Adelaide’s attack on the arts

Venue owners are concerned about the State Government’s new licensing and tax requirements (Image Source: FiveAA)

By Phil Pirone

The new “risk-based” liquor licensing scheme and police attendance tax for events are being touted as a blatant attack on the nightlife and culture of Adelaide.

The state budget has included a momentous overhaul of liquor licensing fees that will see some licensed venues forking out an annual fee up to 600 per cent higher than last year’s.

The risk-based system was developed by former Supreme Court judge Tim Anderson on the back of a report commissioned by the Labor government in 2016.

Additionally, a new “police rent tax” will be rolled out, requiring organisers of festivals and events to foot the bill for a compulsory, and often large, police attendance.

A similar tax introduced in Sydney has seen organisers blindsided and events ultimately cancelled once costs were established.

The popular Mountain Sounds festival in Sydney drew more than 16,000 patrons in 2018 with organisers agreeing to fund the 11 police personnel deemed necessary.

This year organisers were notified a 45-strong police personnel presence would be required, at the cost of $200,000.

Just 49 drug detections were made at the 2018 iteration of Mount Sounds, a minuscule 0.30 per cent of the crowd, leading some to allege that the increased police presence and associated costs are part of a war on festivals by the NSW state government.

“The Liberal Party’s war on festivals in NSW is real and it’s robbing you of your freedom and culture,” a Mountain Sounds organisers said in an official statement.

“Who would’ve known the lock-out laws were just the beginning of the death of live entertainment in NSW.”

In Adelaide, venue owners, hospitality staff and event promoters are echoing a similar sentiment to their Sydney counterparts.

Driller Armstrong, who has owned Sugar nightclub on Rundle St for the last 15 years, said these new laws are an “attack on nightlife culture” that will ultimately see him shutting the doors of his 300-capacity venue.

“We are supposed to be a UNESCO City of Music here in Adelaide, we’re supposed to encourage culture and nightlife, yet this seems to be a move in the opposite direction,” Mr Armstrong said.

Initial discussions with liquor licensing SA resulted in Mr Armstrong anticipating a fee hike of about 600 per cent come liquor licence renewal time.

“In this industry operational hours are determined by crowd numbers, but now we have to weigh up a $15,000 fee rise for an extra hour or two of trading—it simply isn’t fair.”

The risk-based system would punish many venues in the nightlife strips of Hindley St and Rundle St for the behaviour, or perceived risk, of a few.

“In the last year alone, we have hosted 40 international artists of varying genres, all while keeping our venue free of anti-social behaviour or incidents of any nature,” Mr Armstrong said.

“A blanket law is never the answer. It’s like punishing the whole class for the naughty kid and it’s not fair.”

Victor Bergamin, who works as a bartender at the Hindley St venue Rocket Bar & Rooftop, is concerned employees will be hardest hit by the higher operating costs for venues.

“If venues are paying higher fees, they’re likely to cut down the hours on rosters or put younger, cheaper staff on shift, which isn’t good for me,” Mr Bergamin said.

“Earlier closing times will hit us hard as well because we are losing hours of work we’ve otherwise had.”

The state government’s move has led to a community of venue owners, hospitality workers and patrons pushing to form a body aimed at protecting the vibrancy of the state.

The “Vibrant SA” group is looking to work alongside the state government to maintain vibrancy in the arts.

There has already been a rush of support for Vibrant SA across social media platforms and via online petitions. The body will be headed by Emmanuel Cusack, who was behind the successful “Equality Campaign” which supported marriage equality in SA.

Oscar Harding is an event organiser and DJ who is very supportive of Vibrant SA.

He launched his debut dance music festival, Side by Side, in the Adelaide parklands last November but said he fears the new “police tax” will make it difficult for smaller-scale events to be viable.

“We’re supposedly the festival state, yet these laws will make our state very unfriendly to up and coming creatives in this industry,” Mr Harding said.

“The new laws will let bigger festivals and clubs survive, while us smaller guys have to set the bar higher and higher to achieve a profit or even break even.”

What will come of the vibrant and eclectic mix of nightlife, events and festivals in South Australia will be revealed when these new taxes come into effect later in the year.

A freeze will be placed on existing liquor licences and applications from late September with the new liquor licensing system expected to be fully operational by November 2019.

Further details regarding the “user-pay” police tax are to be released shortly and a similar timeline is expected for its introduction.

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