Empty Spaces: Government Regulation Is Killing Australian Culture

By Murn, Christopher | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, July 2008 | Go to article overview
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Empty Spaces: Government Regulation Is Killing Australian Culture


Murn, Christopher, Review - Institute of Public Affairs


There is now an increasingly significant barrier to a vibrant Australian culture-nanny state regulations and bureaucratic red tape.

The most difficult time for any artist is at the beginning of their career. Artistk entrepreneurs don't hold the promise of windfall profits that their commercial brethren possess and this can discourage investors.

In Australia, taxpayer subsidies overwhelmingly favours established artists. Last year the Australia Council issued $156 million in grants of which $63 million went directly to orchestras alone-over 40 per cent of total funding. Amongst other reasons, arts funding often fails because it is impossible to distinguish who constitutes a good investment in the absence of a proven reputation. After all, no-one would appoint a candidate with an empty resume and no references as the CEO of their company.

But while acquiring necessary funding is (and will always be) a constant challenge for young artists, they are now racing perhaps a more challenging problem-high regulatory barriers which prevent artists from finding performance and exhibition space, hosting events, and obtaining necessary permits. And their lack of capital makes regulatory compliance costs even more crippling. New acts and events find it difficult and burdensome to obtain funding, which they must then spend on public liability insurance, lawyers, acoustic engineers, permits, licences and building inspectors to ensure they meet regulatory requirements.

The problem every artist faces is how to bring their talent to the public. This requires holding an exhibition or public event, obtaining a venue and promotion to ensure an audience.

Finding a place to perform isn't easy; in the case of musicians there has been a growing decrease in the demand for live acts by venue owners. The Australia Council's 2002 Vanishing Acts report showed that various forms of regulation contributed to this downward trend. Aspiring artists depend on the availability of venues, which in turn are heavily regulated.

Venue owners must comply with excessively onerous regulations. Firstly, a place of public entertainment permit (POPE) is needed from the local council before they even think of admitting the public to their residence. POPE costs vary from council to council but can be as high as $2,050 (City of Melbourne). This particularly hurts smaller community and cultural institutions, creating a venue shortage for aspiring artists.

POPE permits require venue owners to obtain an occupancy permit. This involves hiring building inspectors to ensure the venue meets the building code and often additional fire safety upgrades are needed. In Sydney any stage constructed must be able to contain a fire for over an hour before it spreads; no easy feat and hardly worth the effort unless pyrotechnical displays are involved.

POPE regulations can also apply to temporary structures such as booths and marquees at outdoor events. Not surprisingly, more time and money is required for a temporary venue dian establishing a permanent commercial venue. Outdoor festivals need to be planned months in advance to accommodate the long and intensive local council permit processes. Extensive community consultation is required with affected parties. Road closure approval, emergency plans, public liability insurance, occupational health and safety laws, traffic management plans, and notification of emergency services must all be addressed to obtain a permit.

Venue owners and event organisers rely heavily on food and beverage sales to supplement their income from cover charges and ticket sales. Vanishing Acts found that 81 per cent of hotels derived no direct income from live music, and a further 17 per cent derived less than 5 per cent of their income from live performances. Artists rely on food and alcohol sales to subsidise their performances and exhibitions. However, here too, increasingly stringent and onerous liquor licensing and food regulations are raising the cost of cultural production for artists and venue owners.

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