Call To Arms For Vic Music Scene: ‘We Now Have A Crisis’

3 December 2013 | 3:47 pm | Helen Marcou

SLAM call for a moratorium on the punishment of live music venues

SLAM call for a moratorium on the punishment of live music venues

It's been nearly four years since the SLAM rally and again we find music lovers calling "Don't kill live music".

The SLAM [Save Live Australia's Music] rally proved that there was a vote in live music, but once again the Melbourne Music scene is bleeding. The recent uproar around the Bendigo, The Palace and Cherry has the public wondering what our elected government is doing to protect Victoria's culture.

We now have a crisis and with the projected growth in population and higher density living. That crisis will become a catastrophe, unless policy and law adapts to the 21st century.

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There is one side to this story, we are all residents, we all love music and we have a vote. Regulation implies that there is a war between two sides, but in fact the regulation is outdated and our planners must recognise that a city without culture is like a house without windows.

So what real changes have been achieved, and why is our beloved live music culture still under constant threat despite bipartisan motherhood statements that profess support?

Days before the rally, in an attempt to diffuse the amassing crowd, funding for the industry peak body, Music Victoria, was fast tracked and the first ever Live Music Accord was signed. The accord stated that planning and noise issues identified by the Live Music Taskforce of 2003 would be revisited.

Activists from FG4LM [Fair Go 4 Live Music] and SLAM worked for nine months after the rally to deliver The Live Music Agreement. The liquor policy was rolled back and the ridiculous assumption that linked live music to violence was broken. In fact, live music was proven to mitigate violence in this very agreement. It also stated that “discussion would continue to recognize and implement the Agent Of Change principle”.

We called for research into Live Music and the Deloitte Access Economics report was commissioned by Arts Victoria via the Brumby government.

November 2011 a change in government and Premier Ted Baillieu was able to deliver the findings. He stood up in the newly-saved Tote venue and proclaimed, 'that Live Music was an Industry that created 15,000 full time jobs and was worth half a billion, in fact more people visited small venues than AFL home and away games'. Live Music was to be protected in the Liquor Licensing act.

The beans were counted and we came to exist in the eyes of government.

The Libs, who had publicly declared their love of live music on the steps of parliament the previous year, promised to change the objects of the Liquor Licensing Act to forever recognise Live Music and avoid “unintended consequences” of 2010. The liquor licensing act was amended and this law was changed.

The Liberal Party's other big election promise was to establish an industry roundtable. The terms of reference states, “The purpose of the Live Music Roundtable is to support a vibrant, successful and responsible live music industry”, and its role is to “put forward proposals or recommendations to Government on potential improvements to Government regulation as it relates to live music venues.”

There were five key issues identified: planning, building, noise levels, all age gigs and an Industry Best Practice guide, as explained in Dr Kate Shaw's conversation piece.

An achievement of the roundtable was the deregulation of all ages gigs and credit should be given to industry representatives and the VCGLR [Victorian Commission For Gambling And Liquor Regulation] for pushing this through. A voluntary Best Practice Guide has been released, still a work in progress but a good step forward.

The Ministry Of Planning has been the greatest obstacle to the roundtable and after repeated attempts to involve Minister Guy, we've been stonewalled.

It's now three years since the election and only two of the objectives have been met (all ages gigs and Best Practice Guide). Our number one issue hasn't been looked at and is nowhere near being resolved. In the meantime live music venues are systematically punished by council compliance officers hiding behind the curtain of state law.

The EPA [Environment Protection Authority] and Department Of Environment And Primary Industries have started a long overdue process to review noise standards which haven't changed since 1978. This will be a slow crank, but without noise standards that seriously reflect the cultural needs of this city, the fastest growing city in Australia, the weight of the law and millions of dollars of the public purse will be used to back up the unreasonable complaints of residents who move in to an existing live music area. Worse still, we will witness a steady decline in the now healthy and diverse Melbourne music scene, a scene that is the envy of the rest of the country. The public will be looking at government to foot the bill to rebuild and develop a music sector, creating 'vibrancy' policies and a government sanctioned music scene. Overregulation damaged the scenes in South Australia and New South Wales, let's learn from their mistakes.

SLAM call for a moratorium on the punishment of live music venues until all five objectives relating to the terms of reference of the roundtable are met.

If the 'Libs Love Live Music' and don't want a wave of new protest banners and memes  proclaiming the contrary leading up to the 2014 election, they can:

  • Set the existing policy of the Agent Of Change into the planning framework (as Patrick Donovan from Music Victoria says in his Sunday Age opinion piece "it can be done with the stroke of a pen");
  • Alter the building code to not prejudice Live Music, just like they did in NSW;
  • And adjust the noise standards to recognise positive cultural activity, just like they did in Brisbane.

C'mon Matthew Guy, 'Don't kill live music'.

We can all drop him a little email to remind him and the state government that there is a vote in live music. The next election is just around the corner.

Write to the minister here:

Helen Marcou is the co-founder of SLAM