When cultural policy becomes an election issue

Protestors gather outside Melbourne's Parliament House to rally in support of live music venues. Photograph: Sarah-Jane Woulahan

More than 10,000 protesters gathered outside Victoria’s Parliament House today to protest an unpopular Victorian government policy.

What were they protesting about? Climate change? The war in Afghanistan? Taxes?

No, they were protesting about a cultural policy. In possibly the first popular protest of its kind in this country since the Rum Rebellion, today’s large rally was a protest about harsh new liquor regulations, particularly in live contemporary music venues.

As I’ve chronicled here before, the closure of The Tote and the protest it engendered has snowballed into an astonishing popular protest movement against the new licensing laws. It’s a surprising development in a community often mocked for its political apathy.

I once asked Cory Doctorow what would be required for cultural policy to be taken seriously in Australia. “You should make cultural policy an issue that could lead to the break-up of your country,” the Canadian author replied with a quick grin.

But in Melbourne, rock and roll matters. The city is famous for its small bars and rock pubs and has named a laneway after favourite sons AC/DC. Today’s protest featured a reprise of the famous “band on a back of a truck” film clip shot by AC/DC for “It’s a Long Way to the Top” in Melbourne in 1974, including the original bagpipe players.

Now the Labor government of John Brumby is scrambling to control the damage caused by over-zealous liquor licensing inspectors. The government announced today it had signed an accord with representatives of the Victorian contemporary music industry to roll back the most disliked regulations, such as the requirements for extra security guards for any venue featuring live music.

While it is a win for the industry, it is unlikely to mark the end of the issue. This is an election year in the state of Victoria and The Greens are expected to poll well in many rock-friendly inner-city seats currently held by Labor. It’s an object lesson for governments everywhere of the unintended consequences of over-regulation, particularly in cultural industries where crucial infrastructure is both widely popular and only marginally profitable.

One thought on “When cultural policy becomes an election issue

  1. Pingback: Shane Homan’s new paper on the Victorian live music protests « A Cultural Policy Blog

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