Petition speech by Sue Pennicuik

Here's the speech Greens MLC Sue Pennicuik made to the Legislative Council on April 14, 2010. She moved that Parliament take note of the FairGo4LiveMusic petition, which she had presented to Parliament the day before, and a debate followed. The speech is also on the Greens website here.

I have put in sub-headings to make the speech easier to read online, and they are listed just below. The speech is long, so if you are short of time I suggest you scroll down and start reading at 'Don't kill live music'.

The petition itself
Don't kill live music

Live Music Accord
Music is not a threat
Removing conditions
Greens forum
Small venues closing
The motion
Other speakers
Sue concludes debate
The Liberal motion
Gigs disappearing
The petition
Liquor licence conditions

To the speech…

Liquor licensing: live music venues

That the Council take note of the petition presented by me on 13 April.

Yesterday I presented a petition to the Parliament bearing 8837 signatures which requested that:
  1. the Victorian government institute a proper investigation into the causes of violence and drunkenness;
  2. until such investigation is undertaken and concluded, the government remove all references to 'live and amplified music' from the licence amenity clause on liquor licences;
  3. the government formulate a cultural policy that promotes and maintains Melbourne as Australia's capital for live music.
The petition itself
I want to talk a little bit about the petition. It was reported on in the press, and people would have perhaps seen the large number of petitions that I was presented with on the steps of Parliament House last week. The count by the people who gathered the signatures was that there were 21 826 signatures in the pile of petitions that I received on the steps of state Parliament.

I took those petitions to the papers office, and after they were gone through it was noted that only 8837 signatures complied with the standing orders and were able to be presented to Parliament. The unofficial count of 21 826 signatures by the people who brought the petitions to me included 11 124 online petitions and 10 515 signatures on hard copies which were signed by people in venues.

The papers office advised me that of the approximately 22 000 signatures, approximately 12 000 were not counted as they were from online petitions, and approximately 1100 signatures were not counted due to the fact that they either did not contain the full details of the petitioner—that is, they may not have signed it or provided their full name and address, or they did not provide a Victorian address and were therefore ineligible—or did not accord with the standing orders that require that the details of the petition have to be on every page that is presented and that attached pages of signatures cannot be counted.

I mention this because even though I have officially presented a petition on behalf of the petitioners containing 8837 official signatures, the figure was closer to 22 000 signatures. I went to the papers office and asked, 'How does that compare with other petitions that have been presented to Parliament in this parliamentary session?'.

The papers office was kind enough to furnish me with the list of petitions and the numbers of petitioners that have been tabled in this parliamentary session. I would have to say that Mrs Coote takes the prize for having presented the largest petition, on 31 July 2008, containing 22 540 signatures in opposition of the extension of clearway times.

I make the point that although only 8837 signatures were officially able to be tabled, if all the signatures had been officially able to be tabled this would have been the second largest petition tabled in this session of Parliament. That is quite a significant number, because if you look through the other petitions that have been tabled throughout this parliamentary session, you see that most of them have signatures that total in the hundreds or less.

Other notable ones are the petition tabled in May last year by Mr Atkinson on gaming machine entitlements containing 16 694 signatures and the petitions presented in March 2008 by both Mrs Coote and me on the St Kilda triangle, Mrs Coote's with 2208 signatures and mine with 2453, totalling 4661 signatures on the petitions tabled by both of us on that particular issue. There were also a lot of petitions relating to the abortion debate during 2008.

The number of petitioners who put their name to this petition, even though some were not allowed to be officially tabled, is very significant. I make that point so that people are aware of the strength of feeling in the community about this issue.

I would also like to make a further point, which is that approximately 12,000 petitions could not be accepted because they were online petitions, and we certainly need to move away from that.

We certainly need to catapult ourselves into the 21st century and be able to accept online petitions. The Standing Orders Committee of the Assembly tabled a report on this in May of last year, almost 12 months ago. Its recommendation was that e-petitions should be permitted in the Legislative Assembly, with a procedure being used which mirrors that already being used for paper petitions, and that the standing orders be amended accordingly.

I would say that we should be doing the same thing in the Legislative Council. Obviously a large number of passionate and savvy young people have signed a petition, but unfortunately because of the out-of-date rules their signatures were not able to be officially counted. One of the reasons why I wanted the Council to take note of this petition today was to put that point—that we need to move very quickly to being able to accept online petitions from the citizens of Victoria.

Don't kill live music
It was a great privilege for me to accept that petition last week. A number of times on appropriate occasions in this chamber I have made the point that I am a big fan of live music.

I did a bit of a back-of-the-envelope calculation. Let us say I have been attending gigs at licensed venues since I was 18, and, averaging things out, if I was attending say 1 gig at a live venue every second week—probably an underestimation—that would mean I attended well over 1000 gigs in Melbourne and suburbs, and regional centres, in that time.

Going to see live music in our local area, going out to another area, visiting a country town or regional centre or coming into the city or the inner suburbs to see live music has been a big part of my life, and it is a big part of many people's lives. That is why the people who gathered the signatures were able to gather so many in such a short time.

The signatures were gathered in the six weeks between the rally on 23 February, which finished on the steps of Parliament House, and Wednesday last week, when I was presented with the petition.

I should make mention of Anne O'Rourke, Jen Anderson, John Perring, Jon von Goes and SLAM, largely driven by Helen Marcou and Quincy McLean, the people who did all the work behind the presentation of this petition.

The petition was presented on the steps of Parliament House by a group of Victorian musicians spanning the generations and including musicians born way back in the 1920s. The group included Nick Polites, Stephen Grant, Mike Rudd, Ross Wilson, Kram, Clare Bowditch, Angie Hart, Evelyn Morris and Blaise Adamson. There were some quotable quotes delivered as the petition was being presented.

For example, Ross Wilson, a former member of Daddy Cool and Mondo Rock, who now leads Ross Wilson and the Urban Legends—certainly someone I have seen at gigs in the past…

An honourable member interjected.

Ms PENNICUIK -- I am sure many others in this chamber have as well! He [Ross Wilson] said:

Don't kill live music! That's why we're here today on the steps of the Victorian Parliament House who have seemed to have ignored the big procession of people that came up the street six weeks ago playing It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock'n'roll). They were absolutely right, because a few gigs have closed down since then because of the onerous conditions put upon them having to hire security. Who would think you would need security at a happy, happy event like a music gig?

Kram said, referring to the pile of signatures:

There's 22 000 signatures on here so this is basically the rally in print. This represents all the people that were here. We saw how massive it was and how much this actually means to the community, so I just think we have to do what we can to make these people listen to us.

I should have mentioned that Kram is a drummer and former vocalist for the band Spiderbait and now a solo artist.

Jon von Goes, one of the organisers of the petition, a musician and RRR broadcaster, said:

What they're holding, these folks, are 21 826 petitions, because it has been six weeks since the slam rally which saw 20 000 people in the city of Melbourne who came here to complain about flawed liquor licensing laws linking live music with alcohol fuelled violence.

The state government that day hastily presented us with an accord that recommended that small live music venues should not be seen in the same light as larger troubled spots around town, and it's a good thing the state government agrees with us on that one. However this accord they've given to the music community of Melbourne is a list of recommendations—a list of recommendations is pretty much all it is, and to date this accord is not worth the paper it is printed on. As a result nothing has happened. Nothing.

Chorus: NOTHING.

Licensed venues that have been unreasonably treated because they host live music were told six weeks ago to apply for changes to their licences. They were told that in six weeks some stuff would happen. Nothing has happened in six weeks…

with the chorus…


Liquor licensing still links live music and high-risk conditions. We all know this is simply not the case. Politics between liquor licensing and the government—who knows what's going on there, but they are of little concern to us musicians. This is an issue that the state government needs to walk in and simply do something. It needs to DO SOMETHING.

That is a reflection of the passion behind the presentation of this petition.

Live Music Accord
Acting President, it is now seven weeks since the accord was signed, just before the rally. One of the agreements in the accord, as I understand it, is that something will be done or there will be a resolution of the issues within six months. As I said, 7 out of those 25 weeks have already gone—more than one-third of the time in which the resolution of these issues should be concluded—so time is ticking on.

The accord between the music community and the government says a lot of things.

The accord signed between the representatives of FairGo4LiveMusic, Save Live Australia's Music and the newly established Music Victoria agreed that discussions have been productive and:

The automatic coupling of live music and 'high risk' security conditions on liquor licences is not appropriate and the government commits to continue to undertake research and work with the music committee to determine the most appropriate solution to redress this as soon as possible. The parties will endeavour to expedite a solution within six months.

As I said, we are already more than one-third of the way into this six months and nothing much seems to be happening.

The parties recognise the role that contemporary music plays as a cultural, social and economic driver and acknowledge the $7.1 million Victoria Rocks program, allocated over the past four years and the start-up funding of Music Victoria.

The parties agree to work together to secure continuing and satisfactory financial support to contemporary music in Victoria.

That is through the Victoria Rocks program and includes a commitment to revisit the issues considered by the live music task force, which was initiated in 2003. That task force was chaired by Ms Carbines.

On reading the task force's report and its 13 recommendations about how to keep the culture of live music alive in Victoria and to address the issues of amenity between live music venues and their neighbours, nothing seems to have happened there; it seems to have stalled. Therefore it is good to see that there is a commitment in this accord to reinvigorating that task force. It is now seven years old, so it probably needs to be revisited in terms of some of its recommendations.

In his members statement this morning my colleague Mr Barber talked about the forum we held on Monday night regarding the music harmony accord that has been forged in Fortitude Valley as a entertainment precinct in Brisbane.

When we compare the recommendations from the live music task force of 2003 with the procedures that have been put in place, the planning amendments and the arrangements between all the residents, businesses, the council et cetera in Brisbane, we see that we need to revisit some of those recommendations from the live music task force, because things have moved ahead in terms of how to address the issues involved in those areas.

The accord says:

Inclusive, community-based cultures like live music should be encouraged.

The viability of the live music scene is vital to ensure Melbourne's status as the live music capital of Australia.

Unfortunately Melbourne's status as the live music capital of Australia is in jeopardy because of the closure of live music venues as a result of security restrictions. We know that venues have closed. We know also that many venues do not want to invoke the security conditions required for live music venues, such as closed-circuit television, so they are choosing not to have live music, whereas in Brisbane the number of venues is increasing because there is a commitment to promote and support live music, and that commitment has waned in Melbourne and in Victoria. The conditions imposed across the board by the director of liquor licensing have had a lot to do with that.

The accord says:

Alcohol-related harm is a serious and significant concern. The parties are committed to taking action to tackle this issue and to promote amenity and public safety in and around our pubs and clubs while supporting a vibrant music scene.

That is true. Alcohol-related harm is a serious and significant concern, but it is not related to music.

The accord also says:

Those operators that do not adhere to the law or have poor security records should face tighter security measures, however venues with good security records and management practices should be recognised and have appropriate regulation.

That seems to be in contradiction to the blanket application of the special conditions for live music under the liquor licensing policy. The accord also provides:

The parties will continue to meet regularly to resolve a number of concerns about the impact current liquor licensing arrangements have had on a number of small live music venues.

I am advised that that nothing much is happening in that respect either. The accord goes on for another page, but that is the gist of it. I do not think we need to get too caught up in the details of that accord. We need to keep the issue simple, which is that the liquor licensing authorities—and this is what I have called for on every occasion—should remove the link of music to high-risk liquor licensing conditions.

The liquor licensing authorities need to remove that link in the policy because there is no evidence—in fact, there is contrary evidence—that live music causes violence.

Music is not a threat
In fact the regulatory impact statement for the 2009 liquor control reform regulations states that in relation to other venue types, particularly those offering live and recorded music, the data prevented drawing any firm conclusions about whether they represented a risk factor. It says that the relationship between licences offering live and amplified music and alcohol-related harm could not be adequately tested in the analysis of Victorian data, and that there is no evidence that the presence of music per se is associated with violence.

However, we all know and all people who attend live music gigs around Victoria know that the presence of music is much more likely to mitigate violence than anything else. It is a mitigating factor. What really needs to happen is quite simple: that liquor licensing should decouple live music from high-risk liquor licensing conditions. The next thing it must do is lift the high-risk conditions from the music venues that it has imposed them on in a blanket way around Victoria. I understand that is some 700 venues.

Removing conditions
Mr Barber and I have looked at a number of venues in our area.

I have looked at Port Melbourne and South Melbourne, Albert Park, Middle Park and St Kilda, Prahran, Windsor, Balaclava and South Yarra -- and there are 44 venues in those areas with special live music conditions. Mr Barber has looked in Richmond, Fitzroy, Collingwood, Brunswick, Carlton and Melbourne, where there are 85 venues with those special conditions. Many of them have absolutely no history of violence, but they do have a long history of providing live music entertainment for the people in the local area and for visitors, and they have no history of trouble whatsoever.

The accord agreed to venues applying to the director of liquor licensing to have their conditions varied. They can fill out a form, which is a request to the director for liquor licensing to consider initiating a variation of a licence condition. This would apply to venues that have had their conditions imposed between 1 January 2009 and 23 February 2010.

It is a form whereby the licensee has to fill out various boxes and describe the changes they want to the conditions. They must include the days and times when either live or amplified music is played and lodge that form with the director of liquor licensing, who may or may not agree to the variation of their licence.

Given that most of these venues have no history of violence and the only trigger they supposedly have is the presence of live music, what really should happen is the director of liquor licensing should remove those conditions from any venue except for venues where there have been clear breaches and where there is a history of trouble.

The onus should not be on the licensee to prove they are innocent; the onus should be on the liquor licensing authorities to demonstrate there is non-compliance. That is the way it should proceed, rather than waiting for the licensees to understand they need to fill out this form and to demonstrate that they are innocent; it should be the other way around.

Victorian liquor licensing authorities should rethink their whole approach to the objective of reducing 'alcohol fuelled violence', and the focus should be on violence and not on music. If there is a history of trouble at a venue, that should involve the director of liquor licensing, but if there is not there should not be this inappropriate requirement on venues for security.

The requirement is onerous for most of the venues, particularly small venues that want to host live music on a weeknight or on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon when venues often do not have a huge number of patrons and certainly not enough to enable them to carry the cost of two security personnel prior, during and after the presentation of live or amplified music.

Greens forum
The forum the Greens hosted on Monday night drew a large number of people interested in this issue, including musicians and venue operators. We heard how Brisbane has gone about creating a vibe in the Fortitude Valley entertainment precinct that is making Brisbane increasingly being seen as pro live music.

One of the measures in Brisbane is that noise is regulated by the council and not by liquor licensing authorities. There is a unique way of looking at that, which was explained to us.

The starting position is that if you choose to live in an area where there is a venue, you cannot expect complete silence all night. You can expect there will be some noise associated with venues but also that it would be reasonable in the late hours of the night or early hours of the morning. The venues can expect there to be give and take with the community.

It has been worked up over many years, and it has resulted in much fewer complaints about noise and lack of amenity and more tolerance and support of the live music culture in that city. That is a model that we think is interesting and could be looked at in terms of how to move forward with supporting live music in Victoria, because finding practical ways of supporting live music has stalled, notwithstanding the accord that was signed on 23 February; even that seems to have stalled.

Small venues closing
We still have a situation where small venues are closing. Small venues are really the incubator of musicians around Victoria and Australia. Melbourne has been known in the past as Australia's incubator of live music. Many venues are world renowned, such as the Espy. I was involved in the campaign to save the Esplanade Hotel from being demolished and overpowered by the development behind it. It is still operating as a live music venue, although I have to say it is probably not the same as it was in its glory days.

The smaller venues are the ones that are being hit with this condition. The director of liquor licensing should remove the condition. If the concern is about alcohol violence, then that should be the issues that are concentrated on. The issue of music should be kept separate and should not be part of the liquor licensing conditions.

The motion
I invite members to support the motion, not that I think anyone would vote against a petition tabled by citizens of Victoria, and I also invite members to support live music in Victoria in terms of consideration of this very significant petition. In essence 22 000 people have signed it.

As Kram, who was presenting the petition, said, 'This is the rally in paper coming to the Parliament'.

Other speakers
At this point, the ALP's Matt Viney spoke then others. Find Matt Viney's speech here and go here to view the full debate.

Sue concludes debate
I thank the speakers who have contributed to the debate on the issues raised in the petition from Fair Go 4 Live Music. I thank Mr Viney, Mrs Peulich, Mr Hall and Mr Atkinson for their remarks. I would like to bring the debate back to the conditions being imposed on venues by the director of liquor licensing in Victoria and the linking of the presence of music, either live or amplified music, with high-risk activities, which is the issue before us.

The Liberal motion
In their contributions Mrs Peulich, Mr Hall and Mr Atkinson all mentioned that had the Greens not abstained from supporting the opposition during the debate on liquor licensing conditions earlier this year this problem would not have arisen.

During that debate we made very clear our opposition to the requirement that venues must provide security guards when live or amplified music is played, even when there is no history of violence, and our view that this senseless requirement is crushing Melbourne's live music culture and making it very hard for musicians to find venues with live audiences.

The closure of the Tote shone a light on this issue which has forced other small venues to simply stop having live music. We made that possibility very clear in the debate.

It is not true that the debate on the liquor licensing legislation earlier this year had anything to do with the conditions imposed by the liquor licensing commissioner. She has a policy interpretation that live music is a high-risk activity, and therefore she has imposed at her discretion this special music condition across venues with live music in Victoria. That was a pre-existing condition and had nothing to do with legislation that came before us during that debate.

It is disingenuous of members to talk about that aspect in this context, because that was a pre-existing condition last year when the new conditions started to be rolled out in venues.

Gigs disappearing
The truth is that the number of venues that have live music and the number of gigs that are available in Melbourne and in Victoria have been falling since the advent of poker machines in pubs. Going back over the last 15 or so years the number of gigs available has fallen. Certainly that has been said to me by many of my friends who are musicians, who bemoan the advent of poker machines because it has meant so many venues have turned from being music venues into pokie venues.

The rollout of these high-risk conditions associated with live music has meant that the situation is now worsening. Smaller venues are simply ceasing to promote live music, and so there are fewer and fewer gigs.

Although Mr Viney talked about the government's support for live music and Mr Hall said he admires musicians and supports the music-in-schools programs, the problem is that there is a falling number of gigs available for those musicians to play at as a result of the conditions that have been imposed by the liquor licensing commissioner and the inappropriate linking of live music to high risk. I want to bring the debate back to that point. That is what the 22 000 people who signed the petition want us to talk about.

The petition
It is very good that members wanted to debate this issue in support of the people who have brought the petition to us. I thank Mr Atkinson for his remarks that we should take greater note of the petitions that we present to Parliament.

That is exactly why I raised this consideration, because 22 000 people have signed the petition and a lot of people have gone to a lot of trouble to collect the petitions and present them to me to present to Parliament, and it would be a shame to just present the petitions and not say more about the issue that these people are bringing to our attention.

Liquor licence conditions
The question is what to do about the conditions the liquor licensing commissioner has imposed on some 700 venues across Victoria, and the answer is to remove those conditions.

The liquor licensing officers can then concentrate on those venues which have compliance problems and deal with them according to the law and the regulations. We need to reinterpret the whole idea that live music and violence are inextricably linked, because it is not appropriate and the inference should be removed.

I have before me a quote from someone who wrote on the mess+noise blog site. He says:

I was at The Railway Hotel on Nicholson Street last Saturday, where they had an awesome blues band playing. The crowd was ... more a mature age group and the singer quipped (while asking people to sign the petition) that instead of having two security staff there, they should have two paramedics.

I think that sums it up. We need a diversity of live music, we have a history of that in Melbourne. We have a history of small venues hosting all types of music -- blues music, country music and all types of music from different countries.

People who come from around the world bring their music; they play that in venues and even in restaurants, as Mr Atkinson said. As Mr Hall said, live music is an enjoyable experience, it takes us out of our lives and is a big part of people's lives. These conditions are crushing live music. That is what the people who signed the petition wanted me to draw to the attention of the house.

I will finish by going back to the petition. It says that the petitioners request that:

1. the Victorian government institute a proper investigation into the causes of violence and drunkenness—

which has not been done and should be done—

2. until such investigation is undertaken and concluded, the government remove all references to 'live and amplified music' from the licence amenity clause on liquor licences;

3. the government formulate a cultural policy that promotes and maintains Melbourne as Australia's capital for live music.

They are the three actions the petitioners call on the government to do. I support that and I think everyone supports that. I just want to bring the motion back to what the petitioners have asked Parliament to consider.

The motion was agreed to.

Whole debate, proof version of Hansard