Are Exorbitant Policing Costs Killing NSW Music Festivals?

7 March 2024 | 12:58 pm | Jessie Lynch

“I think you will see festivals cancelling and or taking a year off more so than a national touring festival skipping a NSW leg."

Groovin The Moo - Sunshine Coast

Groovin The Moo - Sunshine Coast (Jordan Munns)

The future of music festivals in New South Wales is looking bleak, with promoters warning they may be forced to avoid the state altogether or go on hiatus next summer thanks to the exorbitant policing costs.

The shock cancellation of the regional touring festival Groovin the Moo last month — blamed on poor ticket sales — has also amplified concerns over the long-term viability of festivals in a post-COVID world.

At the heart of the issue are claims that NSW Police are charging festival organisers up to 12 times more for their services compared to Victoria — with both states being the country’s major festival hotspots.

Greens MP Cate Faehrmann provided a startling example during a recent budget estimates hearing: for one unnamed touring festival last year with 35,000 attendees in NSW and 40,000 in Victoria, the police bill was $120,465 in NSW but less than $10,000 in Victoria. She went on to label the figures as “completely over the top”.

"Is that fair?" Faehrmann asked Arts Minister John Graham, who admitted, "I don't know if it's fair. It's certainly of concern to me that we are so out of step with Victoria."

“We’re examining why this is occurring, and I don’t want to jump ahead of the process.”

He added, “It is one of the things potentially driving festivals out of NSW, and it is a tougher environment as a result. I can guarantee that it’s under close examination, and it’s an area where the government is looking to act at these festival charges in general.”

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The excessive police charges are just one of the mounting costs squeezing festival promoters, Mitch Wilson from the Australian Festivals Association told SMH.

“If we are seeing the likes of Groovin the Moo cancel their tours, what hope does a small independent regional festival have at surviving the economic changes? That’s why we need government support … Is it any wonder festival operators are wondering if it’s viable to continue to operate in NSW?” Wilson said.

The Australian Festivals Association reports that since 2020, over 20 festivals have changed plans, such as relocation, postponement, or outright cancellation. These were often prompted by various extreme weather events, including rain, floods, heatwaves, and wildfires, in addition to pandemic-related shutdowns.

“I think you will see festivals cancelling and or taking a year off more so than a national touring festival skipping a NSW leg,” Wilson added.

“And history shows that it is difficult to bring something back once they cancel. Promoters are carrying a lot of debt and loss from the last couple of years, and to ask them to carry more is not viable; there is no risk appetite to keep running at a loss.”