Protesters at the "Don't Kill Live Music" rally (Photo: Emma Gillman)

‘This is lockout 2.0’: thousands protest over new festival laws

The message was clear: don’t kill live music. It was displayed across placards which read “Gladys Killed The Radio Star”, “Murder On The Dance Floor”, “Harm Reduction Not Culture Destruction” and “Rock Out Not Lockouts”.

Braving pelting rain, thousands of protesters and music-lovers flooded Sydney’s Hyde Park on Thursday evening (February 21), angered at the NSW government’s new laws which they say threaten the future of live music festivals.

They were joined by musicians including Julian Hamilton from The Presets and Murray Cook of The Wiggles. There were also performances by Ocean Alley, The Rubens, Cloud Control and Dan Sultan.

One of several speakers to address the crowd, City of Sydney Councillor and art curator Jess Scully, described the new laws – which have already led to the cancellation of two festivals, Mountain Sounds and Psyfari – as “lockout 2.0”.

Many placards targeted NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. (Photo: Layton Holley)

The new laws, which follow a spate of drug-related deaths at music festivals, will see each festival rated for its degree of “risk”, and organisers forced to meet the cost of extra policing and medical services.

Speakers at the “Don’t Kill Live Music” rally called instead for the government to work together with the industry to achieve effective safety protocols. Ms Scully said the full repercussions of the new laws, due to come into force on March 1, were still not clear.

“Two weeks ago on Wednesday, the NSW government called the NSW festival industry into a room and handed (it) a death sentence.

“The NSW government doesn’t care enough to explain to you the impact that this rush-job legislation is going to have on local communities, and what we found out in that room terrified us.

“We are a week out from this regulation being law, and at the City of Sydney we still have no idea how this is going to impact the festivals that we run and the festivals we support.”

Thousands turned out despite the rain (Photo: Emma Gillman)

Mountain Sounds and Psyfari blamed “excessive costs and additional licensing conditions” for the decision to cancel the two festivals.

The new laws were announced after five drug-related deaths at music festivals in the past five months, and a lengthy debate about whether to introduce pill testing at such events.

Harm minimisation groups argue that pill-testing would be more effective in protecting young people. However, the NSW government says the news laws are needed to ensure “high safety standards” at festivals.

In his speech, the rally MC, the actor and writer Rhys Muldoon, compared Sydney to the fictional town in the 1980s film Footloose, which prohibited rock music and dancing.

Protesters spoke of their outrage at the new laws. Leila Polito, from the Northern Beaches, said: “The irrational injustices to festival culture in NSW not only take away the potential of  life-long memories and friendships, but also take a toll on the livelihoods of the thousands of people employed to make live music happen.”

A petition circulated among the crowd had already amassed more than 119,000 signatures before the rally started. The goal is to reach 150,000.

A satirical placard (Photo: Emma Gillman)

Under the new laws, a checklist of requirements will have to be approved by a panel of representatives of the police, ambulance service, the NSW Health Department and the Liquor and Gaming Department before an event can go ahead.

Music festivals which continue past midnight, attract large crowds, have limited access to hospitals or take place in hot weather conditions will be deemed “high risk”, with organisers forced to pay for extra police and emergency services on site.

Julian Hamilton left protesters with the core message: “There’s an election just around the corner, make your voice heard. If you’re not enrolled to vote, make sure you enrol to vote, Make it the first thing you do after this rally.”

– @samanthahand0