SLAM Communique - Statement of Support for the National Live Music Office | 08/08/2013

It is concerning that there have been a number of commentators openly condemning and attacking the announcement of the new National Live Music Office (NLMO) last weekend. Announced by Arts Minister Tony Burke at the Bald Faced Stag Hotel in Leichhardt, a long-standing live music venue in Sydney’s Inner West, the office will receive $560,000 of federal funding over three years. The office is mandated to work on regulatory reform and audience and sector development.

The modest amount of federal funding will resource two staff members, Dr Ianto Ware and John Wardle. Both are highly respected experts in their field, with track records of achieving regulatory reform over many years. Both Ware and Wardle have spent years working as unpaid advocates.

A working musician, John Wardle has been a long time advocate for regulatory reform for the live music sector, having played a strategic role in the introduction of the 2007 Liquor Act reforms for live music and small bars, and campaigned successfully against the NSW Place Of Public Entertainment (PoPE) planning laws. John has written extensively about regulatory impediments to small to medium sector live performance, and has worked with local advocates on law reform for live music in Victoria, South Australia, and the United Kingdom. John is the Chair of the City of Sydney Live Music and Live Performance Task Force, and is also working with Wollongong City Council to prepare their report on the live music sector in the months ahead. John’s appointment to the NLMO has formally recognized his tireless efforts over the past decade.

Dr Ware brings his experience as the director of the Format performance space in Adelaide, the CEO of Renew Adelaide, and as a board member of Renew Australia. This program has led many successful creative industry-led regeneration projects throughout Australia, most notably Renew Newcastle.

In his capacity as Live Music Coordinator, Ianto has significantly raised the profile of live music reform in the political sphere. He has established a clear path to roll out a series of policy changes at both the national and local level. This was done as a part-time staff member of Sounds Australia, with a limited travel budget and no real resources.

Both John and Ianto are members of the City of Sydney Live Music Task Force, which has already been successful in putting live music on the national policy agenda. Both have been instrumental in bringing the new small venues liquor license to the South Australian Liquor Act. The two are also working for the creation of New South Wales’ first live music precinct on Parramatta Road, which is currently in the policy pipeline.

However, despite the establishment of the NLMO, reform will still require the dedication and drive of local activists and advocacy organizations such as SLAM. The local live music industry in Australia is perennially underfunded, and faces significant challenges. We need to continue working to produce the electoral demand for reform. Without a national push to remove barriers and develop the sector, Australian musicians will be at a significant disadvantage against the competition for the entertainment dollar.

SLAM’s recent crowdfunding campaign received over $60,000 from thousands of donors. Our attempt to raise “fighting funds” to assist in the establishment of a national advocate network has proven our organisation’s community mandate. This crowdfunding campaign would not have been successful were it not for the donations from musicians, fans, punters, and fellow advocates from across Australia, effectively demonstrating that SLAM has the support of musicians as well as the broader community.

The fact of the matter is this: organisations such as SLAM and the National Live Music Office are able to exist on little or no funding because of the dedication and commitment of the individuals involved. This dedication comes from a belief that live music is not only significant to the Australian economy, but a fundamental part of Australia’s cultural life that needs to be protected and encouraged.

Part of the SLAM crowdfunding campaign involved the chance to attend "Marieke Hardy’s dream dinner,” a dinner party with guests invited by Ms Hardy including Andrew Denton, Wally de Backer (Gotye), Matt Preston, and Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Even though the dinner was announced before Kevin Rudd’s recent appointment, it was pleasing to see the PM honour the commitment of his predecessor. He was not a “surprise guest,” as Andrew Bolt claimed in the Courier Mail last week, but a welcome guest at an important community fundraising event. It is also worth noting that Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband, Malcolm Turnbull, was invited to attend but was unable to make the event.

The NLMO is not an instance of a “Rudd handout,” as Bolt claims. This will not significantly increase the budget deficit, either. The amount of funding represents 0.0028% of the deficit. 

Funding provided to the industry as whole, which in 2009-10 contributed $1.2 billion to the economy and supported 15,000 full time jobs, pales in comparison to funding for similar sized industries, with larger bureaucratic budgets and long delays in policy implementation.

SLAM has been, and will continue to remain, a non-partisan, volunteer advocacy organisation that relies completely on community funding. The establishment of the NLMO gives formal recognition to the undeniable fact that musicians and the live music community have an important place at the policy table, and have been very successful in the recent past in making a difference for the sector where other initiatives have failed. It is with great optimism that we look forward to working with the NLMO and the sector more broadly well into the future.

With a Federal Election now looming, it is the responsibility of the entire live music community to make your voices heard. Register to vote, write to your politicians, and engage in the political process. Regulatory barriers to live music have the potential to fall reasonably quickly with enough support, particularly during an election year. If you can imagine a national musical landscape with policies designed to recognize and encourage live music instead of punishing it, then now is the time to act.