June 2, 2019

Will Sydney’s Good Neighbour policy expand throughout NSW and end complaint culture?

Will Sydney’s Good Neighbour policy expand throughout NSW and end complaint culture?

Could the Good Neighbour initiative announced by Sydney’s Inner West Council be made mandatory across the rest of NSW?

The initiative means that anyone who contacts the Council to complain must now undertake a mediation chat over a coffee or beer, overseen by a ranger to resolve the situation.

Inner West mayor and longtime live music supporter Darcy Byrne said: “90% of the time, I believe these issues can be received just through conversation, through mitigation.”

Byrne also sent out a challenge to the Berejiklian government to introduce the initiative across Sydney and across the state, and to break the culture of complaint that’s sprung up mostly because of authorities.

The result has been hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on lawyers by councils and venue owners.

Two recent objections came as venues hunt for new ways to draw patrons.

One was the amount of smoke from the BBQ in the courtyard of the 170-year for the family-run pub Welcome Hotel in Balmain, which threatened a fine of $8,000 each time the BBQ was used.

Another was over noise from the metal balls throwing during the French game petanque at Darlinghurst’s Black Bottle wine bar, and which was banned by the City of Sydney.

Byrne agreed, “For far too long now it’s been a case that governments and politicians have been throwing resources behind legal action based on sometimes just a single complaint and persecuting hotels, clubs and small bars.

“It’s not an ideological thing, it’s about forcing people to talk through solutions rather than be legalistic.”

Longtime venues are an essential part of neighbourhoods, he declared, adding, “Every NSW council should be collaborating with the music industry and local residents to resolve complaints over a beer or a coffee rather than in court.”

Good Neighbour was introduced when Byrne was mayor of Leichhardt, in the wake of The Annandale collapse in 2013 in the wake of litigation and regulation issues.

The Inner West includes Newtown, Enmore, Marrickville and Rozelle, which abound with licenced venues.

Not unexpectedly, the NSW live music sector has applauded the move while the Australian Hotels Association NSW director of liquor and policing, John Green described it as “providing a level of common sense”.

Byrne will be one of the first speakers to address the cross-party parliamentary committee announced May 29 by premier Gladys Berejiklian to review lockout laws, and he will be encouraging the state-wide adoption of Good Neighbours.

Hopefully, Byrne will also introduce into the discussion the necessity of venue soundproofing funding that the Victorian government has as part of its Good Music Neighbours scheme that also urges mediation.

It offers matched funding of up to $25,000 so inner city venues can sort out noise problems before the complaints begin as new apartment blocks spring up around them.

For instance, Bar Open, which opened in 1998 in Fitzroy, could build a sound wall in its courtyard to cut down patrons’ chatter after new development in 2017.

The funding helped in a small way towards the $153,000 that Bakehouse Studios in Richmond needed to soundproof its old corrugated iron roof after new buildings came up next door.

Justin Stanford, the current owner of The Night Cat in Fitzroy, which has been around for 22 years, says, “We needed airlock doors and acoustic ceiling tiles, and couldn’t have afforded it otherwise.”

Which indicates that mediation is healthy, but prevention is healthier when it comes to music venues in inner-city Sydney and in gentrification-hit cities as Newcastle and Wollongong.