Shadow Minister for the Night Time Economy, the Hon. John Graham MLC
In mid-November the government handed down its report into music and the arts economy following the biggest public inquiry during this sitting government’s term. The mainstream media cycle gave it scant coverage, instead focussing on a pre-emptive announcement from government around cutting red tape. Time Out Australia Managing Director Michael Rodrigues puts the report under the microscope, summarising its findings, key recommendations, what it means for venues and the music scene in practical terms, and what the sector needs to think about next.
With over 437 submissions, 19 site visits and 11 public hearings, the Music and Arts Economy inquiry has been the largest during this term of government. The upper house inquiry saw evidence given from artists like Urthboy, the Rubens, KLP and Dave Faulkner, festival promoters, senior bureaucrats and even international brands like Sonos and Spotify. Yours truly was also invited to give evidence.
While lockout was talked about openly during the course of the inquiry, the non-partisan parliamentary committee was at pains to make sure that tortured issue did not overshadow the inquiry (although make what you will of finding #3 below).
The Committee's findings
The committee made the following key findings. I’ve included my own translations below each:
That there is massive potential for the contemporary music sector in New South Wales. The recorded music sector has grown rapidly over the last two years via online streaming. The majority of the industry is based in New South Wales.
Translation (mine): We’re sitting on a golden opportunity and f*cking it up.
That if New South Wales were to match Victorian funding for contemporary music per capita, it would require an expenditure in New South Wales of at least $35 million over the four years of forward estimates.
Translation (mine): We grew complacent in NSW and under-invested. Now we need to play catch-up (we invest about 10% compared to the Victorians).
That New South Wales has a music venue crisis, the causes of which are complex, but it is impacting negatively on the grassroots music scene in New South Wales, and on the national and regional touring circuits.
Translation (mine): Whatever you do, don’t mention lockout.
That the committee found no research available that suggested that music causes violence. In fact, the majority of the evidence the committee received suggested that music assists in preventing violence.
Translation (mine): FFS! Only in NSW would we have to specifically make a finding on this issue.
Many of you reading this are venue owners or have a business that relies on functioning venues. The win here is contained in finding 3, namely that Government has now on record as having recognised we have a problem.
In the context of both sides of politics resistant to addressing lockout head-on, we need to take this as good news – it’s the first time since Callinan that Government has admitted things aren’t golden. They’ve even used the word “crisis”! In so doing they have opened the door for industry and other stakeholders to get in front of government with solutions.
The findings capture the debate, define the problem and in so doing focus the mind. The recommendations steer us towards where within the bureaucracy the cogs need to turn.
The 60 recommendations that accompanied the findings speak to a patient presenting symptoms of multiple disorders. I’ve categorised them as follows:
- Ministerial Oversight: We need someone in the Department of Premier and Cabinet accountable for policy that supports the Night Time Economy and we need ministerial responsibility for music, arts and culture. Currently the Arts portfolio is tacked on to Resources, Energy and Utilities (which is hardly a vote of confidence in our sector). There’s a certain logic here, given the number of government departments with tentacles into our nightlife number at least nine (Police, Transport, Planning, Health, Local Government, Arts, Planning and Environment, Roads and Maritime, Premier and Cabinet).
- Create NSW: The NSW Government’s arts policy and funding body got no less than 24 special mentions across as many recommendations as to how it might think about doing its job. Most of the recommendations related specifically to live music and how it should be better supported. If this was a homework exercise, the comment in red across the top of the page might read “has potential, needs to apply itself better”.
- Investment and Promotion: Our contemporary music scene needs more lovin’ – specifically funding comparable with Victoria and greater distribution through radio and streaming services such as Spotify.
- Planning and Environment: The crib note here was that music and culture matter, and that places that offer it should be protected if not prioritised, over other land uses.
- Venues: No less than ten recommendations regarding venues alone and efforts that should be made to cut red tape, remove outdated licence conditions, remove duplication of processes between government departments, and measures to reduce the interference by noise complainants with venues offering live entertainment.
So, all good stuff. You can read the full list of recommendations here (I’ve introduced some headings and reordered them to try and make life easy).
I had to admire the government’s handling of what was potentially hot issue. Like an old pro they got ahead of the report and announced they would cut red tape. This sucked the oxygen out of the debate, and with no tasty soundbyte about lockout and its role in creation of the mess, the media found other stuff to write about.
Let’s talk about the government announcement. Its genesis appears to have been Recommendation 43:
That the NSW Government review and amend liquor legislation to remove outdated conditions for liquor licences and development applications that place unnecessary restrictions on certain entertainment live music venues, such as prohibiting music genres or specific musical instruments.
What’s been announced is a temporary fee waiver on applications to have conditions on liquor licenses lifted between 1 December 2018 and 29 January 2019, through a “free and streamlined assessment service”.
What impact will this have?
If an olive branch is the measure, what we have here is a twig that may or may not be from a fruit-bearing tree. There are two impediments:
- Historically, venues have been loath to apply for the lifting of conditions from their liquor licence because it opens them up to the imposition of additional licences. And one thing is clear from the statement by Mr Toole (Minister for Racing) – local police, councils and residents will still have the opportunity to comment on any proposals to remove or vary conditions. Uptake of this generous offer is likely to be limited;
- While liquor licences score highly in the absurdity category – eg “No mirrorballs, no DJs, no dancing” – they aren’t the sole source of restrictive venue conditions. Venue DAs are often where other restrictions are found.
The Government announcement is more shopping for scissors than actual cutting of red tape. When taken with the deferral of debate on the lockout bill (which now won’t occur this side of Christmas, if at all) it would appear that the Government is playing for time.
Lockout or not, the Music and Arts Economy Report which has been prepared with regard to best practice in other jurisdictions, contains a number of useful recommendations. A formal response from government is due on 28 February 2019, but given time of year and the upcoming election, there is the real risk that the report gets buried and no meaningful change follows.
We can’t afford to let that happen.
It was encouraging to see Labor take the initiative and appoint a shadow minister for the Night Time Economy (John Graham MLC), but as yet neither party has a published night time economy policy. We should demand one ahead of the election and make clear to the major parties that tinkering around the edges is unacceptable.
As you may be aware, we’ve launched the Night Time Industries Association and in the next few weeks we will be:
- Writing to ministers asking for a response to the recommendations set out in the Music and Arts Economy Report;
- Building our coalition and onboarding members;
- Planning a campaign that will run ahead of the election that secures our policy ask.
Come the new year we will run that campaign and engage the public with our message.
It’s been a long winter for those in the business of getting people out and about enjoying their city. The Music and Arts Economy report has done its job. It’s got the admission from government that we have a crisis, and given us a toe in the door. We need to stick our size 12s in and throw that door open – then make merry hell when we are on the other side. We need to do this together. And the vehicle to do this is the Night Time Industries Association.
Managing Director, Time Out Australia
Chair, Night Time Industries Association (ntia.org.au)