Live music venues

A crackdown on a liquor-licensing law that requires two security guards to be present anywhere live music is provided could lead to a drop in the number of music venues in Melbourne. The 10-year-old law under the Liquor Control Reform Act requires all venues that host live music to hire licensed security guards after 9 p.m. at a ratio of two for the first 100 patrons, and one for every 100 thereafter. But the law has only been firmly enforced over the last three months by 40 plain-clothed inspectors from the Compliance Directorate — a newly established body to ensure licensees abide by liquor laws and license conditions — and concerns are emerging about whether or not small venues can afford to host live music if additional security costs are incurred. This latest crackdown on licensed venues comes in response to escalating levels of alcohol-fuelled violence in the CBD.

A letter to Consumer Affairs Minister Tony Robinson, signed by several publicans, slams the blanket rule that not only covers venues with big band rooms, but also smaller bowling and ethnic clubs that put on live music, as an “ill-conceived, poorly thought-out response” that is being applied too arbitrarily. 3RRR radio presenter Jon Von Goes, who first circulated the letter in a chain email, says the reform is going to have a “devastating effect” on Melbourne’s vibrant live-music scene, because security costs — around $40 per hour — will make hosting musicians unaffordable for smaller venues. “Music starts at the grass roots, and as far as I’m concerned, there is no better place to go and see music than a small pub,” he says. “Forty of 50 people in a room listening to music on a Sunday evening — that’s going to be a thing of the past if this law takes hold.”

The letter to Robinson argues that small venues with no record of violent behaviour should not be overly burdened with high compliance costs that will affect their business viability, urging the government to target bigger venues that are responsible for alcohol-fuelled violence. But Consumer Affairs Liquor & Gaming spokesperson, Sam Parkinson, defends the blanket law she says is based on a range of “high-risk factors” supported by independent research. “The application of standard conditions is designed to increase the safety of patrons and the wider community”, she says. Parkinson says the only change is that now venues’ compliance to liquor licensing laws is monitored by the Compliance Directorate instead of the police who had a number of other tasks to spread their duties across. “The conditions have been in place since 1999”, she says, “and people who are now saying their businesses are going to have to close down are basically admitting they haven’t been fully compliant to their liquor licenses in the past.” Abbotsford music-venue owner, Joanne, says there is no need for security guards at her venue. “We’re right on Hoddle Street, but we’ve never had a problem with any sort of violence”, she says.

The crackdown is coupled with new regulations, to come into effect in February, which categorise any venue that hosts live music at night as a high-risk venue. “It will affect our liquor-licensing fees, putting them up by thousands of dollars”, she says. “Insurance companies will jump on the band wagon, and start putting our public liability insurance up because of the potential for alcohol-fuelled violence, which just isn’t true at all.” Joanne says she has always attended the council’s bimonthly liquor licensing forums. “Every time I go, the owners of night clubs and pokies venues are never at these meetings”’ she says. “It’s funny how the live-music venue owners are always there. We are always making sure we follow responsible serving of alcohol — our interest is in the safety of our customers and fostering music in the live-music scene.”

Nick Toscano
Melbourne