Thursday, February 25, 2016

Venue lock down – a blunt instrument for a dire problem

The diminishing stock of city venues for live music performances under the onslaught of pokies and increasing concentrations of inner-city apartment dwellers has been a serious issue for contemporary music for decades. The legislation tightening controls on venues in response to alcohol-related violence is only the latest obstacle the music sector has to address.

City venues are crucial for a healthy live music scene and there have been concerted campaigns over many years to remove regulatory barriers and keep live music venues alive. Over the last 12 months the issue of venue lock down to deal with alcohol-fuelled assaults has become a major debate and it is overlapping with the live music issue.

Venue lockdown in Sydney city is a response to a dire problem using a very blunt instrument.

It has even spilled beyond Sydney to Brisbane and Canberra. It seems to be drawing a vast range of comment, much of it self-interested. We’ve heard that violence is not something unique to CBDs or to alcohol consumption, but a cultural issue, which is true, but doesn’t address the problem. To be effective, a solution doesn’t have to address every form or location in which a problem manifests itself – just enough of them.

Of course venue owners are concerned and their argument that the policy will affect the hospitality industry may well be valid – but that, by itself, is not enough. If the policy effectively addressed the problem of alcohol-fuelled violence and a side effect of it was that the hospitality industry was negatively impacted, it might still be worth implementing. It comes down to how effective it is at addressing the problem and how badly the hospitality industry is affected.

Horses for courses
Once we start analysing this more finely, there are issues that need to be considered which do not seem to be taken into account. As one of the Canberra players notes ‘smaller bars hosting live music had a long history in Canberra with very few incidents compared to other venues…Pubs that have the highest rate of violence and trouble from excessive drinking should be treated differently instead.’

Venue owners in Canberra have also pointed also to the success of the recent Multicultural Festival in Canberra, during which about a quarter of a million people visited Civic with alcohol freely available. Commenting on the event in early February, police said the ‘mood of the crowd was friendly and only a handful of people were dealt with by police’.

Drinking and drinking, venues and venues
There is drinking and drinking and venues and venues. The question is how finely different kinds of venues are distinguished from each other in a strategy to reduce alcohol-related violence. Previous comments by NSW government Ministers indicate they don’t seem to draw any distinction between small venues, sometimes with live music, and beer barns.

The reality is that Australia is a country of drunks – not everyone for sure, but far too many – and it seems to be getting worse. Whether it actually is so, only the research can show. It has always amused me the way Aboriginal Australians are stereotyped as a bunch of drunks when the reality is that the proportion of Aboriginal Australian who don’t drink at all is higher than the norm. Yep, us white folks are doing most of the heavy lifting in the inebriation stakes. It’s as if we never really stopped the drunken behaviour after the First Fleet landed in Sydney Cove.

One size fits all
Dealing with it was never going to be simple or easy. However, like all government policy, it’s all too easy to go for the one size fits all approach – it doesn’t require much flexibility or subtlety or fine-grained research or monitoring and evaluation.

There’s also a long-established practice by government of using legislation in the hope of solving problems. It is cheap – in fact it’s free– and it looks decisive and firm. A smart politician can be draconian without actually doing or committing much at all. It doesn’t really matter if it is ineffective in practice as a result of no money being spent to back it up with education campaigns or enforcement. The news cycle moves on and other issues come to the fore. This is the same problem with increasing penalties to show how tough you are on law and order – if it's a high level crime where very few people ever get caught, it's doubtful whether higher penalties have much significance or effect. If it's more routine crime where those who do it tend to do it anyway, no more may get caught but more will be jailed – but who notices, until a decade down the track when the jails are full and the budget is in deficit. By that stage a wily politician has eaten all the free lunches and moved on, taking their pension with them. Perfect.

This article was originally published elsewhere in my blogosphere and has been revised for this blog.

See also

An everyday life worth living – indefinite articles for a clean, clever and creative future
‘My blog “indefinite article” is irreverent writing about contemporary Australian society, popular culture, the creative economy and the digital and online world – life in the trenches and on the beaches of the information age. Over the last ten years I have published 166 articles about creativity and culture on the blog. This is a list of all the articles I have published there, broken down into categories, with a brief summary of each article. They range from the national cultural landscape to popular culture, from artists and arts organisations to cultural institutions, cultural policy and arts funding, the cultural economy and creative industries, First Nations culture, cultural diversity, cities and regions, Australia society, government, Canberra and international issues – the whole range of contemporary Australian creativity and culture’, An everyday life worth living – indefinite articles for a clean, clever and creative future

The power of good policy – historical tax distortions waiting for a fix
‘The heated response to the tax debate around negative gearing debate and capital gains tax shows that if political parties adopt a clear policy, in line with their core values and aligned with popular concerns, then get behind it and explain it, people will respond. For decades negative gearing has been distorting the shape of our cities, our suburbs and our communities. It is an inefficient way to achieve the desired result. These are historical tax distortions waiting for a fix’, The power of good policy – historical tax distortions waiting for a fix.

Look after pedestrians and the economy will look after itself
‘Public transport is such a central element in a modern city. It has fundamental implications for how productive a city is, how culturally active and just how personally pleasant it is to live and work in’, Look after pedestrians and the economy will look after itself.

Travelling together through the city
‘Public transport is such a central element in a modern city. It has fundamental implications for how productive a city is, how culturally active and just how personally pleasant it is to live and work in’, Travelling together through the city.

Sydney - Australia's most valuable location but public transport its greatest weakness
‘A massive weakness only too familiar to anyone who lives in or has lived in Sydney could derail the whole positive effect of economic growth within different mega regions inside Greater Sydney and hold back innovation and economic productivity. This has serious implications not just for Sydney or New South Wales but for the national economy. Cities have always been serious business but this just got a lot more so’, Sydney is Australia's most valuable location but public transport is its greatest weakness.

Our capital cities are growing and produce most of our income
‘The city is a critical place for cultural life and for the diversity that propels it. It's interesting to see the overwhelming significance of cities in an economic sense as well’, Our capital cities are growing and produce most of our income.

The central importance of cities to the modern economy
‘It is becoming increasingly clear how important cities are in the contemporary economy. Underpinning this is the absolutely central importance of the growth of the knowledge economy and the innovation, collaboration and interaction it depends on. This is a reality that politicians have to grasp if we are going to see good policies that benefit Australia over the next decades. Unfortunately I think that many are still operating with a view of the economy which was out of date at least a decade ago’, The central importance of cities to the modern economy.

Creating cities by reinventing them – ‘Creating Cities’ reviewed
‘At first glance Marcus Westbury’s ‘Creating Cities’ book looks small, but it’s far bigger than it looks. The book is about re-energising cities by reinventing them but it’s starting point is a deep appreciation of the particular regional city of Newcastle. The revival of Newcastle is a reflection of the more general trend towards the revival of regional centres in Australia. Cities are crucial to the innovation and creativity that interaction and partnerships based on physical proximity can produce – whether major capital cities or regional cities. The efforts at revival all reflected the critical importance of cities. Each in its own way draws upon creativity and innovation and the cultural diversity which underpins it to create places which are pleasant and interesting to live in and to drive economic prosperity’, Creating cities by reinventing them – ‘Creating Cities’ reviewed.

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