'They don’t want to do this': Summer festival season under threat in NSW

Police officers and drug detection dogs walk amongst festival goers by an entrance to Splendour In The Grass 2019 on July 19, 2019 Source: Getty

The reintroduction of controversial licensing legislation could see major NSW music festivals ditch the state for greener pastures.

Major music festivals have threatened to leave New South Wales in reaction to Premier Gladys Berejiklian reintroducing controversial licensing legislation to parliament.

The Australian Festival Association, which represents festivals like Splendour In The Grass, Falls Festival, Laneway, Groovin’ The Moo and more, today released a joint statement saying that they’ve been left with no other choice but to “consider their options.”

The suggested legislation would force festivals deemed ‘high risk’ by the government to submit a safety management plan. 

They would also have to foot the bill for increased onsite security and emergency services.

The legislation was first introduced in March 2019 but was thrown out in late September after it was to put a vote in the NSW upper house. It was reintroduced by Premier Berejiklian during last Wednesday’s question time.

MusicNSW Managing Director Emily Collins fears that the reintroduction of the legislation could further harm the already hurting festival industry.

“It will be a huge loss for music fans, musicians, regional communities and NSW in general if we start losing music festivals to other more welcoming states,” Collins told The Feed.

NSW’s music industry has taken enough hits in the last few years.

Festival representatives have claimed that the last minute increased costs contributed to the cancellation of Mountain Sounds festival and Psyfari earlier in the year.

UNSW Criminology lecturer Phillip Wadds has been instrumental in research concerning the festival and nightlife industry in New South Wales. 

“There’s already a precedent that these restrictions may lead to some festivals not being able to run in New South Wales,” Wadds told The Feed.

The festivals don’t want to do this but there’s a certain point where it becomes untenable to run an event.

Berejiklian has said that only 11 festivals have been placed in the “high risk” category. 

Music festivals

It’s a reduction of the original list of 14 released earlier in the year.

Much of the criticism of the legislation stems from the government's refusal to include festival bodies in the development of regulations.

“No one is asking not to be regulated, only that industry get the opportunity to assist the government with making more effective legislation,” Emily Collins said. 

“We feel a legislated industry roundtable is a pretty reasonable request”

Wadds is quick to point out that the most successful policy is collaborative.

“We know that the best policy is co-produced by those it’s going to affect - it leads to better uptake and better compliance,” Wadds says.

The evidence is there that you cannot do it one-sided and without consultation with those who are going to be affected by the policy.

Berejiklian has stressed how important it was to pass the regulations before summer festival season begins. 

However, Wadds believes that, if rushed into law, the legislation could put a dangerous amount of stress onto festivals.

“These are huge events with so many different moving parts so to have these last minute changes made and then to expect that an event could be compliant or face significant sanctions is not acceptable,” Wadds says.

Part of the problem is that the government doesn't understand the complexity of these events. 

The move to reintroduce the licensing scheme came days after The Daily Telegraph released 40 draft recommendations from the coroner's report on festival safety.

One of the recommendations was to introduce pill testing to reduce harm at festivals.

In response, Berejiklian doubled down on her party’s stance on pill testing - commenting, “We think [pill testing] creates a false sense of security.”

Wadds impresses that the government is not seeing the bigger picture.

“We should be focusing on the health and safety of people at festivals but instead we’re focusing on government wide policy that’s distracting festival promoters from implementing more localised preventative measures,” he says.

“If we’re not focusing on event-level safety then unfortunately we’re going to see more harm in those settings.”

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