The war on festivals rumbles on, but there are signs of a truce.
Following intensifying pressure from the live industry, artists and a scathing open-letter penned by Bluesfest director Peter Noble, published exclusively in these pages, the NSW government is walking back elements of its maligned licensing regime for music festivals, TIO can reveal today.
A breakthrough has been reached on the points system, which will now be reviewed after Noble held a round of talks with state government officials.
“They have assured me that good events, community events, award-winning events like Bluesfest, and other events that don’t have drug deaths occurring at them, won’t be categorised as high-risk events and have all those costs of compliance,” Noble says.
Earlier this week, Noble warned the NSW festivals scene was in “peril” due to the tough new rules, which were designed to protect punters after a spate of drug-related deaths. The cost of compliance to these new conditions, set to come into effect March 1, have been blamed for the collapse of the Psyfari and Mountain Sounds festivals and would run into the “hundreds of thousands of dollars” for Bluesfest, despite its well-earned reputation as a clean, family-friendly event.
Speaking from Los Angeles this morning, where he’s attending the Pollstar Live summit, Noble said government had listened to his concerns, and those of others. “When events like Illawarra Folk Festival is categorised as a high-risk event, there’s something wrong,” Noble tells TIO. Government is now reviewing the system, though not every festival will benefit.
Noble has been assured that high-risk events will have to step up and provide a higher level of medical assistance. “This doesn’t mean high-risk events won’t be having to comply at a much higher level,” he notes. “Some events will have to shell out more, but the majority of our industry, the vast majority, they may have to spend a bit but it’s not going to be put in this ‘one size fits all’ basket. And I think that’s a big outcome.”
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There’s another carrot for festival owners and operators. If Gladys Berejiklian and her Liberals retain power at the upcoming election, there may be further opportunities to fine-tune the policy.
“To achieve that much in 48 hours, we got a bit done,” Noble tells TIO. “We have a whole industry to protect.”
The breakthrough comes after a cadre of promoters and advocates warned the current policies would unfairly punish low-risk events and have a crippling effect on the wider festivals space. The Australian Festivals Association launched its own call-to-action on Tuesday, as promoters and artists including Peking Duk rallied for change.
On the same day, Live Performance Australia stepped in with its own statement: “Consultation with industry has been absolutely woeful and whole sections of our industry are now being destroyed by a knee jerk response from a government that couldn’t care less.” The NSW government “needs to stop this now and properly consult with the industry,” the peak body added.
In its open letter, the AFA slammed the rules as “too rushed and done without enough consultation” and offered up five points which would keep everyone happy and punters safe. An industry forum has been set for this Friday to talk it all over.
Government has yet to comment on any of the industry’s proposals.
Meanwhile, festival goers will march for change at Sydney’s Hyde Park for the Don’t Kill Live Music rally, to be held Thursday, Feb. 21.