Chlöe Swarbrick accuses National of 'high-horse moralising' as Simon Bridges swipes at 'woke anger' in pill testing debate

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick accused National of "high-horse moralising" as MP Simon Bridges swiped at her "woke anger" during a debate on legalising pill testing at music festivals. 

Pill testing at music festivals was legalised under urgency in Parliament on Wednesday ahead of the summer music festival and the only political party to oppose it was National. 

"Parents can't be confident. It's a false confidence because no ecstasy pill is safe - not a single one of them. People respond differently to them," Bridges said in Parliament. 

"This is not a moral contest. That's the law of the land. It is illegal in New Zealand, it is a criminal offence to consume and possess class A, B and C drugs as listed in the Misuse of Drugs Act."

Bridges said the Labour Government could change drug laws if they want to. But he pointed to the recent recreational cannabis referendum in which a majority of New Zealanders voted against legalisation. 

"That was a class C drug. Ecstasy, which primarily we're dealing with here, is a class A drug. Kiwis are even less keen - they know this - the harder the drug to see liberalisation," Bridges said. 

"Knowing this, this Government isn't going to come out and do what their convictions tell them which is to legalise or decriminalise class A, B and C drugs in New Zealand. They know that's political kamikaze so they do it in Bills like this."

Ecstacy is actually a class B drug. Class B drugs include cannabis oil, hashish, morphine, opium, ecstasy and many amphetamine-type substances. 

Bridges hit out at Swarbrick's "woke anger" for opposing National's view.

The law change to the Misuse of Drugs Act temporarily allows voluntary organisations who offer a testing service for drugs to carry out their services without fear of legal repercussions. 

Until today, drug checking services such as Know Your Stuff, who test festival goers' drugs for high risk substances and dangerous impurities and offer safety advice, have effectively been operating illegally.

ACT and National at odds

"All it does is temporarily allow voluntary organisations filled with people who want to help others reduce harm go about their business without the fear or prosecution that exists in the current legal grey area around pill testing," said ACT leader David Seymour. 

"It does not remove the prohibition on supply and possession of classified illegal drugs. They remain illegal and people who supply, possess and use them remain in the same legal jeopardy which they were under before this legislation came about.

"It does not place any onus on the taxpayer to fund pill testing services. It doesn't do that. It doesn't contemplate taxpayer funding."

Seymour said it is not about the encouragement of drug-taking. He said National had failed to provide any "robust" evidence to show that allowing for drug testing at music festivals would increase harm. 

Swarbrick highlighted how the legislation would pass despite National's opposition because every other political party was in favour. 

"I'm stoked to be delivering my last speech on this Bill, because we are going to get it through and we are going to have to stop listening to the high-horse moralising from the National Party," she said in Parliament. 

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick and National MP Simon Bridges debating legalising drug testing at music festivals in Parliament.
Green MP Chloe Swarbrick and National MP Simon Bridges debating legalising drug testing at music festivals in Parliament. Photo credit: Parliament TV

"They keep saying 'oh this is happening and the Government wants to acknowledge the reality that this is happening but we don't think that's a good thing'.

"Well, what is your alternative? Please outline how you want to reduce harm! Because so far all I've heard is that you want to be an impediment to improvements to the law."

Swarbrick challenged National to view alcohol the same way as other harmful substances being consumed at music festivals. 

"You line up for a socially acceptable drug and this socially acceptable drug has been tested for toxicity and it is licensed and it is regulated. You're in line and you get this drug, and that drug is alcohol. We're been doing it for a really long time now in terms of legally regulating substances to reduce harm.

"I will absolutely stand here in this House today as I have multiple times before and say that we need to do a whole lot better when it comes to regulating the harm that alcohol presently causes in our communities.

"If the National Party want to talk about decreasing harm when it comes to substances, I'd absolutely invite them to collaborate with me on reducing the harm that alcohol can cause by removing alcohol advertising, glamorisation and sponsorship.

"There's a challenge for you."

Britain was often brought up as an example during the debate. Official figures in the UK showed in 2019 that drug-related deaths had increased by 17 percent. It sparked calls for festivals and nightclubs to provide more onsite testing as a matter of urgency. 

Health Minister Andrew Little says next year the Government will develop and consult on regulations to provide a long-term solution to the law change. 

The law change will enable the Director-General of Health to appoint drug checking services. They will be able to either test drugs or pass them on to police for destruction or an approved laboratory for further testing.