13 Feb 2019

Festival Fallout – NSW Government’s Festival Restrictions will kill many events

By Julius Grafton

In a remarkable kneejerk reaction to six tragic drug deaths at music festivals over summer, the NSW Government has released ‘Interim Guidelines’ for festival approvals from March that will, according to Bluesfest promoter Peter Noble, kill festivals in NSW. “Will the last one out turn off the lights”, he said, threatening to move Bluesfest after this year’s event.

The NSW premier had threatened to stop a repeat of Defqon.1 by shutting down any future festival.


Now the NSW Government has made good on the threat by releasing a document called ‘Interim Guidelines for Music Festival Event Organisers: Music Festival Harm Reduction’, which precede a new Festival Application process that starts in March – next month.

Using these guidelines, Bluesfest (perhaps the largest festival in Australia) is not viable nor are small community-based festivals like the Illawarra Folk Festival whose organiser said on Sydney radio this week that he would classed as a ‘high risk event’ and be required to have a staffed ambulance on site, at a cost of over $500 an hour, along with a host of other medical facilities and user-pays Police presence.

The guidelines are a rushed and sloppy document, which capture any music event with over 2000 people, indoors or out, and impose a set of regulatory oversights that carry stiff costs for compliance and for staffing.

From the introduction: “For the purposes of this document a ‘music festival’ is: A music-focused event, often involving performances by multiple music artists and held at an entertainment venue (indoor or outdoor) where 2,000 or more attendees enjoy a range of music for anywhere between several hours and several days.” This successfully captures most concerts.

In effect, the intention of the guidelines is to prohibit many events, including community concerts such as Carols by Candlelight.

To get the ‘high risk’ category, CX ran the test in the document over an event such as a concert by legacy band, Earth Wind and Fire, at a 5,000 seat venue; hardly anything to get too worked up about. Here’s how the numbers worked out: the event has a score of 117. The Guidelines thus determine that this event has an extreme risk. It will now require a medical village akin to what you see at a natural disaster like an earthquake, plus a large tribe of user pays Police. Before all that happens, the Guidelines promise the promoter will supply a huge set of compliance studies and documents.

Sydney Morning Herald quotes Live Performance Australia boss Evelyn Richardson thus: “Consultation with the industry has been absolutely woeful and whole sections of our industry are now being destroyed by a knee-jerk response from a government that couldn’t care less.”

Hosting a Facebook Group we call ‘Live Venue Crisis’ this week, many stories have come to light along with suggestions that perhaps this is indeed a voter winning proposition. As the NSW Government face an election in March, they have almost certainly tested their position on live festivals with polling groups.

Alongside the alarm generated by the NSW Governments ‘War on Festivals’ is considerable anxiety over all forms of music venues which face increasing regulatory oversight, costs, and compliance issues. Sydney’s acute lack of theatre venues has also been a recent issue with the developer owner of the now closed Theatre Royal refusing to confirm they will gut the theatre and convert it into retail space.









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