NSW Music industry reject government’s ‘fee free’ festival pledge

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The NSW government has promised to waive licensing fees for “low risk festivals”, but the industry says there is not enough information.

A NSW government announcement to give free licensing to low risk festivals is "damage control," according to a peak music festival industry body.

Music NSW managing director Emily Collins said the government has not provided a definition of "low-risk", and is calling for more information to be released ahead of a new licensing scheme starting March 1.

"Until the industry has been shown the draft regulation and guiding documents about what is high risk and what is low risk, we will have to take these announcements with a grain of salt," she said.

"This announcement just adds further confusion to what appears to be regulation formed on the run."

She said Music NSW - along with the Australian Festival Association, Live Performance Australia and the Australasian Performing Right Association - are calling for the start date of the new licensing scheme to be pushed back.

"Inadequate consultation has taken place, until that happens it's very difficult for the industry to support this regulation," she said.

But the NSW Minister for Racing Paul Toole said the vast majority of music festival operators who have been "doing the right thing" will not be unduly impacted by the changes.

The government says under the new scheme, licences for music festival operators not assessed as low risk will be $650 – the equivalent of the Special Event Licence Fee most festivals already pay.

"For festivals that have a good track record and good practices in place, it will be largely business as usual," Mr Toole said.

"Unless good operators are planning significant changes to their festival, their licence conditions – including health and police requirements – will not be materially different to previous years."

The conflict between the NSW music industry and the state government comes after recent changes to festival liquor licensing laws and recent deaths at festivals - sparking a nationwide pill testing debate.

This week the state government met with representatives from more than 30 music festivals to address recent changes in festival liquor licensing laws. These include a new 'user pays' clause which would see 'higher risk' festivals required to pay for increased onsite emergency services.

Mountain Sounds and Psyfari - two festivals recently cancelled over the higher costs - claim the last minute changes contributed to their shutdowns.
"As a direct result of the NSW Government's rushed new music festival licensing regime, scheduled to come into effect on 1 March 2019, numerous music festivals in NSW are being forced to close or look at options outside NSW," the group's official statement read.

More than 100,000 people have signed on to the appeal, calling on the government to rethink the stricter conditions - ahead of a state election in March.

Signatories includes Australian music royalty like Bernard Fanning and Vance Joy, as well as major festivals including Byron Bay Bluesfest and Splendour In The Grass.