Politicians, Pokies, & The Rotten Battle Over Sydney’s Music Scene
Raise The Bar campaigned the government to alter the liquor act, similar to years later in Victoria where SLAM petitioned the government of that time to remove the association between live music and violence in legislation.
But after years of government paralysis on the issue, Sydney MP and Lord Mayor Clover Moore snuck her own small bars bill into Parliament catching the Government with their pants down and forcing them to filibuster while they frantically worked on their own framework for a new licensing system.
Moore’s proposals took a leaf out of similar reforms in Victoria in the 1980s, reforms that relaxed the previously rigid liquor laws to allow more diverse licensed venues to operate, leading to a surge in small bars in Melbourne which have become a tourist attraction for the city.
According to Professor John Niewenhuysen, who published a research paper on the effects of those changes in Victoria, there was a massive increase in job growth in the entertainment industry as a result of those changes, creating thousands of jobs for Victorians.
Professor Niewenhuysen also noted that although the number of liquor outlets had increased by 96% in Victoria between 1998 and 2006, the proliferation of new licensed venues had not increased per capita consumption of alcohol.
Clover Moore’s suggestions in her bold move in parliament paved the way for things we may take for granted now, and most importantly, she introduced the idea of a new small bars category of licences, limited to venues with 120 patrons or fewer.
However that was only half of the problem. The other problem was the dreaded “social impact assessment”, a requirement for any bar seeking a license, and whose architects probably had everybody’s best interests in mind even if it did become a bloated, nanny-state policy that merely protected large pokies venues at the expense of a vibrant culture.
The required report, loved by the then Labor Government, required a consultant to collection information on the area the proposed bar was located such as number of youths, the indigenous population, people in lower socio-economic groups, and the unemployed.
The idea behind the social impact assessment was to minimise harm to the local community, and although probably well intentioned, had a perverse effect on what type of licensed venues were able to navigate or afford the process.
The assessment was commissioned and paid for by the applicant, adding between $50,000 to $100,000 to the cost of a license and rarely finding any adverse findings – ater all, the consultants are hardly going to go against their own client.
So given the obvious pitfalls of this policy, why keep it in place? Because it protected large, wealthy existing licensed venues against competition from smaller and newer upstarts by creating a greater barrier to entry.
Starting to feel you’re being cheated?
The obvious winner out of all of this is the Australian Hotels Association, who represent most of the big beer barns and pokies venues across the country, whose New South Wales branch between 1998 and 2005 delivered more than $3 million in donations to the government of the time.
“We aren’t barbarians, but we don’t want to sit in a hole and drink chardonnay and read a book,” said president John Thorpe at the time when the small bars idea was first floated. “People can sit down, talk about history, chew the fat and gaze into each others eyes and all this sort of baloney but it’s pie in the sky stuff.”
“That’s not what Sydney wants,” he added as he promised to visit every government minister “to inform them that this doesn’t entice investment into the industry”, and likely remind them of who’s signing those cheques.
On 23rd February 2010, the SLAM rally saw 20,000 people march through Melbourne to the tune of AC/DC’s definitive ‘Long Way to the Top’, in protest against the Victorian Government’s misguided policy link between live music and violence. Out on the streets of our city, we showed our support and love for a truly great live music community. The SLAM rally was the largest cultural protest in Australia’s history. Now all of Australia has the opportunity to participate in a national event that celebrates our local musicians in our small venues.
Thursday 23rd February 2012, is National SLAM Day and a huge number of gigs are being held around the country to support local artists and venues. You can see a ful gig guide here of the day here. To celebrate our friends at SLAM have got together some of Australia's best musicians and asked them through a series of speech bubble photos what live music in small venues means to them.
Check out their answers on the following pages, and on Thursday help support the industry by getting out and experiencing the spontaneous excitement and intimacy you only get at a small venue. Watch this slideshow »