The right to dance is a fundamental human right

Time Out recently held a roundtable to discuss the parliamentary inquiry into the music and arts economy in New South Wales

Would you believe me if I told you that a recent DA for a Surry Hills venue had an express prohibition against having a mirrorball? Or that an application for a Sydney Fringe event last year was granted, provided there was to be “no dancing”?

These are just two of anecdotes recounted at a roundtable of senior city stakeholders that Time Out convened at the QT Sydney Hotel last week, as we tried to develop a consensus around submissions to the music and arts economy parliamentary inquiry.

The assembled 16 representatives included venue owners, arts and music industry figures, lawyers and even a couple of politicians. All were under no illusions that Sydney’s night-time economy is being regulated to death.

According to Mark Gerber, owner of the Oxford Art Factory, foot traffic in Kings Cross has dropped by as much as 84 per cent, Oxford Street was getting close to a similar figure, and his was the only live music venue still operating in the precinct. Justine Baker, CEO of hospitality group Solotel said that people eating dinner at her organisation’s venues were being interrupted by police sniffer dogs.“From our perspective there certainly appears to be an ingrained culture that has an anti-arts sentiment in all levels of the police force,” noted Kerri Glasscock, director of the Sydney Fringe festival.

“It’s Footloose!” one observer declared at the mirrorball revelation – a reference to the 1984 Kevin Bacon movie in which a teenager moves to a small town where rock’n’roll and dancing have been banned.

Another attendee summarised our current predicament as an example of what happens when “a disorganised majority is defeated by an organised minority”. In case you are wondering we, the readers of this correspondence, are the disorganised majority. The organised minority is a NSW government that wants everyone in bed, or at least out of the city, by 10pm.

Let me be clear. Any solution won’t solely be achieved through legislative change (although that might help). We need cultural change within NSW government. The government is not currently motivated to make that change, because it does not have sufficient familiarity with some of the unintended consequences of the lockout regime.

Those unintended consequences include the destruction of the ecosystem in which the creative industries are inspired, nurtured, sustained and flourish. “There are no venues left to play in,” Anna Burns from Future Classics record label said. “To conquer an international market you first have to conquer your home market, your home city, but the pathway is gone.”

Is there a solution?

You can read the collective wisdom of the roundtable here, but the guts of it is that we need ministerial oversight and carriage that represents the broader creative industries, and recognises the centrality of the night to that economy. We need a ‘night mayor’, similar to Amsterdam’s – a model that is being replicated throughout Europe – but at State level; a night-time advocate who can make our city shine again, by better informing parliament of the issues, retain oversight and then work with other government agencies including health and police to ensure coordination.

Related but lesser challenges are around planning consents and approvals which need an overhaul, as well as the introduction of incentives, and the removal of disincentives, to participate in the music and arts economy.

So what do we do?

I think we can all agree that something’s gone incredibly wrong if our right to dance is now on the chopping block (or at least shuffling its way there).

I’ve got two girls, aged four and one. When they are of age I want them to have the choice to be able to dance the night away in an appropriately regulated environment. The alternative is underground, illegal parties that abrogate public health and safety. Nor do I want to fund weekly trips to Melbourne so my daughters can get their footloose on.

This is where this story is heading if we, the disorganised majority, don’t engage with the political process. The invitation from NSW parliament is there; we need to respond, in numbers, and now, via a submission to the specially convened parliamentary inquiry. The submission process is the first and necessary step in what will be a lengthy conga line to meaningful change. Submissions must be made by February 28.

Submission? How long’s that going to take?

Twenty minutes. We’ve timed it.

Who can make a submission?

Submissions can be made by individuals or organisations, and are open to anyone irrespective of geographical location (I’m looking at you, Sydneysiders currently taking refuge in Melbourne).

What’s important about the submission?

Each submission should be personal to you, or your organisation. Here’s some thought starters that might help.

  • Hospitality crew? Think about how the current situation has impacted on you, your business patronage and your future career or business plans. Is your venue fairly policed, in a manner that is constructive to public safety? Or does it compromise guest experience?
  • Music folk? Are you are getting as much work as previously? Can you find venues to play in, or to go to to hear live music?
  • Other creative industry worker? Is the city or NSW an inspiring place to live? Could it be improved? If so, how?
  • Member of the public? How could Sydney’s nightlife make a positive change to your life?
  • Here’s the personal submission made by Michael Rodrigues, MD, Time Out Australia

Alright, I’m in. What do I do now?

A submission to the parliamentary inquiry into the music and arts economy in New South Wales can take any format, from a brief letter to a substantial research paper.

Your submission must be relevant to the terms of reference. But you only need address those issues that are relevant to you. In drafting your submission you may wish to include:

  • Key issues: identify the key problems or issues that need to be addressed.
  • Evidence: Refer to relevant research, law, policies or findings.
  • Case studies: Include examples of how you, your organisation or your clients are affected by the issue.
  • Recommendations: Try to identify possible solutions. The committee wants to know what can be done to address a problem.
  • Summary: Provide a brief summary and if your submission is lengthy, a contents list. Number the pages of your submission.

You can upload your submission through the website. Include your name, address and phone number (your personal contact details will not be published if your submission is published). Writing not your thing? Upload a video or video link instead, or send it to

And finally…

If you make a submission you may be called to give evidence to the inquiry. Your moment to step up – to be Kevin Bacon. We’re not suggesting that you re-enact Kev’s ‘Footloose’ dance sequence in the corridors of power … but then again, what better way to make your point?

Michael Rodrigues is MD of Time Out Australia. You can reach Michael on 02 8239 5990 or, and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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