The Berejiklian state government has released a statement in response to protests over a new scheme being applied to NSW music festivals.
New regulations for festivals were introduced after the state government appointed a panel to provide recommendations on how to improve safety at the events following five drug-related deaths in NSW over the summer.
“The new scheme is designed to ensure that events with a poor track record and/or heightened risk will face greater oversight. It will require ill-equipped operators to lift their standard to make all musical festivals safer,” the statement says.
The statement seems to be a direct response to the open letter written by Byron Bay Bluesfest founder Peter Noble, which threatens to move the annual festival to another state.
He says the new rules will increase the festival’s costs and classify it as a “high-risk” event, even though, he says, it’s had a stellar reputation for 29 years.
“Even though we are Australia’s most highly awarded festival both nationally and internationally – having won Best Major Event at the NSW Tourism Awards three years in a row; and in representing NSW we came in second in the Australian Tourism Awards (beating Victoria’s F1 Grand Prix) – we have been designated a ‘high-risk event’,” he said.
The NSW government’s statement denies this is the case.
“If you have previously held a safe, low-risk festival (unless you are planning significant changes to its usual format) we are highly likely to determine your festival to be low-risk. This will mean your licence conditions – including police and health requirements – will not be materially different to previous years.
“To be clear, if you are a good operator with a good track record, the new licensing scheme will not unduly impact you.”
Organisers of Central Coast Mountain Sounds say their festival is the first victim of the new regulations; it was charged $200,000 for a mandatory extra police presence. An ABC article quoted a Mountain Sounds spokesperson saying, “[We] have been put in an impossible situation as it was unrealistic for us to pull this money together, particularly given the timeframe. The combination of excessive costs, additional licensing conditions and the enforcement of a stricter timeline left us no option but to cancel the event."
The same article had that claim rebuffed by a spokesperson for NSW Police Minister Troy Grant, who said the event was plagued by “mismanagement” and that its logistics were “inadequate and incomplete”.
The government statement also addresses what it calls a “misunderstanding about the way the new scheme will operate”, and says the government is reviewing the self-assessment matrix that was circulated to some festivals before the new measures come into effect on March 1.
A document outlining the interim measures (before March 1), which was available online yesterday, has since been taken down and is “currently under review”.
Yesterday a rally was organised in protest of the new regulations for Thursday February 21.