An open letter to Gladys Berejiklian and the NSW Liberals: This isn’t just a war on festivals. It’s a war on jobs, culture and common sense.

Over the last 13 years of being involved in the music industry wearing one hat or another, if I’ve learnt anything, it’s that this industry is full of the hardest workers of any I’ve ever come across.

Roadies who sleep in hammocks in the scaffolding of a festival stage so they can pack down your gear and the stage and get it to the next city. Publicists who are writing and changing guestlists until 4 in the morning on the day of the show, to please some guest that suddenly wants a +2 and won’t take no for an answer. The band who got up at 5am to catch the flight to play for you at 3 in the afternoon, before jumping in a van and driving 5 hours up the coast to play another show that night, because that’s the only way they could make the budget work.

But according to the current NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, in a recent press briefing, the festival is run by people “looking to make a quick dollar”, completely disregarding the fact that an entire community was going without pay and losing jobs and work over the weekend, as well as the fact it takes years of work to put on a festival by a massive team of staff and volunteers. Has she ever met anyone from the music industry? Does she understand how events work? I’ve been to plenty of music related conversations in NSW Parliament in recent years, and at least in the times I’ve been present, the Premier has been notably absent.

Australian politicians love to decry the loss of jobs, and will pull out the cheque books when their mates in the forestry or coal businesses are in trouble. But thousands of job opportunities lost through lock out laws and increased and unnecessary regulation? Nah mate! They’re just a bunch of dole bludgers looking for a quick buck!

Quite the contrary Gladys – and Casino Mike before you. The people who work in this industry and on festivals like Mountain Sounds will often be working for little to no pay for 8+ months in the leadup to the festival, in a difficult marketplace, where as it’s been proven here, there’s no guarantee of anything at the end of the road. They do it because they love it (god forbid someone loves what they do right?), and they give opportunities to hundreds of musicians, dozens of food and drink vendors and pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy. Festivals are tourism. Festivals are job creators. Festivals are culture. And the NSW Liberal Party have made it clear: they really don’t care about any of it. If they did, they’d listen. And they’d do something. But instead, it’s “not their fault” and we “shouldn’t blame them” if the festivals shut down.

So here’s my challenge to Gladys Berejiklian and the Liberal Party. Whenever real positive change is argued for, you say change doesn’t happen overnight in politics and the matter gets lost in years of roundtables and conversations. But when you want change to happen quickly, it does doesn’t it?

So in future, before you push go on these ridiculous laws, actually listen to your own argument. Take the time to sit down with the industry you are trying to wipe out and figure things out. No one wants deaths at festivals. But 25 more police isn’t going to change drug habits, and even if you say there’s no way around the increased police presence – aren’t our tax dollars already paying for this? Why is the onus on the festival to fork out the 200k just to facilitate your over-reaction to an issue that you’re hoping to get you a few extra votes from the western suburbs. It seems the only ones “making a quick buck” out of this are the police. Pot / Kettle / black… etc.

Now it’s all well and good to decry Gladys and her party on the issue – but where are Labor’s public voices in this matter? The work that John Graham MLC is doing with the Labor Loves Live Music movement is incredible, and his work in consulting with the music industry has ensured Labor have committed to some great initiatives, and are actively engaging in regular conversations – but as the MusicNSW chart shows, the NSW Labor party still hasn’t committed to abolishing the lock out laws, nor (as far as we are aware) have its leaders come out against any of these issues outside of the Labor Loves Live Music group, which doesn’t represent policy of the party. And so much of what the Greens stand for on the issue is surprisingly unknown.

MusicNSW have released a Report Card in advance of the next State Election

So here’s my challenge to the NSW Labor Party and the Greens. Take your foot out and actually take a public stance on this issue. You can be AGAINST drugs and still be FOR culture. They’re not mutually exclusive, and this isn’t a new issue.

Follow the examples of other countries who have proven that there can be smart ways to tackle drug use that reduce deaths and don’t try and shut down an entire industry. And if you really cared about drug abuse at events, you’d shut down the casinos and the races too. But you don’t. And you won’t.

Luckily, there’s a NSW Labor Music Policy launch later this week, and we’re expecting NSW Labor leader Michael Daley and his team to announce their commitments to the industry ahead of the election. And we hope they’ll be addressing this issue; with the backlash they’d be nuts not to right?

Look, I literally flew to Cologne to tell the world how shit Sydney and NSW had become. And I’m not alone in my public dissatisfaction with this city. Let’s actually have some proper conversations about these issues before I have to do this again.

This is a call out to all parties in NSW politics. And here’s hoping they’re listening.

Want to add your voice to the frustration against these new regulations? Sign this petition HERE and join the just-announced rally from the Don’t Kill Live Music movement. It’s happening on the 21st of February in Hyde Park at 6pm. More details HERE

Photo by Rebecca Houlden

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.