The strong festival culture of New South Wales, Australia is lauded by many music fans; lawmakers, though, see it as a danger. Following a string of deaths at local music festivals, several of which involved young people and have been attributed to drug overdoses, the government announced new rules requiring festivals to apply for licenses and meet strict safety standards — which festival organizers are now protesting as a “real threat” to the music scene.
An association of Australian music festivals released a joint statement last week saying that the rules, which are due to kick in on March 1st, would create the country’s “first music festival-free zone” because they are too costly and punishing. Under them, festivals would have to individually apply for liquor permits, provide safety measures such as free water stations and demonstrate in other ways that they do not pose a health risk in order to be approved. The coalition says New South Wales’ live music market is the biggest in the country and currently generates $325 million a year for the state economy, but the cost of compliance with the proposed regulations could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per event, effectively shutting them down.
“Why do you seem to be hell-bent on destroying our industry?” Peter Noble, director of Byron Bay Bluesfest, one of the festivals criticizing the measures, wrote in a letter last week to the New South Wales government. Other organizers have posted to social media asking for fans’ support in protesting. But NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian, who drew up the new rules with consultation from an expert panel, has remained steadfast, saying to reporters Monday that “It’s not really fair to use the government as an excuse. You can’t just make a quick dollar without thinking of the safety of young people.”
Leaders of the live music industry have been meeting with government officials to try and renegotiate the proposed regulations before they go into effect. But because the tumult in this so-called “war on festivals” is also happening in advance of a state election, opposing political parties are speaking up with their own views on festival culture and amplifying the issue. While the affair in New South Wales is at a singular pressure point, the maturing of the global music-festival market means similar debates about safety and responsibility in other regions are pretty much inevitable.