Melbourne’s Culture Taking a Beating

Culture Takes a Beating

I remember former premier Steve Bracks and federal Arts Minister Peter Garrett walking the inner-city suburbs of Melbourne, campaigning pre-election.  Bracks promised his Labor government would not only ensure Melbourne remained the live music capital of Australia, but that it would also be recognised as one of the best live music destinations in the world.  This was a major factor in why I voted for Labor.  Melbourne’s live music scene is now under threat from policies brought about by the same government that campaigned to support it. The Victoria Rocks grants are lovely, but it’s hard to see what good giving out small grants to emerging bands will do if they have nowhere to play.  Cara Lanyon from The Good China a 2009 Victoria Rocks grant recipient who played the main stage at this year’s St Kilda Festival says her band has small venues to thank for their success.

“Our first gig was on the tiny stage at the Birmingham hotel… it was a great confidence boost to be able to fill a room and play to a supportive crowd. This early success spurred us on to bigger things”.  Cara believes in order to work government support and a healthy live scene need to go hand in hand.

“To be selected, particularly for touring grants, bands must demonstrate that they have some live experience and (have) worked to develop their live audience.  How would they do this with no small pubs to play in?  It is not possible these days to make a living from being purely a recording artist, you have to tour to make money.  And you have to get experience playing locally in order to be able to tour successfully.”

Paul Kelly recently told The Sunday Age

“‘The venues most adversely affected by one-size-fits-all licensing laws are precisely those venues which encourage local culture and responsible use of alcohol.  They are the venues that people go to hear homegrown music. Places where people know and look out for each other; where musicians and songwriters learn their craft; where ideas are exchanged. You might say they are community art centres.”

Since the last elections we’ve seen the debacle that was the 2am lockout, and now high fees and the rigorous enforcement of regulations requiring expensive security that not only class live music venues with no history of any violence on par with infamous King Street nightclubs, but also go so far as to define a Greek family restaurant with two bouzouki players[1] and Swords, a tiny organic wine store at the Queen Victoria market[2] as “high risk”.  It seems that in a rushed reaction to appease the panic surrounding reported increases in inner city violence much of what makes Melbourne great is taking a beating.  We all want to see the streets of Melbourne safe, but this is not the way to achieve it.  And even if it was what joy is there in having safe streets in city that has no life, no fun, and no culture?

It’s not just Melbourne’s live music that is suffering – it’s also small hotel owners in rural Victoria, family owned and operated restaurants, cafes, bed and breakfasts, green grocers even fine dining.  People are suffering across the state as a result of the enforcement of liquor licensing requirements.  Small businesses with small profit margins are being forced to close due to dramatically increased costs while known hotspots for violence continue to have incidents.  It doesn’t take a genius to see the current policies aren’t working.  The baby is being thrown out and the bath water remains.  Victoria is a state defined by its arts, culture, and food.  Premier John Brumby, by allowing this to continue, is failing the arts, failing tourism, failing small businesses and failing Victoria.

A who’s who of Melbourne music including Nick Cave, Paul Kelly, The Drones, Clare Bowditch, Tim Rogers, Kram, Augie March, The Cat Empire, and Tina Arena as well as international artists like former Guns N’ Roses lead guitarist Slash and Amanda Palmer have gotten behind an upcoming rally being organised by the SLAM on February 23 where thousands of musicians, bar workers, and small business owners will be taking to the street to re-enact AC/DC’s classic 1976 video clip for It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock’n’Roll) in a show of support for a fairness in liquor licensing.

The Minister for Justice and Consumer Affairs Tony Robinson has said there is little he can do, that the responsibility falls to Liquor Licensing director Sue Maclellan and he cannot force her to act.  He has suggested it might take three to four years for the Government to “look at” fixing this mess they have made. I dread to think how many more businesses will close, and people will lose their jobs while the Government passes the buck and Ms Maclellan refuses to be reasonable.

Ms Maclellan has been reported as being “arrogant” and “vindictive”, of deliberately targeting people who publicly criticise her [3], and of overseeing a “brutal and horrible” regime that leaves businesses in a constant state of fear[4]. Last August Melbourne’s internationally awarded fine dining restaurant Vue du Monde has its application for Café Vue incorrectly rejected by Ms Maclellan.  While forced to wait over a month for a panel hearing 17 full-time staff were left unable to start work[5].  Ms Maclellan has repeatedly demonstrated she is incapable of acting fairly or responsibly.  Her contract is up at the end of April. Let’s hope while Brumby’s Government works on “fine tuning” the current laws she can be replaced with someone more suitable – someone who can put their own ego aside and act in the state’s best interest. Perhaps someone who has managed a licensed venue, or at least at some stage of their life worked in one.

For more information on Victoria’s Liquor Licensing check out:


[1]“South Yarra restaurateur has fallen foul of Victoria’s liquor licensing laws”, Herald Sun, 30th August 2009

[2]“Brumby falling on his sword over liquor laws”, Crikey, 19th January 2010

[3]“The woman in the eye of the lockout storm”, The Age,  10th August, 2008

[4]“Licence To Ill”, Inpress, 27th January 2010

[5]“Unlicensed to Thrill”, The Age, 18th August 2009

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  1. Hi there – what a terrific article! And thanks for the link!
    You’ve given some great information on the issue here – thanks for all your work.

    Cheers – Robin

  2. Hi,
    Fantastic article. I found you through Robin Birch’s site.
    Will you be at The Greens’ Live Music Forum, next Monday 11/4?

    Thanks for your intelligent, passionate article.

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