Future Music Festival in Sydney. Photo: Credit Eva Rinaldi

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BY VANESSA LIM

Fourteen NSW music festivals have been labelled “high risk” under the state government licensing scheme in a bid to secure safety.

Local councils in NSW used to hold responsibility to ensure a smooth run for festivals. Now the state government has given responsibility to the NSW Department of Industry which runs the Liquor and Gaming Authority.

A media statement from the NSW Department of Industry said, “This announcement today will help provide certainty regarding the new scheme, and ensure there are no added cost burdens on low risk festivals. The scheme is designed to support music festival operators, particularly those who are dealing with the evolving challenge of illegal drug use at their festivals.”

Access to expert advice

The NSW Department of Industry said, “We know that most operators, including operators of higher risk festivals, work hard to do the right thing – now they will have access to more expert advice and support to help them run safer events. We are committed to continuing to work with music festival operators and other industry stakeholders to ensure the right balance is struck between great entertainment and festival safety.”

Despite this, “high risk” festival owners in a joint statement have denied that there is any clarity on their end.

Festival spokesperson of Days Like This said, “I am completely perplexed and astounded to see Days Like This Festival published on a list of ‘High Risk’ festivals with no tangible justification. There was a real opportunity here for the NSW Government to consult with an industry that generates over $1.8b a year in revenue to come up with ways we could potentially improve safety at festivals and instead they have chosen to vilify 14 individual festivals without any discussion”. Although five recent drug-related music festival deaths catalysed the state government into taking action, it has chosen to disregard pill testing and opt for a “no drug use policy”.

Greens MP for Newtown Jenny Leong said the Greens were against the “no drugs policy” and instead stated that harm minimisation was what kept festival goers safe.  “What we know is that there is a need to address the issues around harm minimisation and drug use in our society.”

She acknowledged the issue with drugs and alcohol abuse during festivals, and said that the greens supported other alternatives. She said, “The greens support pill testing 100 per cent”. “We also want to see an end to the ineffective sniffer dog drug program that causes more harm than good in our society. If you directed that money from the police drug dog program to other types of community support like drug and alcohol support, we would see the kind of effectiveness that good programs like those could offer. The tough law and order measures don’t actually serve the community well”.

This knee-jerk reaction for a “zero tolerance drug use policy” has caused event owners such as Sydney’s local music festival, Days Like This, and others to take legal action against the Berejiklian government.

Other festivals such as Mountain Sounds have already begun the process of liquidation due to the high costs of the fee.

With little clarity given in the guidelines about what constitutes “high risk,” festival owners are left wondering why their festivals were targeted.

Concern and advice!

The City of Sydney’s Nightlife and Creative Sector Advisory Panel discussed concerns about the NSW Government’s new regulations on 19 February 2019 and addressed what the new regulations could mean for the music industry.

A spokesperson for the City of Sydney said, “The Lord Mayor is seriously concerned about the impact the NSW Government’s new festival regulations will have on festivals and our music and arts economy both within our local government area and around the state”.

But the City of Sydney is yet to take an official stance. The spokesperson said, “The Nightlife and Creative Sector Advisory Panel will be sending a letter to the Lord Mayor and the City of Sydney to offer their advice on how the City of Sydney can best support the sector in the face of these new regulations”.

Jenny Leong denied that there would be any benefits with the new festival licensing scheme.

She said, “If we keep seeing further crackdowns on these places and venues, we will see a loss to the types of creative industries and live music events that we want to see in our city. We should be investing and supporting them, not trying to put more obstacles in place to stop them from working”.