Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Silencing the Music

Thousands at the SLAM rally on 23rd February 2010
From June 2009, all across Victoria, live music gigs were suddenly cancelled. Fans came for regular gigs, but were turned away, or sat cradling a lonely drink in rooms that seemed strangely desolate. Bands who had performed every week for ten years were told they could no longer play.

It covered all kinds of music, from country and western, to bagpipes, jazz, folk, skiffle, blues.

Liquor Licensing Victoria - a branch of the Department of Justice - had decided to enforce licence conditions requiring security guards when live music was performed at licensed venues. Suddenly a simple concert was no longer economic.

The reason? Live music was said to increase the risk of alcohol-related violence. There was, and is, no evidence to support this.

The Department of Justice, in its Liquor Control Reform Regulations, Regulatory Impact Statement, August 2009, states in relation to violence:

missing or incomplete data prevented drawing any firm conclusions about whether live music represents a risk factor (p iv).

Yet the impact statement also stipulates:

Risk factors need to be substantiated by a sound evidence base and rationale (p iii).

Even though gigs had been a regular fixture for years at inner city pubs, and there had been no history of violence or even drunkenness at all, Liquor Licensing Victoria still enforced the requirements, and live music fell silent.

Anger and even bewilderment simmered. Pleas from musicians were ignored. When the Tote closed in January 2010, public outrage boiled over.

On 23rd February thousands marched in the streets of Melbourne at the SLAM (Save Live Australian Music) Rally.

The Government signed an accord promising to fix the problem - but they left it up to venues to apply to alter the conditions of their permits. The problem is far from fixed. Many venues have found the whole thing too much of a hassle, and our cultural life remains diminished.

Alcohol-related violence is real, and there is a need to take firm action against it. But music does not cause violence. It was just an easy target.

Sometimes there is conflict between loud live music and residential amenity. There are good solutions to this problem, including the recent example set by Fortitude Valley in Brisbane.

The live entertainment industry contributes some $1,888 million to the Victorian economy each year. But live music cannot be measured in economic terms. Music enriches us in so many other ways, and it is part of a vibrant culture.

The right to participate in cultural life - including music - is an internationally recognised human right. When the Victorian government applied a "one size fits all" approach to live music venues and forced many of them to close, it violated that right.

We should do all we can to encourage live music, which makes our lives more beautiful.

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