Music Festivals Bill 2019

(Debate on Bill, 23 October 2019, Legislative Assembly)

The Music Festivals Bill will reinstate obligations on music festivals deemed ‘high risk’ that were set out in a new licence category through regulation earlier this year but that was recently disallowed in the other place. The bill will create a standalone act that will enable the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority to continue to deem certain music festivals as high-risk and subject them to additional specific requirements.

Last summer six young people died after taking illegal substances at music festivals and it is important that we introduce appropriate regulations to make events safe. I don’t think anyone disagrees that music festivals should have special safety requirements but I share the industry’s concern that this bill has some serious drawbacks that will impact on music festival viability.

The only way to get safe and workable regulations for music festivals is if government and industry work together through an ongoing collaborative process.

I acknowledge that the government committed yesterday to finally create the roundtable but this bill does not fix any of the concerns industry had with the regulation or demonstrate a real understanding of how music festivals operate. The uncertainty has led again to another threat from major festivals to leave the state.

Industry believes the definition for music festivals needs to be changed and is especially concerned with use of the term “high risk”, which would brand certain music festivals as dangerous and damage their reputation.

ILGA will have broad discretion to deem music festivals as high risk and impose conditions on these festivals causing significant uncertainty among festival operators.

Some of the obligations around keeping an incident register duplicate existing requirements. The requirement for festival organisers to record incidents where they reasonably suspect someone could possess or have used an illegal drug is onerous and absurd. Music festival operators have not been trained in making decisions about illegal substance use – will they be required to record incidents where they encounter people with dilated pupils, who are talking quickly or who are especially happy? The vagueness of this provision will make compliance difficult and highly contestable.

Under the bill, any police officer will be able to request to inspect the incident register with no confines on how they can use this power leaving it open to concerns about abuse. This role should be limited to senior officers to ensure coordination and reduce the burden on organisers.

New penalties for organisers of high-risk music festivals can be up to 12 months imprisonment for failing to deliver a festival in line with the approved safety management plan. This is grossly excessive. The government should instead work with organisers to help them comply with safety requirements.

Some of the obligations set out in the bill are appropriate: we want festivals to have safety management plans, ensure access for medical and emergency services and provide areas for their attendees to get respite, but we need to ask whether a standalone act is the best approach – perhaps these should be regulated through the development application process.

The standards in the health guidelines to help promoters employ appropriate medical providers at their events focus on skills but promoters do not have the capacity to determine whether a doctor has them. The industry is calling for an accreditation system so that health experts determine which professionals can provide the required medical services, and music promoters can select from a list.

Such challenges would have been resolved by now had the government agreed to a collaborative process with industry earlier.

While there are many vital safety measures in this bill, we need to address the concerns raised by industry to ensure music festivals can continue to operate in this state. Music festivals remain an important cultural experience for hundreds of thousands of people, giving them opportunities to see live music, socialise, dance and have fun. For local musicians they are essential for exposure and building a fan base.

One of the aims of this bill is to keep people who attend music festivals safe, with the focus on people who take illicit drugs, ensuring they have access to water, “chill-out” spaces and appropriate medical attention should they feel unwell. I acknowledge that these are harm minimisation measures, however to effectively reduce harm associated with drug use, we need to replace the punitive approach that is encouraging risky behaviour among music festival goers and resulting in charges and convictions of otherwise law abiding citizens.

We have seen the media reports from the NSW Coroner’s inquiry describing what experts have been telling us for years: that young people will consume higher doses of drugs if they fear they will be caught carrying illicit substances by police. It appears from leaked reports that the coroner will recommend pill testing, decriminalisation of personal use and an overhaul of drug detection operations and strip searches.

I have been a strong advocate for such harm minimisation measures and I urge the government to open its mind and consider a new approach. The tough stance on drugs is not working, people continue to take recreational drugs despite the massive police and dog presence at festivals and train stations, they continue to take drugs despite the recent deaths and they will continue to take drugs if that is what they want to do.

The Kings Cross Medically Supervised Injecting Centre seemed controversial at the time, but multi-partisan support enabled it to happen and more than a decade later it continues to save lives and garner strong local community support. This parliament should work together again to address harm from drug use at festivals through a summit where we listen to experts.

This bill does not reflect the best approach to regulating music festivals and I call on the government to use its roundtable to work with industry to establish a way forward for a safe and vibrant music festival industry.