Australia artists and concert promoters are warning that strict new conditions placed on music festivals in New South Wales could wipe out the scene.
In a letter to the NSW government, Peter Noble, director of the award-winning Bluesfest in Byron Bay, said his event and others were in “peril” due to the contentious new rules, which were intended to curb drug-related deaths at festivals.
Despite scoring many prestigious awards, Noble claims Bluesfest has been tagged as a “high risk event” which will cost them “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to comply, a financial burden his and many festival operators can’t carry.
“It seems the new policies are poorly thought-out,” writes Noble, “and through their implementation will decimate our industry should our government not see good sense.”
Noble’s comments come days after the Psyfari and Mountain Sounds festivals were canceled, with organizers of the latter alleging they had been “blindsided” by a $200,000 invoice for additional police at the show.
“We, like many of you, have seen the festival climate continue to diminish in Australia. NSW in particular is in dire straits,” reads a statement from Mountain Sounds, which booked a lineup featuring Angus and Julia Stone, Courtney Barnett and others. “This is yet another example of the government’s war on festivals.”
The MSF statement continues, "[We] have been put in an impossible situation as it was unrealistic for us to pull this money together, particularly given the timeframe.” The combination of excessive costs, additional licensing conditions and the enforcement of a stricter timeline “left us no option but to cancel the event," organizers say.
Following a spate of drug-related deaths at music festivals, the NSW government recently announced a string of tough new licensing requirements, based on the recommendations from a panel appointed by the state premier, Gladys Berejiklian.
When asked about those new rules and the collapse of Mountain Sounds, Berejiklian appeared to put the blame back on festival organizers. “There are rules in place now for you obey, to make sure everybody who turns up is safe, and if you can’t spend money making your event safer, well that’s a decision for you. But it’s not fair to blame the government,” she told reporters.
New government measures were put in place starting March. “And if organizers don’t want to obey the law,” she continued, “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.”
Bluesfest’s Noble says pressure is now mounting on his own show, which this year will celebrate its 30th anniversary. “I am saying now,” he warns. “Bluesfest will leave NSW. We have no choice it’s a matter of survival.”
Veteran promoters Richie McNeill, Jason Ayoubi and two-time ARIA Award-winning electronic duo Peking Duk joined the chorus of disapproval. “It breaks our heart to say the NSW Government has well and truly crossed the line,” reads a message posted by Peking Duk after Mountain Sounds was scrapped. “Now it’s truly personal, they’ve decided to bin something extremely special to us. Something loved dearly by almost every person on the entire Central Coast of NSW and abroad.”
Peking Duk and others say the solution is simple: vote out Berejiklian and her Liberal party at the March 23 state elections.