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Festivals’ concern over licensing changes

World News
April 1, 2019

AUSTRALIA                

NEW SOUTH Wales (NSW) festival organisers say they want to open discussions with the state government in a bid to safeguard their events, following the introduction of controversial new licensing regulations.

Responding to five deaths at festivals last year, the state announced a change to the rules from 1 March for events considered “higher risk”.

Such festivals have to apply for the newly-created music festival licence, which will be considered by a panel including police, ambulance, the health authority and the liquor licensing body.

The measures prompted shock among festival organisers, who said they weren’t consulted.

Peter Noble, who has been running Byron Bay’s 25,000-capacity Bluesfest, now a five-day event, for 30 years and owns its site, wrote an open letter expressing his concerns.

But NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian was quick to respond with reassurances.

“I don’t want anyone who’s been holding a festival for a long time to be worried, this isn’t aimed at you, this is aimed at those people at high-risk festivals that in the past haven’t done the right thing,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

But many in the industry are worried about additional administration costs and potential for high police bills. They say they weren’t consulted before the changes were made.

“With NSW regulations now being so hard to navigate and remaining the most costly in Australia … concert promoters will start to scale back or cancel national and local concerts,” says a joint statement between The Australian Festival Association, Live Performance Australia, the Association of Artist Managers, Music NSW and the Live Music Office.

Danny Rogers, co-founder of the Laneway festivals, which take place in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne, Fremantle, Singapore and Auckland in New Zealand, says, “It’s still hard to say what the effect of these regulations will be and it remains concerning.

“I’d hope it doesn’t stop us from wanting to do more shows. We have an incredible reputation and believe that ultimately our professionalism and punter-first approach will hold us in good stead.”

He added he thought there would be additional costs of administering the licence, but was as yet unsure how this would affect ticket prices. “We’re determined to keep our price very reasonable.”

Noble says he’d been approached by the local authority to discuss a potential way forward for the industry, telling Audience, “It’s too early to know what’s going to happen, but it’s important we have positive outcomes for all sides.

“Bluesfest was given a licence but that doesn’t mean we’re not concerned for our industry. There needs to be a policy we can all understand.”

According to the new licensing guidelines, events which have had a drugs-related death or illness in the last three years are automatically considered “higher risk”, as are events with an audience of 8,000 or more, where the music is mostly electronic dance music, or those which last longer than eight hours.

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