Canberra’s music industry has turned up the volume on what it says is the ACT Government’s inaction on a proposed entertainment precinct in Civic.
Late last week, MusicACT released a satirical video via its website and social media platforms to renew its call for the ACT Government to not use the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to further stifle Canberra’s live music scene.
MusicACT president Dave Caffery said the ACT Government’s 2019 Entertainment Action Plan continues to gather dust while more development approvals are pushed through, forcing Canberra closer to becoming a silent city, devoid of live music.
“After 12 years and endless reports, nothing has changed. COVID-19 has only worsened the situation for Canberra’s live music industry. If the night-time economy is to be a key part of the coronavirus recovery, sound regulation and planning law must be reformed,” Mr Caffery said.
The satirical video gives a nod to Shaun Micallef’s TV comedy series Mad As Hell via Canberra’s BMA Magazine editor Allan Sko, who uses the words of Elvis Presley to call for a little less conversation, a little more action.
Mr Caffery told Region Media he fears more Canberra musicians will move away from the city to seek opportunities to showcase their music due to the dire lack of live music venues.
“When bands start touring again in Australia, you’re going to have all these bands who have been sitting on albums and releases, and the only way they can make money is to go and tour. So that’s why venues are critical to the musician’s livelihood because it’s the only revenue they really get,” Mr Caffery said.
Central to the issue in Canberra has been the proposal for an entertainment precinct in Civic where live music events can be held without fear of falling foul of sound regulations and planning laws.
Mr Caffery said MusicACT is tired of seeing reviews and analysis reports being produced while the government closes the window on new venues in the city by approving more residences and hotels without changing the sound laws.
“Long before the pandemic, Canberra’s live music scene was already struggling, with venue owners, staff, musicians, artists, supporters and audiences continually met with barriers.
“All the parties in the ACT Government have agreed that an entertainment precinct is what we need. The Legislative Assembly actually wants to see some change; however, Mick Gentleman’s department turned the first stage of actions into investigations and considerations – basically just more analysis reports.
“There’s no actual change. There’s no action, which is why we decided to try and be funny with the satirical video because it’s actually comical how bad it is,” Mr Caffery said.
Minister for Planning and Land Management Mick Gentleman said his department is trying to strike the right balance between the needs of live music and Canberra residents.
“We are committed to delivering the Entertainment Action Plan and supporting the entertainment industry through the COVID-19 pandemic. We have made good progress implementing the plan; however, some parts of been delayed due to the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency,” Mr Gentleman said.
“We acknowledge that the live music, entertainment and hospitality sectors have been hit extremely hard by the COVID-19 health emergency.
“We have already created and saved hundreds of jobs by swiftly implementing stimulus packages and regulatory reforms to ensure the economic survival of the Territory, and we will ensure the arts are not left behind.”
Another issue is noise restrictions at live music venues, which Mr Gentleman said were amended in December last year to allow “a more lively night-time economy and entertainment activities, live music and amplified music in our centres”.
“The ACT Government has also considered approaches to sound-proofing taken in other jurisdictions to reduce negative impacts on their neighbours,” Mr Gentleman said.
However, Mr Caffery said the first phase actions proposed in the Entertainment Action Plan were set to be implemented by the end of July, less than two weeks away. He also said the Government’s changes to noise restrictions made in December will have no meaningful impact on the night-time economy.
“It only added two hours on Friday and Saturday night to the higher of the impossible sound limits. So new venues still won’t open.
“We’re sick of it,” Mr Caffery said. “We’ve had so many meetings with that department and nothing is happening.
“We’ve brought some of the leading policy experts and introduced them to the planners in ACT Government and those meetings went really well, but nothing has happened. The planners haven’t done anything, so we’ve pleaded with the Chief Minister to please commission experts to write the policy so that it can be passed through the Cabinet.
“If this doesn’t happen, we’re going to see the death of more venues and the opening of more hotels. Meanwhile, we’re never going to see live music venues in Garema Place – the opportunity will be lost unless they change these laws now.”