Future of Strawberry Fields at risk

By Daniel Hughes

Tocumwal could lose the Strawberry Fields Festival from next year if the NSW Government pushes ahead with the Music Festivals Bill 2019 in its current form.

Festival director Tara Benney said powers given to the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority in the legislation could see the event subjected to the new laws.

Ms Benney said it would have a significant impact on the costs of putting on the festival, and would create a duplication of planning documents the festival already completes in conjunction with Berrigan Shire Council.

She said that impost could force organisers to move to the event to Victoria, where they would be exempt from the additional red tape.

The bill was still being debated in Parliament at the time of going to print yesterday, after being tabled on October 16, with discussions expected to continue today.

‘‘The music festivals industry, not just Strawberry Fields, completely supports safety, but this legislation will take all of that out of our hands and reintroduce it with bureaucrats who don’t understand or have even seen what actually goes on to make these festivals a success,’’ Ms Benney said.

‘‘Hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer funds will be spent administering this scheme, which is a haphazard duplication of the already robust and lengthy development application process which events already have to complete with their local councils, local residents, and local emergency services.

‘‘We work really hard each year and pride ourselves on making the safety of our patrons a priority.

‘‘Every year we work closely with local police, residents, council and other emergency services to set up the safest environment possible.

‘‘We’ve also worked really hard on making our relationship with police a positive one.’’

The Berejiklian Government’s bill required all festivals deemed ‘high risk’ to develop safety management plans in consultation with NSW Health, police and the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority.

The bill was developed in response to calls for the government to introduce mandatory pill testing at festivals and major events.

While Strawberry Fields is not currently deemed ‘high risk’, Ms Benney fears additional powers given to the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority could see them lumped in with high risk events.

‘‘While Strawberry Fields is not a licensed event, due to the broad and loose terms used in the legislation, the festival is being looped in as a majority ‘high risk’ event.

‘‘It will not put this year in jeopardy, bit if the bill is passed we will have to sit down and have a serious look at whether we will move the festival to another state next year.

‘‘It is not something we want to do, because all our staff, the locals and people who come to Tocumwal for the festival enjoy the location.

‘‘The event also provides a huge boost for the local economy, which is so important with the current drought.

‘‘Unfortunately, we aren’t the only ones who are having to look at this as a measure; many of New South Wales’ biggest festivals potentially having to do the same.’’

Other media outlets have reported that Splendour in the Grass, Falls Festival and Laneway Festival have all threatened to move their events out of NSW if the bill is introduced.

Ms Benney said moving Strawberry Fields could cost Berrigan Shire’s economy in excess of $1 million each year.

An economic impact report suggested the 2017 event, which had a capacity crowd of 6500 people, injected more than $1.3 million in Berrigan Shire and $2.6 million in the broader region.

Ms Benney said the festival has since grown, and its economic importance with it.

‘‘Our capacity for 2019 is 9500 and we are looking to grow to 15,000 by 2023,’’ Ms Benney said.

‘‘The event is growing every year and we’re projecting it to keep that trajectory, but this just won’t be the case if the festival is taken out of local government hands.’’

Ms Benney said it was disappointing the bill had been developed and tabled without meaningful input by the music festivals industry.

At the time of going to print yesterday, NSW Labor had already proposed an amendment to form an industry round table to further discuss the proposals.

NSW Member for Murray Helen Dalton was hoping to speak on the motion, and her office said the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party was expected to move further amendments when it passed through the lower house to the upper house.