Police-for-hire at NSW festivals is a multi-million dollar business
Security at music festivals is big business.
The UK’s Isle of Wight festival, which draws 90,000, had a security bill of £1 million (A$1. 85 million) for their own security team and police.
In America, the stakes are higher after shootings at festivals – and planned shootings at music events with large crowds.
Coachella and Lollapalooza, for instance, are forking out for security consultants, drones that can reach troubled spots in seconds, and SWAT teams with sniper capabilities.
Very expensive, but the need for extra police personnel is justified by the promoters.
Closer to home, police user-pay costs have been a thorny issue in NSW for six months, heating up in the frantic run-up to last Saturday’s elections.
It has heightened after a new SBS investigation found that NSW police netted almost $13 million in seven months for hiring out off-duty officers to private events to provide additional security for music festivals, sporting events and parades.
SBS predicted the figure could rise to $22 million this year.
NSW police told the broadcaster that user-pays was not a profit-making exercise and that user-pay costs varied depending on various factors including size, venue, the age of attendees, alcohol availability, experience at similar events, time and private security arrangements.
But festival promoters argue that they are at the mercy of inconsistent police estimates, and this affects their operational budget.
Last spring, new punk metal and rock under-age festival Good Things had to scrap the Sydney stop after NSW police estimated $71,112.37 costs – five times that of what Victoria police charged for the festival’s Melbourne staging.
At the time the festival’s manager Chris O’Brien said they had “tried all measures” to reach an agreement, exhausting all options including bringing in lawyers to try and come to an understanding.
“Sadly, the NSW police are enforcing significant costs for over policing the event which is not only wasting police resources, but it also has a significant impact on the experience for all of the festival patrons and making it impossible for the event organisers to allow under 18s to attend,” he said.
More inconsistent costing followed.
Rabbits Eat Lettuce Ltd, which runs the three-day Bohemian Beatfreaks went to court after police costs jumped from $16,000 to $200,000 for the event which draws 3,000 punters.
The sum was later reduced to $105,847 but by then the festival had decided to move to Queensland.
Its director Eric Lamir-Pyke told SBS News that police-for-hire fees were “completely all over the place” and “It’s obvious there’s no consistency in regulation in terms of how many police is suited to what size crowd”.
In February Mountain Sounds on the Central Coast cancelled after being hit a week before it was held with an estimate of $200,000 for 45 cops who would work on a rotating 24-hour roster.
Peter Noble, of the low-risk Bluesfest, told TMN that figures like this could make or break an event.
Other promoters are asking why the user-pays scheme should even exist when their events pay taxes which should cover police presence.