Victorian contemporary live music: What needs to be done

Recognise the value of live music to the Victorian economy (Status: In progress)

  • Issue: The Liberal National Coalition Government has acknowledged the importance of live music to the social and cultural life of the State but its economic value must also be recognised.
  • There are approximately 550 live music venues in Melbourne and 1,000 venues statewide. Victoria's live music industry is economically significant and contributes approximately a billion dollars to the State's economy and employs over 30,000 full time employees.
  • Action: The establishment of the Live Music Roundtable is a positive step toward recognising the value of live music to the Victorian economy.  However, the State Government must demonstrate its commitment to the live music industry by undertaking the actions recommended below.

 Drive change through the Live Music Roundtable (Status: In progress)

  • Issue: The Victorian Government established the Live Music Roundtable in 2012.  The Roundtable presents a unique opportunity to bring a diverse set of stakeholders together to discuss issues affecting the live music industry.
  • While the Victorian Government has delivered on its commitment to establish the Roundtable, the real proof of the Government's commitment to Victoria's music industry will be whether it is committed to making the legislative and other changes required.
  • Action: The State Government must develop a contemporary live music strategy to address the issues affecting Victoria's live music industry. 
  • The strategy should contain specific actions and long term goals based on industry consultation that will result in real and positive change. The strategy should also be released as a formal, public document to signify the Government's commitment to the live music industry. 

Strengthen the agent of change principle (Status: Outstanding)

  • Issue: It can take just one complaint about noise for a live music venue to be forced to put in place expensive sound proofing and potentially force its closure. Often the complaint has come from someone that has moved into the neighbourhood after the live music venue was established. 
  • Action: The agent of change principle must be strengthened to help reduce the impact of noise complaints. This principle states that the agent of change is responsible for the cost of noise attenuation (i.e. sound proofing). 
  • This means that any music venue that currently complies with noise levels and liquor licensing regulations should not be liable for any future loss of amenity if an apartment block is built next door. In other words, the onus of noise mitigation falls on the developer or the 'agent of change’. 
  • The agent of change principle needs stronger legislative weight by elevating the status of the current Live Music Practice Guide to subordinate legislation under the Planning and Environment Act 1987.

 Recognise cultural clusters in the State Environment Protection Policy N-2 (SEPP N-2) (Status: Outstanding)

  • Issue: Melbourne has a number of unique cultural clusters that provide a vibrant cultural scene and night time economy. The expectations of noise from residents living in areas such as Fitzroy and the city should be different to residents who live in outer suburbia. These cultural clusters make Melbourne, Melbourne, but are under constant threat from noise complaints. 
  • Action: In addition to strengthening the agent of change principle, the State Environment Protection Policy N-2 (SEPP N-2), which regulates music noise, must be reformed to reduce the impact of noise complaints on Melbourne's cultural clusters.
  • It is recommended that SEPP N-2 adopts a tiered approach to music noise standards so that amenity expectations in cultural clusters differ from standards in other areas. This would help to protect the cultural vitality that makes cultural clusters so attractive to residential living in the first place. 

Reform the State Environment Protection Policy N-2 (SEPP N-2) to acknowledge that music is not 'pollution' (Status: Outstanding)

  • Issue: Under the State Environment Protection Policy N-2 (SEPP N-2), which regulates music noise, music sound from public premises is treated as ‘pollution’ and is subject to the polluter pays principle. This places responsibility for compliance with SEPP N-2 entirely upon the venue operator as the ‘emitter’ of pollution (i.e. polluter pays principle). The concept of music as 'noise' is entirely subjective and should be treated differently to other forms of pollution, such as hospital grade bio-waste.
  • Action: Amend SEPP N-2 to remove the link between music noise, pollution and the polluter pays principle.

 Amend the Victorian Building Code (Status: In progress)

  • Issue: Under the Victorian Building Code, venues are faced with major compliance costs if they provide entertainment because the building falls under a different classification which requires a higher level of compliance. Providing entertainment such as a live band does not change a venue's risk of fire or any other risk factor.
  • It is purely the provision of entertainment that changes the building class and places a small venue in the same category as a sports stadium, airport, hospital or university. Under this building class, a small venue is required to put in fire hydrants, smoke detectors and other costly measures or cease providing entertainment.
  • Action: Victoria should adopt New South Wales' approach in its Building Code which exempts small venues from these excessive provisions.
  • A working group under the Live Music Roundtable is currently developing a proposal for a State based variation to the Building Code of Australia.

 Reform liquor licensing laws to bring back all ages gigs (Status: In progress)

  • Issue: Everywhere else in Australia is able to run over-18s, under-18s and all-ages shows. In Victoria, liquor licensing laws introduced in 2004 restrict venues to hosting either over-18s events or under-18s events, but not a combination of the two in a simple all-ages concert.
  • Generally, it is not financially viable for live music venues to host under-18s events due to the absence of alcohol sales.  This means young fans, bands and venues miss out on opportunities to see, play or host live music.
  • Of particular peculiarity is the double-standard between music and sport when it comes to under-age participation. What is the difference between seeing a footy match or a gig surrounded by adults drinking alcohol?
  • Action: Victoria should amend its liquor licensing legislation in line with other States to allow all-ages gigs. 
  • The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation released a public consultation paper in June 2013 about underage live music events in licensed premises and received 23 submissions providing feedback on plans to streamline regulatory requirements for liquor licensees.

Continue funding for Music Victoria (Status: Completed)

  • Issue: Music Victoria was established in March 2010 to champion Victorian contemporary music and was the last State to establish a peak body.  Music Victoria has worked ceaselessly toward its vision of ‘realising the full potential of Victorian music through a strong, progressive and independent voice’.
  • Actioned: The Victorian Government committed $250,000 over two years in the 2013 Budget, which is half the level of funding provided in the previous two years, to support the continued operation of Music Victoria. 

 Support live music at the local level (Status: In progress)

  • Issue: A number of Melbourne's local councils have demonstrated their commitment to their local music scene by implementing simple, but effective, strategies.  Such strategies include introducing transferable parking permits to allow bands to unload/load gear in loading bays and increasing the number of legitimate bill posting locations.
  • However, local councils are also responsible for initiatives and rules that hinder their local live music industry such as cracking down on illegal bill posting.
  • Action: Local councils should adopt a collaborative approach and consult their local live music industry on changes that may impact the industry.