Australians Rally Against Music Regulations, Warn NSW Could Become 'First Music Festival-Free Zone'

Thai Yuan Lim/EyeEm
Sydney, Australia

The vibrant festivals scene in NSW is said to be facing extinction, with a controversial set of new licensing conditions scheduled to take effect across the state next week despite resistance from Australia’s music industry and tens of thousands of concert-goers.

Representatives from the live industry this week met with government officials to push for a rethink and to delay the proposed Music Festival Licence, which has been described as poorly-conceived, heavy-handed, and created without consultation. The government won’t budge on their festivals blueprint, which is due to be applied across the state from March 1. And the consequences could be disastrous, industry professionals warn.  

Earlier this week, a coalition of trade bodies formed to reject the new rules, drawn-up by NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian and an expert panel following a spate of drug-related deaths at festivals in Australia’s most populous state.

In their current form, the new regulations unfairly punish low-risk events, live music advocates say, and have already contributed to the collapse of two events, Psyfari and Mountain Sounds festivals. For some shows, the cost of compliance to these new rules would run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, promoters warn. More will tumble, with live music across the state’s cities, regional and remote communities now under “real threat,” reads a joint statement issued by the Australian Festival Association with Live Performance Australia, Music NSW, APRA AMCOS and the Live Music Office.

The so called “war on festivals” is the biggest music story in Australia right now, dominating headlines and news bulletins in the mainstream media. And it comes ahead of what should be a hard fought state election, with the opposition Labor Party pledging its support to the music business. Berejiklian has remained unmoved on the issue, telling reporters: “If organizers don’t want to obey the law, that’s a decision for them. It’s not really fair to use the government as an excuse. You can’t just make a quick dollar without thinking of the safety of young people.”

NSW is the largest market nationally for contemporary music and music festivals in Australia, the industry coalition notes, generating $325 million in revenue for the state economy with six million attendees across all events each year. 

Reps from the coalition met with the Premier’s Department on Wednesday. But the outcome didn’t favor the music industry. Government will not change its position, and the rules will roll out from next Friday.

This approach "does not make economic sense. Nor does it do anything to deliver better safety outcomes,” reads a coalition statement. “If the government was genuine in its commitment to festival safety it would be working hand-in-hand with our experienced festival organizers rather than just imposing new licensing conditions drawn up in Macquarie Street.”

The festival industry vowed to step up its campaign. Failure to unwind the rules would see NSW become “Australia’s first music festival-free zone,” the coalition admits.

With negotiations reaching a stalemate, musicians, industry professionals and an estimated 20,000-strong crowd gathered late Thursday at Sydney’s Hyde Park for the "Don’t Kill Live Music" rally. “It’s just fucking stupid,” Michael Chugg, the legendary concert promoter, told Billboard before he spoke at the rally. The Premier and her advisors “really haven’t given this any thought," he said. "It’s a fucking nightmare.”