By Andrew Starke

The Victorian Government has backed down on new licensing laws that may have sounded a death-knell for live music venues in the state, although a permanent solution is still to be negotiated.

Licence fee hikes and extra security requirements have driven iconic live music venues like Collingwood's The Tote hotel and The Arthouse to closure.

While yesterday’s protest march rallied Melbourne’s music community around a common cause, it also represented a broader backlash against the Brumby government’s liquor reforms which have angered the Victorian liquor industry.

The show of force was enough to draw immediate government concessions although many of these are dependent on government recommendations to the Director of Liquor Licensing (DLL).

Consumer Affairs Minister Tony Robinson announced that the Brumby Labor Government and live music industry bodies represented by FairGo4LiveMusic, Save Live Australia’s Music (SLAM) and the newly established Music Victoria had signed an accord outlining a way forward.

Robinson said the Government understood the blanket imposition of security conditions has had unintended adverse consequences for some small venues around Victoria.

“Government and the industry all agreed maintaining community safety and amenity were important and this was consistent with encouraging a flourishing music scene where smaller venues could give local bands their start in the business,” he said.

“The Live Music Accord provides for a commonsense approach to security at live music venues, and the Government will be asking the Director Licensing to take a targeted, realistic approach to imposing security conditions on individual venues.”

Under the terms of the Live Music Accord, the Government recommend to the Director of Liquor Licensing that:

  • Crowd controller conditions not automatically be applied to new live music venues;
  • Crowd controller conditions only be applied to venues if recommended by Victoria Police, as a condition of planning approval or because of breaches of liquor laws; and
  • The Director of Liquor Licensing reverse the blanket crowd controller requirements placed on venues in the past 12 months upon request and if police raise no objections. Conditions placed on individual venues as a result of compliance issues, planning requirements or mediated outcomes will continue to apply.

The parties will continue to discuss broader liquor licensing arrangements and these measures will be reviewed within 12 months.

Licensees and live music activists were cautiously optimistic about the outcome although The Tote’s former licensee, Bruce Milne, said he would not be reopening the venue.

“I can't reopen it but it does make it possible now for someone else to look at the business and make a success of it whereas people who had looked at the business before and said you can't run it as The Tote and make a profit,” he told ABC radio show AM.

A ‘Save The Tote’ group on Facebook had almost 20,000 members at midday today (Feb 24).

John Perring from the protest group Fair Go For Live Music praised the Government for recognising the problem, but said the accord was little more than a temporary solution.

Predictably the opposition was more scathing with Shadow Minister for Consumer Affairs, Michael O’Brien, claiming changes to venue security conditions would do nothing to ease the financial pressure on live music venues across Victoria.

“While John Brumby seems to have softened a bit on some of the ridiculous security conditions that were being imposed, he's done absolutely nothing to deal with the $20 million increase in liquor licensing fees, which is just as damaging to many live music venues as the security conditions were,” he said.

“John Brumby persists in treating live music venues as ‘high risk’ by forcing them to pay exorbitant liquor licensing fees and unless he addresses his greedy fee grab, many live music venues will struggle to survive.”

To read the Live Music Accord 2010, click here.

To comment, click here.

The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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