It seems Premier Brumby has been on a bit of a rampage the last year, killing off our art, and apparently, this is only the beginning. I thought it couldn’t get any worse when the skills reform was introduced mid last year, putting TAFE out of reach for many Victorians. This legislation stabbed at the heart of Melbourne’s thriving art scene by abolishing government-funded places for students with equivalent or higher qualifications and forcing them to pay full fees, which many are unable to afford. This change hurt the arts – writing, film, music – because many people study art when they’ve matured and come into themselves and this is usually after having studied and worked in another industry. I wrote an article about the changes on my blog and Overland last year and you can read that here. But Brumby didn’t stop there. The same time the TAFE changes were introduced, new liquor licensing regulations were also brought in that have severely hurt Melbourne’s unique live music scene.
The first of Brumby’s victims was announced a few days ago. The Tote pub – a Collingwood cultural rock icon – has been forced to close its doors after thirty years of trading due to mounting pressure from VCAT and finding it difficult to trade profitably with the introduction of the new regulations. The Tote, just like other small live music venues like The Espy, The Arthouse, and The Corner, supports the emerging musician. Classifying The Tote as a “high risk” venue on par with nightclubs on King Street, the state liquor licensing department has been meticulous in enforcing this legislation which has put all these precious live music venues at risk of closure.
As a way of curbing late night drinking and drunken behaviour, the liquor licensing department have taken the easy road by classifying artistic venues such as The Tote in the same group as King Street nightclubs. By imposing the same rules on both and completely disregarding what venues like The Tote contribute to the live music scene, the state government are essentially killing our music. I have been to a nightclub on King Street. I have also been to The Tote – you cannot compare the two. At a nightclub I get pushed and shoved, I get drunken guys groping my butt, brawls. At small, live music venues such as The Tote it’s just a room full of people standing in front of a band and enjoying the tunes. Sure, a fight or two may break out once in a while, as one might in a Coles supermarket, but nothing on the scale of King Street nightclubs. I should know: I lived on King Street for five years.
Sydney pubs had similar liquor licensing regulations imposed on them, and this almost killed their live music scene. However, towards the end of last year, State Planning Minister Kristina Keneally announced an abolishment of these bureaucratic rules that were stifling local talent. Sydney has learned its lesson. Brumby should take heed. But it’s obvious that his government are less than functional. Otherwise why would an application for a huge 1500-patron nightclub in South Melbourne, Neverland, have been approved? One that can serve alcohol until 5am? Or a 750-person tavern at Docklands that can trade until 1am? I can just see all the little revellers down in Neverland getting smashed and causing a raucous while in the meantime, small pubs supporting local talent are getting butchered all in the name of curbing drunken disturbances.
When will Mr Brumby realise that for our rich art scene to thrive it must be nurtured? When will he stop killing Melbourne’s art? If he continues along this path it won’t be long before Melbourne artists are forced to stop pursuing their passion and will have no choice but to work in other industries. The Melbourne culture we love will dry up. Melbourne bred writers like Christos Tsiolkas will be a rarity. Melbourne filmmakers will be nonexistent. There will be nowhere for bands to play their music and develop their careers. Instead overseas literature, probably American, and trashy Hollywood films, and mainstream major record labels promoting Britney Spears clones will dominate our screens, radios, bookshelves, and Melbourne art as we know it, will be a thing of the past.
How depressing. I can feel my brain dying already.
At least there’s some hope – minister for Arts, Lynne Kosky resigned today.
A facebook page has been set up called ‘Save The Tote’. It has 12,000 members and is growing by the minute. Join this page to support the cause. Or you can sign the petition here. To rally the government on TAFE fee changes, visit http://www.tafe4all.org.au/