NSW’s festival licensing scheme needs ‘complete overhaul’

The NSW Government is being urged to drop festival licensing scheme which came into effect earlier this year and forces festival organisers to apply for a specific liquor license to be approved by the likes of the health department and emergency services.

A parliamentary inquiry into the new liquor licensing rules for music festivals has heard that the state needs to completely rework its regulation of music festivals after receiving more than 40 submissions from individuals, businesses and industry bodies.

The regulations followed a spate of drug related deaths at music festivals but festival organisers say the new rules are heavy-handed and the roll-out has been marred by uncertainty.

Music festivals Mountain Sounds and Psyfari were cancelled by organisers who claimed the burden of additional costs associated with the new licensing scheme would put them out of business.

In its submission to the music festivals inquiry, Live Performance Australia (LPA) called on the government to “undertake proper consultation”.

“We continue to hold serious concerns,” LPA’s chief executive Evelyn Richardson stated in her submission.

“Uncertainty about discretionary costs that may be imposed at the last minute, such as policing or security fees, can make a festival financially unviable.

“Festivals cannot recoup last-minute cost increases from tickets that have already been sold nor renegotiate artist performance fees. They are also exposed to supplier costs and contracts. If there is doubt over a festivals viability, the only solution is to cancel it.”

Promoter Michael Chugg described changes to festival regulation as “over-reaching and unfocused” and said the state’s decline in live performance revenue “is of serious concern”.

“The regulatory burden of operating festivals in NSW may drive some organisers across state lines,” he said in his submission. “The changes to industry were rushed, with little regard to the long-standing industry business model.”

Elizabeth Rogers, the chief executive of Regional Arts NSW, argued that festivals in regional NSW are a major contributor to the regional economy and has called for a “complete overhaul”.

“Many artists get their first career break at the big music festivals,” she wrote. “Without this opportunity … many of the rising stars on the Australian music scene would remain unknown.”