The Australian Music Industry Reacts To NSW Government’s ‘War On Music Festivals’

Image Credit: ABC News
Scarlett Di Maio
| February 27, 2019

It is a turbulent time for Australian festivals. In protest to the NSW Government’s destructive new regulations and restrictions for music festivals, thousands of live music fans, musicians and industry representatives participated in the Don’t Kill Live Music rally in Hyde Park, Sydney last week.

Representatives of the Australian music industry have also joined forces to condemn State Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s ‘war on music festivals’. A new industry coalition has been formed by The Australian Festival Association, calling for a halt of the music festival license changes. The coalition includes members from peak bodies Live Performance Australia (LPA), Music NSW, APRA AMCOS and the Live Music Office.

The coalition has called for the NSW government to provide certainty for the music festival industry and consider the far-reaching impacts that these significant changes will have on festival goers, musicians, festival organisers and communities that host them.

As the AFA said in a recent statement, the State Government’s harsh new regulations will put festivals, events and live music in our cities, regional and remote communities under real threat.

On 22 February the coalition attended a meeting with the NSW Premier in an attempt to delay the new festival laws being introduced on 1 March, however the Premier’s stance was that the new rules will still come into effect on 1 March, but the Government is open to consultation.

The music industry was not consulted before the NSW Government announced the new festival licensing scheme.

“Despite the industry’s willingness to work constructively with Government on these issues, the Premier’s approach to the festival industry has been an uncooperative and heavy-handed ‘put up or shut down,” said the AFA.

“Following a meeting yesterday with advisers, we have been informed the Government will not change its position on the implementation of new licensing rules from next Friday.”

“By refusing to consult properly with industry, as opposed to the disorganised and inadequate process it has run to date, the premier now seems to be determined to shut down some of our best festivals for the sake of a quick media headline.”

 “We urge the government to come to the table with a commitment to genuine and extensive consultation that includes a commitment to defer the 1 March start date for the new licensing requirements so we can understand the economic, cultural and operational impacts of the new regulations.

“The festival industry will be stepping up its campaign on this to make people aware of what is at stake for our music industry as well as business and tourism across the state, and will be urging all parties at the upcoming NSW election to support policies which deliver certainty for the future of music festivals in NSW.”

NSW Government also released a list of festivals that they deem “high risk”. These festivals will come under the harshest scrutiny of the new licensing regulations. Festivals were notified of their classification on the evening of Friday 22 February, by SMS and phone call. They were notified only hours before the State Government released a late-night press release.

The 14 festivals found to be “high risk” by the State Government’s panel of experts will be forced to apply for a new licence through the Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority by 1 March.

Minister for Racing Paul Toole said the 14 festivals had been chosen because of past safety issues.

“The NSW government wants music festivals to thrive but serious drug-related illnesses and deaths have demonstrated that we need to help make a small number of them safer,” Toole said.

Another spokesperson for the NSW Government said in a statement:

“Festivals required to operate under the new licensing regime will be festivals where a serious drug-related illness or death has occurred in the past three years or where the Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority has determined, having regard to expert advice from NSW Health and NSW Police, that there may be a significant risk of serious drug-related illness or death.”

The State Government claims this approach will be effective for reducing drug overdoses at music festivals, even though there have been renewed calls for pill testing in Australia.

“Pill testing could help warn others about dangerous batches of pills at Australian music festivals and deter drug suppliers from selling “contaminated drugs.” Dr Alex Wodak, president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, told SBS last month.

As far as current Australian festival organisers are concerned, Byron Bay’s iconic Bluesfest are threatening to move their event interstate, Mountain Sounds has been cancelled and the end of Laneway Festival in Sydney is “a possibility”.

“We require consultation as an industry so you can … explain to us how people are coming up with decisions that impact our livelihoods.” Laneway promoter Danny Rogers told ABC News today.

LPA has warned that NSW will be wiped off the map for future live music tours and festivals under heavy-handed new licensing plans being proposed by the NSW Government.

“The NSW Government needs to stop this now and properly consult with the industry.” stated LPA Chief Executive, Evelyn Richardson.

“We all have a vital interest in the safety and well-being of people who attend festivals, and the best outcomes will be achieved through proper consultation and cooperation with our festival operators, not the blunt instrument of poorly designed and heavy-handed regulation.”

NSW is the largest market nationally for contemporary music and music festivals in Australia, generating $325m in revenue for the NSW economy with 6 million attendees each year, according to 2017 figures from Live Performance Australia.

What happens now?

Ahead of the NSW Election on 23 March, MusicNSW has announced a #VoteMusic campaign, calling on the music community to get organised and start putting pressure on all political parties to make significant commitments to music in NSW. We recommend reading their 2019 state election report card which details the various political parties and their commitments to investing in music in NSW.

Also in the run-up to the election, the Keep Sydney Open Party has unveiled its lead candidates and manifesto.

The Don’t Kill Live Music organisers are calling for more signatures on their petition, which to date has 124,897 signatures.

The Anti-Colonial Asian Alliance (AAA), a grassroots activist group that works in solidarity with First Nations Peoples, have urged the music industry to ‘set the bar higher’ after joining attendees at the Don’t Kill Live Music Rally last Thursday, holding banners that read “Whose Land are You Partying On?” and “Always Was, Always Will be Aboriginal Land.”  In an official statement, the group said this action was not intended as a counter-protest but instead as an act of solidarity and awareness-raising, particularly around issues affecting First Nations people in NSW. You can read their full press release here or contact them for more information.

We’ll also keep you up to date on any progress made, so watch this space.

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