Activists say the security operation at a Sydney music festival was “a serious abuse of police powers” after ticket holders were denied entry and banned from the Olympic Park site for six months based on the reactions from drug detection dogs.
The Above & Beyond festival went ahead on Saturday evening after it was plunged into controversy this week by a NSW Police threat to ban revellers if a dog reacted positively, even if no drugs were found.
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge says the Sniff Off campaign team had spoken to numerous people who were refused entry after being sniffed and searched, even though no drugs were found on them.
“(They) were issued with banning notices preventing them from returning to the entire Olympic Park site for six months,” he said in a statement on Sunday.
“This is a serious abuse of police powers and has caused substantial distress to those who were unfairly excluded.”
Two detection dogs were used on crowds on Saturday night in a search area beyond an initial entry point and out of the reach of media cameras.
The Greens claim sniffer dogs can get it wrong in up to 75 per cent of cases and argue police should adopt harm-minimisation tactics instead.
Mr Shoebridge said NSW Police had ignored public opinion and run right over well established civil liberties with “heavy-handed” punishment of concertgoers who were the victims of drug dog false-positives.
“As well as the more than $100 for the ticket, many attendees have also paid for flights and accommodation, meaning the denial of entry has put them substantially out of pocket.,” he said.
The move was also criticised by civil libertarians and even a former Australian Border Force commissioner as an overreach.
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Activist Tom Raue, who was at the concert, said officers ordered his volunteers to stop handing out pamphlets about the drug dog program, citing a 2012 regulation governing the entire Sydney Olympic Park precinct.
An attempt by Mr Raue and other plaintiffs to secure an injunction that would have prevented the police plan going ahead fell flat on Friday after a judge ruled they had no cause to complain about alleged injustices in advance.
The Greens said they would challenge the move by police in both the parliament and the courts.
NSW Police said in a statement two men had been charged with supplying a prohibited drug after more than 100 MDMA capsules were seized during the police operation at Sydney Olympic Park.
Thirteen people were refused entry by police due to intoxication. Five people were issued with refunds. Four people had been issued with Future Court Attendance Notices for drug possession.