Rock n’ roll has never been a bigger political issue in Victoria. The closure of Melbourne’s beloved Tote Hotel at the start of this year saw a massive community groundswell of support for live music in Victoria, and Tone Deaf has been proud to have done our little bit to support the cause. An estimated 20,000 people marched on the Victorian Parliament in February to demonstrate against the oppressive liquor licensing laws that led to the closure of a number of small live music venues which had contributed to the most vital part of the music scene in Victoria.

The Brumby Labor Government, with its ham-fisted approach to liquor licensing, made it virtually impossible to operate many small live music venues with its onerous liquor licensing conditions. It was only when they realised that they had made some wildly unpopular electoral decisions that the Liquor Licensing Authority’s boss failed to have her contract renewed and the government realised that they had some serious work to do to address community concerns.

Liquor Licensing restrictions have since been eased slightly, and a far more punter friendly boss has been installed. Furthermore, the Brumby Labor Government has come out with a blatant pork barrelling initiative which offers $24.7 million for a new ‘Australian Music Headquarters’ and further support for pre-existing community support programs such as Freeza Central and Victoria Rocks.

While these are positive developments, the vast majority of the funding goes to providing wages to more bureaucrats who get a say in how Government money is spent on rock n’ roll. Indeed, it is disappointing to see how some groups who have benefited from the Government’s knee-jerk pork barrelling of the live music industry have supported such developments without questioning as a result of receiving jobs from the pork.

The other parties, including the Greens, the Liberal Party and the Sex Party [has the State of Victoria gone so low as to find itself being offered some of its most progressive live music policies by fringe parties?] have offered some salient policy initiatives, but all fail to address the most important issues at stake. The most important thing a Victorian Government can do is support the live music industry at its grass roots levels.

This has always been the State’s amazing community of pubs which provide live music to us all. Not only do these pubs provide world beating music, they go further than that. Pubs such as The Tote are not only amazing places to see bands on their way up, they also propagate the community of musicians and fans that ultimately nurture some of the most important artists in the country.

Only in Melbourne could an unknown band – who has made the decision to move to the city to further their nascent music career – arrive in town and rock up to such a pub and find themselves welcomed. We’ll yet again use The Tote as an example. More bands that we can think of have arrived in Melbourne, with little more knowledge than the pub’s unequalled reputation for putting on live music and supporting musicians; and found themselves a family, often thousands of miles from home. The number of musicians who have turned up at the bar, met a friendly bartender and eventually built a career could fill a telephone book.

It has often been the case that an unknown band from the likes of Perth could turn up at the pub and soon find themselves with not only gigs, but a job behind the bar and a wealth of friends amongst the regulars who end up doing their bit to assist them move up in the world. Then there’s the teenage fans just turned 18 from the ‘burbs who turn up to gigs knowing no-one and soon realise amongst the crowd that they’re not the only ‘freak’ at school or Uni and end up making friends for life. These pubs are the places that tolerate the social misfits in our community and make them feel welcomed, because they’re all music fans.

Unfortunately, the main issues facing these treasured venues are issues of amenity and legislative compliance. The Government has ignored issues of first right of amenity – property developers can build apartments next door to a live music venue that has been happily operating for many years  – and before you know it the complaints from the young professionals who have moved next door to enjoy the ‘lifestyle’ see it facing closure.

The Government must protect venues in this regard. Furthermore, it should be recognised by the Government that live music venues – particularly those at the smaller end of the scale who are busy incubating the stars of the future – make very little money. More often than not, they’re run by music fans who only want to make a living by providing live music to fellow fans and rarely take home more than an average wage in a week – if they’re lucky!

The Government must ensure that they have as few impediments to running a successful live music venue as possible. Other industries would argue for tax breaks, but the live music industry has rarely sought them and never relied upon them. They pay their taxes, employ many people and expect no Government thanks. The people who make the live music industry happen in the State of Victoria are almost completely never in it for the money – they do it because they are fans.

Being a fan of music also means that you can become a fan of punishing Governments who take you for granted. While the Labor Government needs to receive a kicking for its failure to support the live music scene in Victoria, the other options don’t necessarily deliver either. Use your vote to support live music in the way you see best, while also remembering the infamous Don Chipp quote – ‘Keep The Bastards Honest’.

Jim Murray  – Melbourne, 26 November 2010

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