People power for live music

February 27, 2010

Between 10,000 and 20,000 people rallied in Melbourne's CBD to the tune of AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll)" in an effort to save the city's live music scene on February 23. The march followed the route of the song's videoclip, set in Melbourne's CBD 34 years ago.

Artists including Paul Kelly, Tim Rogers from You Am I, Kram from Spiderbait, The Cat Empire and Missy Higgins joined trade unionists, students, musicians and music fans to demand the government help save live Australian music.

The big name musicians each introduced a lesser known musician, as these are the musicians who will suffer from the closure of live music venues.

Opportunist state Liberal Party politicians failed to appeal to the crowd when they held up "Liberals love live music" signs from the steps of Parliament House. The crowd booed in disgust at their presence.

The crowd was in a jovial mood because of the government announcement on February 22 that it had softened its position and would now recommend that Liquor Licencing Victoria assess venues' "risk status" on a case-by-case basis.

Save Live Australian Music spokesperson Quincy Mclean told ABC Online on February 23: "I'm certainly happy with the talk the government's talking, it's a matter of getting it enacted now."

John Perring from Fair Go For Live Music told ABC Online that while the government's backdown is a step forward: "It's not the ultimate solution, it's just the temporary holding pattern."

Live music venues face tough licensing conditions, such as being required to provide extra security staff when holding live music events, regardless of their safety record. The requirement, also faced by cafes and restaurants with live music, has substantially increased the operating costs of many small venues.

The new laws led to the iconic Tote Hotel in Collingwood closing its doors on January 18. Two thousand people protested outside on January 17 to say goodbye and demand action from the government.

The new laws, including a new fee structure, were imposed on Melbourne's licensed businesses from January 1. The greatest impact has been on popular small live band venues with high alcohol consumption.

The new laws labelled the Tote a "high risk venue", meaning more money had to be spent on security guards, CCTV cameras and liquor permits than previously. The Tote's liquor licensing fees also rose dramatically.

Former Tote operator Bruce Milne told the February 19 Age that his business had operated for the past nine years with no alcohol-fuelled incidents.

Speakers at the February 23 rally pointed out the double standards of Liquor Licensing Victoria in granting licenses to two beer barns in Docklands, one for 1500 patrons and one for 750 patrons, and in handling the Crown Casino and King Street nightclubs with kid gloves.

Other live music venues such as the Arthouse are also set to close because of the new laws. Rural venues are also at risk of closing down.

Socialist Alliance spokesperson Sue Bolton told Green Left Weekly: "The softening of Premier John Brumby's position is a tremendous win for the music fans who have mobilised to save live music. However, it is nowhere near enough."

Brumby's changes leave the decision as to whether a live music venue is "high risk" to the discretion of the director of Liqour Licensing. "We have already seen that this discretion leans towards support for the big end of town, such as the Casino, and discriminates against live music venues", she said.

"The Socialist Alliance is calling for the removal of all references to 'live and amplified music' from the licence amenity clause on liquor licences. This needs to be enshrined in legislation."

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