NSW Parliament scraps ‘high-risk’ label for music festivals

The controversial regulations first came into effect in 2019

The New South Wales Parliament has amended controversial legislation that classed certain festivals as ‘high-risk’, in a move welcomed by industry groups.

Amendments to the Music Festivals Act were agreed to in a Legislative Assembly sitting yesterday (November 16). All references to the term ‘high-risk’ were replaced with the word ‘subject’, which according to customer service minister Victor Dominello, “reflect that these festivals are subject to the requirement to have an approved safety management plan”.

The changes also give “subject music festivals” an additional 30 days to submit a safety management plan if they provide enough notice to the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA).

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“I am so proud of the legislation because it really does futureproof our state given the way trends are moving,” Dominello said during the sitting. “Beyond that, it is critical that we support the arts, and live music is a cornerstone of that, particularly in New South Wales.”

The Music Festivals Act was introduced in 2019, following a number of drug-related deaths at various festivals. The regulations imposed a new licensing scheme for festivals that were deemed ‘high-risk’ by the government, and required them to submit safety management plans that must be approved before the event could take place.

Festivals that had been classed as ‘high-risk’ by authorities included Laneway, Rolling Loud, This That, Lost Paradise and Ultra.

At the time, festival organisers and industry bodies criticised both the regulations and the government for a lack of consultation. Organisers claimed to be hit with exorbitant costs for on-the-ground police, and some even cancelled events outright.

The amendments come a year after a review into the Music Festivals Act found no breaches of the legislation over the 2019/20 summer, and that the number of drug-related incidents before and after the Act’s introduction did not change.

The review also acknowledged that festival organisers found the label ‘high-risk’ “had an impact on their financing, insurance and sponsorship” and recommended the NSW Government address “stakeholder concerns about the current regulatory framework”.

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As part of the amendments yesterday, the government will be required to table a progress report on the implementation of several recommendations listed in the review.

In a statement to NME, Shadow Minister for Music and the Night-Time Economy John Graham said the government had “launched a war on music” by introducing the initial legislation back in 2019, but has now “surrendered, recognising that their approach was dangerous and ill-informed”.

“The festival sector needs more support – we want NSW to be the festival capital of the country. That needs direct support from a government which understands the festival sector.”

The Australian Festival Association welcomed the changes in a post on social media.

“The AFA has been advocating for this change since 2019 due to the reputational issues associated with those festivals that were identified,” a spokesperson said. “This continues a welcome shift towards festivals in NSW, focusing on their economic and employment contribution while balancing patron safety.”

In addition to the music festival regulation changes, NSW Parliament also passed amendments granting venues an extra hour of liquor trading on the nights they schedule live music, and permission for musicians to use loading zones to transport equipment and instruments.

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