In keeping their festival community informed the Cobargo Folk Festival has sent the following letter, endorsed by the Yuin Folk Club Inc Committee, to local Member for Bega, Andrew Constance, and similar letters to the ALP candidate, Leanne Atkinson and the Bega Greens candidate, Will Douglas, making their views known to all sides of politics.
The Hon. Andrew Constance Member of the Legislative Assembly Member for Bega Minister for Transport and Infrastructure 122 Carp Street BEGA NSW 2550
NSW Government Music Festival Licence
I have recently had to reassure the Cobargo Folk Festival community that the festival is definitely going ahead this year from 1-3 March. The Festival, and the festival producer, the Yuin Folk Club Inc, are aware that there is a lot of uncertainty in the community about the future of NSW music festivals following the announcement of the NSW Government’s new festival licensing arrangements.
Our 2019 liquor licence has been approved and we have received moderate reassurance from NSW Liquor and Gaming that we will not be affected by the NSW Government’s new licensing regime this year.
As with every other NSW festival, the costs of compliance increase every year. Each year we increase spending on security, insurance, new risk mitigation measures, public messaging and signage, and on other compliance measures to comply with government regulation. Like other festival organisers, we take these responsibilities seriously. The Cobargo Folk Festival has proactively monitored our audience's perceptions of festival safety and security for the past five years and these results are used in festival planning and risk management. The new licensing regime, which comes into effect on 1 March, will impose yet more regulation and more costs on festivals.
We aim to meet our obligations while still keeping ticket prices low and maintaining the quality of the artistic program. But for a volunteer festival like ours in a rural NSW village of fewer than 800, the workload is huge and the cost of security, insurance premiums and other compliance measures goes up and up. Our security costs alone are close to $7000 this year. (And if we were to put a dollar value on the in-kind contribution from the team of volunteers who work on keeping the festival safe, the true costs would be more than $50,000.) We have not passed on these costs and when you look at the price of tickets for a single concert by any of three of our headliners in metro areas, the festival is still great value for money.
Our risk advisors tell us that the NSW Health risk assessment matrix attached to the new music festival licence would rate most three-day NSW festivals with more than 2000 paid ticket-holders in the high risk category, regardless of demographic and music genre.
Under these risk settings, the Cobargo Folk Festival would rate as high risk, ranking us alongside the major commercial music festivals, which attract 10,000-45,000 festival-goers in the 18-26 year old age range and play non-stop music for 72 hours. You have been to our festival many times and would be aware that our demographic is much older (more than 61 per cent aged 55 and above), music is one element of a diverse artistic program, which includes folk dance, spoken word, educational workshops and a children’s festival, our music is folk music with breaks between concerts, the last act finishes at midnight, our largest venue holds no more than 800 people and our festival is family-friendly.
Certain conditions apply to High Risk festivals, including provision of pre-deployed ambulances, medical teams, increased security and police, increased messaging about harm minimisation and the like. Pre-deployed ambulances don’t come cheap - one estimate is $30,000 for the weekend, a considerable burden made more so when you add the costs of engaging an on-site medical team.
One of the festivals that recently cancelled have said they would have had to pay $200,000 for the user-pays police presence they were instructed to provide. It has also been reported that the NSW Govt may levy up to $2 per ticket sold to cover the costs of the processing of the new licence application. These conditions may well be appropriate and necessary for some festivals, but for many community festivals like Cobargo, the new requirements – pre-deploying ambulances and medical doctors on site, for example – would be out of step with the actual risk.
Music festivals play an important role in the community. The active and generous support of the Cobargo Folk Festival community injects nearly $1.2 m directly into the Bega Valley Shire economy and beyond. Using the DNSW tourism multiplier this increases to more than $2m. Our festival supports more than 60 live acts each year and more than 90 youth performers and provides work for many local small businesses. We have donated more than $20,000 to the local community this year for infrastructure improvements and in grants to musicians and not-for-profit organisations in our area. Losing this festival would be a blow to the regional area.
We are very fortunate in that we have tremendous support from the Bega Valley Shire Council and from local police who know our festival and know the community that organises and participates in the event.
This is a critical time for NSW music and arts festivals. It is already clear that some festivals will not be able to bear the added financial burden that these new regulations will impose. More festivals may go to the wall. We understand and support the need for regulation and we take our licensing responsibilities very seriously. However, increasing regulation for our events will make them unsustainable, especially in rural areas where volunteers are already buckling under the strain of meeting the current regulatory demands. Increasing costs will inevitably push ticket prices beyond the capacity of rural and regional markets to bear.
We seek your support to urge the NSW Government to take a closer look at the unintended consequences of these new licensing regulations on rural and regional areas and to undertake further consultation with the rural and regional community and, most particularly, with the organisers of regional community-run festivals. We hope that commonsense will prevail.
Given the extent of concern about this issue amongst Club members and Festival patrons, I propose to issue this letter on our Facebook page to advise of our position.
Zena Armstrong Executive Director Cobargo Folk Festival 11 February 2019