The Cobargo Folk Festival has had to reassure attendees the festival will be going ahead this year in light of new regulations introduced by the NSW government, but in response to concerns the MP for Bega stated the festival had nothing to worry about.
From March, organisers will have to apply for a specific music festival licence similar to those for pubs and clubs, and have their application approved by a panel of experts.
On Monday, February 11, Cobargo Folk Festival executive director Zena Armstrong wrote a letter to Member for Bega Andrew Constance and other major party candidates for the seat of Bega outlining uncertainty in the community about the future of festivals in NSW and how they had received “moderate reassurance” from NSW Liquor and Gaming this year’s festival would not be affected by the new licensing regulations.
“This is a critical time for NSW music and arts festivals,” the letter reads.
“It is already clear that some festivals will not be able to bear the added financial burden that these new regulations will impose. More festivals may go to the wall.
“We understand and support the need for regulation and we take our licensing responsibilities very seriously.
“However, increasing regulation for our events will make them unsustainable, especially in rural areas where volunteers are already buckling under the strain of meeting the current regulatory demands.
“Increasing costs will inevitably push ticket prices beyond the capacity of rural and regional markets to bear.”
Security costs for the festival were close to $7000 this year and Ms Armstrong said if a dollar value was put on the in-kind contribution from volunteers who kept the festival safe the true costs would be over $50,000.
Speaking to the Bega District News on Wednesday, February 13, Mr Constance said he had discussed the letter with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
“First of all, the Cobargo Folk Festival has nothing to worry about,” he said.
I don’t regard the Cobargo Folk Festival as high risk for young adolescents to be taking ecstasy, we certainly have’t seen any deaths or drug overdoses, to my knowledge, at the festival.Bega MP Andrew Constance
“What we’re targetting is high risk events which have seen death or serious injury and we expect those festival organisers to lift their game and raise their standards.
“We can’t stand back as government and allow what’s been going on when we’ve got five young people that have died in the last five months and turn a blind eye to that.”
In her letter Ms Armstrong said the NSW Health risk assessment matrix attached to the new licence would rate most three-day festivals with over 2000 ticket-holders in the high risk category, regardless of demographic or music genre.
This meant the Cobargo Folk Festival would rate as high risk, ranking it alongside major commercial music festivals that attracted 10,000 to 45,000 people in the 18 to 26-year-old age range and played non-stop music for 72 hours, despite it having an older demographic and diverse program.
Conditions applied to high risk festivals, including providing pre-deployed ambulances which were estimated to cost $30,000 for the weekend.
But Mr Constance did not believe the festival would be rated as high risk.
“I don’t regard the Cobargo Folk Festival as high risk for young adolescents to be taking ecstasy, we certainly have’t seen any deaths or drug overdoses, to my knowledge, at the festival,” he said.
A simple amendment to the regulations would make it clear that folk and community festivals are exempt from in this new, complex and costly licensing process, leave no room for equivocation and provide the certainty we are looking for.Cobargo Folk Festival's Zena Armstrong
In response to the concern the new regulations could create an additional workload for an already strained volunteer workforce, Mr Constance said there still had to “be some regulatory oversight” and he would “work to minimise any unintended consequences” faced by the Cobargo Folk Festival under the new regulations.
He said the state government had invested $50,000 into the festival over past three years and would continue to support it.
In response, Ms Armstrong told the BDN said she welcomed Mr Constance’s assurance the festival “had nothing to worry about” and said festival organisers would welcome an opportunity to discuss an exemption from the new licence regulations, similar to that granted to Tamworth Country Music Festival.
"If we are not the target of these regulations, then folk and other community-run festivals across NSW would welcome formal advice that we are exempt, as has been done for Tamworth," Ms Armstrong said.
“It’s pleasing that Mr Constance believes that we are not a high risk event, however the new regulations as currently drafted quite clearly capture us, with the Illawarra Folk Festival and other similar festivals over 2000 ticket holders, in the high risk category.
"This will undoubtedly require us to negotiate our way through some form of more complex application process next year, potentially at significant cost.
“A simple amendment to the regulations would make it clear that folk and community festivals are exempt from in this new, complex and costly licensing process, leave no room for equivocation and provide the certainty we are looking for."