13 Feb 2019

NSW ‘war on festivals’ – how it works. No votes for music or arts

By Julius Grafton

The NSW Governments ‘Interim Guidelines for Music Festival Event Organisers’ has alarmed all promoters with unworkable and in some cases extreme requirements apparently designed to shut down all large music events.

While the document may not survive the week, it does frame requirements that are not yet published but come into effect within weeks for event licensing which moves under the Department of Liquor and Gaming NSW – who formerly only worried themselves over liquor licenses but now will govern the entire event approval process.


Music NSW told a meeting on February 12 that they believe the new regulations will be ‘limited’ to festivals and not concerts, yet the Guidelines as currently published apply to anything containing music performed in front of 2,000 patrons, anywhere in NSW. They also say leaked info provides a ticket charge between .60c and $2 to be paid to the Department of Liquor and Gaming NSW to reimburse them for the license.

It is clear that the NSW Government, facing an election in March, intend to shut down festivals such as Defqon.1 where 2 drug deaths late in 2018 drew a hasty threat from the Premier to ban that event in future. Arts and music professionals firmly believe that political parties rate education, transport, safety and health as vote winning tickets and say that music and arts do not win votes.

By rushing a set of Guidelines, authored by NSW Health, the NSW Government has made itself a target of many industry workers, suppliers, and audiences who – it clearly believes – will not punish it at the ballot box. It could well be that polling shows a ban on music festivals is indeed a vote winner.

This is a canary in the coalmine for the entire Australian entertainment industry, since other states will observe the outcomes and weigh up some similar regime if, indeed to comes to pass, the NSW Government wins the imminent state election.

Make no mistake, the proposed regulations as stand right now will decimate live performance in NSW.

Using the matrix in Appendix A of the Guidelines, here’s how some contemporary events stack up right now:

• Handa Opera (assumes 2000 pax) scores 80. High risk.
• Opera indoors (2000 pax) scores 85. High risk.
• Folk or Jazz outdoors (5000 pax) scores 74. High risk.

Low Risk is under 39.
Medium Risk is 40 to 69.
High Risk is 70 to 109.
Extreme is over 110.

It’s pretty obvious the new regulations in March will remove the abnormalities that led to the harmless events above making it in to the High Risk category, but why publish a document that includes everything musical in the first place, if the only intention is to shut music festivals with rock, dance, or rave music?

Get set for some turbulence ahead if the current Government get re-elected. The NSW opposition are making noises that are much more conciliatory, but it seems the sad fatalities involving six young people over this summer will reset how events are staged. No matter who wins.


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