News August 14, 2019

Music biz calls for immediate repeal of NSW festival regulations

Music biz calls for immediate repeal of NSW festival regulations
Image: Defqon.1 was recently cancelled

The Australian live music industry has used its presence at a parliamentary inquiry into NSW’s controversial music festival regulations to call for their immediate repeal.

To start afresh and come up with solutions, in a measured way rather than the government’s rush to be seen as doing something in the wake of half a dozen deaths, the industry also wants the convening of a regulation roundtable.

It also signalled the need for an on-going regulation working group that includes government agencies as well as associations as the Live Music Office, the Live Performance Australia and the Australian Festivals Association.

Music executives testified at NSW Parliament yesterday (Tuesday, August 13) before the Regulation Committee’s inquiry into the Liquor Amendment (Music Festivals) Regulation 2019 and Gaming and Liquor Administration Amendment (Music Festivals) Regulation 2019.

They included Live Performance Australia’s Evelyn Richardson, Live Music Office’s John Wardle, the Australian Festival Association’s Julia Robinson, Falls & Splendour co-promoter Jessica Ducrou of Secret Sounds, and Fuzzy managing director Adelle Robinson whose events include Field Day, Listen Out and Harbourlife.

IN THE ROUND

The roundtable would have to include the national and NSW live music industry, government agencies, health, police, tourism bodies and economic analysts.

The most urgent topic for discussion would be the sloppy use of the Liquor Act to address a complex health and safety issue (and the need for all health issues to be dealt with by NSW Health) and to remove regulations and manage the sale and supply of liquor through existing licence arrangements, including Limited Licence – Special Event where appropriate.

Ducrou explained to the committee that the new rules meant that the person who held the liquor licence took responsibility for the entire festival.

This wasn’t easy, she explained. The serving of alcohol at a festival is one of 20—30 things the promoter has to coordinate.

In her case, she contracts it out to an independent who is an expert in that field.

Now she has a choice: either she puts the responsibility of the entire festival in the hands of someone who had no experience of running one, or she takes a crash course in alcohol safety, which she readily admits she is not an expert in.

“NSW would be the last place that I would want to start a festival based on the current climate,” Ducrou declared.

Robinson revealed that the Sydney show of her national Listen Out is now replaced in per capita success terms by Brisbane.

“If I was to start a new event, it would be in Melbourne or Brisbane,” she was adamant.

DAZED AND CONFUSED

Also to be on the roundtable agenda, would be:

  • The current vague definitions that leave festivals confused
  • Working with health and legal officials on green-lighting pill-testing;
  • The need for authorities to invest in peer-based harm reduction services and ensure they are available to festivals
  • Stop the use of sniffer dogs, which intimidate and traumatise patrons.
  • Commission regular research into recreational drug use to adopt an evidence-based health- focussed approach to drug regulations.
  • Stop alcohol sponsorship of music festivals (this from community non-profit alcohol and drug groups).
  • Support the City of Sydney’s proposal for a Drug Summit which brings together MPs, experts in the medical and social aspects of drug use, community representatives, families, and people with experience of drug use and its effects.

This summit should examine and make recommendations on actions which could contribute to reducing and ending the harm from illicit drug use; and consider how drug testing at festivals can be conducted in the NSW.

Significantly expended and discretionary police powers were singled out both in the live music session, and the one with community drug and alcohol groups that followed right after.

The NSW cop experience was described as heavy-handed, discretionary and intimidating, unlike in other states where cops were more friendly and interacting with the crowd, and sent the message they were there to provide safety and security.

TALK THIS WAY

The parliamentary committee was told the music industry pleaded for a roundtable discussion before the laws went through.

But the government was in such a hurry its stance was, ridiculously, the laws are going through but discussions could take place later!

If the government had got input from people who run festivals for a living rather than its hastily cobbled together “panel of experts”, it would have had a better understanding of the festival business model and not been so destructive.

For instance, Robinson pointed out, festivals rely on long lead-times “to set ticket prices and pay deposits for artists and production services.

“Budgets for all music festivals, inclusive of ticket prices, are generally finalised 12-18 months in advance.

“Event organisers for ticketed, for-profit music festivals operate within extremely slim margins, while not-for-profit music festivals operate on shoestring budgets.”

As a result, last-minute costs as pay-for-police, emergency services and security mean festivals stop being financially viable, and some have no option but to cancel.

On that point, Ducrou revealed she pays $200,000 for cops at her NSW events – and not a cent for the one in Victoria.

A FESTIVAL-FREE STATE?

Richardson stressed the importance of NSW not seeing its festivals collapse or move intestate, because of their importance to regional and rural economies.

“Music festivals were the third-largest contributor to ticket sales revenue ($55 million) in NSW in 2017 after contemporary music concerts and musical theatre,” she conveyed.

Nor would there be the current toxic climate where even festivals not on the “high risk” list are facing problems with the stakeholders.

The media hailstorm around the deaths and consequent debates magnified the whole issue.

Wardle warned that the crisis was not confined to just NSW.

“All the other states have contacted us to keep them in the loop, because they don’t want to make the same mistakes.”

Labor’s shadow minister for music, John Graham, moved to refer the controversial music festival regulations for inquiry in May and was a participating member in the inquiry.

“NSW has already lost hundreds of live music venues. We are not prepared to lose our festivals as well,” he said.

Related articles