival would better serve the health and safety of patrons.
On Tuesday Superintendent Andrew Allen said he would “be agitating for a reduction in the length of the festival with the organisers” following last week’s six-day event which resulted in one fatality, two alleged rapes and four road accidents.
Festival director Tim Harvey said while he was willing to sit down with authorities and discuss evidence-based suggestions for improving patron safety, there was no proof shortening the festival would help.
“We strongly believe it would be counter productive to put more cars on the road in a shorter time-frame with less rested drivers,” Mr Harvey said. “A more realistic option, if safety is the key concern, would be to lengthen the event to include an extra day with no entertainment so our patrons can rest and revive before departing the festival site.”
Police had threatened to put an end to the festival in the wake of the 2016 event, however calls have been more subdued following last week’s incarnation which attracted almost 20,000 patrons.
While police expressed concern at the state of drivers leaving the festival grounds after one in eight tested drivers returned a positive drug reading, Mr Harvey said it was a “ fantastic result when compared to the Victorian community in general”.
Pyrenees Shire mayor Ron Eason said while he was unwilling to make any firm commitments around changes to the festival, he looked forward to engaging with all relevant parties at the annual festival debrief, which is expected to be held within the next two months.
“We’re happy to listen to Victoria Police and all the other stakeholders involved in the process at the debriefing sessions and get all these opinions together at one time, but it doesn’t help our situation to have this conversation through the media,” Cr Eason said.
“I can’t make those commitments as mayor because I am not a one-man band.”