John Graham on Labor’s music game plan for NSW: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you certainly won’t get there”
John Graham started out rocking out at Midnight Oil and INXS shows as a teenager.
He joined the Labor Party and became instrumental via the Labor Loves Live Music initiative in getting music to the forefront of issues in some states.
Two years ago he became a member of the NSW Legislative Council where he kept up the pressure on the need to fix the state’s venue crisis.
He spearheaded this year’s NSW parliamentary inquiry into the state’s music and arts economy.
This week he became Australia’ – and the major music markets’ – first minister of music and nighttime.
Q: What do you see as your first priority in your new role?
A: “My first priority is dealing with the venue crisis in NSW.
“That’s the key finding of the music inquiry, alongside the massive potential the music industry has got in NSW.
“We found it’s bad and it’s getting worse with the news that we’re losing World Bar, which has been important in Sydney for live music.
“This just confirms things are getting worse.”
Q: Is it significant that your new portfolio also includes gaming and racing?
A: “I don’t really think so. They’re not tied together in any way.
“But it is significant that for the first time we have these portfolios, night economy and music.”
Q: What were some of Labor Loves Live Music’s achievements?
A: “We set it up because we were concerned about the state of the music industry in NSW. This was around the time the Annandale Hotel was starting to hit trouble.
“It was aimed at that issue then, but it’s obviously become far worse since that time.
“As for our achievements, we worked around the country across the Labor Party to drive music policy.
“So far that’s had a big impact in Victoria, you can see that in West Australia and South Australia where there have been some really good developments.
“In NSW in places like Wollongong and Newcastle, there’s a local council that’s really taken up this agenda and driven it through.
“There are surprising signs there across those jurisdictions.”
Q: What sort of evidence given to the NSW parliamentary inquiry staggered you?
A: “The most shocking part was the scale of the problem.
“We knew that conditions were put on venues in some places, where live music was being banned.
“We’ve now published the list of 669 venues with bans or restrictions — and they’re just unbelievable.
“Bans on DJs, dancing, how many musicians can take the stage, what instruments they can take to the stage with, what direction they can face when they’re onstage and, unbelievably, what sort of music they can play.
“You can’t play disco but you can play soft rock or country’n’western.
“That was quite shocking and had a big impact on my view.”
Q: Do you think the findings of the inquiry sent a signal to political circles that if you are dealing with live music issues, it might be a groovy idea get the live music industry involved to contribute to the solution?
A: “Yes I think so. This was the first time that (NSW) parliament had really spoken to the music industry.
“Has that message been heard? I’m worried it hasn’t been heard.
“We’ve just been through the festivals issue, we had an expert panel but no one who had run a festival.
“It was a good first step but has the message been heard? Absolutely not.”
Q: In all the hearings, was there any evidence tendered that linked violence and live music?
A: “This was something that all of the committee agreed on. Our finding is on the record, but we found no research that suggested that music causes violence.
“The evidence we received was just the opposite.
“We recognise that with safety there are issues with alcohol but there is no research of a link between music and violence.”
Q: We’ve had the four findings and 61 recommendations? What happens now?
A: “There are probably two next steps. One is the government will formally respond to the inquiry, so we look forward to that.
“I hope (it leads to) a plan for contemporary music. The problem at the moment is that there is no plan.
“If you don’t know where you’re going, you certainly won’t get there.
“The report has landed and it’s now up to the various political parties to respond. It will play out at the next state election.”
Q: You grew up in Albury and Newcastle, what do you think NSW’s regional areas need in terms of music?
A: “One of the things we found in the inquiry was that the touring circuit has broken down – the national circuit as well as the regional touring circuit which used to be very strong.
“I would love to see it rebuilt. A band like The Preatures did play what was really like the old circuit just recently, so it is possible.
“We just have to work out a way to get music back into the venues and rebuild that circuit. It is possible but it won’t happen without a plan and without some support from government”
Q: What do you see as the strengths of the NSW live music?
A: “Our biggest strength is the concentration of the music industry.
“Melbourne has a phenomenal live music scene and it’s getting stronger.
“Sydney’s strength is the concentration of the industry but we do have a venue problem.
“Once we fix the venue problem, I’m very optimistic about the state of the NSW and Sydney music scene.
“But we do have a crisis at the bottom rungs of the venue ladder.”
Q: The Victorian blueprint shows that if you invest substantial money into the music sector, and prove to musicians they are important. it generates an awesome confidence and ambition. Would you agree with that?
A: “The NSW inquiry came down to Melbourne to find out why things were going so well there.
“We have a lot of learn from Melbourne. Well, not just Melbourne but all around the world. But it’s very encouraging to see what’s going on there.”
Q: NSW’s investment in the music industry is not the best, is it?
A: “Correct. The inquiry finding was that where NSW is investing about a million dollars a year, in Victoria it’s closer to $7 million a year. There’s a big funding gap. “