Music venues still threatened as Tote lesson not learnt. 16 Apr 2010
Excellent opinion piece in The Age from Dr Kate Shaw, research fellow at the University of Melbourne.
Brumby has pointedly refused to alter blanket liquor licensing laws.
THE reopening of the Tote hotel is a great outcome, but the Brumby government can take no credit for it. The high-risk liquor licensing conditions that contributed to the Tote’s closure in the first place – increased fees, installation of CCTV, and security guards even for quiet afternoon gigs – still apply to hundreds of live-music venues. John Brumby’s perfunctory ”ruling out” of any change to these blanket conditions illustrates the intransigence that is coming to define his government.
The implication that the removal of these conditions requires a change to the legislation is incorrect. The statutory link between live music and high risk exists only in a policy of the director of liquor licensing, and decoupling does not need parliamentary approval.
Even so, live-music venues are being forced to apply individually to Liquor Licensing Victoria to have the high-risk conditions altered – an onerous process for which operators are not equipped, with the burden of proof squarely on the wrong shoulders.
The Premier’s suggestion that the licensing director has made broad commitments to ”go easier” on venues is bizarre. Does this mean the high-risk conditions will not be enforced? That venue managers can choose not to hire security guards without fear of penalty? Policy is being modified on the run because there was no good basis for it to begin with.
Live music is being linked to a high risk of violence by Liquor Licensing Victoria in response to the state government’s Alcohol Action Plan, 2008-2013, which, among other things, sought a solution to alcohol-fuelled violence in the city. The licensing director explains that the policy is based on an association of live-music venues with high numbers of patrons and late hours.
There are two problems with this. First, most live-music venues do not have very high patron numbers (compared, for example, to the CBD vertical-drinking beer barns) and the high-risk conditions apply not just after 1am but to all opening hours.
Second, there is no evidence of an association between live-music venues and violence, alcohol-fuelled or otherwise. As speaker after speaker pointed out at the SLAM rally in February, the opposite is true. People go to live-music venues to listen to the music and appreciate the performances, not simply to get trashed.
Small venues are some of the most culturally diverse places in the city and provide opportunities for little-known, young musicians to hone their skills. Paul Kelly referred to Melbourne’s small music pubs as his university. Recently completed research from the University of Melbourne shows that overseas students, in particular, feel safest in small venues because people are more inclined to take responsibility for their own behaviour.
The vast majority of Melbourne’s live-music venues are small, which is one of the reasons why they are supposedly the envy of Sydney. Because they do not attract large audiences or have large bar sales, it is these venues – which give young performers their first break and foster meaningful cross-cultural interactions of all kinds – that are most vulnerable to the increased costs of the high-risk conditions.
In other words, the liquor licensing policy of linking live music with high-risk conditions is having precisely the opposite effect to that sought by the government’s action plan. If the government is intent on preserving, not destroying, Melbourne’s ”vibrant live-music culture”, it must stop mincing words and take three clear steps.
First, Liquor Licensing Victoria must decouple live music from high-risk liquor licensing conditions. Second, it must lift the existing high-risk conditions from all music venues except where there are clear breaches of the regulations, and let the onus properly be on its officers to demonstrate non-compliance. Finally, the incoming director should rethink Liquor Licensing Victoria’s implementation of the government’s objective to reduce alcohol-related violence.
Focusing on incidences of violence, rather than music, would be a good start.